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May 26 2006

Use of any type of asbestos as a building material carries unacceptable

LETTERS TO THE EDITOR
Re: “Asbestos can cause cancer, but ‘it’s cheap’,” News, May 14

This article points out that Thailand still permits the use of white asbestos, called chrysotile, as a raw material in manufacturing.

Scientific evidence clearly shows that all kinds of asbestos, including chrysotile, can cause lung cancer and mesothelioma (asbestos-specific cancer) 25-40 years after exposure. The International Agency for Research on Cancer of the World Health Organisation has classified chrysotile as group 1 (carcinogenic to humans). The International Programme on Chemical Safety has classified chrysotile as a carcinogen.The International Labour Organisation (ILO) estimates that asbestos kills 100,000 workers a year worldwide. The extensive use of asbestos in the 1970s in industrially developed countries lies behind many of the asbestos-related cancer cases we see today.

Scientific evidence clearly shows that all kinds of asbestos, including chrysotile, can cause lung cancer and mesothelioma (asbestos-specific cancer) 25-40 years after exposure. The International Agency for Research on Cancer of the World Health Organisation has classified chrysotile as group 1 (carcinogenic to humans). The International Programme on Chemical Safety has classified chrysotile as a carcinogen.The International Labour Organisation (ILO) estimates that asbestos kills 100,000 workers a year worldwide. The extensive use of asbestos in the 1970s in industrially developed countries lies behind many of the asbestos-related cancer cases we see today.

Some 40 countries have banned the use of all kinds of asbestos,including chrysotile, as an efficient way of eliminating asbestos-related hazards. This is in line with the ILO’s Asbestos Convention, which prescribes comprehensive protective measures. The ILO’s Occupational-Cancer Convention urges carcinogenic substances to be replaced by less-hazardous materials. Asbestos substitutes, although not perfectly safe either, are much safer than chrysotile. None of the stringent regulators report any negative consequences for national economies that switch to asbestos substitutes.

The Public Health Ministry of Thailand, in cooperation with the Labour Ministry, will host the Asian Asbestos Conference from July 26-27 in Bangkok, in order to provide a forum to discuss protection measures. The ILO will co-sponsor this important conference. Workers and the general public need accurate and up-to-date knowledge about the health hazards of asbestos, in order to protect themselves. Business communities can increase their efforts to replace asbestos with safer materials. These efforts will contribute to their long-term business success. A local Thai construction-materials company, for example, has already started selling a non-asbestos product in response to customer demand. It is time for Thailand to find effective measures to protect workers and the general public from asbestos.

Dr Tsuyoshi Kawakami
Senior specialist in occupational safety and health ILO Subregional Office for East Asia

Dr Chalermchai Chaikittiporn,Dean, Faculty of Public Health
Mahidol University
Bangkok