The questions that count

Can we save Asia from asbestos?

Jun 5, 2012


Peter Jennings says over 100,000 people die each year from mesothelioma with two thirds of cases from South East Asia.

It seems unbelievable that it took so long to ban asbestos in Australia, decades after we knew about the dangers. Now it is banned in 51 countries with more joining each year. Yet Canada and Russia continue to export asbestos to developing countries where almost no protection systems exist. In fact, 80 per cent of the growth in asbestos is in South East Asia.

Peter Jennings of Union Aid Abroad — APHEDA tells 3Q about the agency’s work teaching Vietnamese factory workers how to protect themselves while continuing to lobby the Vietnamese Government to ban the toxic building material.

Vietnam imports tens of thousands of tonnes each year to produce cheap asbestos-cement roofing tiles and its continuing use is of international concern. (Read a Wikileaks cable from US embassy in Hanoi about asbestos concerns)

Workers in these factories handle asbestos with their bare hands and use nothing but paper masks at best. Their knowledge of the dangers is close to zero. Although Vietnam planned to ban all forms of asbestos several years ago, strong lobbying from the pro-asbestos forces mean it is still being used.

The agency is hoping for additional AusAID funding (on top of the donations it receives from unions and the public) to assist the mammoth task ahead in not just VIetnam but also bordering Laos.

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