[health-vn] Why deadly asbestos is not banned
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Mon Apr 13 00:18:01 EST 2009
Why deadly asbestos is not banned
22:05' 09/04/2009 (GMT+7)
VietNamNet Bridge – A lack of research facilities is hampering the Health
Ministry’s efforts to provide evidence to show that asbestos is a threat to workers.
Asbestos roofing, known as fibro, is used in parts of Viet Nam prone to storm
and floods. However, the World Health Organisation has listed asbestos among the
most deadly occupational carcinogens leading to mesothelioma and other fatal
Without the evidence, it is difficult to persuade policy makers to prohibit the
use of the fibre that causes malignant mesothelioma, lung cancer and other fatal
The Preventive Medicine Department’s Occupational Health and Injuries Division
deputy director Nguyen Thi Lien Huong says the World Health Organisation has
concluded that asbestos is toxic.
But domestic scientific evidence to show its effect on Viet Nam’s workers is not
The Health Ministry has only two hospitals equipped to count the amount of the
deadly fibre at a work site; the construction industry has just one.
Medical records are needed to show a patient’s work record and place of
residence to provide evidence of the link between asbestos and lung disease but
the Viet Nam National Cancer Institute does not keep such histories of its patients.
"The health sector has failed to identify patients whose lung cancer was linked
to asbestos," says the deputy director.
In Viet Nam, manufacturers are allowed to make roofing and other products from
chrysolite asbestos with the strict implementation of national environmental and
health safety standards and regulations.
The Construction Minis-try’s Construction Materials Department deputy director
Vo Quang Diem values asbestos for its usefulness in parts of Viet Nam prone to
storm and floods.
Asbestos roofing, known as fibro, is heat resistant and cheaper than other
materials. It has been widely used throughout the country for urban dwellings,
industrial parks and in rural and remote communities.
"This industry has effectively contributed to the Government’s hunger
eradication and poverty reduction programme," he says.
"We think the task is to control the production of asbestos to avoid pollution
rather than eliminate it."
Environment and Sustainable Development Centre director Pham Van Hai says it
takes 10-15 years for people exposed to asbestos to fall ill.
Many workers had changed their jobs or moved by then.
Monitoring those indirectly-infected - a husband, a wife, children, parents and
relatives of workers and people living exposed to asbestos - is also very difficult.
"The lack of evidence and data hampers the dissemination of information that
would help people to understand the harm asbestos does to their health," he says.
Although many workers are aware of the danger of asbestos, it’s not enough to
make them fear it.
"The workers still eat and drink in the asbestos dust and then wear their work
clothes to return home," he says.
Many scientists and health experts said the workers were in danger of exposing
to asbestos. It was necessary to study to find another material replacing
asbestos, phasing out the use of asbestos in the country in the future.
The director says his many visits to factories making asbestos roofing found
some production procedures that endangered worker health. These included the
grinding dry of asbestos and the transport of ground asbestos packages.
"Viet Nam has not done any research showing how people who use asbestos roofing
have been infected, but I think it’s probably similar to those who produce
asbestos," he says.
Viet Nam has more than 40 factories making asbestos roofing, reports the
Construction Materials Department.
The country imports about 60,000 tonnes of chrysolite - one of six minerals
defined as asbestos - each year to produce about 80 million sq.m of roofing sheets.
More than 10,000 Vietnamese work with asbestos.
What WHO says
The World Health Organisation lists asbestos among the most deadly occupational
carcinogens that cause about half of the deaths from cancer in the workplace.
Heaviest exposure occurs during re-packaging of asbestos containers; mixing it
with other materials and the dry cutting of materials containing asbestos with
abrasive tools, it says.
Exposure can also occur during installation and use of asbestos-containing
products and maintenance of vehicles.
VietNamNet/Viet Nam News
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