Asbestos use and exposure continue to be problems in Mexico. It has led to numerous cases of mesothelioma and other asbestos illnesses and many resulting deaths. Mexico has yet to ban asbestos, and powerful lobbyists continue to work against a ban.
Facts About Mesothelioma and Asbestos in Mexico
Mexico imports tons of asbestos and uses it in many industries. It also manufactures and exports asbestos products, many for U.S. companies operating there.
- By 2001, nearly 2,000 companies participated in importing asbestos to Mexico. Those companies employ about 8,000 people.
- Since 1998, Mexico has seen approximately 500 annual cases of mesothelioma and 1,000 cases of lung cancer related to asbestos per year.
- The death rate from asbestos illnesses is growing. Experts expect it to reach 3,000 to 5,000 deaths per year.
- In 2007, Mexico used 17,000 metric tons of asbestos.
- Mexico imports asbestos from Brazil and Russia. Until the countries banned it, Mexico also received much of its asbestos from Canada and South Africa.
- Mexico, China, and India use more asbestos than any other developing country.
A History of Asbestos Use in Mexico
When the U.S. put asbestos regulations in place in the 1970s, and with the North American Free Trade Agreement in the 1990s, many U.S. companies moved manufacturing operations to Mexico.
Mexico has fewer and less strict laws and regulations regarding asbestos. This means that both U.S. and Mexican companies continued to use it when manufacturing many products. The growth in asbestos use and related illnesses is comparable to what happened in the U.S. after World War II and before 1970s regulations.
Today, asbestos use continues in Mexico despite the dire statistics. Powerful lobbyists and those involved in the industry push for the controlled use of asbestos, insisting it can be safe. They do not want asbestos banned or further regulated in Mexico. Leading this effort is the Instituto Mexicano de Fibro Industrias.
How Is Asbestos Used Today in Mexico?
Nearly 2,000 companies in Mexico still use asbestos today to manufacture products. They export these products throughout the world. Examples of products still made with asbestos in Mexico include:
- Vehicle brake systems
- Roofing materials
- Cement sheets
Who Is at Risk of Asbestos Exposure in Mexico?
As in other countries, occupational exposure is the leading cause of asbestos-related illnesses. But workers are not the only ones at risk of encountering asbestos in Mexico.
Occupational Asbestos Exposure
Workers in factories that use asbestos have the greatest risk of asbestos exposure and receiving a diagnosis of mesothelioma. These industrial workers handle or work near asbestos. Manipulating the asbestos can release fibers into the air that they then inhale.
Other workers at risk use the products made in these facilities:
- Auto mechanics
- Construction workers
- Boiler workers
- Demolition workers
- Maintenance and repair workers
Exposure in Residential Areas
Residents living near plants that use asbestos and ports that unload the material face serious risks of exposure too. In 2013, journalists reported on asbestos at the port of Veracruz. Bags of asbestos imported from Russia sat at the port for months. Many of the bags decayed or split open. Sending fibers into the air and water.
In Iztapalapa, a suburb of Mexico City, residents have complained about living near the American Roll company. The facility makes brake linings with asbestos. Residents say the company pollutes the air in the neighborhood and does not follow environmental regulations.
Mexico has never mined asbestos, but it does have natural deposits of a similar mineral called erionite. Erionite has been implicated in causing mesothelioma in some areas of the world.
A study from 2015 investigated unusually high rates of mesothelioma in Tierra Blanca, a small village in central Mexico. The researchers found exposed erionite throughout the community and linked this environmental exposure with the cases of cancer in residents.
How Does Mexico Regulate Asbestos?
Mexico has not banned asbestos. It imports asbestos, makes many products with it, and exports those products to many countries worldwide. These are some of the regulations in place in Mexico:
- Friable asbestos, which is asbestos not contained and that can shed fibers, as well as some other types, is listed as a hazardous material.
- Anyone who creates, manages, or stores friable asbestos must be registered as a hazardous waste generator.
- Laws regulate loose fibers of asbestos in workplaces. Levels in the air must remain below a certain threshold amount.
- The laws limiting asbestos in the air do not actually require that employers survey the air for particles.
- Those handling and disposing of friable asbestos must follow set procedures for safety and containment.
Medical researchers and other experts advocate for a complete ban of asbestos in Mexico. Studies of mesothelioma mortality rates in the last 50 years indicate that these deaths continue to grow.
Leading experts state that it is too difficult to manage asbestos use and enforce safety rules in workplaces. A ban is needed, they say.
Mesothelioma Treatment in Mexico
The main cancer center in the country is the Instituto Nacional de Cancerologia (INCan), or the National Institute of Cancer. Established in 1946, it is now the largest comprehensive cancer treatment center in Mexico. The INCan is in Mexico City and has 150 beds.
INCan provides specialized care for several types of cancer. Treatments available include surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation therapy. It also offers palliative and supportive care. It is the only cancer center in the country designated by ESMO, Mexico’s medical oncology professional organization.
Mexico has become a destination for health tourism, particularly for cancer patients. Several clinics in Mexico advertise alternative treatments or hopeful cures for terminal patients. Studies have found that there is no evidence to support the claims of these facilities.
The American Cancer Society urges people to avoid these questionable treatments. Some are not just ineffective but also dangerous and expensive.
Mexico has a long way to go in bringing down mesothelioma rates and asbestos exposure risks. Until that happens, it’s important to know the risks, take safety precautions, and get the best care if diagnosed with an asbestos illness.Get Your FREE Mesothelioma Packet
Page Written by Mary Ellen Ellis
Mary Ellen Ellis has been the head writer for Mesothelioma.net since 2016. With hundreds of mesothelioma and asbestos articles to her credit, she is one of the most experienced writers on these topics. Her degrees and background in science and education help her explain complicated medical topics for a wider audience. Mary Ellen takes pride in providing her readers with the critical information they need following a diagnosis of an asbestos-related illness.
Page Edited by Patient Advocate Dave Foster
Dave has been a mesothelioma Patient Advocate for over 10 years. He consistently attends all major national and international mesothelioma meetings. In doing so, he is able to stay on top of the latest treatments, clinical trials, and research results. He also personally meets with mesothelioma patients and their families and connects them with the best medical specialists and legal representatives available.