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Report Cites Concerns About Global Asbestos Use

A report published in the Annals of Global Health analyze the history of asbestos use in the United States and around the world, and cites concerns about the continued use globally. The authors, Arthur L. Frank, MD, PhD, of the Drexel University School of Public Health in Philadelphia, Pennsylania, and T.K. Joshi, MBBS, MS (Surgery) of the Centre for Occupational and Environmental Health, Maulana Azad medical College in New Delhi, India, warns that rather than relying on science, many of the decisions that are being made regarding asbestos use are based on politics, and this may cause extensive harm before scientific evidence is given the weight that it deserves.

According to the report, the international controversies about asbestos began roughly 100 years ago, and continue today; though most industrialized countries around the world have banned the use of the substance outright, others continue to use it and the asbestos companies are driving them to continue to do so. In the United States the use of the material reached its high point in 1972, when over 775,000 tons of the toxin were used in industries ranging from construction and shipbuilding to consumer products. The United States issued an incomplete ban and India continues to use the substance, though countries around the world banned it entirely. Drs. Frank and Joshi write, “Unfortunately, as the developed world was banning or constricting the use of asbestos, the developing world was greatly increasing its use of this toxic material. Major producers such as Russia, Kazakhstan, China and Brazil continue to produce and export asbestos to countries around the world, especially to low-and aniddle-income countries that too often have weak or nonexistent occupational and environmental regulations.”

Exposure to asbestos can cause a number of serious diseases, including malignant ones such as lung cancer and mesothelioma and nonmalignant ones including asbestos warts, asbestosis and asbestotic pleural effusion. The mineral itself can be broken down into two groups, amphibole and serpentine, with the serpentine group, which is made up of chrysotile asbestos accounting for almost all of the asbestos that is used. A great deal of effort by asbestos marketing companies went into trying to prove chrysotile asbestos safe, and the researchers point out that these efforts in the face of scientific evidence is an indication of how economically driven these efforts were. They conclude that the actions of asbestos producers “follow a pattern first established by the tobacco industry in hiring public relations firms to obfuscate the scientific issues so that tobacco could still be sold. Similarly the asbestos industry adopted the view that a public relations campaign was needed to quay the rising concerns about its health hazards.”

Terri Oppenheimer

Terri Oppenheimer is an independent writer, editor and proofreader. She graduated from the College of William and Mary with a degree in English. Her dreams of a writing career were diverted by a need to pay her bills. She spent a few years providing copy for a major retailer, then landed a lucrative career in advertising sales. With college bills for all three of her kids paid, she left corporate America for a return to her original goal of writing. She specializes in providing content for websites and finds tremendous enjoyment in the things she learns while doing her research. Her specific areas of interest include health and fitness, medical research, and the law.

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