The World Health Organization Regional Office for Europe held a high-level meeting in Haifa this week, and warned that at least one out of every three inhabitants of Europe face exposure to asbestos.
The deadly material may be present in either the workplace or in their environment, and it is expected to kill 15,000 people every year.
Though asbestos has been banned entirely or in part in many European countries, others continue to use and sell it. Even in those countries that have banned the carcinogen, the potential for exposure remains because of its past use. Asbestos has been proven to be responsible for a number of serious and deadly diseases, including asbestosis, mesothelioma, and lung cancer.
The summit on European-region environment and health involved over 200 representatives from nongovernmental and governmental organizations from throughout Europe. Their goal was to evaluate the compliance level following their March 2010 WHO Fifth Ministerial Conference on Environment and Health in Parma, Italy.
During the meeting, 53 countries agreed to reduce the adverse health impact of environmental threats over the next ten years. The first measurable goal that had been established at the meeting was the development of plans to eliminate asbestos-related diseases by the end of 2015.
Of the 53 governments that pledged, 37 have plans in place, but 16 countries continue to use the deadly material, in large part because they rely heavily on its use or sale.
Russia claims that chrysotile asbestos does not pose the same level of concern, but this argument has been disproven by science according to Dr. Srdan Matic, environment and health coordinator in WHO’s Division of Communicable Diseases, Health Security and Environment.
The sixteen countries that are continuing to use asbestos unabated are Albania, Andorra, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Georgia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Monaco, the Republic of Moldova, the Russian Federation, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Ukraine and Uzbekistan.
As part of their presentation, the WHO created a report titled “Progress toward the elimination of asbestos-related diseases,” which provided details showing that asbestos accounts for over half of work-related cancer deaths in Europe. The cost of these deaths from 15 countries is estimated at 1.5 billion euros per year.