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Asbestos is a carcinogenic fibrous mineral used for a variety of purposes from insulating homes to reinforcing automotive parts and flooring tiles and a myriad of other uses. Asbestos has been determined to be causative in the rare and aggressive form of cancer known as malignant mesothelioma. Although the United States no longer mines and manufactures asbestos, importing asbestos remains common and legal. However, in light of the knowledge of the asbestos-mesothelioma link, some people feel that the United States should join global efforts to ban asbestos entirely.
The deadly effects of asbestos
Asbestos fibers are microscopic, and can be inhaled or ingested easily—but cannot be expelled from the body nearly so easily. The fibers become lodged within the body (generally the linings of the lungs, abdominal cavity, or heart) and cannot be dislodged, causing cancerous cells to grow around the fibers and from there, grow and proliferate throughout the body in the form of mesothelioma cancer.
Why asbestos is still imported and used in the United States
Although the dangers of long-term exposure to asbestos fibers have been established for some time, the United States continues to import asbestos-containing products and use them for a variety of applications, such as automotive parts and reinforcement of concrete. Asbestos is inexpensive, and importing asbestos-containing products can be more cost-effective than importing those same alternatives, or producing asbestos alternatives.
The argument against asbestos utilization
Many nations have decided to limit its usage or ban its usage outright since asbestos has risks associated with long-term exposure to it. Asbestos has, in more recent years, been found to be deadly not only to those who are exposed in their line of work, but also to those who reside near natural deposits that have been exposed to erosive natural elements, or who reside near mines and factories involving asbestos production. Because of the wide-reaching effect that asbestos fibers have, many people feel that asbestos usage should be extremely limited if not done away with entirely.
Alternatives to asbestos exist that have fewer risks associated with them. For example, for large-diameter pipes formerly reinforced with asbestos, steel reinforcement may be used to reduce the dangers to the public should the pipe begin to decay over time.
Other, less-harmful minerals may be used to reinforce flooring and ceiling tiles rather than asbestos, such as fiberglass and silicates. Although asbestos-free home insulation materials may cost more due to requiring an extra step in being treated with a flame retardant, they are more environmentally friendly and far less of a health hazard than their asbestos-containing counterparts. This makes the financial cost worth it when compared with the risk to human life.
Mesothelioma and asbestos
Asbestos has long been known to be a causal factor in mesothelioma cancer. In a majority of cases, diagnoses were made in people who were presumed to have suffered long-term occupational exposure to asbestos, such as individuals who worked in construction work, shipbuilding, or manufacturing. However, more and more cases of mesothelioma attributed to “secondhand” exposure to asbestos (such as through contact with the clothing of a person who worked in an asbestos factory, for example—contact a spouse or child might have) are appearing.
The precedence: asbestos bans throughout the world
Dozens of countries all over the globe have already put full bans on asbestos usage, manufacturing, importing and exporting in place, including all of the nations in the European Union, Australia, all of the Scandinavian nations, the Baltic nations, Japan, Bahrain, Jordan, Algeria and more. Of the developed nations, the United States and Canada are lagging far behind with regard to getting a full asbestos ban in place.
Canada in particular stands to lose greatly in the economic arena, as its Quebec province produces many tons of asbestos out of its mines every year, and exports the vast majority of that production to Asian nations like Vietnam and China, where asbestos usage has recently increased just as asbestos usage in areas like Australia and the United Kingdom were tapering off.
A call to action
As more and more asbestos-related deaths and mesothelioma diagnoses attributable to asbestos are occurring each year all over the world, many people are pushing more fervently than ever for a global ban on asbestos. Iceland set the bar as the first nation to fully ban asbestos in 1983, and in the decades since then many other nations have followed suit. There are alternatives to asbestos in virtually every application in which it is used. So there are no more excuses for any nation that cares about the health and well-being of its citizens to continue importing and using asbestos.
There are many who feel the US needs to stand up and make a statement against asbestos usage in order to set an example for other developed nations—an example already begun by so many countries tired of seeing their citizens die for no good reason.
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.