In Sri Lanka Asbestos is a very popular material used in construction sector commercially and Domestically. Using Asbestos for various purposes in construction is popular because of it’s strength, light weight and low cost.
But what most of us in Sri Lanka do not know is this material is highly carcinogenic and have been banned in most of the countries around the world. According to WHO 107,000 people die because of Asbestos related illnesses.
What is Asbestos?
Asbestos is a naturally occurring fibrous mineral that became a popular building material in the 1950s. It is widely used in many buildings, including hospitals, schools and homes.
In Sri Lanka Asbestos is mainly used as Roofing and Ceiling Sheets. But commercially asbestos is also used as an insulating and Fire proofing material.
One type of Asbestos is already banned in Sri Lanka!
The main forms of asbestos are chrysotile (white asbestos) and crocidolite (blue asbestos). Other forms are amosite, anthophylite, tremolite and actinolite. Blue Asbestos has been banned in Sri Lanka since 1997, but white asbestose is still being used as roofing sheets all around the country.
Why it is considered Dangerous?
It isn’t uncommon to find asbestos in your home. But happily, in most cases, there’s nothing to worry about. So long as it’s well maintained and not disturbed or disintegrating it does not present any immediate hazard to health. But once disturbed or disintegrated Asbestos become deadly as those tiny Asbestos fibers are released in to the air.
According to WHO facts sheet, all forms of asbestos are carcinogenic to humans. Exposure to asbestos, including chrysotile, causes cancer of the lung, larynx and ovaries, and also mesothelioma (a cancer of the pleural and peritoneal linings). Asbestos exposure is also responsible for other diseases such as asbestosis (fibrosis of the lungs), and plaques, thickening and effusion in the pleura.
And one alarming fact about these diseases is that it can take 15 to 60 years to develop the symptoms and once diagnosed it’s often too late to do anything.
Asbestos Related Diseases
Mesothelioma is a type of cancer that affects the ‘mesothelium’ – a thin lining in your chest and abdomen. Even low levels of exposure to asbestos can cause it and unfortunately the disease is incurable.
Asbestos-related lung cancer
Like smoking, exposure to asbestos fibres can cause lung cancer. It develops in the tubes that carry air in and out of the lungs. It can grow within the lung and it can spread outside the lung. If you smoke and you have been exposed to asbestos, your risk of developing lung cancer is increased compared to the risk associated with smoking alone.
A serious type of scarring of the lung caused by high levels of exposure to asbestos fibres. This causes the lungs to shrink, resulting in breathlessness.
A problem linked to heavy asbestos exposure. Scarring of the lining of the lung (pleura) covers a large area and the lining thickens and swells. When this happens the lung is squeezed, causing breathlessness and discomfort.
Areas of scar tissue on the lining of the lung (pleura). Usually there are no symptoms and pleural plaques do not cause any long-term health problems.
Banned in Many Countries?
According to International Ban Asbestos Secretariat many countries including United States, United Kingdom, Japan have banned import, supply and use of Asbestos in their countries. The full list of countries where the Asbestos ban is effective can be found here.
In most of these countries there are special licensed and trained contractors to remove Asbestos from the hoses and normal workers are never allowed to work with Asbestos.
Situation in Sri Lanka
Currently there are three main Asbestos roofing products producers in Sri Lanka, and Asbestos Sheets are currently the mostly used roofing material in Sri Lanka. And Also Asbestos sheets are used as Ceiling Sheets as well. For some unknown reason awareness about the dangers of this silent killer is at very low level among the Sri Lankans. It’s not uncommon to see carpenters and helpers cutting asbestos sheets in open without covering their noses even. So these workers are at a very high risk of Asbestos related diseases. And also most of the time common people too get exposed to Asbestos fibers in an around construction sites where Asbestos is used.
And another thing which goes unnoticed is that Asbestos is used in the production of Break Pads of most of the vehicles, so there’s a high risk of Asbestos Exposure along our roads as well.
In 2015 Sri Lanka took steps to ban import and use of Asbestos in Sri Lanka from 2018. But yesterday (19th December 2016) the government announced the decision to temporarily suspend a ban that was to be imposed from 1st January on the use of asbestos roofing materials imported from Russia.
What we can do?
Lack of awareness among the workers and the general public about the risks of Asbestos usage is very alarming in Sri Lanka. So a awareness campaign about the risks of Asbestos would help tackle this problem and school level awareness about this would also help increase the safety of the people who are at risk of being exposed to Asbestos fibers.
And also the government too should take steps to lower the usage of Asbestos within few years and should declare a full ban on all the Asbestos related products as most of the other countries have done. This will not be that easy to do as all the Asbestos replacements are expensive but we should do this somehow or the other as we can’t put more lives at risk of this Silent Killer.