The Sunday Leader

Banning Of Asbestos Nowhere In Sight

All forms of asbestos are carcinogenic to humans—WHO

by Ifham Nizam 

Wnvironmentalists and civic minded organizations stressed that despite repeated assurance by successive governments there won’t be a ban on asbestos.

They stressed that most of the parliamentarians are against while some who are in favour of the move are tied by the asbestos lobby.

Centre for Environmental Justice Executive Director Hemantha Withanage, expressing his candid views said: “I don’t see both proposals, ban on tobacco cultivation and ban on Asbestos moving forward. If they want to ban, we should have seen some actions by now.”

Dr. Ravindra Kariyawasam, Director, Centre for Environment and Nature Studies (CENS) says that on December 10, 2009 the Eternity trial started at the Turin, Courts in Italy. It is the largest and most important criminal case ever to have been held following an environmental disaster Caused by industrial pollution which resulted in thousands of cancer victims in the case in point.

It was an appalling disaster caused by the incautious use of asbestos which is still reaping its victims. Nor will it cease to have effect after the court case is over. In fact the disease can be latent for decades, the hallmark of the ‘asbestos disease’, that is to say of the fatal cancer that goes by the name of mesothelioma: like a crazy puppeteer playing with the fate of thousands of people causing an endless trickle of deaths although asbestos has been banned in Italy since 1992.

There were many environment and ecological disasters caused by asbestos in the world, these are killer roof and were in use in Europe 15 years before.

Some country’s have  banned asbestos because  of Health and Environment problems and the companies affected by the ban try to start their business in third world countries like Sri Lanka, India and Bangladesh.

He said that a new asbestos company was to be built in Anawilundawa marshland with Central Environmental Authority (CEA) approval.    “We made few protest against that and it is stopped permanently,” he said.

He said that President Sirisena also said that he would to ban asbestos in Sri Lanka but nothing had happened yet. “I think he should take that decision soon as possible. If not people would get  cancers and other health problems due to use of asbestos, not only the people but also  all living beings are  under threat due to production and transporting the killer roof,” he added .


Two year’s time

According to the Environment Conservation Trust (ECT) Director, Sajeewa Chamikara, on the decision to ban asbestos, he noted that it has been one of the most important decisions ever taken by a government.

“Several organisations, especially the Environmental Foundation Limited have done research for 15 years, regarding the impacts of the asbestos to the humans and to the environment. This decision is in fact a result of such long-term research and other findings,” he said.

He also reiterated the fact that although there had been awareness programmes being conducted countrywide, the State has never supported to stop the harm done by use of asbestos due to several reasons. He pointed out that by giving two years’ time for the manufacturers by the government to go for other alternatives is a good move and reasonable.

“Banning the use of asbestos is practicable. The manufacturers may not agree with this, but it can be done because there are a lot of alternatives which can be used as substitutes”, he added.

It is common knowledge that despite assurance given by President Maithripala Sirisena to put an end to the use of asbestos, some quarters in the government had not taken a clear cut policy on banning asbestos immediately, officials said.


Costly affair

Even Environment and Mahaweli Ministry officials are of the view that replacing roofing sheets would be a very costly affair. Thus, there won’t be an immediate ban on asbestos.They, however, said the President had come forward with a pledge to ban use of asbestos, citing that many former ministers failed to do it despite their noble intent.

“It is high time the matter is taken by up to the President and Premier Ranil Wickremesinghe,” he said.

Steps had been taken in Sri Lanka to minimise the use of various kinds of asbestos that were banned in a majority of the countries.

Some stressed that it was impossible to ban roofing sheets immediately, when the country is on track for rapid development. Apart from that, they say replacing thousands of roofs particularly in schools would be a herculean task especially after a disaster that wrecked havoc on the country especially in the rural areas.

The Sunday Leader learns that a special committee was appointed last year by the Central Environment Authority (CEA) to look into the health hazards posed by asbestos roofing sheets. It is a well known fact that asbestos causes cancer, respiratory defects and other dangerous diseases.


Open market for Sri Lanka

Senior officials of the Authority said the use of asbestos is banned in some countries.

“This has created an open market for us in Sri Lanka. There are multiple opinions about the use of asbestos. People’s speculation raised the need for the CEA to take up the responsibility and appoint a committee,” the official said.

The Committee is made up of officials of various departments and associations including the CEA, Ministry of Health, the National Cancer Hospital, Customs Department, and Sri Lanka Standards Institute.

The responsibility of this committee is to find out if the use of asbestos roofing sheets is actually hazardous to health and seek out solutions thereafter. “We have already asked Moratuwa University to work out a report and hope to discuss the issue shortly,” he added.

President Sirisena pledged that he would enforce strict laws from January 1, 2016 to prevent use of polythene which is a major threat to the environment and the health of the people. He added he would totally ban the import and production of asbestos from January 1, 2018.

The country will get away or wipe out asbestos from 2024, a top Government official said.


Climate conference

Speaking at the recently held Climate Conference titled `Sri Lanka’s Readiness for Implementing  Paris Climate Agreement,’ Mahaweli Development and Environment Ministry Secretary  Udaya Senevirathne said from 2018  President Maithripala  has instructed that it would be banned in 2018 and completely wiped out in 2024

He stressed that the Government is committed to the Paris Agreement on Climate Change.

The conference was organised by the Centre for Environmental Justice (CEJ).

However, a policy maker told The Sunday Leader that the Government had not taken a clear cut policy on banning asbestos, immediately.

According to a 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. 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.

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, a medical officer attached to the Colombo Municipal Council (CMC) said.

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 greater when compared to the risk associated with smoking alone.

The Fiber Cement Products Manufacturers Association says that from time to time various commodities are banned in Sri Lanka and asbestos roofing sheets is the latest one that is scheduled to be banned in this manner.

At a recent cabinet reading the government of Sri Lanka announced to commence control of the import and usage of asbestos by 2018 while subsequently to ban by 2024.

In terms of roofing, there are only two or three options available to the general public of our country, Roofing tiles, Chrysotile fibre cement roofing sheets and tin roofing sheets are amongst these options. Out of these, the Chrysotile fibre cement roofing sheet stands as the only option that is affordable by the general public. This is because the money remaining in hand, after spending for sand, bricks and cement needed for the construction of walls and thereafter for the fixing of doors and windows, is a very meager amount.

The number of rafters and beams required when using Chrysotile fibre cement roofing sheets for roofing is also significantly less which is another contributing factor for the lower cost. Considering the above, the ban on asbestos will equally affect the workers employed in the industry as well as the public.

Recently a conference organised by the National Federation of Trade Unions was held in Colombo to discuss this predicament in depth.

The Association said that the primary concern that was highlighted during this conference was that steps have been taken to ban asbestos due to its health hazards.


Refrain from smoking

Dr. Wajira Palipana, Commissioner of Labour (Occupational Health) and consultant occupational physician, expressing his views at this event stated, “Chrysotile asbestos is not the only cause of lung cancer, like everything else this could be one cause of it.

Although asbestos may contribute to the hardening of the walls of the lungs and weakening its functioning thereby, it is certainly not the cause of death. We all would have inhaled one or two asbestos threads as a result of using old vehicles, where asbestos threads were used for their components such as break liners and gaskets. Hence Asbestosis cannot be the cause of death of a person.”

He also further emphasised, “A person who is being exposed to asbestos for a long period of time, needs to refrain from smoking. As smoking weakens the immune system, it increases the risk of cancer. Hence I request employees working in asbestos cement sheet manufacturing factories to keep away from smoking.”

He also emphasised that it would be most appropriate to have employees who work in asbestos cement sheet manufacturing factories to be subjected to an x-ray examination every two years. He declared that this should not be done annually as there is a risk of x-rays causing cancer and frequent exposure to it is not advisable.

He suggested that the best solution regarding this problem would be to draw up a set of legal standards for the safe and hygienic disposal of asbestos.

Although it is evident that during the past 60 years there have been no reports of Mesotheliama or any other form of cancer caused by asbestos reported in our country, the Fiber Cement Roofing Sheet Manufacturers Association requested that a close study should be carried out with the data and information available regarding Sri Lanka. Here Dr. Palipana stated that no medical survey has been carried out in our country regarding this topic and that conducting such a survey would be most appropriate.

1 Comment for “Banning Of Asbestos Nowhere In Sight”

  1. sadman

    these are the sri lankans who are killing their own people to make money and the Current government supporting them , President talk about Banning asbestos before come to power now he is helping all the cooperate criminals like all previous governments , sad state of what we are in ,asbestos banned in all the developed countries

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