Asbestos have been used since 1800s but after the industrial revolution asbestos market had strong and steady growth of the mineral. After that asbestos was virtually everywhere, because it is a mineral that exists naturally in a fibrous form and is resistant to heat, water, chemicals and electricity. But in early 1897, an Austrian doctor attributed pulmonary troubles in one of his patients to the inhalation of asbestos dust. This was the first time when asbestos related disease was acknowledged by someone. After that several reports and studies were done showing the ill effect of asbestos. According to World Health Organization estimates, approximately 125 million people face workplace exposure to asbestos worldwide. This exposure accounts for more than 107,000 occupational deaths per year from diseases like pleural mesothelioma, lung cancer and asbestosis.
In 2006, six countries (the Russian Federation, the People’s Republic of China, Kazakhstan, Brazil, Canada, and Zimbabwe) contributed to 96 % of the world’s production of asbestos. Till date about 50 countries have banned on any form of asbestos usage. The penalties are high and the rules are strict. Yet in India, the case is not same and India still imports a form of asbestos known as Chrysotile mainly from Russia and Kazakhstan. Apparently, our government is not very serious about the health of its citizen.
Activities like mining, pouring and mixing raw asbestos release deadly clouds of asbestos dust into the air. Workers have also suffered asbestos exposure while servicing asbestos-containing automotive brakes, cutting asbestos-coated cement pipes and applying spray-on asbestos fireproofing materials.
As the free/ loose fibres migrate about the lungs, they cause scarring that worsens over time and can severely impair breathing. Inhalation of asbestos fibres can cause serious diseases which are responsible for around 4000 deaths every year in UK itself. There are three main diseases caused by asbestos: mesothelioma (always fatal), lung cancer and asbestosis (not always fatal, but debilitating). Mesothelioma is one of the most aggressive cancers around the world, with a grim 5-year survival rate of only 8%. After diagnosis there is little that can be done to stop the progression of the disease.
A number of individuals contracted an asbestos-related disease through exposure from their work. However, occupational exposure was not limited to the workers themselves. Many others received second-hand exposure to asbestos through contact with someone who unknowingly brought asbestos fibres home on his or her clothing, hair or body.
Occupations frequently exposed to asbestos includes:
|Miners||Automotive and aircraft mechanics|
|Factory workers||Asbestos abatement workers|
|Pipe-fitters||Bricklayers and masons|
|Construction workers||Power plant workers|
|Coal and petroleum workers||Chemical workers|
In India there is still no acknowledgement from the government’s side and we still are dependent on asbestos related products some way or the other. There are about 109 Asbestos product manufacturing industries which have Environmental Clearance granted across India until 2016 and no such industry has been denied the clearance over this period. The fact that asbestos can cause devastating diseases is by itself a legitimate reason to cease its use finally.
Despite the denials of the States and the industries, nearly 1500 occupational victims have been identified till now along with some environmental victims. Although current disease is a result of past exposures, effective control of current workplace exposures is the only way to prevent continued occurrence of these potentially debilitating diseases. Also, physicians can contribute to this effort through accurate diagnosis and disease reporting. It is a collective responsibility and everyone has to do their part, with a hope that someday India can take a stand for its people and pledge for health.