Although asbestos has now been banned in around 56 countries, some still allow its use for certain products if specific regulations are adhered to. It’s been estimated that 140 countries still have no ban or restrictions in place, however.
Holiday destinations including Thailand, Bali, India and Mexico have yet to impose a ban, but perhaps most noteworthy, the USA has not banned asbestos despite several attempts to push a ruling through the Senate.
Here we look at the countries that led the way in dealing with the threat of asbestos, plus other notable asbestos bans around the world.
Scandinavian countries were among the first to tackle the issue of asbestos, with Denmark banning the substance for insulation purposes in 1972. At various stages throughout the 1980s, they also introduced bans on asbestos cement products.
Sweden banned asbestos sprays in 1973, plus chrysotile and crocidolite in 1982. The use of all asbestos products was banned in Sweden in 1986.
1983 saw Iceland introduce a ban on asbestos (with a few exceptions), which was updated in 1996, and Norway banned it in 1984 with a few restrictions. Finland acted later than its Scandinavian neighbours when it introduced a ban on chrysotile in 1992.
Throughout the 1980s Israel gradually restricted the use of various types of asbestos, but all six asbestos minerals, plus any combination that included more than one, was banned in 1984.
A large proportion of the Italian population has suffered asbestos-related disease, with several high-profile compensation cases being brought, including one involving the company, Eternit.
They were the largest manufacturer of asbestos-cement building materials in Europe, and employed over 2,000 people. An Italian ban on asbestos was put in place in 1992.
Germany prohibited the use of chrysotile, crocidolite, and amosite in 1993, with a few minor exemptions. The increased availability of alternatives to asbestos, and bans introduced in other countries, meant that asbestos consumption fell dramatically by the early 1990s.
Per capita, Australia was one of the highest users of asbestos in the world, and operated a large site at Wittenoom where crocidolite (blue asbestos) was mined. This is regarded as the most dangerous form of asbestos, but the mining, manufacture and use of crocidolite and amosite were not banned in Australia until the mid-1980s. In 2003, the import, use and sale of products containing chrysotile asbestos were banned.
America’s Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has attempted to introduce a ban on asbestos, but with limited success. A final ruling was issued in 1989 with a view to banning most asbestos-containing products, but unfortunately this was overturned in 1991.
Canada announces its asbestos ban
This week, Canada announced its intention to ban asbestos by 2018, a move many regard as long overdue. Asbestos campaigners struggle to have their voices heard in Canada, at a time when awareness of the dangers presented by asbestos is at its highest.
So with one of the highest mesothelioma rates in the world, why has it taken so long for Canada to ban asbestos?
Local industry in Canada tends to receive specific protection from the government. Asbestos mines in Quebec played a significant part in the global asbestos industry, as well as providing employment and income for the surrounding communities.
As one of the highest producers of asbestos in the world, there was a reluctance to disrupt local economies by banning the substance, regardless of the known health risk to workers. When other countries imposed their ban, the industry slowly died away, but left a legacy of death and disease among the workforce.
Asbestos imports into Canada
Canada’s asbestos imports total approximately $10 million a year, with the majority of products being used by the automotive industry. Brake pads and other vehicle parts contained the substance, as do the industrial pipes imported on a large scale.
The country was one of the world’s largest producers of asbestos, and the last mine only closed in 2011. Previous governments had denied the devastating impact asbestos has on health even though, according to The Globe newspaper, asbestos was the main cause of occupational death in the country.
Gabriel Miller of the Canadian Cancer Society commented on the news that a ban will finally be imposed here:
“At least 10,000 people have lost their lives from asbestos exposure in Canada in the past 10 years … we owe it to them, now, to turn what was said today into real action.”