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Asbestos products still getting through customs in Australia

Even though Australia imposed a total ban on asbestos at the end of 2003, products containing the carcinogenic material are still finding their way into the country. The Guardian recently reported on the cheap asbestos-containing materials that are slipping through Australia’s borders from India and China, and the potential implications of their use.

Materials from China that contained asbestos were going to be used on two major building projects in Australia, one of which was Perth Children’s Hospital. Previously, counterfeit brake pads and children’s crayons containing the substance had been discovered in the country.

Developing asbestos awareness helped to bring about a ban in many countries

The UK asbestos ban was imposed at the end of 1999, so any building constructed prior to this is likely to contain asbestos in some form.

Asbestos has now been banned in 55 countries, but Russia remains one of the most prolific world producers of asbestos. Along with China, India, Brazil, Canada and the United States, there is no total ban yet in place.

So what does this mean for the global population? Are other countries which have banned asbestos inadvertently allowing these products through their borders, and what are the implications for world health?

“About 125 million people in the world are exposed to asbestos at the workplace”

This startling statistic from the World Health Organisation illustrates how serious the situation remains. Although many cases of asbestos exposure occurred decades ago, it is only now that the true effects on health are being seen:

  • 107,000 deaths around the world from occupational mesothelioma, asbestos-related lung cancer, and asbestosis in 2004
  • 1,523,000 Disability Adjusted Life Years (DALYs) – the World Health Organisation’s definition a DALY being “one lost year of healthy life”
  • Thousands of deaths as a result of other asbestos diseases

The United States has come close to a complete ban on asbestos, and although the Ban Asbestos in America Act 2002 passed through the Senate in 2007, it failed to make it through the House of Representatives.

The Act proposed a total ban on asbestos in America, and although public health campaigners remain vocal in their support, proposals have failed to garner sufficient backing in Congress.

Asbestos in car parts and crayons

Australia has suffered its fair share of asbestos incidents in recent years. In September 2015, asbestos was found in children’s crayons imported from China, and only two months later it was reported that counterfeit brake pads had also been able to pass into the country.

Being aware of the potential presence of asbestos is vital for any worker, and Toyota Australia took the step of issuing a warning to their mechanics to be extra vigilant when working on cars previously serviced by independent garages.

Asbestos courses are now widely available, and in the UK it’s a legal obligation for employers to provide such awareness training. To further safeguard their workers’ health, Toyota Australia provided pictures of the counterfeit brake pads that contained asbestos to compare with their own genuine version.