In 1931, the United Kingdom introduced the first asbestos regulations to control this toxic cancer causing mineral. In 1999, sixty-eight years after that first regulation, the UK officially prohibited all use of asbestos. This happened just 16 years after Iceland became the first country to issue a complete ban on the deadly mineral.
Since then, more than 50 countries have issued either comprehensive or partial bans on asbestos. Some countries, like the United States, still allow for the toxic mineral to be used under certain circumstances or in limited proportions. Why would a country allow this toxic mineral’s use to continue when it has been clearly linked to life threatening diseases such as mesothelioma? In 2014 alone, mesothelioma was the cause of death for 2,567 citizens in the United Kingdom. Are the benefits of using asbestos worth the loss of so many lives? What are the factors preventing a universal ban of its production and use?
Complex Political Systems
To get anything banned in a country requires political action and every country has its own legal process to bring about a prohibition of a substance when warranted. In some less developed countries, the banning process can be very simple and a government official can simply recognise that something is not good for their society and issue a ban. There are, however, many countries that have more complex political systems where it can take many years to make a substance illegal. A prime example of a more complex, and thus slower system, is the government of United States, which still hasn’t banned asbestos.
Pro-Asbestos Lobbying Groups
There are groups that heavily promote the use of asbestos to political leaders in developed countries. They spend millions of dollars doing so and are known to use all sorts of deceptive tactics to promote their own interests. Often these groups have economic ties to companies, industries and even countries that produce and/or use asbestos.Their websites may actively promote the idea that asbestos can still be used in ways that will not harm humans. This position is not accepted by most health authorities.
Low Mesothelioma Rates in Underdeveloped Countries
Some research shows that countries with no bans on asbestos tend to have lower mesothelioma death rates than countries with asbestos bans. This anti-intuitive conclusion is due to the fact that many countries with no ban on asbestos typically don’t have well-developed health-related infrastructures. Therefore, capturing disease rates and causes of death is often less than perfect.
It’s a Cheap and Effective Building Material
Asbestos is not expensive and with its ability to be woven, anti-corrosive, and fire resistant, it can increase the profitability for companies that produce and use asbestos, resulting in more money for a country. When you take a country like Russia, which produces over 600 thousand metric tons of asbestos annually, it can result in an an immediate financial loss if you were to ban the mineral. While the immediate profits can never outweigh the cost of lives lost from asbestos-related diseases, they can blind those in power and prevent laws to prohibit asbestos.
As long as asbestos is mined, sold, and used in any country, it is a threat to people world-wide. The World Health Organization strongly believes that the most efficient way to eliminate asbestos-related diseases is to stop the use of all types of asbestos. The WHO plans to continue educating countries on why there needs to be a comprehensive ban on this toxic mineral so that we can make our world a better and safer place for our children.