Iceland, Norway and Sweden were among the first countries in the world to ban the use of asbestos. Sweden’s trade unions and employers agreed to ban the product in their construction and shipbuilding industries as early as the mid-1970s – very forward-looking when you consider that it was only banned in the UK construction industry in 1999.
After the Second World War, the main type of asbestos imported into Sweden was crysotile, or white asbestos, which came mainly from Canada. Its dangers were largely overlooked as the country, and the world as a whole, embarked on a project of accelerated economic development. During the 1970s, however, asbestos awareness became more widespread and its use was phased out.
How Sweden’s ban on asbestos may have saved lives
Historic exposure to asbestos is one of the major reasons for mesothelioma deaths in the UK. Recognition by Sweden of the dangers of asbestos, in conjunction with a determination to do something about it, has undoubtedly saved lives over the past few decades.
The Scandinavian Journal of Public Health published a study on how the early ban of asbestos in Sweden might have reduced the number of fatalities – this was one of their results:
“… in 2012 the ban has at least avoided around 24 cases of mesothelioma and lung cancer just in men and women below the age of 57 years.”
In a different report published by the journal, senior professor at Sweden’s Umea University, Bengt Jarvholm, estimated that around 121 cases of mesothelioma among men born between 1955 and 1979 were averted.
The report, co-authored with Alex Burdorf, describes the ban as “a major social intervention.”
The US continues to use asbestos in some forms
The United States has not completely banned the use of asbestos. It is still used in the manufacture of many household products, roofing and fireproofing materials. Cases of mesothelioma in America are currently estimated at around 3,000 a year.
Bengt Jarvholm commented on its continued use in the US:
“There are other, less dangerous substances to use. There is no real argument, apart from pure economic ones, to keep using it.”
The US Environmental Protection Agency attempted to ban the use of asbestos completely in 1989, with an Asbestos Ban and Phase Out Rule. This was overturned by Congress after two years.
There is hope of a total ban now, however, with new legislation in the form of the 2007 Ban Asbestos in America Act only requiring to be passed by the White House for it to become law.
Asbestos awareness in the UK
Asbestos training courses in the UK help to keep tradespeople informed about the dangers of asbestos and how to deal with them. Courses can be taken in a classroom environment, but UKATA online training is a popular way to learn thanks to its inherent flexibility. Candidates need to pass a quiz at the end of the course, when an HSE asbestos certificate can be printed off and remains valid for 12 months.