Worldwide Asbestos Use and Exposure
The United States is not the only nation to have made extensive use of asbestos throughout the 20thcentury. Since the mineral occurs naturally around the world, many countries have mined asbestos for domestic use as well as export. Unfortunately, some countries still process, use, and export this toxic substance.
While the United States certainly has a long and complicated relationship with asbestos use, that of Canada may be even more complex. Just like in the United States, asbestos use is severely restricted in Canada, but there is no outright ban. One reason for this is the existence of a number of asbestos mines within the country. In fact, the largest mine in the world, the Mine Jeffrey, is located in Quebec, near a town called Asbestos. While the U.S. has not mined the toxic substance since 2002, the Canadian government has recently considered reviving production at the mine, expanding its small workforce in order to export more asbestos to Asian countries that do not have restrictions on the material. This is not without serious controversy, especially because the government has spent millions of dollars removing asbestos from Canada’s own schools and federal buildings.
Asbestos is currently banned in many European countries, including Austria, Belgium, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Holland, Norway, Poland, Romania, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Turkey, and the United Kingdom. In the U.K., the regulation of asbestos falls under the purview of the Health and Safety Executive, which warns that anyone who worked in construction or renovation up until the year 2000 may be at risk of developing an asbestos-related disease.
While Australia did ban the use of asbestos in 2003, it came too late for many who had already been exposed. The Wittenoom mine in Western Australia has contributed greatly to the number of asbestos-related deaths in the country. Blue asbestos, also known as crocidolite, is an especially dangerous form of the mineral, but was mined in Wittenoom beginning in 1938. Conditions in the mine and the nearby mill were appalling for a number of reasons, but the longest-lasting consequence has been the legacy of asbestos-related disease; Western Australia has the highest per capita rate of death by mesothelioma of any other location in the world.
Asia and Oceania
Though some countries in Asia and the Pacific islands have placed bans or restrictions on asbestos, its use remains largely unregulated in many countries, including India, Vietnam, Cambodia, Thailand, Bangladesh, Indonesia, Pakistan, and the Philippines – all countries to which Canada plans to export asbestos. In 2010, Russia, China, and Kazakhstan were, respectively, the first, second, and fourth largest producers of asbestos in the world. China was the largest consumer, followed by India and Russia, with Thailand in the fifth spot. Despite these numbers, many activists across Asia and Oceania are working tirelessly to ban asbestos and protect their fellow citizens from its dangers.