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Asbestos Still in Wide Use in Developing World

Although people in the U.S. are still dying from exposure to asbestos, it is no longer in common use. This is not the case in India, where asbestos is a $2 billion industry. India is the world’s biggest importer of asbestos, with 100 manufacturing plants that employ at least 300,000 people. The most common use of asbestos in India is in corrugated roof sheets. Asbestos fibers can be released if the sheets are cut or hammered.

More than 50 countries and a variety of labor and medical organizations say that the mineral should be banned. Fibers lodge in the lungs, leading to a variety of cancers and other diseases. By many estimates, 100,000 people die every year in India because of asbestos exposure in the workplace. India’s asbestos industry says that the risks of the substance are exaggerated.

The dangers of asbestos are slowly becoming more widely known in India. In one small northeast Indian community, villagers pulled down a partly built asbestos factory after their petitions and protests were failed to prevent construction from continuing.

Asbestos is long-lasting and head resistant. It was frequently used as an insulating material in the U.S. and other western countries, but it has also been used in shoes, dental fillings, fireproofing sprays, brake linings and ceiling tiles. Doctors and scientists are agreed that asbestos causes mesothelioma, lung cancer, asbestosis, asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.

The World Health Organization (WHO) says that 125 million people world-wide are exposed to asbestos on the job. However, it takes decades for the disease to show itself, so people keep on working, not realizing that they are getting sick. India is the biggest market, importing $235 million worth of the raw mineral. The asbestos industry is no longer welcome in most western countries, including the European Union, so it appears to be seeking to increase markets in poor countries elsewhere, especially in Asia.

Workers in Indian asbestos plants are seldom provided with protective equipment such as masks or filters. Workers at some plants have reported that they are given masks only when a plant is due for inspection.

It is now well-known in the United States that workers in some industries are more likely to be exposed to asbestos than others. These include:

  • Naval and shipyard workers
  • Oil refinery workers
  • Chemical plants
  • Mines
  • Smelters
  • Coal-fired power plants
  • Construction
  • Auto repair

In addition, any factory or manufacturing plant operating in the 1950s through the 1980s probably exposed its workers to asbestos.

Asbestos exposure has been the subject of many class-action and direct lawsuits that have resulted in the bankruptcy of numerous asbestos companies in the U.S. Litigation continues and there is currently a case pending in New York in which the parties are arguing about punitive damages. A recent New York Supreme Court ruling said that asbestos litigants should have the same opportunity to seek punitive damages as other plaintiffs.

If you believe that your lung disease was caused by on-the-job exposure to asbestos, contact a work accident lawyer to learn about your rights.

Source: Vancouverdesi.com, “Asbestos going strong in developing world, where industry glosses over scientific consensus,” Aug 12, 2014.