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Thread: Asbestos plagues Japan as officials failed to ban the killer substance

  1. #1
    Twirling dragon Maciamo's Avatar
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    Unhappy Asbestos plagues Japan as officials failed to ban the killer substance

    Guardian Unlimited : Japan's asbestos time bomb

    Quote Originally Posted by Guardian
    It was once embraced as the answer to the construction industry's prayers: a cheap, light and easily obtainable substance that would make buildings stronger, warmer and more resistant to fire. A quarter of a century has passed since the world was emphatically warned that asbestos was also a killer.

    The material has been blamed for thousands of deaths, and has condemned its victims to years of suffering from lung cancer, pneumoconiosis and mesothelioma, a cancer of the chest and abdominal cavities of which asbestos inhalation is the only known cause.

    While most of the industrialised world has banned or severely restricted the use of asbestos, the substance is now fuelling the rapid development of several Asian countries including China and Thailand.

    Those countries could do worse than listen to the hundreds of stories of lives painfully cut short in Japan, which is only just coming to terms with the full horror of its former dependence on asbestos and the inept response of its government to the health consequences.

    ...

    Then came the deluge: according to health ministry data almost 900 people died of mesothelioma in 2003 alone, and last week the trade ministry said nearly 400 people - and in several cases their relatives as well - working for dozens of companies had died from diseases caused by the inhalation of asbestos.

    In the absence of a means of recording the incidence of such diseases among the myriad subcontractors that support the Japanese construction industry, the actual death toll is feared to be much higher.

    Many of the victims were for years unaware that tiny fibres of asbestos had lodged themselves inside their lungs. Mesothelioma has an incubation period of between 20 and 40 years.

    And yet 25 years after the World Health Organisation identified asbestos as a carcinogen, Japan's silent time bomb continues to tick.

    Despite the warnings, blue and brown asbestos - the most carcinogenic forms - were not banned until 1995, and even then only in principle, while white asbestos, which is said to be a much weaker carcinogen, was outlawed only last year. Even with the bans in place, however, asbestos can still be used when no alternative materials are available. It is still found in gaskets for machinery, insulating plates for switchboards, chemical seals and industrial rope. A ban on all asbestos use will not go into effect until 2008.

    It is not as if the government was unaware of the dangers: as long ago as the mid-70s, British studies on the health risks of asbestos prompted Japanese officials to urge firms and local authorities to warn local residents and encourage at-risk workers to undergo health checks. The directive was largely ignored.

    Critics have likened the inaction over asbestos to the HIV scandal of the 1990s, when despite official knowledge of the risks involved, thousands of haemophiliacs acquired the Aids virus via unheated blood products.

    Faced with overwhelming evidence of the misery asbestos has caused, the government has been forced to act. It has urged private firms to stop using the substance immediately and is drawing up a compensation plan for victims - though payments may only be forthcoming only if government inaction is found to have been responsible for their ill health.

    ...

    Health experts, meanwhile, warn that the worst is yet to come, when people who have been exposed in more recent times begin to show symptoms of asbestos-related diseases.

    One expert has predicted that over a 40-year period starting in 2000, the number of deaths from the disease could exceed 100,000. Thought will also have to be given to how an unknown number of old, asbestos-laden buildings, including schools, can be demolished without posing a risk to both workers and nearby residents.

    That so many people have had to die such long, painful deaths, is being called a national tragedy; that the majority of those deaths might have been prevented in this, the world's second-biggest economy, could fairly be described as a national disgrace.
    Yet another frightening health-related scandal. It is hard to believe that Japan is a so-called developed country when we hear such stories. To put in relations with :

    - Japanese hospitals accused 'again' of transferring contaminated blood

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  2. #2
    Regular Member bossel's Avatar
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    I don't think Japan is that much worse in that regard than other industrialised countries. In Germany, asbestos use was prohibited in 1993. An EU-wide ban has come into existence only in 2005. The number of asbestos related deaths in Germany was 1068 in 2003. IIRC, usage in very restricted circumstances is still allowed.

  3. #3
    Twirling dragon Maciamo's Avatar
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    According to Wikipedia, asbestos production was prohibited since 1978 in the US and the last houses using it were uilti in 1986, almost 20 years ago.

    Quote Originally Posted by Wikipedia
    Structural components like asbestos panels were also used. In residences, it was often a component of a type of flocked acoustic ceiling called "popcorn ceiling", until its production was banned in the U.S. in 1978. However, the ban allowed installers to use up remaining stocks, so houses built as late as 1986 could still have asbestos in their acoustic ceilings.
    From a quick Google search, it seems that houses with asbestos were not built after the mid-80s in the UK as well. This article from the Guardian also shows a British viewpoint, and mentions that Britain alreday warned Japan about asbestos danger as early as the mid-70's.

    Asbestos was banned in 1980 in Belgium, and the substance was subsequently removed from buildings such as the Berlaymont in Brussels (where the EU Commission is based).

    Interestingly, the French-version of Wikipedia on the matter says that Germany banned asbestos in the late 1980's after the Scandinavian countries.

    So, I suppose that 1993 was the date of the total ban on all kind of asbestos, but there could have been an earlier ban. For example, in France, the first ban was in 1977 but the total ban did not come until 1997. If Germany didn't not ban any kind of asbestos before 1993, then it was well behind the US, UK, France or Belgium regarding asbestos legislation. Japan is well behind anyway, as the first ban was introduced in 1995 (about 20 years after the US, UK or France), and the total ban only came this year, i.e. 12 years after Germany.

  4. #4
    Regular Member bossel's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Maciamo
    According to Wikipedia, asbestos production was prohibited since 1978 in the US and the last houses using it were uilti in 1986, almost 20 years ago.
    Acc. to my information the US still hasn't a real asbestos ban. Perhaps they banned only particular usage.


    Interestingly, the French-version of Wikipedia on the matter says that Germany banned asbestos in the late 1980's after the Scandinavian countries.
    I looked it up as well, & I found at least 4 dates for prohibition in Germany: 1989/90/93/95, 1993 being the date of a chrysotile ban (Belgium was actually later than Germany on chrysotile). Now I found a page which has a nice chronology on asbestos prohibition:
    International Ban Asbestos Secretariat
    The 1st ban:
    1983 Iceland introduces ban (with exceptions) on all types of asbestos (updated in 1996)

    other interesting dates:

    1993 Germany introduces ban (with minor exemptions) on chrysotile, amosite and crocidolite having been banned previously.

    1995 Japan Bans crocidolite and amosite

    1996 France introduces ban (with exceptions) on chrysotile

    1998 Belgium introduces ban (with exceptions) on chrysotile

    2005 Cyprus, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Greece, Hungary, Lithuania, Malta, Portugal and Slovakia to prohibit the new use of chrysotile, other forms of asbestos having been banned previously, under EU deadline


    I suppose, since there are different forms of asbestos & many ways to use it, it's no wonder that there is a bit confusion as to the exact dates of prohibition.

  5. #5
    Regular Member cicatriz esp's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by bossel
    Acc. to my information the US still hasn't a real asbestos ban. Perhaps they banned only particular usage.
    http://www.epa.gov/asbestos/ban.html

    All new use was banned here in 1991. Additionally, all flooring felt and rollboard must be removed from any building. Just as an aside, my father is an attorney and his firm has had no shortage of asbestos cases taken to court and won. Even though technically asbestos clothing is not illegal here, if you sell it you are probably going to be sued.

  6. #6
    Regular Member bossel's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by cicatriz esp
    All new use was banned here in 1991.
    Thanks for the link, but to clarify: As I understand it, asbestos is only banned "in products that have not historically contained asbestos" & the mentioned exceptions. Therefore, there is probably no effective ban on asbestos in the US. & court cases can probably be avoided by putting the right warning labels on products containing the stuff.

  7. #7
    Junior Member DoctorP's Avatar
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    Buildings that contain asbestos in the US are fine until the asbestos is in danger of being "disturbed" or caused to become airborne. Thus, unless damage is caused to the building or renovations are to be made, people may not know if there is even asbestos there. Where I work, each time a new area becomes subject of renovation, we have to test surfaces for asbestos (walls, overheads, floor tiles) then if asbestos is present we go forward with abatement procedures. Until then it just sits dormant and undisturbed.

  8. #8
    Twirling dragon Maciamo's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by CC1
    Buildings that contain asbestos in the US are fine until the asbestos is in danger of being "disturbed" or caused to become airborne.
    I imagine that anytime an earthquake strong enough to "disturb" the asbestos (when roofs are damaged or buildings collpase) there is a serious health hazard for the whole neighbourhood or even city. Japan being more prone to earthquakes to almost any other developed country, the risk of having a cloud of asbestos flying over a city hit by a powerful earthquake is very real. Imagine that if a 5-year old child survives a major earthquake, he or she might die from lung cancer when they are 25 because of the high level of asbestos released into the air during the earthquake.

  9. #9
    Junior Member DoctorP's Avatar
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    Ahh but you are talking of a severe situation, and not just general dangers of having asbestos. The dangers in Japan are not the same as they would be in say...Kansas? It is unproven that a severe one time exposure would lead to eventual death. Long time repeated exposures are usually more dangerous. But I do agree that your scenario is at the least troublesome.

  10. #10
    Twirling dragon Maciamo's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by CC1
    It is unproven that a severe one time exposure would lead to eventual death. Long time repeated exposures are usually more dangerous. But I do agree that your scenario is at the least troublesome.
    Unproven ? How do you explain that construction workers handling or removing asbestos have to wear a full protective wear and oxygen masks like the ones they wear in radiated areas or doctors treating patients contaminated with extremely contagious virus. Check pictures here. I read that just inhaling asbestos contaminated air once is enough to develop diseases such as lung cancer.

  11. #11
    Regular Member bossel's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by CC1
    It is unproven that a severe one time exposure would lead to eventual death. Long time repeated exposures are usually more dangerous.
    No & yes. AFAIK, it has been shown that inhaling even 1 fibre of asbestos may lead to cancer (& perhaps eventual death). That's simply a matter of probability, though. The more inhaled fibres & the longer the exposure, the greater the risk.

  12. #12
    Twirling dragon Maciamo's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by bossel
    I looked it up as well, & I found at least 4 dates for prohibition in Germany: 1989/90/93/95, 1993 being the date of a chrysotile ban (Belgium was actually later than Germany on chrysotile). Now I found a page which has a nice chronology on asbestos prohibition:
    International Ban Asbestos Secretariat
    The 1st ban:
    1983 Iceland introduces ban (with exceptions) on all types of asbestos (updated in 1996)

    other interesting dates:
    1993 Germany introduces ban (with minor exemptions) on chrysotile, amosite and crocidolite having been banned previously.
    1995 Japan Bans crocidolite and amosite
    1996 France introduces ban (with exceptions) on chrysotile
    1998 Belgium introduces ban (with exceptions) on chrysotile
    FYI, chrysotile, or white asbestos, is the least dangerous form of asbestos.

    I have found this article in the news today : Mainichi Shimbun : Japan to sign 1986 Asbestos Convention

    Quote Originally Posted by Mainichi
    Japan has now met the regulations in the convention banning so-called white asbestos, or chrysotile, Chief Cabinet Secretary Hiroyuki Hosoda said. Tokyo will sign the treaty over the next few days, the Foreign Ministry said.

    The 1986 convention bans certain types and uses of asbestos. It provides clear restrictions on any use, demolition and disposal of asbestos-containing products, such as insulation or roof tiles.
    ...
    Highly carcinogenic types of the material -- so-called blue and brown asbestos -- were banned in Japan in 1995. But white asbestos, the most common form, was not outlawed until last October and a loophole still exists allowing the material to be used when there are no substitutes.

    Japan is only the 28th signatory of the asbestos convention, which has been criticized as a weak agreement ignored by many of the world's key asbestos-producing countries, including the U.S. and Russia.
    If 27 countries have already signed the convention and that does not include the US and Russia, I suppose that most European countries have signed it.

  13. #13
    Danshaku Elizabeth's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by CC1
    Buildings that contain asbestos in the US are fine until the asbestos is in danger of being "disturbed" or caused to become airborne. Thus, unless damage is caused to the building or renovations are to be made, people may not know if there is even asbestos there. Where I work, each time a new area becomes subject of renovation, we have to test surfaces for asbestos (walls, overheads, floor tiles) then if asbestos is present we go forward with abatement procedures. Until then it just sits dormant and undisturbed.
    I wonder if this is a functional translation of UAscattered or dispersed asbestos particles which has been the focus of Japanese cleanup efforts. @

    From a headline last weekend, for instance, the Department of Education is less than one percent finished surveying schools for "free floating" molecules and to date has found 199 classrooms and 142 schools at risk. It's unfortunately not a great shock in Japan but still unbelievable that asbestos manufacturers could pay off government officials over a period of more than two decades to keep it unbanned and as available as possible.

  14. #14
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    The material has been blamed for thousands of deaths, and has condemned its victims to years of suffering from lung cancer, pneumoconiosis and mesothelioma, a cancer of the chest and abdominal cavities of which asbestos inhalation is the only known cause.
    What more these people need to realize the danger? Are these deaths worthless? That's a shame, we are talking about human rights here not being respected. Mesothelioma Law Suits have become very popular lately becuase they are associated whit success and victim compensations. You should seriously think about that.

  15. #15
    Resident Realist nice gaijin's Avatar
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    you DO realize that the post you quoted was penned over 2 years ago, don't you? If you want to rekindle this conversation, I suggest you find some up-to-date material about asbestos in Japan.

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