Asbestos Cement: The Evidence is Irrefutable 

by Laurie Kazan-Allen



Observers of the global asbestos epidemic have long categorized estimates of the number of asbestos-related deaths postulated by international agencies as woefully inadequate. Authors of the paper Global-, regional- and country-level estimates of the work-related burden of diseases and accidents in 2019, which was published in November 2023, agree: “a more realistic estimate of asbestos-related deaths could be of 289,621 in the workplace, and 304,841 when including environmental and semi-occupational causalities.”1

Toxic exposures experienced in the manufacture, processing and use of asbestos-cement (AC) material play a significant part in the causation of this global catastrophe; the majority of asbestos consumed every year goes into the production of AC pipes, roofing, cladding, flues, water tanks, etc.

AC consists of 85-90% cement and 10-15% asbestos fiber;2 nowadays white asbestos (chrysotile) is used to make AC but in the past blue (crocidolite) and brown (amosite) asbestos were used. During the 20th century, 6 million+ tonnes of asbestos were imported by the UK.3 If 75% of that was used to make AC, then 30 million tonnes of AC products were incorporated into the national infrastructure. As the life expectancy for commercial buildings averages 50-60 years and domestic properties 70 to 100 years, it is more likely than not that asbestos material remains present in most UK buildings constructed before asbestos was banned (1999).

Two million tonnes of asbestos were used in Australia, at times the world’s highest per capita asbestos consumer; most of it went into the manufacture of AC products. According to a paper published in January 2023:

“Australia’s total asbestos stocks peaked at approximately 11 million tonnes in the 1980s. Over 95% of stocks comprise asbestos cement products, such as wall sheeting and water pipes. Australia’s current remaining asbestos stocks in the built environment are estimated at 6.2 million tonnes, with just under half of total consumption estimated to have gone to landfill as waste.”4

Finding asbestos in Swiss buildings constructed before the country’s asbestos ban came into force (1989/90) is the rule not the exception said the author of an article published on November 14, 2023.5 In Switzerland, as in just about every other country where asbestos has been banned, there are no laws mandating the removal of asbestos-containing products.

The use of AC water pipes remains legal in many countries; even in countries where they are no longer being installed, these pipes remain in service. The U.S has approximately 600,000 miles of aging asbestos water pipes; with a typical lifespan of 50 years, water utility companies frequently replace asbestos water main sections when repairing pipe bursts or renewing systems.

The ubiquity of AC pipes throughout Canada has attracted a lot of media attention this year with coverage by local and national print media and TV programs raising public concern over the health ramifications of drinking water supplied via aging asbestos delivery networks.6 On November 9, 2023, MP Elizabeth May, leader of the Green Party, tabled a parliamentary petition calling on the Government of Canada to:

  1. “Take urgent steps to assess health risks of asbestos in drinking water, in order for the Federal-Provincial-Territorial Committee to establish a drinking water quality guideline;
  2. Include an inventory of asbestos cement water pipes, and assessment of their condition, as a part of ongoing infrastructure assessment;
  3. Release this data publicly in accessible formats;
  4. Develop a plan to replace and dispose of asbestos cement water pipes safely, including worker protection;
  5. Advance prior and informed consent for trans-boundary transportation of asbestos-containing waste; and
  6. Establish an Asbestos Eradication Agency to evaluate and address asbestos in the natural and built environment, including occupational settings.”7

The very real danger of working with AC material was underscored in a journal article published last month (November 2023) by Perry Gottersfeld of the U.S. non-profit organization Occupational Knowledge International.8 Having reviewed information sourced from U.S. government reports, investigations and regulatory actions relating to asbestos exposures experienced during the installation and removal of asbestos cement products – which almost always exceeded U.S. occupational limits – Gottersfeld wrote:

“We found that exposures from asbestos cement products could be alarming high and certainly disproves the asbestos industry's contention that these materials can be used in a ‘safe and responsible’ manner…The study demonstrates that there is an immediate need to ban all asbestos cement products that are sold in many countries as these are still being installed in millions of homes and commercial buildings.”9

Although Gottersfeld’s view about the “immediate need to ban all asbestos cement products,” is vigorously contested by asbestos stakeholders – with Russian and Kazakh lobbyists aggressively targeting UN, WHO, ILO personnel and meetings at every opportunity – regional authorities, medical and scientific associations and health and safety campaigners agree that it is time to end all asbestos use.10 The eradication of the asbestos hazard should be embraced around the world as a priority in the drive to create a sustainable and healthy future for all.

December 1, 2023


1 Takala J, Hämäläinen P, Sauni R et al. Global-, regional- and country-level estimates of the work-related burden of diseases and accidents in 2019. November 12, 2023.
Comments made in a 2017 paper by Jukka Takala et al. suggested “that annual global asbestos mortality could exceed 300,000…”
Takala J. et al. Comparative Analysis of the Burden of Injury and Illness at Work in Selected Countries and Regions. June 2017. Central European Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine
In contrast, in a document released on May 13, 2010, the World Health Organization (WHO) estimated that: “in 2004, asbestos-related lung cancer, mesothelioma and asbestosis from occupational exposures resulted in 107,000 deaths…”
WHO. Preventing Diseases Through Healthy Environments. 2010.
In 2006, the International Labor Organization (ILO) estimated “that 100,000 people die each year from work-related asbestos exposure.”,from%20work%2Drelated%20asbestos%20exposure.

2 It is important to point out that when AC products have been weathered over many years, the per cent of asbestos present could be 50+%.
Asbestos cement products – A low risk material? November 6, 2023.

3 The Health and Safety Executive admits that asbestos is probably still present in 1.5 million UK buildings. This is most likely a serious underestimation.

4 Brown, B., Hollins, I. et al. Asbestos Stocks and Flows Legacy in Australia. January 26, 2023.

5 Amianto: trovarlo è la regola, non l’eccezione [Asbestos: Finding it is the rule, not the exception]. November 14, 2023.

6 Szeto, E. Map: Where are the asbestos cement pipes delivering drinking water in Canada? March 27, 2023.

7 Petition e-4375 (Health). November 9, 2023.
Sears, M. Asbestos cement water pipes petition tabled in House of Commons. November 29, 2023.

8 Gottesfeld,P. Exposure hazards from continuing use and removal of asbestos cement products, Annals of Work Exposures and Health (2023).

9 OK International. Current uses of asbestos exceed exposure limits, finds study. November 14, 2023.

10 International Ban Asbestos Secretariat. Asbestos Policies of Major International Agencies. August 22, 2022.



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