The Demise of the Asbestos Industry: 2023 Update
According to the United States Geological Survey (USGS), between the 1980s the global asbestos heyday and 2021, annual production fell by 73% from 4,811,942 tonnes (t) to 1,300,000t/year.1 With dozens of countries banning all use of this Group 1 carcinogen and others choosing to use safer substances, asbestos markets continue to shrink. It is noteworthy that even in the worlds two largest asbestos-producing countries, consumers eschew the use of asbestos; only 18% of Russian production and 11% of Kazakhstans are used domestically, with all the rest being exported.2 It seems that Russians and Kazakhs are content to reap the financial benefits brought by the industry but not willing to gamble their lives by using the deadly stuff themselves.
There is no question that even in the most tightly controlled regimes, knowledge about the links between human asbestos exposures and the occurrence of cancers and respiratory diseases has leaked out. Over recent weeks, multiple alerts have circulated via online Russian news portals warning of the carcinogenic nature of chrysotile (white) asbestos the type mined in Russia and Kazakhstan and its potential for causing lung and other cancers, with citizens being advised to minimize exposures. 3
Earlier this year, an article by the Deputy Chairman of the Board of the Kazakh Research Institute of Oncology and Radiology Bakytzhan Ongarbaev listed seven risk factors for developing cancer. Included in the second category which was headed Environment was exposure to carcinogens such as asbestos, radiation, chemicals, air and water pollution, which can increase the risk of cancer.4
China, unlike Russia and Kazakhstan, uses more chrysotile asbestos than it produces. Although Hong Kong banned the use of asbestos in 2014 under The Air Pollution Control (Amendment) Ordinance 2014,5 few restrictions have been implemented on the use of chrysotile asbestos in mainland China.6 It was, therefore, somewhat of a surprise to see recent uploads that, taken together, might indicate that a change in the countrys official asbestos policy is in the offing.
An article on May 30, 2023 entitled Asbestos, a first-class carcinogen, has an incubation period of up to several decades, and you may have been exposed by many items you have used, warned Chinese workers and members of the public to take precautions:
Long-term inhalation of a certain amount of asbestos fibers can induce pleural mesothelioma, peritoneal mesothelioma, lung cancer, gastrointestinal cancer and other diseases, and even clinically there is a lung disease caused by inhalation of asbestos called asbestosis At present, China has banned the use of amphibole asbestos in any production activities, but has not banned other types of asbestos. This is because our country is still in the process of industrialization, and it is difficult to completely ban the use of chrysotile in a short period of time, but we have started to improve the regulatory standards for the use of asbestos to ensure the safe use of chrysotile
There was a survey study of workers exposed to chrysotile at a Chongqing asbestos factory that lasted 25 years and compared a highly exposed group with a non-exposed group. It was found that the incidence of lung cancer in the asbestos high exposure group was 8.1 times that of the non-exposed group . It is recommended that people engaged in the asbestos production industry must take good personal protection when working, strictly wear protective equipment such as dust masks, helmets and gloves, and avoid staying in the working environment for too long. Ordinary people try to stay away from asbestos products, and wear dust masks when doing home decoration and other work. 7
On August 4, 2023, a statement on the website of the China Government Network confirmed plans by the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology and the National Health Commission to take action on the asbestos hazard and:
strengthen the standardized management of production at chrysotile-using enterprises, implement control measures to prevent occupational diseases, circulate information about recommended dust hazard precautions for use with substances such as chrysotile paying special attention to the occupational and public health risks posed by the demolition of buildings containing asbestos [Increased] awareness and education regarding health protection can reduce the occurrence of occupational diseases and protect the health rights and interests of the public.8
The Covid-19 pandemic and the pressure put on civil society groups by increasing government controls on the work of non-governmental organizations, trade unions and other groups have impeded the work of ban asbestos campaigners in many countries including China, India, Vietnam, etc. The situation in Vietnam is of particular interest. At the Global Asbestos Congress in Tokyo, Japan in 2004, delegates were informed that the Vietnamese Government was close to banning asbestos.9 Nearly 20 years later, no ban has materialized despite sterling efforts by campaigners supported by officials in Vietnams Ministry of Health as well as by civil servants, trade unionists, medical experts and scientists.10 A selection of articles which appeared so far this year highlighting the dangers posed by Vietnams continuing consumption of ~65,000 tonnes of asbestos per year are noted below. 11Additional news about asbestos developments in Vietnam are available at links on the website of the International Ban Asbestos Secretariat.12
A paper published in 2022 in BMC Public Health a peer-reviewed open-access scientific journal that covers epidemiology of disease and various aspects of public health was categorical about the deadly price that Brazil, China, Kazakhstan, and Russia will pay for their complacent asbestos policies:
It is predicted that China and Brazil will face a public health crisis on an unprecedented scale caused by the use of asbestos... the government of Kazakhstan has never banned asbestos, and diseases are estimated to be under-reported by a large margin. The global economy still encourages asbestos production and use in Russia. Uralasbest runs the worlds largest operating chrysotile asbestos mine in Russian Federation. Although Russia does not have the highest disease burden of asbestos in 2019, these are particularly troubling result [sic] There has been an increasing trend in mortality and DALYs [age-standardized disability-adjusted life year rates] in China, especially in older men. We call for a global ban on asbestos, especially in Brazil, China, Kazakhstan, and Russia.13
What will happen in Brazil, China, Kazakhstan and Russia will be replicated wherever asbestos is still being used. To placate a handful of vested interests, governments are jeopardizing the lives of future generations, condemning them to ill health and premature deaths. The more contaminated their countries become, the more expensive it will be to eradicate the hazard. The future is asbestos-free.
August 10, 2023
1 In United States Geological Survey (USGS) documents, global annual asbestos production is generally taken to be equal to annual asbestos consumption.
USGS. Worldwide Asbestos Supply and Consumption Trends from 1900 through 2003. 2006.
USGS. Asbestos. January, 2023.
2 According to the USGS, in 2020, Russia and Kazakhstan produced 710,000t and 227,000t respectively and used 126,000t and 25,700t.
USGS. Asbestos 2022. Accessed August 6, 2023.
3 Настороженность поможет Врач Алексей Сорокин — о профилактике рака легкого [Being alert will help. Doctor Alexei Sorokin - about the prevention of lung cancer]. August 1, 2023.
Воронежцам напомнили о способах избежать рака лёгкого [Voronezh residents were reminded of ways to avoid lung cancer]. July 31, 2023.
Почти 1300 случаев рака легких выявили на Южном Урале в прошлом году [Almost 1300 cases of lung cancer were detected in the Southern Urals last year]. August 1, 2023.
Врач рассказала, что курение провоцирует почти 90% случаев развития рака легкого [The doctor said that smoking provokes almost 90% of cases of lung cancer]. August 1, 2023.
Почти 1,5 тысячи жителей Удмуртии страдают от рака легких [Almost 1.5 thousand residents of Udmurtia suffer from lung cancer]. June 26, 2023.
4 Семь главных факторов риска развития рака назвал казахстанский онколог [Kazakh oncologist names seven main risk factors for cancer development]. March 20, 2023.
5 Hong Kong Environmental Protection Agency. 石棉管制 [Asbestos Ban]. 2014.
7 级致癌物石棉，潜伏期可达数十年，你用过的这些物品可能都有 [Asbestos, a first-class carcinogen, has an incubation period of up to several decades, and you may have been exposed by many items you have used]. May 30, 2023.
8 工业和信息化部答“长期接触石棉建材等制品会致癌？”问题 [The Ministry of Industry and Information Technology answered the question Can long-term exposure to asbestos building materials and other products cause cancer?
9 Kazan-Allen, L. Global Asbestos Congress 2004: Report. February 11, 2005.
10 Dừng sử dụng Amiang trắng cần có bằng chứng khoa học và lộ trình thích hợp [Stop using chrysotile requires scientific evidence and appropriate route]. July 22, 2017.
"Đã có 65 quốc gia có lệnh cấm toàn bộ hoặc một phần amiăng" [There are already 65 countries with a total or partial ban on asbestos.] July 21, 2017.
Tiến tới dừng sử dụng amiăng trắng tại Việt Nam [Moving towards stopping the use of chrysotile in Vietnam]. July 21, 2017.
11 Nhiều người vẫn vô tư sử dụng một chất gây ung thư hàng ngày dù từng bị cấm ở Nhật Bản và Mỹ [Many people still carelessly use a carcinogen daily despite being banned in Japan and [restricted in] the United States]. March 29, 2023.
Bạn biết gì về ung thư trung biểu mô – căn bệnh ung thư nguy hiểm nhất? [What do you know about mesothelioma the deadliest cancer?]. April 16, 2023.
Một chất gây ung thư từng bị cấm ở Nhật Bản và Hoa Kỳ, nhiều người không biết vẫn vô tư tiếp xúc hàng ngày [Many people are still carelessly exposing themselves daily to a carcinogen banned in Japan and at one time in the United States]. May 2, 2023.
35 bệnh nghề nghiệp được hưởng BHXH [35 occupational diseases are entitled to social insurance]. March 17. 2023.
Amiang, những bệnh do amiang gây ra và tình hình sử dụng ở Việt Nam hiện nay [Asbestos, diseases caused by asbestos and current use in Vietnam]. February 24, 2023.
12 International Ban Asbestos Secretariat (IBAS) Article Archive: Vietnam:
IBAS News Archive: Vietnam:
13 Chen, J., Wang, C., et al. A comparative study of the disease burden attributable to asbestos in Brazil, China, Kazakhstan, and Russia between 1990 and 2019. BMC Public Health Journal. November 3, 2022.