Vietnam hesitates to ban white asbestos use

While many countries have prohibited the use of white asbestos, it is still in use in Vietnam, Vietnam’s Evidence-based Health Policy Development Group (EBHPD) said at a conference in Hanoi last week.

The number of countries strictly prohibiting asbestos has increased three times to 54 countries from 2001 to date.

Meanwhile, Vietnam delayed the time to impose the prohibition from 2004 to 2010 and then 2020, and is intending to postpose it until 2030.

White asbestos is a fibrous substance used as a material for fibro cement sheets, brake linings and fire-resistant and insulating chemicals.

The substance is considered the most dangerous occupational carcinogen according to experts at the conference on scientific bases for protecting public health against harms of white asbestos.

Data of the World Heald Organization (WHO) revealed that more than 100,000 people die of diseases caused by white asbestos and over 1.5 million people catch related diseases a year.

It is estimated that more than half of the deaths from occupational cancer are related to white asbestos.

Lung cancer caused by white asbestos kills 41,000 people while mesothelioma cancer causes 59,000 deaths a year.

White asbestos is the cause of 80 pollution of mesothelioma cancer cases and the number of people dying of this disease has kept increasing in developed countries which overused the substance in the past.

According to WHO, treatments of the diseases caused by white asbestos cost US$2.4 billion compared to the economic value worth US$802 million that the substance brought in 2008.

Many countries have been sued and had to pay dearly for being late in prohibiting white asbestos.

Despite the danger of white asbestos, Vietnam still hesitates to ban its use.

The country now has 41 producers of fibro cement sheets from white asbestos with 70 factories in 23 cities and provinces and running with an average capacity of 75-100 million square meters per year.

Vietnam mostly imports white asbestos for domestic consumption. In the past ten years, the country has been in the list of top ten countries consuming white asbestos with an average of 65,000 tons per year.

In 2012, Vietnam consumed nearly 79,000 tons of white asbestos to produce 80 million square meters of fibro cement sheets for the local market, making it stand in the sixth position of the countries consuming the largest amount of the substance.

Nguyen Thi Hong Tu, a WHO expert on noncommunicable diseases in Vietnam, said white asbestos has been recommended to be listed in Annex III of the Rotterdam Convention at the conference last year.

Substances listed under Annex III of the convention, a global treaty to promote shared responsibilities in relation to import of hazardous chemicals, require exporting countries to advise importing countries about the toxicity of the substances so that importers can give their prior informed consent for trade.

At the conference, 143 countries agreed the recommendation to put white asbestos in Annex III and only seven countries opposed the idea, including Vietnam, the only importer of the substance, and the other six are exporters.

Global experts have called for the Government to stop the use of white asbestos no later than 2020 and agree to put the substance in the Annex III of Rotterdam Convention.

They also suggested Vietnam put the label of dangerous product on fibro cement sheets containing white asbestos to inform consumers.

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