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The myth of safe white asbestos

Reading this article got me thinking about the ongoing threat posed to members of the public by irresponsible and unlicensed asbestos removal and disposal. It seems fly-tipping of asbestos is deemed acceptable by some who presumably, believe they are immune to the effects of inhalation of asbestos fibres, but care not a jot about the health risk to anyone unwittingly coming into contact with their waste.

A charitable interpretation of this behaviour is that those responsible lack awareness of the dangers posed by chrysotile or white asbestos fibres. Anyone alive in the lead up to the ban in the UK of blue and brown asbestos (crocidolite and amosite respectively) in 1985 will recall that the asbestos industry had to concede that these products were killing people, propounded the myth that white asbestos or chrysotile on the other hand was “safe” and duly continued mining billions of tons of the stuff and exporting it around the world. Chrysotile was finally banned in the UK in 1999 when it was finally accepted there is no such thing as “safe“ asbestos and no safe level of exposure.

Asbestos removal is big business in the UK, simply because so much of it was put in our buildings during the C20th, particularly between the 60s and mid-80s. There is no shortage of information freely available from the HSE, local authorities and others, about how asbestos should be safely removed and disposed of to minimise the risk of contamination and injury. A system of licencing asbestos removers exists for a reason and organisations like UKATA work to ensure that those undertaking this work are fully aware of the dangers and employ safe working practices.

There’s no doubt that the dangers of white asbestos have been downplayed in the past and there has recently been an increase in positive propaganda emanating from the chrysotile industry. Let’s not forget that even though it is banned in the UK and the rest of the EU, the use of asbestos-containing products such as brake linings, asbestos boards and sheet materials is still completely legal and as far as the chrysotile industry is concerned, our worries are without foundation. Business as usual then…

You don’t need to be a conspiracy theorist to think something fishy is going on. Could the increase in positive promotion of chrysotile have anything to do with the ongoing negotiations between the US and the EU on the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TIPP)? If ratified, it would seem US manufacturers of asbestos products will be able to impose them on EU markets. With asbestos (mainly chrysotile) causing at least 5,000 deaths in the UK each year and that figure still increasing, surely we’re not prepared to put future generations at risk again? We need to ask ourselves whose interests are actually being served by TIPP.