Asbestos Consumption in Southeast Asia Still Very High
For decades, workers in Indonesia thought nothing of tasks that involved handling asbestos. No one ever told them that asbestos was toxic and could make them sick or even kill them.
Even today, when 60 nations throughout the world have banned asbestos in totality, Indonesia and a host of other countries in Southeast Asia haven’t given banning asbestos a second thought.
As a matter of fact, Asia – in general – is responsible for 60 percent of the world’s consumption of the toxic mineral.
However, workers are starting to “wise up”, and those who’ve become ill due to asbestos exposure are now suing for compensation.
A recent article in Medical Express tells the story of 44-year-old Sriyono, a factory employee who works just outside of the capital city of Jakarta.
He’s been working there since a very young age and has now developed asbestosis, evident by his extreme fatigue and non-stop cough. His job involves the manufacture of so-called “gland packing”, which uses asbestos to seal systems such as shaft and pumps.
Sriyono recently received 57 million rupiah (about $4200 USD) from the government for his injuries, and notes that there are likely to be many who will follow his lead. There are already 15 similar cases in the works and no doubt those won’t be the last.
Yet, asbestos use shows no sign of waning in Asia’s emerging economies, says Ken Takahashi, director of the Asbestos Diseases Research Institute (ADRI) at the University of Sydney.
“The consumption in these countries remains at a very high level, exposing many workers and, eventually, as they go into the market and community there is the potential to expose the general population as well,” he adds.
Data from the United States Geological Survey also shows that Indonesia’s use of asbestos grew six times between 1990 and 2012, peaking at about 162,000 tons during that last year.
Now, the numbers have gone down a little but are still substantial. About 180 Indonesian companies report the regular use of raw asbestos or asbestos-containing products.
Dr Anna Suraya, from the Occupational Doctors Association of Indonesia, says there is little awareness among Indonesian employees of the health issues association with asbestos exposure.
“They let people use it and that means people don’t think it is dangerous,” she explained.
Suraya doesn’t think a ban will happen in that country anytime soon, so she’s focusing on getting the word out about the dangers of asbestos inhalation.
“We’ve already started awareness-raising programs, but of course Indonesia is very big and we have to do it gradually,” explained Kartini Rustandi, who is director of occupational health and sports at the ministry of health and is also keen on educating locals about the dangers of working with the hazardous mineral.