One-Fourth of Population in Asbestos Mining Region has Asbestosis
The Mafefe community in the Limpopo region of South Africa is pleading with its government to expedite programs that will help eliminate asbestos in their area.
Limpopo is a former mining region that has thus far been partially rehabilitated by the South African government, but Mafefe’s population has already been greatly affected by the legacy of mining, with about one-fourth of the population suffering from asbestosis due to toxic pollutants in the soil that permeates the region. (Some say that number is much higher.)
Experts point out that though mining in Mafefe ceased some time ago, largely ending in the late 1960s, asbestos is still visible literally everywhere throughout the area.
It’s not unusual to see children and adults lounging atop asbestos-filled rock and dirt, enjoying a picnic or playing games that kick up the soil and cause asbestos fibers to circulate through the air.
In addition, asbestos from area mines was used abundantly in building products manufactured there, so a vast majority of the structures in the community include asbestos roofs, siding, and other such products.
As the buildings age, so does the asbestos. That causes it to become crumbly and “friable”, which means that it easily flakes and can enter the air, where it can be inhaled by anyone working or living in the area.
Many of the buildings in Limpopo are actually made of asbestos-contaminated soil. The soil would be used to make bricks and the bricks were used in a variety of structures, including school buildings that house children each day.
Now, with minimal help from the government, the Mafefe community is “left alone” to deal with these issues, reports SABC news in a recent story that aired in the region.
While the bureaucrats are fixing some of the roads and constructing a few new school buildings, the legacy of asbestos poisoning continues and it’s likely that today’s Mafefe children will be tomorrow’s victims of diseases like asbestosis and mesothelioma.
It’s a sad truth that permeates this and other parts of Africa where asbestos mining once represented a boon to the local economy.
The miners themselves still deal with a high rate of asbestos disease development, but because there was a lackadaisical attitude about asbestos’ dangers until just a few decades ago, entire communities have suffered.
Finally, however, environmentalists are waking up and spreading the word about the dangers of the hazardous mineral, but for many it is simply too late.
“It was used in the construction of almost every household,” says Zakes Matime, an anti-asbestos campaigner who has become well-known amongst the Mafefe.
He explains that the miners would use “blue” asbestos – one of the most toxic forms of the mineral – to surface the road linking the Mafefe community and others after their mine dump was full and could hold no more.
He told a local newspaper that they only became aware they were “living in hell” after a doctor who worked for the Occupational Health Centre came to visit the region and alerted them to the dangers.
That was a few decades ago. Since then, the community has lost many loved ones, he laments.