Face-to-Face with Asbestos

Travel May Put You Face-to-Face with Asbestos

When you head out on vacation, the last thing you likely think about is whether you’re being exposed to asbestos. But an Australian professor says it’s his duty to warn his countrymen – and others – that when you go to places that still boast high asbestos usage, you could indeed be putting yourself in danger.

Travel May Put You Face-to-Face with AsbestosProfessor Ken Takahashi, director of the Australia-based Asbestos Diseases Research Institute (ADRI), says that while the risk in many countries is miniscule, in places like China, India, Thailand, Indonesia and Vietnam, asbestos consumption is huge.

As a matter of fact, the small Asian country of Laos is where you’ll find the planet’s highest per capita consumption of asbestos and asbestos-containing products.

Thousands upon thousands of Americans visit those countries each year.

The risk comes, Takahashi notes, when tourists stay in an old “historic” hotel that contains the toxic mineral or when travelers find themselves near busy construction or demolition sites where asbestos is almost definitely present.

And construction is at its highest in many Asian countries these days, he adds.

Takahashi explains that more than 60 percent of the world consumption of asbestos occurs in parts of Asia where commercial convenience and the need for development and housing far outweigh public health concerns.

That extends to the health of visitors as well.

Hence, as head of the only dedicated federal agency in the world designed to specifically deal with the legacy of the asbestos industry, Takahashi believes that Australia – marred by decades of negligent asbestos use and mining – must lead the charge towards a total worldwide ban of the toxin.

“Australia should be taking a lead in the global effort to ban asbestos in developing countries that continue to use it at a very high level because it is cheap, widely available and has many advantageous characteristics,” he said in a recent newspaper interview.

“These countries are hesitant to make the transition because they prioritize economy over health, and added to that is the fact that there are many pro-asbestos lobbies trying to maintain the global trade. And there is corruption among officials of ministries of developing countries, so they are not fully motivated to make the transition,” he said, adding that Australian experts are eager to help these countries discover better product options for the uses that asbestos now addresses.

In the meantime, he advises Australians and other travelers – especially to countries who are top asbestos consumers – to use their common sense when traveling, choosing newer hotels and avoiding industrial areas or construction zones where asbestos might be present.