Illegal Asbestos Sales Not Uncommon
In Nepal, the use of asbestos has been banned since Christmas Eve 2014. Yet, authorities report, no government agency seems to be monitoring that ban and, as such, “the clandestine sale of asbestos is rife,” reports one of the country’s newspapers.
“Public Health and Environment Promotion Centre has expressed worry over the clandestine sale and distribution of the harmful substance from hardware shops and construction sites,” writes a reporter for the Himalayan Times. As a result, the agency has called for more strict monitoring at the local level, which seems to be where problems occur.
Small business owners who cater to the construction business seem to have no qualms about selling raw asbestos or products that contain asbestos to those who ask for them.
In that region, asbestos is used mostly for roofing and homeowners seem to be hesitant to give it up, given its strength, durability, and low cost, so most end users have found that it’s not difficult to locate illegal sellers from whom they can buy materials to patch or replace their roof.
It’s not that the government condones this. It’s just that it’s slipped through the cracks.
Secretary at Ministry of Supply Anil Kumar Thakur told the paper that they are doing everything they can to create a strong monitoring mechanism at the local level in communities throughout the country, which has a population of about 29 million and 744 local units characterized as such: 4 metropolises, 13 sub-metropolises, 246 municipal councils and 481 villages. It is the villagers that most often use the asbestos.
Authorities in other countries – mostly developing countries – have encountered similar illegal asbestos sales. Individuals at the poverty level or with very low incomes find that asbestos is a material they can afford to purchase, so they do so.
However, by using asbestos for roofing or for other purposes inside and outside their homes, they are exposing themselves to hazardous toxins that can eventually cause health problems such as mesothelioma.
One of the questions that remains is if these individuals have ever been educated as to the dangers of asbestos exposure. It’s likely that some – or most – villagers in Nepal have no idea that the building materials they’re using are hazardous, so they see no reason why they shouldn’t go on using them, as usual.
Indeed, significant amounts of the material are still used in many places, such as India, China, and Russia as well as countless developing countries.
“Major producers such as Russia, Kazakhstan, China, and Brazil* continue to produce and export asbestos to countries around the world, especially to low- and middle-income countries that too often have weak or nonexistent occupational and environmental regulations,” notes a report in the Annals of Global Health (Frank et al, 2014).
By all accounts, Nepal has likely been one of those markets.
Unfortunately, however, there is already a fairly high rate of asbestos disease there and nothing will change until enforcement of the asbestos ban becomes a priority for that government.
*Note: Brazil has recently announced that they will stop producing and importing asbestos.