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Asbestos Poses Great Threat For Workers
HANOI, April 10 (Bernama) -- A lack of research facilities is hampering the Health Ministry's efforts to provide evidence to show that asbestos is a threat to workers, the Vietnam news agency (VNA) reported.

Without the evidence, it is difficult to persuade policy makers to prohibit the use of the fibre that causes malignant mesothelioma, lung cancer and other fatal diseases.

The Preventive Medicine Department's Occupational Health and Injuries Division deputy director Nguyen Thi Lien Huong says the World Health Organisation has concluded that asbestos is toxic.

But domestic scientific evidence to show its effect on Viet Nam's workers is not available.

The Health Ministry has only two hospitals equip-ped to count the amount of the deadly fibre at a work site; the construction industry has just one.

Medical records are needed to show a patient's work record and place of residence to provide evidence of the link between asbestos and lung disease but the Viet Nam National Cancer Institute does not keep such histories of its patients.

"The health sector has failed to identify patients whose lung cancer was linked to asbestos," says the deputy director.

In Vietnam, manufacturers are allowed to make roofing and other products from chrysotle asbestos with the strict implementation of national environmental and health safety standards and regulations.

The Construction Ministry's Construction Materials Department deputy director Vo Quang Diem values asbestos for its usefulness in parts of Vietnam prone to storm and floods.

Asbestos roofing, known as fibro, is heat resistant and cheaper than other materials. It has been widely used throughout the country for urban dwellings, industrial parks and in rural and remote communities.

"This industry has effectively contributed to the Government's hunger eradication and poverty reduction programme," he says.

"We think the task is to control the production of asbestos to avoid pollution rather than eliminate it."

Environment and Sustainable Development Centre director Pham Van Hai says it takes 10 - 15 years for people exposed to asbestos to fall ill.

Many workers had changed their jobs or moved by then.

Monitoring those indirectly-infected - a husband, a wife, children, parents and relatives of workers and people living exposed to asbestos - is also very difficult.

"The lack of evidence and data hampers the dissemination of information that would help people to understand the harm asbestos does to their health," he says.

Although many workers are aware of the danger of asbestos, it's not enough to make them fear it.

"The workers still eat and drink in the asbestos dust and then wear their work clothes to return home," he says.

Many scientists and health experts said the workers were in danger of exposing to asbestos. It was necessary to study to find another material replacing asbestos, phasing out the use of asbestos in the country in the future.

Vietnam has more than 40 factories making asbestos roofing, reports the Construction Materials Department.

The country imports about 60,000 tonnes of chrysolite - one of six minerals defined as asbestos - each year to produce about 80 million sq.m of roofing sheets.

More than 10,000 Vietnamese work with asbestos.

The World Health Organ-isation lists asbestos among the most deadly occupational carcinogens that cause about half of the deaths from cancer in the workplace.

Heaviest exposure occurs during re-packaging of asbestos containers; mixing it with other materials and the dry cutting of materials containing asbestos with abrasive tools, it says.

Exposure can also occur during installation and use of asbestos-containing products and maintenance of vehicles.

Posted on 12 Apr 2009

Human Rights Watch


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