By Paco Puche
At this point, when asbestos or asbestos is banned in more than 55 countries and the irrefutable evidence of its lethality was established by the sixties of last century, there are "scientists" in the world who continue to defend the controlled and non-harmful use of the white asbestos (1), which is used almost exclusively in countries where it is still allowed. They are clearly mercenaries of the chrysotile (white asbestos) lobby.
Also at this point in time in Colombia the mantra of the controlled and safe use of white asbestos is spreading again and, likewise, in Peru a law has just been approved allowing the use of chrysotile asbestos (and prohibiting, yes, the use of asbestos from amphibians, which is the least used in the world).
At this point in many Latin American countries the use of asbestos is still allowed: Mexico, Brazil, Colombia, Venezuela, Bolivia, etc. In all but four. That is why it is appropriate to show the strong arguments that prove the evidence of the lethality of asbestos in all its forms. Scientific and institutional data that support the lethal nature of asbestos and that are useful for everyone. In relation to asbestos / asbestos / uralites, it is a fact sufficiently validated by the scientific community and international health organizations, the following: 1º According to the International Agency Research on Cancer (IARC) dependent on the World Health Organization (WHO), in the evaluation updated on March 31, 2014 (2), asbestos in all its forms and mineral substances that contain asbestos (such as talc and vermiculite) should be safely considered human carcinogens or Group I (3). This classification has already been done since 1987.
2º The works of Kurt Straif, evaluator of the IARC, affirm that the controversies about asbestos “do not alter the fundamental conclusion that epidemiological evidence indicates that all forms (chrysotile, crocidolite, amosite, etc.) and sizes (larger or smaller than 5 microns) of commercial asbestos fibers are carcinogenic to humans ”(4). 3rd.
Regarding doses, the European Parliament ruled in 2013, approving Resolution (2012/2065 (INI) (5) in which it is stated that: “B. Considering that, as early as 1977, a group of experts commissioned by the European Commission concluded that "there is no theoretical evidence that there is an exposure limit below which there is no risk of developing cancer" and that "a safe level of exposure to asbestos has not been established", and considering that this opinion has been confirmed over the years by all scientific advisory bodies, and that the courts generally accept that there is no known limit of exposure to asbestos below which there is no risk ”, adding:“ D .
Considering the increased risk of cancer among the population exposed to very low levels of asbestos fibers, including chrysotile asbestos fibers ”4th Although all forms and doses are dangerous, there are some more than others. The greater or lesser danger depends above all on whether or not the type of asbestos is friable (although there are also other factors to consider (6)). Friable means easily friable and therefore emits millions of micron-sized fibrils (7)
Smooth or corrugated fiber cement plates (asbestos with cement) are not friable under normal circumstances, but they become friable when they break, are blown away by the wind, burn or their useful life ends, that is, in these circumstances the capacity of the material to release the fibers it contains and that makes it very dangerous.
In those cases, in Europe, a legally controlled withdrawal must be imminent.
Just as the buildings in ruins that when they become dangerous for the community, the municipalities initiate a file of imminent ruin, so it must be with the asbestos in imminent ruin (danger). 5º When an asbestos roof catches fire it does not burn but it becomes brittle, it breaks up and becomes friable asbestos.
And due to its crystalline structure, when asbestos is shredded, it forms bundles of fibers that separate longitudinally into smaller and smaller filaments. Each fiber is made up of thousands of fibrils; about 50,000 respirable fibers can emerge from a one millimeter bundle of asbestos.
Due to their small size and shape, they remain in the air as invisible clouds for long periods of time, being able to be transported by air currents over considerable distances and being present in the order of billions of them in the air (8). 6th. In a WHO document of September 2006 entitled “Elimination of asbestos-related diseases” it can be read that: “given that there is a lack of data on the threshold of the carcinogenic effect of asbestos, and that it has been observed a greater risk of developing cancer in populations exposed to very low levels, to effectively eliminate the diseases it causes it will be necessary to abandon the use of all its varieties ”(9).
The Technical Guide of the National Institute of Safety and Hygiene at Work (INSHT) that governs in Spain for the disabled says that: “The use of personal protective equipment for the respiratory tract is always recommended, even in those situations in which the Risk assessment tells us that the limit value is unlikely to be exceeded, for two main reasons: There is no exposure to asbestos, no matter how small, that can be considered safe. It is not possible to guarantee, in most jobs, that unanticipated accidental exposures will not occur. " (10) 7th Asbestos has been banned in Spain (11), Argentina, Chile and Uruguay since 2001 and in the EU since 2005, although countries such as Italy, France, Switzerland, Germany and others did so in the eighties and nineties . The European Directive prohibiting all types of asbestos allowed its use until the “end of its useful life”.
At the end of its useful life, or when it is deteriorated and it is replaced or when it is replaced without more, the deamidation must be carried out, in the case of Europe, in a demanding manner regarding the health of workers and the environment, in accordance with Commission Directive 1999/77 / EC, of July 26, 1999.
The useful life of asbestos is an average of 40 years. Based on this, and on the statistical series of asbestos used in Europe, the dates and quantities of asbestos installed are available and therefore the percentage end of its useful life can be calculated. They are in the following table: Asbestos consumption in Europe between 1920 and 2000 and end of its useful life.
Installed before… End of useful life (mean 40 years) Corresponding deamidation%
1950 1990 5.5
1960 2000 16.6
1970 2010 33.3
1980 2020 61.1
1990 2030 88.8
2000 2040 100
The conclusions are obvious:
- Around 2030, 88.8% of the asbestos installed in Europe should be deamidated and by 2040 it should have reached total decontamination, unless for urgent reasons it must be done earlier.
- by now the third part should be safely secured.
- As this relationship is established between used asbestos and the useful life of 40 years, its calculations can be extrapolated to any country or region in the world. Therefore, also for legal reasons, it is already necessary to ensure a safe removal of most of the installed asbestos.
In any case, around 2040, in Europe and in the Latin American countries that were banned in 2001, there should be no asbestos installed in public or private places. 8º The Spanish legislation in force establishes 0.1 fibers per cubic centimeter (f / cm3) in work environments as admissible limits, but if we go back a few years we find that in the first assessment of maximum allowed values it is the Regulation of Annoying Activities , Unhealthy, Harmful and Dangerous of 1961, which set the maximum permitted concentration of asbestos in productive spaces at 175 fibers per cubic centimeter.
The differences between 1961 and 2014 are 1750 times smaller for the work environment.
“For the application of the occupational exposure limits, it is necessary to take into account that they are reference values for the evaluation and control of the risks inherent to exposure by inhalation, of the chemical agents present in the workplace, and therefore for the protection of the health of workers and their descendants, but they do not constitute a defined barrier of separation between safe and dangerous situations.
In particular, the occupational exposure limit value for asbestos should not be considered as a value that guarantees health protection, since it has not been possible to determine the level below which exposure to asbestos does not entail a cancer risk. " (12).
But if we take into account the French case, we see that in that country the admissible limit values are 5 fibers / liter (which is equivalent to 0.005 f / cm3) (13).
There is a difference of a factor of 20 between the admissible values of one country and the other.
In Spain the legal permissiveness is 20 times higher than in France. 9º The number of victims present, the one already caused by people exposed to this lethal mineral is enormous. For Spain, the asbestos used throughout the twentieth century will cause a number of premature deaths of around 100,000 people and around a million the number of those who will suffer other more benign diseases (14). In the world these numbers are multiplied by at least one hundred times (the same relationship that exists between the asbestos used in Spain and in the rest of the world), that is, a total of 10 million premature deaths and more than 100 million patients with more benign conditions. The WHO (15), which is always cautious, says that: “occupational exposure causes more than 107,000 deaths annually from lung cancer related to asbestos, mesothelioma and asbestosis. It is estimated that a third of occupational cancer deaths are caused by asbestos.
In addition, it is estimated that every year there are several thousand deaths attributable to domestic exposure to asbestos ”, which are a third more than those at work. In total, the figure is 150,000 deaths each year from diseases related to asbestos exposure between 20 and 40 years ago. And "due to the long latency of these diseases, even if their use were immediately discontinued, the number of deaths they cause would only begin to decline within several decades."
10th Future victims will be due to the exposure of people who are currently still exposed. The WHO says that "in the world there are about 125 million people exposed to asbestos in the workplace", which translated into incidents means that, as currently half asbestos is being produced in the world than in the years 1970-1990, a way to approximate the lethal effect would be half of that previously calculated: 5 million deaths and 50 million less serious illnesses. It is necessary to add the numerous victims that will be caused by the asbestos already installed that is repaired and removed in inadequate conditions, or the mere deterioration due to the passage of time and the many natural accidents, to arrive at scandal figures. A genocide.
To stop this plague of the twentieth century, two imminent actions are necessary: One, the prohibition of all types of asbestos (including chrysotile) in all countries where its use is still allowed (which represent 75% of the population world) and Second, to proceed to a management and a safe deactivation plan with a deadline (2040 for Europe, for example) with the asbestos installed. Meanwhile the deadly invisible enemy will be on the loose.