Saving future generations from asbestos
The news that asbestos has been found in some buildings is alarming on several levels. The first is the obvious and well-established risk the material poses, including its role in terminal illnesses that sometimes take decades to manifest themselves. Mesothelioma, a cancer usually caused by asbestos exposure, is a particularly unpleasant way to die. The material can also cause debilitating ailments such as asbestosis.
Just as disturbing is the fact that asbestos is being used in new buildings, given that the production or import of board asbestos was banned about 10 years ago. Given the availability of safe alternative products, this casts a shadow on the oversight of the building process if construction companies can use banned materials. This is especially so given the high long-term cost – not just to the health of the workers who install it and those living or working in buildings where it is present, but also the substantial financial price of eventually having to remove it or render it safe.
As our report noted, products containing asbestos are widely available here. Charles Faulkner, head of environment, health and safety at the consultancy Anthesis, said in seven years he had encountered 20 projects – including a school – where asbestos products were used. As Charles Kinniburgh, chief executive of Angus Asbestos Removal in Abu Dhabi, notes, the heart of this problem is lack of awareness.
One downside of the vast range of workers who move to the UAE is that they can bring with them the unsafe work practices that prevail in their countries of origin. One analogy is the field of pest eradication, where some contractors continue to use powerful but dangerous insectides that are in common use in their home countries but have been banned in the developed world. This has led to a series of tragedies in recent years in which children have died. For asbestos, the threat is arguably more sinister because of the long time before symptoms emerge.
As with insecticides, the answer is a combination of better awareness by contractors about the dangers and enhanced official oversight of what is sold and where it is used. There can be no justification for asbestos products to still be on sale, let alone used in new buildings. Now that we know this is a product that can cast a shadow of misery decades into the future, nobody should have to suffer that fate.
Updated: October 25, 2015 04:00 AM