Another Asbestos Ban in Asia!
According to the most recent USGS asbestos trade data, between 2018 and 2020 Asian countries accounted for, on average, 87% of annual asbestos consumption worldwide.1 It is little wonder, therefore, that vested interests are aggressively targeting those markets to neutralize calls by governments, NGOs and civil society groups for an end to this toxic technology.
As of now (2023) only Japan, South Korea and Taiwan have implemented unilateral bans on the use of asbestos in East Asia; in Western Asia, national asbestos prohibitions have been enacted in Iran, Iraq, Jordan, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar and Turkey. In Central Asia none of the countries Kazakhstan, Tajikistan, Afghanistan, Kyrgyzstan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan and Mongolia have restricted asbestos use. In South Asia, Brunei banned asbestos by Ministerial Order in 1996 and, in 2015, Nepal outlawed the import, sale, distribution and use of all asbestos with exemptions for automotive brake shoes and clutch plates. In Southeast Asia, the only government to have acted on the asbestos hazard is Brunei which banned its use in 1994; earlier this month it was announced that Cambodia would also do so.
A spokesperson for the Cambodian Ministry of Information on June 5, 2023, issued a commitment to ban the use of asbestos from 2025 in order to to improve workers welfare.2 During a discussion that day about occupational health and safety between Minister of Labor and Vocational Training Dr. ITH Samheng and the new Australian Ambassador to Cambodia Justin Kevin Whyatt, the Minister confirmed plans by his government to abate the deadly consequences of asbestos exposures on human life and the environment by ending asbestos use.
June 5, 2023 Phnom Penh meeting between (left) Australian Ambassador to Cambodia Justin Kevin Whyatt and Minister Dr. ITH Samheng.
Between 2017 and 2022, Cambodian officials had laid the groundwork for this decision by working with stakeholders in the government and industrial sectors as well as at the grassroots to collect Cambodian data and consult international experts and agencies to develop a clear evidence-based understanding of asbestos related issues.3 The findings of this collaboration formed the basis of the National Asbestos Profile which was issued in 2019 and later updated in 2022.
Members of the Building and Wood Workers Trade Union in Cambodia campaigning against asbestos. Photo: BWTUC/Facebook.
Based on their research, the authors of the National Asbestos Profile reported that Cambodian workers were:
at high risk of exposure to asbestos and therefore asbestos related diseases such as lung cancer and mesothelioma... Those at high risk in Cambodia include construction and demolition workers, vehicle (car/truck/motorbike) maintenance, transport, power plant and power production workers, fire fighters and waste disposal workers. The use of asbestos-containing materials in the built environment (homes or workplaces), places the broader community at some risk also, as building materials require maintenance over time, which inevitably includes surface treatment or complete removal, and the potential release of asbestos fibres.4
Just days before the commitment to ban asbestos was announced, the European Chamber of Commerce in Cambodia (EuroCham Cambodia) a non-profit, non-political organization established to support European businesses operating in Cambodia urged the Government of Cambodia to take urgent action on ending the use of asbestos, a carcinogen which had been banned throughout Europe in order to prevent future diseases and deaths in Cambodia, due to asbestos inhalation The evidence presented by EuroCham for this step was contained in a report released on May 30, 2023 which highlighted the ongoing and widespread use of asbestos-containing building material by Cambodias construction industry.5
Commenting on the import of this breakthrough in Cambodia, campaigner Kate Lee, Executive Officer of Australias Union Aid Abroad, said:
We strongly welcome this significant announcement by the Royal Government of Cambodia signalling an end to asbestos use in Cambodia in 2025. The tragic legacy of asbestos use in Australia that is still killing 4,000 people a year, 20 years after it was banned, is a stark warning to countries in the region still using this deadly substance, especially when so many locally manufactured safer alternative products are available. We look forward along with our international partners to assist the government move forward to achieve this important step to protect Cambodian workers and consumers from toxic exposures and thereby eliminate asbestos-related diseases in Cambodia.6
June 20, 2023
1 United States Geological Survey. Asbestos Trade Data. Accessed June 16, 2023.
(These days the USGS classifies Russia as an Asian country; however, the asbestos consumption figure which we quote for Asia excludes the 10%+ Russian contribution to the USGS data for this region; less than 2.5% of global asbestos consumption occurs outside RussiaAsia.)
3 First National Asbestos Profile of Cambodia was published in 2019; an updated National Asbestos Profile was launched in 2022.
APHEDA. Launch of Cambodian National Asbestos Profile. June 27, 2019.
Samean, L. Ministry launches 2nd national asbestos profile. October 4, 2022.
Press Release. 5 day training brings asbestos hazard awareness and consensus on the need for a ban on asbestos in Cambodia as soon as possible among participants. July 14, 2017.
4 APHEDA. Launch of Cambodian National Asbestos Profile. June 27, 2019.
Other steps on the path to Cambodias asbestos ban can be accessed on the IBAS News Archive: Cambodia.
5 Mathew, M. Call to ban asbestos import, use in Cambodia. May 25, 2023.
6 Cambodia to stop using asbestos from 2025 to improve workers welfare. June 8, 2023.