Egypt's Asbestos Legacy 

by Laurie Kazan-Allen



The tragic legacy of asbestos use in Egypt continues to haunt ex-workers and residents of communities located near redundant asbestos factories.1 Prior to the adoption of a national asbestos ban in 2005, asbestos processing facilities such as those belonging to the ORA-Egypt cement factory in the Tenth of Ramadan City liberated asbestos fibers not only as a result of commercial operations but also through the haphazard and unregulated dumping of contaminated waste. As a result of this pollution, the incidence of mesothelioma, an aggressive type of asbestos cancer, has skyrocketed in Egypt from 159 cases during 1984-1999 to 733 cases during 2000-2005.2

Unfortunately, recent air pollution tests conducted by the (Egyptian) National Research Center confirm the continued presence of asbestos in air samples taken near the site of former plants such as those owned by ORA-Egypt and the Sigwart Cement Company, believed to have been Egypt's biggest producer of asbestos cement. Some of the findings are very disturbing:

  • within a 7 kilometer radius of the Sigwart-El Maasara site, asbestos fiber counts of up to 3.02 f/cc were recorded in 2005; samples with the highest readings were collected in an area near a site where factory waste was disposed;
  • in a residential area within 2.5 kilometers of the Sigwart Shoubra El-Kheima plant, airborne asbestos fiber counts of up to 2.6 f/cc were found in 2007 with readings decreasing the further downwind from the factory they were taken. Residents living 100 meters from the factory were at much higher risk than people living further away.
  • In areas near the ORA-Egypt plant in the Tenth of Ramadan City, the mean counts of asbestos fibers ranged from 0.024 to 0.1389 f/cc; the highest readings were found south of the factory, where the prevailing wind would have blown the fibers.

Throughout most of his life, 47-year old Mohamed Abdel Fatah lived less than a kilometer away from the asbestos-cement factory owned by the Sigwart Company at the El Maasara site. It is believed that environmental asbestos pollution from this facility is responsible for the asbestos cancer deaths of his two brothers, his sister and his mother. Relating his experience, Mohamed said:

“When I was a child, I often played with some other kids from the neighborhood on the heaps of rubble discharged by Sigwart trucks in the streets. We had no idea this was dangerous, and the cement company did not bother disposing of its waste further away from the community and its residents… I was diagnosed with mesothelioma cancer seven months ago… Everyone dies; this is natural. What drives me crazy is that I am going to die because of a cement factory's carelessness.”

Despite the Egyptian law which bans asbestos, it is believed that some usage persists due to legislative loopholes and poor enforcement of customs regulations which allow shipments of asbestos fiber and asbestos-containing products to enter the country.

September 26, 2011


1 Sarant L. Asbestos, despite the ban, is killing people more than ever. September 26, 2011

2 Awad, A.H.A., 2011. Airborne asbestos fibres and mesothelioma in the last 20 years in Egypt: a
Atmospheric Pollution Research,
See also: Madkour M.T., Bokhary M.S., Awad Allah, H.I., et al. Environmental exposure to asbestos and the exposure–response relationship with mesothelioma. Eastern Mediterranean Health Journal. Volume 15 No. 1 January-February, 2009.



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