Sri Lanka's Asbestos Challenge 

by Laurie Kazan-Allen



Sri Lanka is a country facing many challenges, not least of which is the reconstruction of the national infrastructure after so many years of war. It is regrettable that in the rush to build commercial and domestic properties, the usage of asbestos is increasing. In 2010, consumption was nearly treble that of the previous year. Over the period from 2000 to 2010, total asbestos consumption was nearly a quarter of a million tonnes (see Figure 1), an average of 22,207 tonnes/year. While other countries have banned or seriously restricted asbestos use, Sri Lanka seems bent on expanding this deadly industry. Nowadays, asbestos is the “number one roofing material in the island… the local market has increased substantially, especially in the North and East” of the country. 1

Sri Lanka's Annual Asbestos Usage (tonnes)

  1. 12,640
  2. 11,165
  3. 8,659
  4. 6,106
  5. 38,388
  6. 32,896
  7. 17,417
  8. 11,994
  9. 58,109
  10. 16,017
  11. 47,892

TOTAL: 244,284 tonnes

(Source: United States Geological Survey.)

Asbestos industry spokesmen in Sri Lanka deny any risk to workers or the public, with comments such as “I have been in this industry for fifty years and I am fine – our workers have medical check-ups every couple of years and so far, everything is alright.” The lack of public and professional awareness and government inaction combined with a lack of medical capacity to diagnose asbestos-related diseases and the inability to bring legal claims due to the marginalization of potential clients has combined to produce a situation whereby more and more asbestos is being incorporated into the fabric of Sri Lanka life.

Dr. Harischandra Yakandawala from the World Health Organization has expressed serious concern about the current situation and has called on the Government to act: “We must educate policy makers, health professionals and communities of the dangers of using asbestos products.” A failure to do so will condemn many citizens in Sri Lanka to early deaths.

January 27, 2012


1 Deutrom E. Sri Lanka's Silent Killer. January 5, 2012.



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