“An Asbestos Free Mekong”1 

by Laurie Kazan-Allen



Following the establishment earlier this year of the Vietnam–Australia Awareness and Diseases Prevention Project, dubbed “the first step to an asbestos-free Mekong,” a seminar was held to examine ways to protect occupational health in a country which continues to consume vast quantities of chrysotile asbestos.2 Per capita usage of asbestos in Vietnam is amongst the highest in the world.

Speakers who contributed to the sessions held on April 9 and 10, 2010, discussed hazardous conditions experienced by 10,000 people occupationally exposed to asbestos in Vietnam, including those engaged in the production of asbestos-cement roofing tiles at 43 asbestos processing plants. According to one presenter: “In 2008, the output of asbestos production reached nearly 100 million square meters of tiles and in 2009 that output was 75 million square meters.” Drawing attention to unacceptable conditions at the majority of asbestos plants, one government expert said “in some enterprises, the dust volume is 11 [times] higher than standards.” As a result of these unsafe working environments, there is a high incidence of chronic diseases amongst workers in asbestos-using factories.

Government researchers detailed ongoing efforts to devise an asbestos-free technology for the production of alternative roofing materials. In the meantime, Vietnam's National Institute of Labour Protection is working to raise occupational awareness of the asbestos hazard and implement engineering and hygiene measures to reduce hazardous exposures. Companies found to be breaking Vietnamese standards on the permissible exposure to asbestos are subject to financial penalties.

Researchers in Thailand have recently published a cross-sectional study of four asbestos-cement factories which showed unsafe working conditions were common in the industry:

“The roof fitting polishers had the highest exposure to airborne asbestos fiber (0.73 fiber/ml). The highest average area concentration was at the conveyor to the de-bagger areas (0.02 fiber/ml). The estimated cumulative exposure for the workers performing studied-tasks ranged between 90.13-115.65 fiber-years/ml while the relative risk of lung cancer calculated using US EPA's model was 5.37-5.96. Based on the obtained RR, lung cancer among AC sheet [workers] in Thailand would be 2 cases/year.”3

The authors of this paper issued warnings not only about the hazardous occupational exposures but also about the environmental risk to the general population posed by asbestos liberated during the manufacturing operations. Vietnam and Thailand are currently big users of asbestos, consuming respectively 69,291 tonnes and 49,998 tonnes a year (2008) making them the 4th and 6th largest asbestos users in Asia. Most of this asbestos goes into the production of asbestos-cement building materials.

May 1, 2010


1 An Asbestos Free Mekong. April 14, 2010.

2 Vietnam Initiative on Asbestos. http://ibasecretariat.org/lka_vietnam_init_asb.php

3 Phanprasit W, Sujirat D, Chakittiporn C. Health risk among asbestos cement sheet manufacturing workers in Thailand. Journal of the Medical Association of Thailand. December 1, 2009;92 Suppl 7:S115-20. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20235362



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