Environmental Asbestos Fallout in Asia and Africa
The hamlet of Tho Vi in Thanh Hoa Province, Northern Vietnam and the town of Penge in South Africa's Limpopo Province have much in common. Both places are unsafe for human habitation due to years of asbestos production. In the Vietnamese hamlet, there are, on average, 8 cancer deaths every year amongst a population of 1,700; from 1993 to the present, there have been 80 deaths from cancers of the lung, liver and stomach. Local people now refer to the hamlet as the cancer village. Asbestos was mined nearby for some time before operations shut down 20 years ago because the reserves and quality of the fiber were low. Asbestos-contaminated waste was used to reinforce local wells and roads. Tho Vi water contains high levels of asbestos and arsenic.1
Penge is another former asbestos mining town which is heavily contaminated with asbestos.2 Before it was closed in 1992, the world's largest amosite asbestos mine had operated for over 90 years in Penge. When the mine was shut, thousands of local people occupied the mine's buildings and 250 houses previously inhabited by former workers. Commenting on recent measurements which found asbestos in each of 5 samples, Steven Donohue, the acting head of the Department of Community Health, said:
Gross asbestos contamination is clearly not confined to the mine dumps. Penge is an ongoing environmental health disaster and should be deemed permanently uninhabitable Asbestos waste is widespread around the village and is still detectable in water from the Olifants River, which flows past the village.3
In March 2007, the Imerys Group, a French multinational, announced plans to move 240 families to Penge from Segorong village in Limpopo province where the Annesley andalusite mine had run out of reserves. The SA Human Rights Commission and the National Union of Mineworkers have both expressed their concern at this proposal with the NUM labelling this idea as irresponsible. NUM parliamentary coordinator Fred Gona said that the company must find an alternative place for those people. The municipality will have to intervene.
April 6, 2007
1 Asbestos takes a heavy toll on Vietnam 'cancer village.' March 16, 2007. Thanh Nien News. http://www.thanhniennews.com/healthy/?catid=8&newsid=26129
2 Morris R. NUM brands asbestos move as irresponsible. March 22, 2007.
3 Morris R. Firm wants to move families to asbestos wasteland. March 19, 2007. http://www.busrep.co.za/index.php?fArticleId=3739818