South Africa Bans Asbestos!
On March 28, 2008, regulations to ban asbestos came into force in South Africa (SA). After nearly 10 years of discussion, research and consultation, Environmental Affairs Minister Marthinus van Schalkwyk announced (March 27) that Regulations for the Prohibition of the Use, Manufacturing, Import and Export of Asbestos and Asbestos Containing Materials1 would be gazetted for implementation the next day. The import of asbestos-containing waste into the Republic is also prohibited except for waste from a member of the Southern African Development Community2 which is intended for safe disposal at an authorized SA disposal state. There is a 120-day grace period during which businesses are allowed to off-load stock of asbestos-containing products. After that, the sale of such goods could be punished by fines of up to R100,000 (~US$13,000) and/or imprisonment of up to 10 years plus a fine of up to three times the commercial value of anything in respect of which the offence was committed.3
Announcing the ban at a media briefing in Pretoria,4 the Minister said that requests by Canada and Zimbabwe to be exempt from the prohibition had been denied.5 He added that asbestos-containing products would no longer be imported from Zimbabwe. Unfortunately, the transport of these products from Zimbabwe through South Africa will still be permitted but under strict conditions.6 The Minister also pointed out that the Asbestos Regulations 2001 have strict requirements to prevent occupational exposures to asbestos which mandate workplace asbestos registers, risk assessments, regular training and periodic monitoring of asbestos-containing materials.7
This law is a triumph which shows SA's concern for the health of its citizens. When you realize that SA once supplied 97% of the world's crocidolite, 100% of its amosite and was the 5th largest producer of chrysotile asbestos,8 the fact that the country has taken this decision speaks volumes about its concern not only for its own people but for people around the world.
April 2, 2008
2 Members of the South African Development Community are: Angola, Botswana, Congo, Lesotho, Madagascar, Malawi, Mauritius, Mozambique, Namibia, South Africa, Swaziland, Tanzania, Zambia, Zimbabwe.
3 There is a protocol for obtaining permission to continue using asbestos in a limited range of identified products but users must comply with a rigorous registration procedure which includes the submission of an Asbestos Phase-out Plan with information on:
(a) proposed alternatives to the use of asbestos containing materials in the manufacture of the identified product;
(b) where such alternatives do not exist, reasons why such alternatives do not exist and the steps which will be taken to develop such alternatives' and
(c) the time periods within which the manufacturer intends replacing the use of asbestos with alternatives to asbestos or asbestos containing materials.
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8 At one time, asbestos accounted for 3% of the value of SA's minerals.