Thailand's Asbestos Time Bomb
It came as no surprise when news was published this summer that Thailand had reported its first case of mesothelioma, an aggressive asbestos-caused cancer.1 For over 40 years, Thailand has been importing asbestos, most of which has been used in the production of building materials. In recent years, Thailand has been amongst the world's top 7 consuming countries, accounting for up to 11% of annual consumption in Asia and 7% worldwide.2
Asbestos Consumption in Thailand3
|Year||Tonnes||Global Rank||% of Asian Use||% of Global Use||From Canada|
Although the vast majority of asbestos used in Thailand comes from the Russian Federation, imports also come from Brazil and Canada.4 Considerable pressure has been exerted by these supplier countries on the Thai Government to uphold the status quo which permits the use of asbestos. Indeed, prior to the Thai Ministry of Public Health holding an asbestos conference in Bangkok in 2006, two asbestos lobbyists, with proven links to the Canadian asbestos industry, journeyed to the Thai capital in an attempt to derail the conference. They did not succeed.5
Thailand's first reported case of mesothelioma occurred in a 75 year old man who had worked in a factory producing asbestos roofing tiles. Medical expert Pichaya Pakthongsuk believes that in the future up to 1,200 people could die every year from asbestos-related diseases in Thailand. Thai consumer groups have called for the import and use of asbestos to be banned and for the implementation of measures to safeguard public health. Critics claim that warning labels mandated by regulations introduced in March 2010 are ineffectual; as a result, consumers and homebuyers remain ignorant about the asbestos hazard. Associate Professor Witaya Kulsomboon of Chulalongkorn University, who has highlighted the consequences of Thailand's asbestos policy, noted: It costs a few thousand baht more to build a small townhouse with non-asbestos materials.6 Dr. Kulsomboon added: Some companies have told me they would be willing to stop using asbestos if the government issued a regulation banning it We really need long-term prevention measures. Why are we waiting?
September 27, 2010
1 Glahan S. Asbestos-linked illness wave on the way. July 10, 2010.
2 Siriruttanapruk S. Suwan-ampai P. The national strategic plan and actions for prevention and control of asbestos related diseases in Thailand. 2010.
3 Since the use of crocidolite and amosite were banned in Thailand in 1995 and 2001 respectively, it is assumed that the asbestos used in Thailand since then is chrysotile. From 1980 to 2003 Thailand was the third largest customer for South African asbestos, importing a total of 116,457 tonnes (t) comprised of 9,779 t crocidolite, 55,728 t amosite and 50,950 t chrysotile. [Source: South Africa's Export Trade in Asbestos: Demise of an Industry by JS Harington, ND Mcglashan and EZ Chelkowska. Publ. Am J Ind M 2010.] The other countries which imported more than Thailand were Japan (1,102,399 t) and South Korea (468,094 t).
4 In 2006, Thailand was Brazil's largest asbestos market absorbing 25% of all Brazilian chrysotile exports; that year, 13% of Thai asbestos imports came from Canada.
6 4,000 baht = US $ 130.00