Tue, Dec 22, 2015 - Page 4 News List

Labor advocacy groups call for ban on asbestos

HIGHLY TOXIC:Asbestos is banned in more than 50 nations, but Taiwan has imported more than 2,000 tonnes in the past three years, a Taiwan Labor Front activist said

By Chen Wei-han  /  Staff reporter

Several labor advocacy groups yesterday called for a complete ban on the use of asbestos, a highly toxic mineral commonly used in construction and to fireproof materials, as occupational exposure to it has caused an increase in asbestos-related diseases.

Asbestos-induced lung cancer has increased among men and women and people who work in professions with high levels of exposure to asbestos dust are between 2.86 and 5.78 times more likely to develop asbestos-related cancer, National Health Research Institutes researcher and physician Lee Jyuhn-hsiarn (李俊賢) said.

The occurrence of malignant mesothelioma, a rare form of cancer of the cells that form a protective lining that covers many internal organs, has been increasing rapidly, from 40 cases per year from 1997 to 2008 to more than 73 in 2010, suggesting that asbestos-related occupational diseases have peaked, Lee said.

Taiwan Labor Front secretary-general Son Yu-liam (孫友聯) said asbestos is banned in more than 50 nations, but the material is still legal in Taiwan, adding that the nation has imported more than 2,000 tonnes of asbestos in the past three years.

Taiwan Occupational Safety and Health Link director Cheng Ya-wen (鄭雅文) said that asbestos is the primary cause of occupational cancer in the world, accounting for more than 30 percent of the occupational diseases indemnified by labor insurance in Germany and Japan, while Japan has a special relief act to compensate for asbestos-related diseases due to non-occupational exposure.

However, the Bureau of Labor Insurance recognized less than five asbestos-related diseases each year, suggesting a serious underestimation, Cheng said, adding that symptoms of asbestos-related diseases generally take 20 years to develop after initial exposure and therefore a long-term tracking of high-risk groups is necessary.

“Asbestos-related diseases are not a problem of the past. It is ongoing and on the rise, but the government has not taken proper measures regarding workers’ asbestos exposure and disease management,” Cheng said.

The groups called on the government to impose an immediate ban on asbestos, establish a medical database to track and manage the health of high-risk groups, and re-examine the recognition and compensation system of occupational diseases.

The bureau said that people who develop asbestos-related diseases could apply for disability benefits within five years of diagnosis.

The Environmental Protection Administration said that it has banned asbestos in construction and piping, and that asbestos could only be used in brake pads, while a full ban would be enacted in 2018, but products containing asbestos would still be allowed to be imported under the Ministry of Economic Affairs’ regulations.

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