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Asbestos is a natural mineral which is mined from the earth’s surface and is now known to be a toxic material linked to breathing disabilities and lung cancer’s such as mesothelioma

Due to the harmful effects of asbestos, leading international health organisations have called for the mining and exportation of asbestos to become a prohibited trade.

Many countries have also called for chrysotile asbestos to be added to the list of hazardous materials on the 2011 Rotterdam Convention list.  Unfortunately, for a material to be added to the list it must receive a unanimous vote which it did not receive. Some of the countries that voted against chrysotile asbestos being added to the list included Cuba, India, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Pakistan, Russia and Zimbabwe.

But why did these countries oppose the vote? The simple answer unfortunately appears to be money, with all of these countries having a large financial interest in the mining and exportation of chrysotile asbestos as a material. Below is a brief snapshot of some countries mining and exportation interests in Chrysotile asbestos.

Canada

Asbestos mining started in Canada in 1850 on a relatively small scale. By the 1950’s Canada mined more than 900,000 metric tons of asbestos per year. Canada is still a major asbestos mining and exporting nation though asbestos is used very rarely in Canada with 96% of its stock being exported to Asia.

Russia

Russia, is the largest asbestos mining and exporting country in the world.  In 2000 mining levels were at 700,000 metric tons per annum. By 2008 this figure had increased to more than 1 million metric tons of asbestos per annum.  In 2013 Russia was reported to have mined more than 1,050,000 metric tons of asbestos.

Russia’s mining mainly occurs in the city of Asbest, 900 miles north east of Moscow. Asbest is known as “the dying city” due the extremely high rates of mesothelioma and other asbestos related diseases such as pleural thickening, asbestosis and asbestos induced lung cancer in its inhabitants. The mine in Asbest produces around 500,000 metric tons of asbestos each year which is approximately 20 percent of the world’s annual asbestos production level.

Unlike Canada, Russia continues to be a large user of asbestos and is the world’s second largest consumer of asbestos, second only to China.

China

China is another of the world’s largest miners and exporters of asbestos.  In 2000 China mined more than 450,000 metric tons of asbestos.

Chinese manufacturers and builders consume large amounts of asbestos, using it for roofing materials, walls, brake pads, gaskets and cloth. The Director for the European Agency for Safety and Health at Work has stated that he believes the annual death toll in China from mesothelioma and other asbestos related diseases could reach 15,000 by 2035.

China continues to mine, export and use asbestos, despite health warnings and an increasing number of asbestos related diseases and deaths.

Brazil

The third largest asbestos mining country in the world is Brazil. In 2013 Brazil mined 307,000 metric tons of asbestos. Brazil is also the third largest asbestos exporting country in the world. Brazilian exports are mainly sent to Mexico, Columbia and Asia.

Brazil also uses a large portion of its mined asbestos nationally. In 2013 Brazil used 181,168 metric tons of asbestos, making the country the 4th largest asbestos consumer in the world.

Asbestos mining and export in Brazil is said to result in around 200,000 jobs and generates approximately $1.3 billion dollars for the Brazilian economy.

Kazakhstan

The country of Kazakhstan is now the fourth-largest asbestos mining and exporting country in the world. In 2013 Kazakhstan was recorded as having mined 242,000 metric tons of asbestos alone. The Kazakhstani mine in Djetygarinskoe is one of the largest in the world and holds an estimated 37 million tons of asbestos.

Kazakhstan exports the large majority of its mined asbestos though it does consume some nationally. Kazakhstan uses asbestos in the production of schools, hospitals, commercial buildings houses and flats. Asbestos is also used in Kazakhstan for brake linings, a use that other countries, such as England, have now banned.

Asbestos is still mined in Kazakhstan and exported annually.

India

India previously mined and exported large amounts of asbestos though now it only imports the mineral from other countries, mainly Canada. In the late 1980’s India was recorded as handling around 500,000 metric tons of asbestos annually. This figure has risen dramatically to an estimated 4 million metric tons annually.

Surprisingly, in 2011 India did vote for asbestos to be added to the list of hazardous materials at the 2011 Rotterdam convention, despite this India continues to be one of the world’s largest importers of asbestos minerals. It is estimated that India will see a large increase in its annual asbestos related death toll in years to come.

South Africa

South Africa was previously one of the world’s largest asbestos mining and exporting countries. The mining of asbestos in South Africa began in 1883, after an asbestos mine was set up in the Northern Cape region in Koegas.  South Africa went on to export huge amounts of asbestos to many countries, including the United Kingdom.

Asbestos mining in South Africa peaked in 1977 with an estimated 380,000 metric tons being mined. At this time South Africa was the largest asbestos exporter in the world. Many South African mines were closed in the late 1970’s and early 1980’s due to growing awareness of asbestos related diseases.

Many South Africans today continue to suffer from asbestos related deaths, despite many asbestos mines being closed. The asbestos related deaths have arisen following environmental exposure to the mineral which takes many years to manifest into a disease.

Asbestos disease

Our experienced asbestos claims team continue to be amazed at the high levels of asbestos still being mined and exported, especially with today’s current knowledge on the dangers associated with asbestos minerals. What is equally surprising is that many of the countries still mining and exporting asbestos are well developed countries that should be more than aware of the toxicity of asbestos.

We are committed to the banning of the mining, sale and use of asbestos worldwide due to its known toxicity and the number of deaths arising as a result of exposure to the mineral. We would call on all asbestos mining countries to immediately halt their asbestos trades regardless of the revenue generated from the same.