South Africa has the highest rate of mesothelioma in the world, as we were one of a handful of countries that extensively mined the most dangerous “blue asbestos”.
Mesothelioma can be caused by “minimal, or short-term, exposure to asbestos fibres”, according to Jaine Roberts of the Industrial Health Unit at the Nelson Mandela School of Medicine.
The Health and Safety Executive in the UK stated in 1984: “For all types of asbestos no ‘safe level’ of exposure could be identified”.
For this reason, Roberts believes household goods such a asbestos flower pots, water tanks and roofs should be replaced.
“But disposal is a problem as fibres are virtually indestructible,” she warns.The body has no defence against the ultra fine asbestos fibres, which, once in the lungs, can also migrate through tissue and penetrate the lymph system and the bloodstream.
Mesothelioma became a notifiable and scheduled industrial disease in October 1979.
“The case against asbestos was concluded by the health sciences a long time ago,” says Roberts. “By 1935 asbestos was widely recognised as a mortal threat.”
Asbestos products are banned in Sweden, Iceland, Norway, Denmark, Finland, Netherlands, France, Switzerland, Germany, Italy, Austria, Poland, Belgium and Saudi Arabia.