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Yolanda aftermath: Asbestos dust scattered in the environment poses serious health risk

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Safety NGO raises danger of asbestos time bomb in the Philippines

 Typhoon Yolanda (Haiyan) struck the Philippines last Friday, November 8, 2013 bringing forth death and destruction. According to UN estimates, more than 10,000 are feared fatalities from this tragedy, with millions affected. Relief efforts, both from local and international groups, continue to grow but the much needed supply of clean water and food only trickles to the affected communities. Most of the victims, 6 days after Yolanda made landfall, are still to receive survival supplies.
 
“The misery of the victims of Yolanda continues to pile up. As if death and destruction were not enough, victims are now facing the possibility of an asbestos time bomb, after the super typhoon destroyed infrastructure, pulverizing asbestos-containing materials (ACM) and releasing asbestos dust in the environment,” said Noel Colina, Executive Director of the Institute for Occupational Health and Safety Development (IOHSAD), a non-profit, non-governmental safety organization based in Manila.
 
“Asbestos is a known carcinogen and once inhaled, the dust are stuck in the lungs. After exposure to asbestos dust, it takes 30-40 years for asbestos-related diseases (ARD) like mesothelioma, a rare cancer, to develop. No cure is available for ARD’s,” continued Colina. “This is the reason why we need a ban on the use and importation of asbestos now.”
 
According to IOHSAD, the residents in the area must be made aware of the dangers of asbestos dust inhalation, including the responders who are also at risk from exposure. Asbestos dust monitoring should be done to ascertain the levels exposure the people are facing.
 
Consequently, a meeting of academics, doctors and government officials; the 6th Asian Asbestos Initiative (AAI) is happening from November 14-15, 2013 in Manila.  The 6th AAI conference is spearheaded by the World Health Organization (WHO), the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), the International Labour Organization (ILO) and the Japan Occupational Safety and Health Resource Center and University of Occupational and Environmental Health, Japan, while the Department of Health (DOH) and the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) are the hosts of the meeting.
 
“The events surrounding Yolanda place a spotlight on the need for a total ban on asbestos. Everytime a disaster happens, like earthquakes and typhoon, where destruction of infrastructure occurs, the dangers of asbestos exposure rear its ugly head. The delegates of the meeting must push harder for the total ban and use, not only in the Philippines but across Asia and the globe. The witch brew of disasters - including quakes and typhoon - and asbestos use are deadly and pose serious health risk for the present and future,” opined Colina.
 
Asbestos imports in the Philippines have gone down in recent years but despite this, the many decades of deployment of ACM’s provide the possibility for health epidemics from ARD’s. “If we are to achieve the ban in the near future, the proper clean up of ACM’s from all infrastructures is a necessary step towards an asbestos-free environment,” ended Colina.

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