Leading labor and environmental organizations have joined forces to push for a total ban on asbestos to eradicate asbestosis (fibrosis of the lungs) and other asbestos-related diseases.
In a common statement, the Trade Union Congress of the Philippines (TUCP), the Associated Labor Unions (ALU), the Building and Wood Workers International (BWI), the Alliance of Progressive Labor (APL) and the EcoWaste Coalition asked the government to adopt a health-based policy that will ban all uses of asbestos and their replacement with non-toxic alternatives.
The groups specifically sought for a review and revision of the “outdated” Chemical Control Order (CCO) for Asbestos issued by the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) in January 2000.
The CCO, while banning the use of amosite (brown) and crocidolite (blue) asbestos fibers, allows the use of asbestos and asbestos-containing materials for asbestos roofing felts, cement roofing, cement flat sheet and several other applications.
They also pushed for multi-sector support to House Bills 896 and 479 on asbestos, sponsored by TUCP Party List Representative Raymond Democrito Mendoza and Akbayan Party List Representative Kaka Bag-ao, which were recently approved by the House Committee on Ecology.
Both bills seek to prohibit “the importation, manufacture, processing, use or distribution in commerce of asbestos and asbestos-containing products.”
The labor and environmental groups issued the common statement in conjunction with the global observance of World Health Day on April 7. Asbestos belongs to the 10 chemicals or groups of chemicals of “major public health concern,” according to the World Health Organization (WHO).
“We urge our policy makers in Congress and in the Senate to act fast on the pending bills banning asbestos use to proactively safeguard Filipino workers, their families and the general public from debilitating diseases due to exposure to asbestos and asbestos-containing materials,” said Rafael Mapalo, Director for Education of TUCP.
“The development and implementation of a national program for the elimination of asbestos related diseases (NPEAD) should be fast-tracked,” added Gerard Seno, National Vice President of ALU.
The NPEAD focuses on minimizing asbestos hazards and improving support mechanisms for exposed workers based on the mandates of the labor, health, environment and other departments. The Department of Labor and Employment, through the Occupational Safety and Health Center committed to hold regular consultations to develop the NPEAD.
“Banning asbestos and substituting it with alternative non-hazardous materials can create a safer working and living environment for all and should be acted upon without delay,” noted Josua Mata, Secretary-General of APL.
“We are one with our trade union allies in pushing for a total ban on asbestos, the poison fiber, for the greater interest of occupational and environmental health,” stated Roy Alvarez, President of the EcoWaste Coalition.
Citing information from WHO, the groups warned that all types of asbestos cause lung cancer, mesothelioma, cancer of the larynx and ovary, and asbestosis (fibrosis of the lungs).
Exposure to asbestos, as per WHO, occurs through inhalation of fibres in air in the working environment, ambient air in the vicinity of point sources such as factories handling asbestos, or indoor air in housing and buildings containing friable (crumbly) asbestos materials.
Currently about 125 million people in the world are exposed to asbestos at the workplace. In 2004, asbestos-related lung cancer, mesothelioma and asbestosis from occupational exposures resulted in 107,000 deaths and 1,523,000 disability adjusted life years (DALYs), as stated by WHO.
As advised by WHO, elimination of asbestos-related diseases should take place through the following public health actions:
a) recognizing that the most efficient way to eliminate asbestos-related diseases is to stop the use of all types of asbestos;
b) replacing asbestos with safer substitutes and developing economic and technological mechanisms to stimulate its replacement;
c) taking measures to prevent exposure to asbestos in place and during asbestos removal (abatement), and;
d) improving early diagnosis, treatment, social and medical rehabilitation of asbestos-related diseases and establishing registries of people with past and/or current exposures to asbestos.