Asbestos lines many Indonesian buildings and health experts fear a coming cancer ‘explosion’. Many countries have long since banned the use and import of deadly asbestos. But on our doorstep, builders and factories across Indonesia are still using asbestos in massive volumes, oblivious to the danger.
• Indonesia is the second-biggest asbestos importer in the world
• Up to 10% of all buildings in Indonesia contain white asbestos
• The Government says it’s up to the building industry to stop using it.
The World Health Organization (WHO) has warned of an ‘epidemic’ of asbestos-related diseases in South-East Asia. Yet as more and more countries ban the lethal substance, a powerful industry lobby group is doubling down on efforts to promote one form of asbestos as safe and expand its market in Indonesia and South-East Asia. The group even claims that chrysotile – commonly known as white asbestos – dissolves in the lungs after 14 days. About 10 per cent of Indonesian homes have roofs made from white asbestos, a proven carcinogen that can cause cancers including mesothelioma and several other diseases. The danger is all the more disturbing in a country with the world’s fourth-biggest population, and where natural disasters are not uncommon, asbestos and can often be found in the rubble after earthquakes, landslides etc.
Indonesia faces ‘a huge potential explosion’ in disease
International research suggests that almost 6,000 Indonesians a year could potentially develop an asbestos-related cancer. But a lack of public information and education means workers and residents have no idea of the health risk. Experts fear that workers at Indonesian factories processing asbestos building materials are most at risk. Indonesia’s Government said it was aware of the potential danger from asbestos, but said it was the industry itself that needed to be convinced of the need to stop using it.
One major challenge in Indonesia is the lack of diagnostic tools to determine how many people already have an asbestos-related disorder. Currently, asbestosis and the thickening of the lung lining can be confirmed through CT scans.
Why is white asbestos still legal?
So far, 66 countries including Australia have banned all forms of asbestos. Canada, once a major exporter, finally banned it last year. Vietnam and Laos are working towards a ban. Brazil used to be the world’s third-largest exporter of white asbestos, but abandoned the industry in 2017.
Asbestos is a mineral made up of tiny fibers. It can be positively identified only with a special type of microscope. There are several types of asbestos fibers; some are more harmful than others. In the past, asbestos was added to a variety of products to strengthen them and to provide heat insulation and fire resistance. Many homes were made using asbestos for insulation, flooring and in heating and electrical systems. The danger of using asbestos has been recognized throughout history. Warning about the health effects of asbestos can be found in writings from Ancient Greece.
If you are exposed to asbestos, most of the fibers that you inhale are expelled when you exhale. Only a few fibers remain in the lungs and these tend to lodge in the lining of the lungs, called the pleura. The mineral fibers that make up asbestos act like tiny knives and cause microscopic punctures in the air sacs that line the inside of the lung. These air sacs act like balloons, filling up and releasing oxygen as you breathe. Over time the fibers cause scarring and inflammation that makes the pleura thicken. When the lining of the lungs gets thick, it loses its elastic properties and the amount of oxygen you get when you breathe is reduced.
Many cases of asbestos related disease have been found in families of the people who worked with asbestos. The fibers cling to work clothes and are released into the air at home, affecting anyone who lives with the person exposed to asbestos at work. Families who live in areas where asbestos is mined also have a greater risk for developing asbestos related disorders. The symptoms of these diseases do not usually appear until about 20 to 30 years after the first exposure to asbestos.
From studies of people who were exposed to asbestos in factories and shipyards, we know that breathing high levels of irritating asbestos fibers can lead to an increased risk of lung cancer.
What Should Be Done About Asbestos In The Home?
If you think asbestos may be in your home, don’t panic! Usually the best thing is to leave asbestos material that is in good condition alone. Generally, material in good condition will not release asbestos fibers. There is no danger unless fibers are released and inhaled into the lungs. Check material regularly if you suspect it may contain asbestos. Don’t touch it, but look for signs of wear or damage such as tears, abrasions, or water damage. Damaged material may release asbestos fibers. This is particularly true if you often disturb it by hitting, rubbing, or handling it, or if it is exposed to extreme vibration or airflow.
Sometimes, the best way to deal with slightly damaged material is to limit access to the area and not touch or disturb it. Discard damaged or worn asbestos gloves, stovetop pads, or ironing board covers. Before you have your house remodeled, find out whether asbestos materials are present.
How To Identify Materials That Contain Asbestos
You can’t tell whether a material contains asbestos simply by looking at it, unless it is labeled. If in doubt, treat the material as if it contains asbestos.
Asbestos Do’s And Don’ts For The Homeowner
. Do keep activities to a minimum in any areas having damaged material that may contain asbestos.
. Do take every precaution to avoid damaging asbestos material.
. Don’t dust, sweep or vacuum debris that may contain asbestos.
. Don’t saw, sand, scrape, or drill holes in asbestos materials.
. Don’t use abrasive pads or brushes on power strippers to strip wax from asbestos flooring. Never use a power stripper on a dry floor.
. Don’t sand or try to level asbestos flooring or its backing. When asbestos flooring needs replacing, install new floor covering over it, if possible.
. Don’t track material that could contain asbestos through the house. If you cannot avoid walking through the area, have it cleaned with a wet mop.
Naturally all the information on asbestos identification and removal that I have found says, “Call your professional to handle the situation”. However I have never seen any “tukang” wondering around in haz-mat suites. So if anyone out there has information on who to contact for asbestos handling please do share.
Kim Patra is a qualified Midwife & Nurse Practioner who has been living and working in Bali for over 30 years. She now runs her own Private Practice & Mothers & Babies center at her Community Health Care office in Sanur.
Copyright © 2019 Kim Patra
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