Here in the UK we’re lucky enough to have fairly stringent asbestos laws nowadays. While in the past asbestos was used in proliferation, especially in the construction industry, the Control of Asbestos Regulations 2006 brought together several pieces of asbestos regulation in order to place a greater emphasis on training and increase the restrictions on the amount of exposure workers could be exposed to in the form of control limits.
The import, supply and use of all types of asbestos (and second hand asbestos) are banned and asbestos removal work must be carried out by a licensed contractor. However, this is not the case worldwide and many countries fall far behind the UK in the ways in which they protect the population from the health risks associated with asbestos.
International law lists asbestos as a category of controlled waste under Annex 1 of the Basel Convention of the Control of Transboundary Movements of Hazardous Wastes and their Disposal (1992). This means that any waste streams that have asbestos (either dust or fibres) as constituents are controlled. Parties to the Convention are required to ban and not permit the export of hazardous wastes to the Parties which have prohibited such wastes via the notification procedure of the Convention.
Australia has a nationwide ban on the use and importation of all forms of asbestos which came into effect in 2003. However, this ban does not cover asbestos materials and products already in use at the time of the ban and, although Australia has only a third of the population of Britain, asbestos disease fatalities in the country are roughly the same in number as those in the UK.
Canada’s remaining asbestos mines (in the Province of Quebec) were both closed in late 2011. France banned the use of asbestos back in 1997 and has called for a worldwide ban. Italy was progressive enough to ban the use of asbestos as far back as 1992 and set up a comprehensive plan to the asbestos decontamination in housing and industry.
In the United States of America where more than 10,000 people die annually as a result of asbestos related diseases, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has no general ban on the use of asbestos. Asbestos is still a hazard for more than 1.43 million construction industry workers in the US and asbestos is not part of the American Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM) Phase 1 Environment Site Assessment.
In Japan where asbestos was not fully banned until 2004 the government has been held legally responsible for asbestos related diseases. South Korea implemented a total ban on the manufacture and use of amosite and crocidolite back in 1997 and in 2008 a total ban on all types of asbestos was brought in, including the manufacture, sale, import, storage, transport and use of this dangerous substance.
India, however, has refused to ban asbestos use despite the health hazards and asbestos is widely used without any form of restriction even though the government has banned the mining of asbestos and recognised it as a hazardous substance.