South Africa is ‘Libby x 40’

10 Apr 2008 by under News

In international news this week was the support of a ban on asbestos and all asbestos products in .

News24.com reported, in a story compiled by the South African Press Association, that trade union Solidarity expressed its support for the ban, and called on the government to also amend its asbestos dumping requirements or find alternative options.

The union also said that South Africa “could have followed the example of the rest of the western world and enforced this prohibition years ago,” according to the news story.

A related story published by TransWorldNews on Monday, April 7, stated that “in newly published documents by the Department of Environmental Affairs and Tourism [in South Africa], specific regulations have been introduced upon the use, manufacturing, import, and export of asbestos and asbestos containing materials.”

The report says that while some asbestos containing products, such as existing concrete shingles and ceilings, will not be immediately eradicated, the regulations call for the “phasing out” of such materials.

While the move toward this asbestos ban in South Africa is a positive step, it may be too little too late, according to Robert Jones, an environmental researcher with Rhodes University, who recently completed a study of several areas closest to now-closed asbestos mining sites in South Africa. Jones was a speaker at the recent in Detroit, Mich.

“South Africa is blessed with mineral resources – gold, diamonds, platinum,” he said. “And also cursed with mineral resources – asbestos.”

Between 1893-2001, South Africa mined all three types of commercial asbestos and was among the world’s leaders in asbestos mining and use.

Jones surveyed several communities within 2-5 km of the country’s largest asbestos mining sites, encompassing an area of approximately 7,000 square kilometers at each site. Assessment teams were made up of local people in the affected communities, and they targeted areas most suspect for contamination. Teams physically sampled soil and building materials from the locations.

While acknowledging that samples all came from high-risk areas where contamination was expected, the results were still staggering.

75-85% of homes surveyed are contaminated.

47-59% of schools are contaminated

53% of roads are contaminated

In many cases, the soil is blue with visible asbestos dust and clumps of asbestos fibers and minerals. Sports fields and schools are built on contaminated ground, and people build homes with mud bricks made from asbestos-contaminated soil. Some of the population has 24/7 exposure to contaminated soil. The ground is dry, and homeowners sweep bare ground into clouds of dust.

Jones likens the potential future of some of these areas of South Africa to “Libby (Montana) times forty.”

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