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The future: More victims here and abroad

By BILL BURKE, The Virginian-Pilot
© May 10, 2001

Asbestos use is now banned or highly restricted in most of the world's developed nations. But, as is the case with so many products that have been deemed too dangerous for North Americans and Western Europeans, miners and manufacturers have tapped markets in Thailand, Singapore, Brazil, India and other developing nations.

Canada, second only to Russia in production of the mineral, exports 95 percent of the asbestos it mines, mostly to Asian countries.

Medical experts worry that workers in those countries -- laboring virtually unprotected, just like American shipyard workers 50 years ago -- ultimately will develop lung afflictions that will sicken or kill them.

The asbestos industry says it promotes safe use of its products, and that the deaths and disease caused by asbestos use in the United States and Europe during the past century will not be repeated elsewhere in decades to come. Modern manufacturing processes are well-ventilated, producing minimal dust, industry defenders say.

Critics scoff at such claims. They cite unventilated factories in Brazil and other countries. Some even offer as proof slides of children in India exposed to dust produced by men sawing asbestos. Though there is deep disagreement over the current safety of and need for asbestos products, both sides on this debate agree on one thing: Asbestos can kill.


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