The Economics of Global Asbestos Production…It’s Not Good

Despite the fact that asbestos has been used on a “large industrial scale for about 100–150 years,”[1] with “asbestos-caused cancer(s) [being] identified in the late 1930’s,”[2] ironically enough by Nazi scientists, global production of asbestos is still around 1.3 million metric tons per year. Production of asbestos is dominated by Russia, China, Brazil, Kazakhstan, and India, with Russia accounting for the lion’s share, right around 53%, with “2,030,000 tons consumed annually, according to latest available consumption data.”[3] These gargantuan levels of production continue despite the fact that “asbestos has been banned in 55 countries,”[4] because of the “overwhelming evidence of the strong carcinogenicity of all asbestos types, including chrysotile, and despite the fact that “every 20 tons of asbestos produced and consumed kills a person somewhere in the world.”[5]

While the moral argument remains strongest against asbestos production, with figures showing that “asbestos accounts for 55–85% of lung cancer and causes, other cancers, and other asbestos-related diseases,”[6] in addition to causing “an estimated 255,000 deaths annually according to latest knowledge, of which work-related exposures are responsible for 233,000 deaths,”[7] there is also an economic argument to be made for halting global asbestos production. While ultimately it is shameful that an economic argument must even be advanced in order to convince the world’s governments to ban such a deadly carcinogen, it is unfortunately the reality of our current global economics and politics. The only comprehensible argument for maintaining the global production of asbestos is economic, therefore one must also try to convince the world’s governments who still maintain active asbestos mines not with moral certitudes, but rather with cold monetary data.

“In the European Union, United States of America and in other high-income economies the direct costs for sickness, early retirement and death, including production losses, have been estimated to be… equivalent of 0.70% of the Gross Domestic Product…The numbers and costs are increasing practically in every country and region in the world. [Additionally] The ILO and the European Agency for Safety and Health at Work have estimated the costs of poor safety and health at work [to be] equal to 3.94% of the global Gross Domestic Product (GDP), equaling $2,966,000 million. This estimate was made using the work-related DALYs as a share of a maximum number of years of gainfully productive worker years if no one was out of work due to occupational injuries and work-related diseases. Asbestos is likely to be the most significant individual occupational risk factor and consequently, the most significant component in such economic losses.

Using the same method for specific countries and regions, one may estimate the losses caused by asbestos-related risks. Based on the…estimated 85,419 work-related deaths and 1,277 million DALYs in the European Union of 218.3 million workers and an equal number of productive years, the rate: DALY asbestos/employment years without losses will result in 0.70% loss of productive output caused by asbestos at work, which could be compared to the GDP of the region.

The United States of America (USA) has a slightly lower incidence rate, lower loss rate and smaller population but higher GDP per capita. Compared to the EU, where asbestos is estimated to cause productivity losses at about 0.70% of GDP, amounting to 114,900 million USD, the USA has asbestos-related productivity losses of approximately 0.36% of GDP, or 86,100 million USD losses caused by asbestos…Cost comparisons were made using the estimated disability adjusted life years (DALYs) caused by asbestos as compared to an ideal case where no ARDs, no asbestos consumption and no asbestos exposures were present.”[8]

Combining both the moral and economic arguments against continuing the global production of asbestos, the data speaks for itself. Worldwide, we lose not only 255,000 humans a year, but we also lose 3.94% of global GDP due to a decrease in what would be gainfully productive years of exposed workers. But, undoubtedly the world’s administrators, bureaucrats, rulers, and politicians know this. Therefore, it’s up to us to do what we can to ensure that the message gets through; shareholders, owners, and producers of asbestos may contribute big to the world’s economies, but their peddling of a known carcinogen costs so many lives, the economic and moral ramifications of outweigh the benefits.

At CHC Training, we approach asbestos and safety training with a collective understanding of local and global regulations, economics, and statuses. Combining this with existing data and current best practices, we are able to go above and beyond the training offered by our competitors. When it comes down to protecting yourself, team members, family, and the planet, comprehensive training is a must. Visit our website for a variety of asbestos, lead, mold, and other safety courses today.

[1] Furuya, S.; Chimed-Ochir, O.; Takahashi, K.; David, A.; Takala, J. Global Asbestos Disaster. Int. J. Environ. Res. Public Health 201815, 1000.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Ibid.

[7] Ibid.

[8] Ibid.

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