A new market research report reveals the absurd amount of money the global asbestos trade raked in last year — $344 million. The report is meant to aid and accommodate this industry, and help businesses “get a bigger picture of the market, rewire business around market trends, devise marketing strategy, and operate with increased effectiveness.”
This, of course, is unacceptable – especially because the report ignores the most important thing: Death.
How can a report like this address asbestos trade in depth but leave out the human element of suffering? This coldness — and obsession with financial gain at the expense of health and wellbeing — has to stop.
A Devastating Global Crisis
Although the deadly mineral is currently banned in over 50 countries worldwide, mining of asbestos for export or production is still booming. The new report reveals the current leaders of the pack in total exports — Russia, Brazil, Kazakhstan, China, and India. Not surprisingly, each year these countries experience thousands of asbestos-related deaths.
One could make the argument that countries in the developing world are “behind the times,” but this isn’t necessarily correct — unbelievably, the United States has still not banned asbestos. In fact, earlier this year Congress signed a comprehensive toxic chemical safety bill into law, and asbestos was noticeably missing from the bill.
Science vs. Big Business
Why exactly is the asbestos industry thriving — globally as well as in the United States — despite the well-known dangerous health effects of the mineral? The answer is simple: corrupt corporations, and the politicians who support them (and by doing so share the profit). For decades, corporations have disregarded established scientific knowledge to the detriment of their employees, customers, and communities.
It is infuriating that corporations hid the truth, and even lied, in order to protect their bottom line. The effects of this are monumental. Every single day, 300 people die worldwide from asbestos-related diseases. And in the U.S. alone, over 3,200 new cases of mesothelioma – an exclusively asbestos-caused cancer – are diagnosed. The death toll, by some estimations, total 12,000 – 15,000 Americans every single year.
Unfortunately, this problem won’t be ending anytime soon. Symptoms of the asbestos-caused disease mesothelioma are latent and may not present themselves for 20-50 years after exposure.
What Is “Risk Cognition” — and Does the U.S. Have It?
A 2013 study posed this question: Why have some, but not all, countries banned asbestos? The researchers concluded that something called “risk cognition” contributes to this discrepancy. In other words, the ability for a society to perceive and understand the risk of asbestos is what prompts change. Researchers argue that “the presence of well-functioning health infrastructures, as well as the increased social cost of mesothelioma, can make the plight of asbestos victims visible to the eyes of public and policy makers.”
Globally, there is still a long way to go in the fight against asbestos. In the United States, however, perhaps there is hope. For years, the U.S. public has understood that asbestos exposure results in diseases such as mesothelioma, lung cancer, and asbestosis. Hopefully this knowledge, and the growing public backlash against corrupt corporations, will lead to increased awareness and a subsequent national asbestos ban.
Research has also found that when a country bans asbestos, neighboring countries will often follow suit. Canada, a country with a long history of asbestos mining, is beginning to make the transition. Americans can only hope that if Canada were to ban the lethal mineral, we would be next. But, until then, the asbestos market continues to thrive, raking in millions of dollars and leaving an undeniable death trail in its wake.