Dirty Industries Have a Long Tail of Consequences

June 16, 2009 by  
Filed under Asbestos, Asthma, Blog, Cancer, Front Page, Health, Industries


HAZ-MAT workers properly dispose of asbestos. Photo: © Bernard MAURIN - Fotolia.com

HAZ-MAT workers properly dispose of asbestos. Photo: © Bernard MAURIN - Fotolia.com

In recent years, there has been a great deal of national attention focused on the improvement of industrial environmental standards. Even as we attempt to rebuild our economy, we seem to be focused on not only restoring industry, but also using this as an opportunity to do it in a way that is not environmentally destructive. This provides us, the Mesothelioma and Asbestos Awareness Center (MAA Center), and many others the opportunity to improve all aspects of these industries, including the workplace hazards among workers and the all-too-common health hazards affecting members of the surrounding communities.

What many people may fail to realize is that not only does the health of our planet depend on improved environmental standards, but our own health may depend on them as well. Health complications of industry can essentially be divided into two categories, direct and indirect.

Direct health conditions, which have arisen as a result of the burning of fossil fuels, for instance, are increased asthma rates in areas with high smog indices. Even mild cases of asthma can deteriorate overall respiratory capacity over time and leave breathing seriously diminished if the quality of the air people breathe is unimproved. Release of chlorofluorocarbons into the atmosphere has been shown to lower our filtered sunlight, thereby increasing ultraviolet light exposure. Ultraviolet light has been conclusively linked to skin cancer. Perhaps it is no surprise then that skin cancer incidence in countries like South Africa and Australia, where the atmosphere is most diminished, is much higher than in other areas of the earth.

HAZ-MAT use extreme protection when working with asbestos. Photo: © Bernard MAURIN - Fotolia.com

HAZ-MAT workers use extreme precaution when handling asbestos. Photo: © Bernard MAURIN - Fotolia.com

Indirect health consequences include those which can be attributed to antiquated industrial infrastructure, including toxin exposure among workers. Oil refinery workers, for instance, are shown to have a much higher chance of developing mesothelioma cancer — a rare disease caused by exposure to asbestos — than those in cleaner industries. While asbestos was banned for most uses in the late 1970s, several of these refineries and factories are still using pre-ban equipment, which is exposing workers to harmful asbestos fibers.

Asbestos exposure is an even more present danger in countries that lack environmental regulations on par with those of the United States. Several of these countries, including Israel and others in the Middle East, have noted, in recent years, a disturbing trend in the rise of asbestos-related disease. Countries with older or antiquated infrastructures are considered those with the biggest asbestos risk pool, as asbestos can still be found in nearly 80% of all structures built prior to 1980. The generational surge in infrastructure improvements, while good for economic growth and stability, may be endangering contractors and municipal workers who encounter the material.

We must continue to urge national and international institutions to improve asbestos regulations and worker safety standards to prevent this problem from growing.

There is a clear advantage to implementation of cleaner, more sustainable energy policies and environmental attitudes, not only for the health of our planet and our posterity, but for that of the world’s population even today.

Bill Hawthorne
Guest Columnist
Mesothelioma and Asbestos Awareness Center (MAA)

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