Realizing that asbestos related products cause cancer, the Office of Consumer Protection (OCP) is to ban the import of these products completely.
The ban would come into effect after the OCP in collaboration with the Department of Revenue and Customs and health ministry compiles a detailed report.
“We want to find out which sectors and importers are engaged in these kinds of materials and would officially notify about the ban to recall the selling and distribution,” said Chief Program Officer of OCP, Jigme Dorji,
Asbestos is a group of six naturally occurring fibrous minerals composed of thin, needle-like fibers and is used for construction and insulation of buildings like ceiling tiles, pipe insulation, floor tiles, and sprayed coatings.
Additionally, asbestos is found in other fabricated products like ropes, threads, woven fabric, clothing, headgear, and footwear, among others, according to the preventive interventions for priority carcinogens in Bhutan 2016, report.
It is used as an insulator (to keep in heat and keep out cold), has good fire protection properties, and protects against corrosion.
Bhutan imported 79,374 NMB (quantity in number) of asbestos cement from India and other countries in 2018.
Additionally, friction material likes sheets, rolls, strips, segments, discs, washers, pads of 15,937KGM, contain asbestos, according to Bhutan Trade Statistics, 2018.
Asbestos and asbestos containing material are banned in many developed countries and statistics show that a lot of this is imported into the country, said Jigme Dorji.
Exposure to asbestos occurs through inhalation of fibers in air in the working environment, ambient air near point sources such as factories handling asbestos, or indoor air in housing and buildings containing friable asbestos materials.
The asbestos are classified as Group I carcinogenic chemicals to humans by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC).
It is confirmed that exposure to asbestos overtime can cause mesothalioma (cancer that affects the lining of the lungs and the lining surrounding the lower digestive tract), cancer of lung, larynx and ovary and asbestosis.
“The asbestos has needle like fiber which gets hooked into lungs when inhaled,” said Jigme Dorji.
In the recent media reports, Johnson & Johnson, a company that develops medical devices, pharmaceutical, and consumer-packaged goods recalled baby powder based on testing done by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) after finding traces of asbestos.
The IARC found out that 125mn people in the world are exposed to asbestos at the workplace currently.
In 2004, asbestos-related lung cancer, mesothelioma and asbestosis from occupational exposures resulted in 107,000 deaths and 1,523,000 Disability Adjusted Life Years.
Additionally, several thousands of deaths can be attributed to other asbestos-related diseases, as well as to non-occupational exposures to asbestos, it adds.
The IARC recommends that asbestos which is in good condition should normally be left undisturbed and wherever necessary remove it. This work must be carried out by a specialist contractor who is licensed to do such work.
Cancer incidence of 13 per 10,000 populations was recorded from 2013 to 2016 and 17 in 2017 in Bhutan, according to Annual Health Bulletin, 2018.
pic courtesy: Compound interest (google)
Thukten Zangpo from Thimphu