Online Program

Asbestos use: Ethics and the principle of environmental justice

Tuesday, November 5, 2013 : 11:00 a.m. - 11:10 a.m.

Wael Al-Delaimy, MD, PhD, Department of Family and Preventive Medicine, University of California, San Diego, La Jolla, CA
For decades asbestos has been known to cause lung cancer, mesothelioma, and other respiratory and cancerous conditions. Asbestos exposure was the number one occupational health problem until its use was banned in most of the developed world. The expectation would thus be that there is worldwide consensus about its harmfulness and the clear need to ban its ongoing use. The asbestos industry heavily influences governments of countries that produce it, especially today in the countries of the former Soviet Union. It appears that even if they have attempted to weigh the cost vs. the benefits of using it, industry profits trump all health considerations. These countries place greater priority on economic activity, exporting the problems and its negative impact to the less developed countries that are deceived that asbestos can be safely used and thus continue to rely on its use for construction and other functions. Further, unlike tobacco exposure where most people are aware of its harmfulness, the users of asbestos mostly lack knowledge about its harmfulness. There are major ethical implications to such irresponsible behavior. Certain asbestos producing countries were successful in 2013 in continuing to block chrysotile asbestos from being listed as a hazardous substance under the Rotterdam Convention. A more concentrated and collaborative effort is needed outside of the frailties of the Rotterdam Convention that can be led by professional organizations to combat the remaining uses of asbestos in order to avert an otherwise certain epidemic of asbestos-related disease and premature death in developing countries.

Learning Areas:

Public health or related laws, regulations, standards, or guidelines

Learning Objectives:
Explain the lack of global public policy banning asbestos despite the clear body of evidence of its dangers. Examine the influences and drivers that prevent global acceptance of the need for a universal ban on asbestos. Compare the asbestos controversy with the tobacco industry’s fight with public health.

Presenting author's disclosure statement:

Qualified on the content I am responsible for because: I am a current member of the Joint Policy Committee of the Societies of Epidemiology (JPC-SE)
Any relevant financial relationships? No

I agree to comply with the American Public Health Association Conflict of Interest and Commercial Support Guidelines, and to disclose to the participants any off-label or experimental uses of a commercial product or service discussed in my presentation.