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KARACHI: Workers and activists have called for a ban on a substance called chrysotile asbestosis, which was a leading cause of cancers for workers and anyone else who was exposed to it.

Speaking at a seminar organised by the National Trade Union Federation (NTUF) at its head office on Sunday, health safety experts, union leaders and workers said they had been demanding that the government institute a mechanism for an immediate ban on all forms of asbestos in the country, but the relevant quarters had turned a deaf ear to the issue.

NTUF deputy secretary general Nasir Mansoor, health and safety expert Mirza Shahid Baig, Home-based Women Workers Federation’s secretary general Zohra Khan, Gul Rehman and Mushtaq Ali Shan spoke at the seminar.

They said asbestos was chiefly found in the mines in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and it was widely used in construction, manufacturing of pipes and boilers etc.

Besides, they said, the substance was also used in manufacturing of fireproof products, plaster decoration, textiles, garments, cement, automobile and shipping industries.

“This substance is fatal for life, which normally take 15 to 20 years to manifest and in most of cases they inflict cancer to the host human body,” said Mr Baig.

Mr Mansoor said some 60 countries had banned asbestos fully or partially, yet Pakistan was among those countries where that material was being rampantly used.

“Because of this, precious human lives are getting silently perished,” he added.

The audience was shared with some unofficial figures, which claimed some 601 people died between 1995 and 2003 because of asbestos in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.

Experts said so far the lethal effects of the substance had been analysed in KP only in which asbestos was the chief cause for lung cancer.

They said there were no official data available vis-à-vis people affected by asbestos in Pakistan, yet, its use was in many industries, which had direct consequences to the human life.

“Unfortunately,” said a speaker, “Asia is the continent where the use of asbestos is the most.”

They quoted the World Health Organisation as saying that asbestos negatively affected 125 million people annually across the globe and 90,000 of them died every year.

“The International Labour Organisation and other world bodies have appealed to the member countries to ban this material, yet, only 23 per cent of those countries have banned it so far,” said Ms Khan.

In addition to the mining of asbestos in the country, large quantities of fibres were being imported from Russia, Brazil and other countries, speakers said.

They said there were no statistics available vis-à-vis the number of workers suffering from asbestos-related disorders.

Published in Dawn, January 9th, 2018