Exposure to asbestos in the workplace has led to a shocking increase by more than 80 per cent in the number of asbestos-related deaths around the world, according to latest statistics by The Global Burden of Disease, Injuries and Risk Factor Study of 2013 (GBD 2013).

The annual report, published in the Lancet medical journal, reveals that occupational exposure to the deadly mineral fibres was responsible for 194,000 deaths in 2013. The figure represents a huge jump of 82 per cent from the 107,000 asbestosis-related fatalities reported each year since 2008 by the World Health Organization (WHO). The public health arm of the UN had previously stated that the fatal, incurable mesothelioma cancer had caused 92,252 deaths worldwide in a 15-year period from 1994 through to 2008.

The GBD 2013 figures also found that asbestos exposure accounted for nearly two-thirds of the 304,000 global deaths from all types of occupational cancer-causing substances.

Global production risen to meet the demands

Once again the focus of concern is directed at the world’s top asbestos exporters, such as Russia, China and Brazil, which are well known for continuing to mine white chrysotile asbestos for use by a number of developing nations, including India and Mexico. Global production has actually risen by over 2.1 million tonnes to meet the demands for affordable, mass-produced building insulation materials in the developing African, Asian and South American economies.

Latest available figures from a US survey in 2012 show that asbestos consumption in China and India had risen to around half a million tonnes each year, more than twice the amount of Russia at 200,000 tonnes followed by Brazil and Indonesia at more than 1.6 thousand tonnes. Other high asbestos importing countries include Thailand, Ukraine and Pakistan who, between them, consume a total of 110,000 tonnes.

Protecting growing asbestos mining and export industries

The international community has repeatedly attempted to include chrysotile white asbestos on the list of hazardous substances, which require a “prior informed consent” from countries who wish to import the mineral. Each time the move is resisted by those countries with economic interests in protecting their growing asbestos mining and export industries.

At the 2015 UN meeting of the Rotterdam Convention held every two years in Geneva, top asbestos exporter Russia, along with Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Zimbabwe, voted to once again block the inclusion of chrysotile. Despite overwhelming medical evidence and increasing global asbestos awareness to the long-term fatal risks, this is the fifth consecutive time that major asbestos exporting countries have refused to acknowledge they are exposing millions of their workers to potential malignant mesothelioma cancer.

No record kept at all on the incidence of mesothelioma

The use of asbestos is currently banned in 55 countries around the world. However, there is an increasing alarm over the growing figures for asbestos imports and the impact on the workforce in those other countries where the use of asbestos continues to rise. The risk of exposure is especially acute in countries, such as India and China where there is only a sketchy record of cancer numbers, and there’s no record kept at all on the incidence of mesothelioma amongst their population. As a result, the potential risks and the rising deaths from mesothelioma are consistently being ignored or drastically underestimated.

The incidence rate of mesothelioma in Britain has also steadily risen to becoming one of the highest around the world, with a four-fold increase just in the last thirty years, according to recently published figures from the Office of National Statistics. An estimated 5,000 people will die from asbestos exposure each year and a further 45,000 mesothelioma deaths can be expected by 2050, say the Health and Safety Executive.