Despite an enormous decline in the use of asbestos, incorrectly treated asbestos still can pose a threat to health. Hundreds of metric tonnes of raw asbestos are still imported into countries around the globe; however, the quantity is a lot lower than was being transported and used in the 1970s.
In the United Kingdom, there has been a voluntary ban on importing blue raw asbestos since the mid 60’s (this became a mandatory ban in the mid 70’s) and a mandatory ban on importing brown raw asbestos since 1985. In November 1999 the import of ALL asbestos was banned in the UK. Most first world countries have similar regulations, however, asbestos is still widely used. For instance, there is little or no control on mining and using asbestos in Africa, Asia, Russia or South America (around 22% of the world’s land mass). When asbestos is correctly used and maintained, it is safe. However, when incorrectly used, the material can still pose a risk to the health of anyone exposed to it.
The World Health Organization has concluded that approximately 107,000 deaths globally each year are caused by asbestos-related diseases such as mesothelioma and asbestosis. Despite many countries restricting the import and use of the material, production worldwide of asbestos is expected to remain fairly steady at about two million metric tonnes annually.
Once upon a time, asbestos was relied upon globally in home and building construction as well as in the shipbuilding and automotive industries. Over the years, reliance has declined, primarily thanks to the increase of protective legislation against risky use.
Many developed countries globally currently have legislation restricting the use of asbestos to help cut the likelihood of the risks associated with the material. However, to developing countries, asbestos still remains a low-cost and easily available material that can be used in a variety of building purposes.
Despite the drop in use, it will likely take some time yet for the rates of asbestos-related disease to decline as a result of prolonged exposure to the mineral decades ago.