Article by Hifza Hammad, Assistant Secretary General
All Pakistan Federation of United Trade Unions(APFUTU)
Asbestos is a naturally occurring fibrous material that was a popular building material from 1950 to 1960 and it has been widely used in the construction industry. It has many applications in residential, commercial and industrial buildings. It was used extensively because it is an insulator and is fire resistant while it also has tensile strength and resistance to chemical erosion.
Asbestos is used in many forms, like spray applied fire proofing, boilers, vessels tanks and pipes. These materials often have a high asbestos content. Sheet flooring, floor tiles and cement boards and cement pipes also have a high concentration of asbestos. Asbestos cement pipes are commonly found as water supply and drain pipes material. Textured and decorative finishes of walls and ceilings in older buildings often contain asbestos.
Although asbestos has been widely used, there are serious health concerns which have been well documented. Asbestos fibers are easily inhaled and carried into the lower regions of the lungs, where they can cause fibrotic lung disease and changes in the lining of the chest cavity. These diseases can lead to reduced respiratory functions and death. Long term inhalation of asbestos fibers also increases the risk of the lung cancer and mesothelioma. Enlargement of the heart can also occur as an indirect effect from the increased resistance of blood flow through lungs. People with asbestosis experience shortness of breath, cough, and chest pain, reduced lung function, nail clubbing and bluish skin colouration. Asbestos-related diseases take time to develop. They usually emerge at least 10 years after exposure and some times as long as 50 years later. Due to such harmful effects of asbestos, 57 countries around the world have banned its use.
Pakistan is also re-considering the use of asbestos, due to the fact that the number of cases of lung cancer is increasing on a daily basis in Pakistan. Our organisation “All Pakistan Federation of United Trade Unions” (APFUTU) wrote a letter to the Federal Minister of Industries and Production Mr. Jahangir Khan Tarin in 2006 under the subject “Asbestos is dangerous for human life”. Upon receipt of our organisation’s letter, the Government took quick action against asbestos producers, importers and users. APFUTU briefed in their letter that the scientific and medical evidence on this dangerous building material is beyond doubt. We believe that such substances like asbestos should be banned in Pakistan as well as all over the world. We also noted that the use of asbestos is still being widely produced in our industry. The employers and the unions should work together to substitute the product as a matter of urgency.