A prominent occupational safety and health trainer, Mr Wale Bakare has warned of the danger inherent in contact with or use of asbestos, calling for better regulation of its use in the country.
He made the call at an Interactive and Technical Session organised by the Lagos Branch of the Institute of Safety Professionals of Nigeria (ISPON) which held at NERDC Building, Ikeja on Friday, November 17.
According to the safety practitioner, asbestos has been generally found to be water, fire and acid resistant, hence their widespread use across many industries.
Identifying Chrysotile, amosite, crocidolite, tremolite, anthophyllite and actinolite as the six main types of asbestos in the world, he said that the Chrysotile (or white asbestos), amosite (brown asbestos mostly found in South Africa), and crocidolite (or blue asbestos) were the most widely used globally.
Explaining how exposure to asbestos takes place, Bakare said, “As long as asbestos is not disturbed, then it doesn’t disturb you. Once your asbestos-containing material remains intact, it doesn’t become brittle and can then release microscopic fibre into the air, then there is no problem.
“But if you release this fibre through any kind of mechanical action, then that is when the asbestos fibre can be released into the air.
“Once it is released into the air and you are not protected, then you can breathe it in and then the problem starts.”
Bakare, who is the Managing Director of SMTS Nigeria Limited, a safety training firm, noted that research has linked asbestos use to diseases and conditions such as mesothelioma, asbestosis, lung cancer, asbestos wax and others.
However, he revealed that while 250,000 asbestos fibres were needed to make a person sick, a single fibre could affect an individual.
He also noted that the latency period for airborne asbestos fibre was between 15 and 60 years.
The widely-travelled safety professional further disclosed that many countries of the world have either totally banned the use of asbestos or restricted its use since a definite correlation was found between contact with asbestos and various health problems in the 1970s.
Bakare added that the World Health Organisation has listed asbestos as a category A cancer agent.
Furthermore, he disclosed that the United Kingdom, like many other developed countries, banned the use of all types of asbestos in 1989 and five African countries have followed suit.
Bakare added that 600 teachers in the UK were found to have died from asbestos-related illness mainly for sticking pins into boards, while 5000 individuals still die yearly from asbestos exposure despite the 1989 ban.
He stated that because of lack of data the number of fatalities linked to asbestos exposure could not be determined in Nigeria.
He revealed that construction workers are the most directly exposed to asbestos fibre in the country.
The safety practitioner urged the government to take urgent steps including appropriate legislation and enforcement to control asbestos use and subsequent asbestos fibre exposure to the general populace.