Cambodia may soon join other countries in banning the import and use of asbestos, which is known to have serious health consequences, officials said yesterday at a symposium organised by the Ministry of Labour and Union Aid Abroad (APHEDA), an Australian aid NGO.
Speaking at the event, Minister of Labour Ith Sam Heng said that asbestos has been used in more than 3,000 categories of products since the 1980s.
While production and use in many countries has been reduced or banned, Samheng added that asbestos is still used in many of the Kingdom’s industrial and commercial sectors, such as engineering and textiles.
“We are in the process of conducting a study, after which we will ask the government to stop the import and use of asbestos in order to ensure health security in the work place”, said Sam Heng.
Dr Leng Tong, director of the Department of Occupational Safety and Health, said that asbestos in Cambodia is mostly used in building sites and car brakes.
“Health problems caused by asbestos mostly occur among construction workers – most commonly asbestosis, mesothelioma and lung cancer,” he said.
Lak Muoy Sreang, a preventative medicine official from the Ministry of Health, said that beyond lung problems, asbestos can also cause kidney damage and cancer, as well as bladder cancer.
“Many rural Cambodians collect rainwater to drink that flows from cement rooftops containing asbestos, this can cause many kidney problems,” she explained.
President of the Cambodian Food and Service Workers’ Federation (CFSWF) Sar Mora commented that most Cambodian workers do not think about asbestos and related health issues, and urged the government to take the lead.
“Though diseases may occur 10 to 15 years from now, it is critical that the government take action now to ensure health security,” Mora said.
The symposium featured experts from Australia, Japan, Korea, Vietnam, Laos and the World Health Organization (WHO) in Cambodia .
According to WHO representative Steven Iddings, asbestos has put an estimated 125 million people’s health at risk worldwide and is responsible for 17,000 deaths each year.
There is no available data on the scope of asbestos use and how many people it has affected in Cambodia, according to Labour Minister Samheng.
However, UN trade statistics show that the import of asbestos products to Cambodia has more than tripled in recent years, from $1.3 million in 2009 to just over $4 million in 2013.