The Ministry of Labour and Vocational Training plans to collaborate with two outside organisations to raise public awareness in Cambodia about the dangers of asbestos, an industrial material widely used throughout the world for various applications such as insulating buildings – though its use was largely banned in most developed nations due to the deadly affects it can have on anyone who breathes its fibres into their lungs.

The two groups working with the ministry are Union Aid Abroad – APHEDA and the UN’s International Labour Organisation (ILO).

Labour minister Ith Sam Heng announced the collaboration on August 31, saying team members from all three participating organisations would meet and begin compiling information on the current use of asbestos in Cambodia.

“Because there is no definite consensus as yet internationally as to whether asbestos should be banned completely, our team has a very important role to gather all information on asbestos and answer questions like: How useful is it? What are the alternatives? What are the dangers of using it?” Sam Heng said.

“In some countries, [where asbestos is still used] they use it very carefully, and even the storage is very specialized ... No one actually touches it, all of it is handled mechanically. So this is an issue we must be careful about,” he added.

According to a report on asbestos by APHEDA – which is an organisation that campaigns for a total ban on asbestos use globally – it is a mineral substance that can be used to make products that are especially tough, hard and cheap but exposure to it can lead to diseases such as lung cancer.

The report notes that it is often called a hidden killer because it takes years for those exposed to asbestos to develop the cancer that will eventually kill them despite the fact that it only takes very brief exposure to the material to set the process in motion by breathing in loose asbestos fibres.

In countries where its use is still permitted, asbestos-containing products include fibrous cement and other construction materials, thermal and sound insulation systems, fire extinguishers, insulation, floor tiles, plastics, textiles, abrasive materials, brake pads and packaging materials.