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Increased Asbestos Use in Mexico Leading to More Mesothelioma Deaths

Industrial uses of asbestos in Mexico are increasing the number of mesothelioma-related diseases and deaths among Mexican workers, according to a scientific study in the American Journal of Industrial Medicine. The researchers say Mexico should ban the use of asbestos in all production processes as a public health policy to control the epidemic of asbestos-related diseases and safeguard the population and future generations.

Malignant mesothelioma is an incurable cancer of the lining of the lungs or abdomen closely associated with breathing asbestos. The World Health Organization has urged countries to ban the use of asbestos, saying there is no safe level of asbestos exposure.

In their study, occupational health researchers from the Mexican Institute of Social Security and several Mexican cancer hospitals sought to identify the proportion of cases of malignant pleural mesothelioma in Mexico that were attributable to workplace exposure. Despite numerous studies around the world that have underscored the adverse effects of asbestos on workers’ health, the researchers said there was a general lack of recognition of the hazard of asbestos exposure in Mexico.

Because mesothelioma is not recognized as a work-related disease in Mexico, the country’s national health system and Mexican Institute of Social Security, which insures 30 percent of the country’s economically active population, absorb millions of dollars in costs to care for patients with mesothelioma rather than the industries that caused their disease.

In Mexico, chrysotile asbestos —also known as white asbestos—imported from Canada is the most commonly used asbestos fiber and represents the largest threat to workers, the study says. The shipment of asbestos to Mexico is part of an ongoing migration of dangerous industries to less industrialized countries such as Mexico that possess a weak framework for worker protection, the researchers noted. From 1991-2000, Mexico imported about 8 percent of Canada’s total international exports of asbestos, representing $114 million in exports.

Researchers interviewed 472 workers who lived in the Valley of Mexico, an area of central Mexico that encompasses the Mexico City metropolitan area, to assess their potential exposure to asbestos from their jobs as well as from environmental factors such as living near an asbestos factory or having parents who worked around asbestos. More than 100 of the workers had been diagnosed with mesothelioma.

The researchers attributed 82 percent of the cases of mesothelioma in the lining of the lung to workplace exposure to asbestos. They said the pattern of asbestos exposure and disease observed in more industrialized nations in the 1970s is now repeating itselt in Mexico.

“Our results show a clear relationship between industrial use of all types of asbestos and malignant pleural mesothelioma, and in Mexico the major type of asbestos is chrysotile imported from Canada,” the researchers said.

They said deaths from mesothelioma appeared to be underreported in Mexico’s official death records, suggesting the scope of the problem was even greater. Of more than 100 patients diagnosed with mesothelioma, only about a third of patients who had died had mesothelioma listed as a cause of death.

In 2006, the World Health Organization said that all types of asbestos cause mesothelioma, lung cancer and asbestosis and there is no safe level of exposure to asbestos. Even if use of asbestos is eliminated soon, the World Health Organization has estimated there will be 5 to 10 million additional deaths from asbestos. The World Health Organization called for a ban.

But Mexico has not banned asbestos. To the contrary, Mexico’s government supported an effort by asbestos-exporting countries, led by Canada, to block the United Nations from including chrysotile asbestos on a list of recognized toxic substances.

Based of their findings, the researchers called on Mexico to ban the use and commercialization of all forms of asbestos to protect future generations and to require asbestos manufacturers and importers to pay the medical expenses and pensions of diseased workers. The researchers said if asbestos is not banned at once in Mexico, the incidence of mesothelioma would continue to increase in the population for 50 years.

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Last Modified: January 4, 2019

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