Why Asbestos is Poison

Asbestos reinforced cement sheets make for a cheap and effective roofing system that minimises the amount of steel used to erect it. Asbestos itself is a naturally occurring mineral found in many places and the fibre is known to cause Lung Cancer and Asbestosis – a disease that is painfully debilitating and often leads to death.

Because the material has been used so extensively and for so long, the asbestos cement sheet industry has become rich, powerful and entrenched. Apologists for these companies blow smoke in your eyes and have (so far) prevented the material from being banned here – unlike in some other nations.

The companies, at least in India, have two standard arguments:

  1. The fibres used here are not blue asbestos (crocidolite), but white asbestos (chrysotile) which is “safer”. That’s like saying they’ll kill you with regular dynamite instead of blowing you to bits with semtex – and even this argument is probably flawed.Until the 1950s, scientists – while admitting the health hazards of asbestos – made no distinction between the types or their ability to cause diseases. When in 1960, it was found by one Dr. J.C. Wagner in South Africa that blue asbestos caused malignant mesothelioma (cancer of the linings of the lungs, chest and abdomen), it caused a furore in the industry there.Interestingly, since it was chrysotile that was the major asbestos of commerce and used in the U.K. and U.S., industry seized blue asbestos as the culprit, declaring that white asbestos has not been similarly implicated and so it is safe. Full story
  2. Manufacturers will also tell you that once the asbestos fibre is locked into a sheet, it’s perfectly safe. That may well be true, but when a sheet is cut or drilled on site – and it almost always is – some fibres are bound to be released. Even if we discount the risk to the end-user and grant that the exposure may not be sufficient to cause any health problems, what about the poor labourer who mines the material? It gets into his lungs every day of his working life and a large part is carried home on his person and his clothing, thereby exposing his family to the very same risks. I’m sorry, but that is just not acceptable. And if anyone tries to say that there are safety standards, I’d ask them which world they’re living in. Safety standards in this country are conspicuous by their absence.Although more than 40 countries – most with far better safety standards – have already banned all kinds of asbestos, our politicians still try to question the rationale. After all, life is cheap in a country of 1 billion people and lobbying by large companies always works. I’m sorry if I sound cynical but there are just too many many horror stories to read about.

So what are the Alternatives?

So far, the only non-asbestos corrugated sheets I’ve come across are “Hi-Tech” (that’s the cheesy brand name) made by Everest Industries. They use polypropylene fibres instead to bind the cement and are available as plain grey sheets or in three or four pre-coated colours.

Everest Hi-Tech is an ideal roofing and cladding material for factories and warehouses in a variety of industries viz. Food, Pharmaceuticals, Textile, Engineering, Chemical, Automobiles, Metallurgical etc. It is particularly suitable where the factory/ warehouse need to conform to globally accepted and export compliant construction norms.

Everest also makes asbestos products by the way so it may be a deterrent for some but I’d rather encourage the alternative material because unless enough demand is created, the manufacturers will never give up on asbestos. So far, they don’t sell the sheets retail but do so only on a project basis from their factory at Coimbatore; if your quantity is small, it’ll work out slightly expensive. I’ve yet to come across other companies making similar products but hope they do in the near future.


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