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Israel becomes latest country to ban asbestos

Israel has joined the growing list of countries that have banned the use of asbestos, a known carcinogen that kills more than 100,000 people worldwide each year.


The Knesset, the country’s parliament, approved a law that prohibits new uses of asbestos and requires the removal of friable asbestos in Israel’s public buildings, industrial facilities and military vehicles and equipment within 10 years. Asbestos is considered “friable” if it can be easily broken into pieces, which increases the likelihood that dangerous fibers will be released into the air.


Asbestos was widely used in Israel beginning in the 1950s to make building products, such as roofing, wallboards, pipes and chimneys. The government has estimated that some 100 million square meters of asbestos cement — consisting of 10 percent asbestos — are found in industrial buildings, agricultural structures, private buildings, schools, parking lots and army camps throughout the country.


In 2007, Israel's Ministry of Health documented a rise in the national incidence of mesothelioma, a rare and incurable disease caused by asbestos exposure. Between 1990 and 2008 there were 606 cases of mesothelioma in Israel, most related to occupational asbestos exposure. The country now sees about 30 new cases of mesothelioma each year, mainly among men who worked directly with asbestos.


The new Prevention of Asbestos Hazards Law, which will take effect in August, provides funding for a five-year project to identify, remove and dispose of asbestos waste in the Western Galilee, where the largest concentration of asbestos-related deaths have been recorded. The area was home to the Eitanit asbestos cement plant, which was closed down in 1997. The law requires the company to pay half of the projected $85 million cost of the clean-up project.


The new law also establishes a regulatory system to license asbestos workers and authorize inspections. The Ministry of Environmental Protection will have the power to impose fines and penalties on violators.


According to the World Health Organization, 125 million people around the world are exposed to asbestos at the workplace. An estimated 107,000 people die each year from asbestos-related lung cancer, mesothelioma and asbestosis resulting from exposure at work. Several thousand deaths can be attributed to asbestos exposure in the home.


Iceland adopted the first national ban on asbestos in 1993. Since then, more than 50 countries, including all the nations of the European Union, have phased out the production and use of the mineral.


In 2006, the World Health Organization began helping countries develop plans to ban asbestos and eliminate asbestos-related disease, stating that “the most efficient way to eliminate asbestos-related disease is to stop using all types of asbestos.”