Factories processing asbestos often neglected health and safety precautions.

Years after asbestos factories are shut down, the onset of asbestos-related diseases continues to plague countries where people were exposed to the dangerous asbestos fibers.

One such example is Egypt.

A recent in-depth article about the impact of asbestos on Egypt’s population cited studies by the National Cancer Institute and Abbasseya Hospital that revealed a rise of asbestos-related cancer diagnoses in the past few years – despite the fact that Egypt’s asbestos factories were officially shut down in 2005.

The numbers are expected to continue to rise, since there is often a 20- to 30-year time span between exposure to asbestos fibers and the onset of asbestos-related disease.

What is asbestos?

Asbestos describes a group of naturally occurring minerals that can be mined and used in thin, durable threads in a wide variety of materials to make them more resistant to heat, fire and chemicals.

Because of these qualities, asbestos was a common material in home construction and other industries throughout the 20th century.

The health risk is linked to inhalation of minuscule asbestos fibers when the material is disturbed or processed.

The tiny fibers of blue and yellow asbestos (another type of asbestos, white asbestos, is not as harmful to human health, experts say) can penetrate deep into the lungs and stay there, causing the growth of malignant tumors decades later.

Asbestos often causes mesothelioma, a rare form of cancer of the thin membranes lining the chest and abdomen. Symptoms include chest pain, dry cough, shortness of breath and tightness of the chest.

A lack of health and safety measures

Even after many western industrialized countries had become aware of the dangers associated with asbestos, they continued to export it to developing countries.

At least 14 cement factories located around Cairo were using asbestos in the manufacture of water pipes, and failed to introduce security measures – such as the wearing of a mask – to protect their workers, the article says.

Asbestos waste was often carelessly disposed of close to the plant, near residential areas or schools.

Removal of asbestos-containing materials in buildings is difficult because it’s not known or documented where the dangerous asbestos was used, the article says.

And even though asbestos has been banned, companies continue to import the material under the names of subcategories (crocidolite, amosite and chrysotile for blue, yellow and white asbestos), which are not mentioned in the legislation.

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Asbestos is so dangerous that experts agree it’s better to leave materials undisturbed or to ask remediation professionals to mitigate the problem.

Proper health and safety measures are vital to protect the health and well-being of workers, occupants and residents.

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