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Scientists debate asbestos safety

Update: December, 11/2014 - 08:59
Houses with asbestos roofs in Yen Bai Province. Experts expressed differeing views yesterday on the safety of using amianthus, a kind of asbestos that is widely used in many industries. — VNA/VNS Photo Vu The Long

HA NOI (VNS) — Experts at a conference held in Ha Noi yesterday expressed different opinions on the safety of amianthus, a kind of asbestos that is widely used in many industries.

Nguyen Thi Thu Hien of the Department of Environment Management under the Ministry of Health said amianthus was a carcinogenic occupational hazard, noting that 54 countries had prohibited its use.

She said that most figures cited at the conference were from research done in other countries, not Viet Nam, hence the country had insufficient data on the chemical's real impact.

This also meant that impacts of amianthus on human health have not been properly investigated, she added.

However, Luong Duc Long, director of the Construction Material Institute under the Ministry of Construction, claimed that international studies have not been able to confirm that amianthus was the real cause for several diseases, including cancer.

Studies have only said the diseases could have been caused by amianthus, he said.

Sharing Long's view, David Bernstein, a Swish consultant, said coloured amianthus has had bad impacts on people's health, but this was not true of "white" amianthus.

He also said the impacts that people heard about were caused around 50 years ago, when people had no way to control dust, a problem that modern technology can address.

Therefore, many countries have not prohibited the use of amianthus, just managed the use of the construction material, he said.

Somchao Bovornkitti of the Thai Royal Institute said Thailand had been using amianthus for more than 70 years.

Studies done in the kingdom have shown that amianthus was not the cause of several diseases, he said.

Other scientists at the conference also said there was no clinching evidence for amianthus causing any disease. People with lung problems were mostly those who contracted diseases because of their contact with coloured amianthus about 20 to 40 years ago, they said.

Le Hong Thinh, permanent member of the National Assembly's Science, Technology and Environment Committee, said more research and evidence was necessary before Viet Nam decided whether or not the use of amianthus should be banned.

"If there's no proof that amianthus has bad impacts on people's health, enterprises should still be allowed to use this material," he said.

Long of the Construction Ministry said no alternative for amianthus had been discovered in the last 70 years. — VNS

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