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Thursday, May 1, 2008
Breathing a sigh of relief

Everite Limited has welcomed the publication by the Department of Environmental Affairs & Tourism of regulations banning the use of asbestos and asbestos containing materials (ACMs).

Excessive exposure to respirable asbestos fibres can cause a range of lung diseases, including cancer.
“Since completing the switch to asbestos-free products in 2002, Everite had to compete with cheaper asbestos-cement products imported from Zimbabwe, Mozambique and Brazil,” says company spokesman, Brian Gibson.
The banning legislation will:
• Allow manufacturers and merchants a 120-day “period of grace” to clear their shelves of asbestos or ACMs.
• Prohibit the import or export of asbestos or ACMs (excluding material in transit through the country).
• Prohibit the acquisition, processing or repackaging of asbestos and the manufacture or distribution of asbestos or ACMs.
• Allow a phase-out period for a limited number of ACMs (mainly for highly technical industrial applications.

The new regulations do not apply to ACMs already in use, such as roofing sheets, ceilings boards or pipes because the respirable fibres are encapsulated in cement, he explains. “Numerous international studies have demonstrated that asbestos containing building materials in place present little or no risk to the public. However, extreme caution is needed during installation, maintenance or removal to avoid exposure to respirable asbestos fibres.”
The Asbestos Regulations 2001, published by the Department of Labour, set out strict requirements for working with asbestos products but, according to Gibson, these are often ignored on building sites and policing is difficult particularly in rural areas.

History of asbestos use in South Africa

All three types of asbestos (blue, brown and white) were mined in South Africa since the early 1900s. The asbestos mining industry introduced dust controls in the fifties. The dust extracted from the workplace was sometimes deposited via stacks onto neighbouring communities;
In the early sixties a South African scientist demonstrated that blue and brown asbestos were primarily responsible for mesothelioma.
Labour unions mobilised around the so-called ‘Asbestos and Health’ issue in the early eighties and have remained active campaigners to this day. Then the fun began:
The Department of Labour introduced the Asbestos Regulations in 1987;
• In 1996, the Environmental Portfolio Committee launched an investigation into asbestos at the request of workers and affected communities. This resulted in the National Asbestos Summit being held in 1998. The Summit Declaration, endorsed by labour, business and government, asked the South African Government to ban blue and brown asbestos with immediate effect and to eliminate the use of white asbestos as and when alternatives became available;
• In 1999 the South African Cabinet formally adopted the Declaration and asked the relevant Government Departments to submit plans to phase out white asbestos, taking into account the social and economic impacts;
• In 2001, strict new Asbestos Regulations were published by the department of Labour. Asbestos mining stopped in South Africa and local manufacturers became totally dependent on Zimbabwe for fibres.
• In 2001, the South African Government became a signatory to the United Nations Environmental Council agreement that asbestos was not to be used in automotive products. The SABS has already implemented the necessary code for Original Automotive Equipment and is due to introduce the code for Replacement Automotive Parts in September 2005;
• In 2002, the major South African manufacturers of automotive friction products and Everite Building Products Limited met their undertakings to the Asbestos Summit and replaced white asbestos with safer fibres;
• In 2002, the DTI commissioned a NEDLAC study to investigate the socio-economic impacts of the phasing out of asbestos in South Africa. The Report concluded that the impact would be low but pointed to the “knock-on” effect on SADC countries that exported raw asbestos and/or asbestos containing materials to South Africa.
• In 2004 the Environmental Governance Trust served notice on both the DEAT and SABS that, failing a ban on the importation, manufacture and sale of asbestos containing automotive, building and pipe products, the EGT would apply to the High Court to have the necessary ban imposed in terms of the National Environmental Management Act. The SABS initiated an immediate ban on asbestos containing automotive products and the DEAT indicated that the necessary regulations would be formulated. The EGT agreed to suspend legal action pending compliance by DEAT.
• In June 2004 and again in April 2005, the Minister of Environmental Affairs and Tourism stated in his budget speeches that regulations effecting the banning of chrysotile were in the process of being finalised. In July 2005, DEAT advised that the regulations have been completed in draft form and will be published for comment shortly.
• In November 2005, the draft regulations banning the import or export of asbestos or asbestos containing products were published for comment.
• In May 2006, the Canadian Government – representing the chrysotile asbestos mining industry in that country - fought a rear guard action to prevent the publication of the South African asbestos ban, claiming that this would breach the “fair trade” rules of the World Trade Organisation. A similar tactic failed in 1999 when the Canadian Government objected to a ban on asbestos by the French Government.
• The second draft of the Asbestos Prohibition Regulations 2007 was published for a further round of public consultation on 21st September 2007.
• The Regulations for the Prohibition of the Use, Manufacturing, Import and Export of Asbestos and Asbestos Containing Materials, published in terms of the Environment Conservation Act, 1989, was gazetted on 28th March 2008.

Copyright © Insurance Times and Investments® Vol:21.4 1st May, 2008
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