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Environment expert calls for asbestos ban.

Dubai: Despite neighbouring countries such as Oman and Saudi Arabia that have totally banned asbestos products and are relying on alternatives, the UAE only prohibits the manufacture and import of asbestos board, so mixing asbestos cement in a factory in the heart of Dubai is completely legal, an asbestos risk consultant has said.

Speaking at a community lecture organised by the Emirates Environment Group, Charles Faulkner, a principal consultant at WSP Environment and Energy, working on asbestos risk management, called for a total ban on life-threatening asbestos containing materials (ACB).

According to Faulkner, more than 17,000 tonnes of asbestos were imported into the country for the manufacture of asbestos cement pipes, which are used to transport tap water and sewerage.

Abu Dhabi seems to have predominantly switched to alternatives and the use of asbestos cement pipes is most frequent in Dubai, Sharjah and the northern emirates, he said.

A second asbestos factory is believed to be in the northern emirates.

Asbestos is banned in Europe and the United States due to its high toxicity which can cause asbestosis and mesothelioma, a fatal form of cancer. Asbestos-related diseases are responsible for almost 100,000 deaths worldwide annually.

Asbestos fibres can be lethal if inhaled; however there is almost no risk from water passing through an asbestos cement pipe or if ingested. Asbestos cement is used widely in the construction sector for water pipes or in corrugated sheets for roofing and is graded as a low to medium risk product, as long as it does not get damaged, Faulkner said.

The UAE does not have any statistics on the number of asbestos-related disease cases. A worker handling asbestos products may experience symptoms and be treated in his home country on his return. Most asbestos-related diseases can be triggered by even small levels of contamination either through clothing or the bad management of asbestos removal when a building is demolished.

"Most people have the perception that surely there can't be much asbestos in the UAE, but in reality nearly 3,200 building products contain asbestos," he said.

Through a slideshow Faulkner pointed out that a residential area in Dubai containing nearly 400 villas has asbestos roofing.

"If undamaged it is relatively safe," he said.

Cabinet resolution 39 for 2006 states that it is prohibited to import or manufacture asbestos board.

Factories were given a one-year shut down period which meant the ban actually came into effect in November 2007.

"This needs to be enforced as we are still seeing stores selling it in open daylight, I've come across it in my professional capacity," he said.

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Publication:Gulf News (United Arab Emirates)
Geographic Code:7UNIT
Date:Oct 1, 2009
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