Old problems, new again

If been a couple of decades now, since the big push of the 80's and 90's to remove (at great expense) Asbestos on ships and buildings, especially in Canada. The use of Asbestos in ship construction was extensive last century, even though it was a well known hazard to human health, as far back as the 1920. Flash forward to 2010, and this interesting notice from GL (Germanischer Lloyd) advising their clients, to be prepared for Port State Inspections in Rotterdam, that include ship's atmosphere testing, for signs of Asbestos contamination.

Russia is by far the largest producer of Asbestos, but Canada is also a significant producer. In Canada, the use of Asbestos is generally not allowed, so 96% of the production is exported to developing nations such as China. China has recently taken the top spot as the world's shipbuilder, surpassing Korea. So it is little wonder that Asbestos has reared its ugly head once again, and currently poses yet another health risk to seafarers, even on brand new ships. Asbestos use in ships, has been banned by SOLAS convention, in force since July 1st, 2002.

According to news clips, a Dutch engineering company surveyed 300 ships, and discovered asbestos on 95% of them. DNV as well reports that they found asbestos in 90% of the vessel the owners asked for a survey. It seems the majority of the problem lies in the spares that are brought on board after newbuilding, such as gaskets and seals.

Over in Quebec, a French speaking province in Canada, and one of the largest producer of Asbesto in Canada, and where I grew up, a dispute currently rages on as to whether or not the Quebec Government will provide Jeffrey Asbestos Mines, a loan guarantee for $60 million dollars. As a child I actually remember playing with the stuff, or at least it looks like it was asbestos, very neat material, stringy rock. I have no idea how it got in to the house, but it was in the geology class context, which of course, if your home province produces, it bounds to be hyped in school. Kinda scary looking back. There is even the town of Asbestos, located east of Sorel, near Montreal, on Google Maps, you can see the actual open pit mine, and its blueish tinge.

Banned in the "1st world", the stuff, 2 million tons of it in 2008, is exported to regions with little or no regulations, and even less enforcement, where much of the maritime business draws its resources from. A comment I came across - “The purchasing department thinks it is doing a good job, saving money on cheap gaskets from the Far East, and they bring back asbestos on board.”

You can read about the dangers of asbestos here, the wikipedia page is here, here is another interesting article about it.

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