Because of the widespread use of asbestos sheeting in buildings in Kenya, the African country has now dubbed mesothelioma a “national health crisis” and an “epidemic”, noting that about 10 percent of the country’s health budget is now being spent to treat those who are battling asbestos-caused cancer.
As a result, the government’s National Environmental Management Authority (Nema) has proclaimed it time to replace asbestos on public roofs so as to reduce this health hazard. While the task may be expensive, the agency believes the result will be well worth the money spent.
“The cost of environmental damage caused by asbestos pollution, including asbestos-related cancers, is higher than what we would spend to replace the roofs,” said Izaak Elmi, chief research officer at Nema.
Though Kenya banned the use of asbestos in 2006, nearly all the institutions built by the government have asbestos roofs, particularly those that were built in the 1950s and 1960s.
This includes not only official government buildings but also schools and some residential facilities. As the roofs age, the asbestos dust spreads and permeates the air.
As a result of exposure to the dust, rates of mesothelioma, lung cancer, and esophageal cancer have risen drastically, notes an article in Global Construction Review.
Some residential estates (government-planned neighborhoods with amenities like club houses, etc.) in the capital city of Nairobi even have water collection systems atop their asbestos roofs, a fact that is especially disturbing.
“Whenever it rains, we collect the rainwater, which saves us when taps run dry,” explained one resident. “As you can see, we repaired the roof ourselves a few years back,” she added, pointing to a section of the roof patched with iron sheets.”
Kenya is not the only African country that has seen rates of mesothelioma skyrocket. Tanzania has had a similar problem, even though they banned asbestos in 2003.
The Tanzanian government just passed a law that puts in place a program that will “expertly destroy” asbestos products in public buildings and elsewhere.
Though the use of asbestos in the U.S. was essentially halted in the late 1970s – though the mineral was never banned – it’s not unusual to find asbestos-containing products inside and outside of old buildings, homes, factories, mills, plants, etc. in this country.
Those who work in construction are the most likely to be exposed to these products and should always be aware that, when working on an older building, encountering asbestos is a real possibility.
As television shows touting DIY projects continue to become more and more popular, DIYers must remember that they should always employ an inspector to look for asbestos before starting any sort of demolition or renovation project on an older structure.
A licensed inspector knows where to look for asbestos and, once it’s found, can instruct the DIYer as to how it must be handled. Mishandling could result in exposure and, eventually, a cancer diagnosis.