For the chop

close on the heels of Japan banning asbestos, South Africa too has decided to prohibit the manufacture and new use of the mineral fibre. South Africa's environment minister, Marthinus van Schalkwyk, made this declaration on June 21. "For certain products, where no current alternatives are available, we will allow for a three-to-five-year phasing out period,' he said. The ban will be promulgated by legislation due before the country's parliament by the end of the year.

According to South Africa's environmental affairs and tourism ministry, products for which the new use of asbestos will be forbidden include oxyacetylene cylinders, some seals and gaskets and brake linings. "This is good news for the South Africans exposed to asbestos for decades,' said Laurie Kazan-Allen, coordinator, International Ban Asbestos Secretariat, a London-based non-governmental organisation. The move was also welcomed by the National Union of Mineworkers (num), which has demanded the ban since long. The ban would not provide any immediate relief to the thousands who continue to be exposed to the hazardous asbestos and its wastes in the Northern Cape and North West regions, where asbestos was mined and processed. However, Schalkwyk's department is evaluating tenders relating to a proposal for studying environmental pollution in asbestos hotspots. Other means of reducing secondary pollution such as rehabilitation of derelict mines, waste dumps and asbestos buildings are also being considered.

Meanwhile, many businesses that used asbestos have already shifted to other alternatives. "They've seen the writing on the wall and are phasing out asbestos,' said Peter Lukey, chief director of the ministry's regulatory service.

The ban is bad news for Zimbabwe's asbestos industry, as South Africa comprises its largest market. The asbestos industry is a major foreign exchange earner for Zimbabwe. While countries across the globe have banned asbestos, India continues to dither on the issue.

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