Authors: Ntombizodwa Ndlovu, Jim TeWater Naude, Jill Murray

Source: Global Health Action 2013,6:19410


Key words: domestic exposure; neighbourhood exposure; pleural plaques; pleural thickening; mesothelioma; South Africa

Background: Environmentally acquired asbestos-related diseases (ARDs) are of concern globally. In South Africa, there is widespread contamination of the environment due to historical asbestos mining operations that were poorly regulated. Although the law makes provision for the compensation of occupationally acquired ARDs, compensation for environmentally acquired ARDs is only available through the Asbestos Relief Trust (ART) and Kgalagadi Relief Trust, both of which are administered by the ART. This study assessed ARDs and compensation outcomes of environmental claims submitted to the Trusts.

Method: The personal details, medical diagnoses, and exposure information of all environmental claims considered by the Trusts from their inception in 2003 to April 2010 were used to calculate the numbers and proportions of ARDs and compensation awards.

Results: There were 146 environmental claimants of whom 35 (23.9%) had fibrotic pleural disease, 1 (0.7%) had lung cancer, and 77 (52.7%) had malignant mesothelioma. 53 (36.3%) claimants were compensated: 20 with fibrotic pleural disease and 33 with mesothelioma. Of the 93 (63.7%) claimants who were not compensated, 33 had no ARDs, 18 had fibrotic pleural disease, 1 had lung cancer, and 44 had mesothelioma. In addition to having ARDs, those that were compensated had qualifying domestic (33; 62.2%) or neighbourhood (20; 37.8%) exposures to asbestos. Most of the claimants who were not compensated had ARDs but their exposures did not meet the Trusts’ exposure criteria.

Conclusions: This study demonstrates the environmental impact of asbestos mining on the burden of ARDs. Mesothelioma was the most common disease diagnosed, but most cases were not compensated. This highlights that there is little redress for individuals with environmentally acquired ARDs in South Africa. To stop this ARD epidemic, there is a need for the rehabilitation of abandoned asbestos mines and the environment. These issues may not be unique to South Africa as many countries continue to mine and use asbestos.

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