Asbestos was mined and used commercially in a variety of industries and products. The mining of asbestos in South Africa came to an end in 2002 and the current asbestos regulations prohibit the mining transport, use and manufacture of asbestos products.
The occupations traditionally associated with exposure to asbestos may no longer exist or may involve the use of substitute materials. Asbestos, however, is an extremely durable mineral and remains in products and in the environment. Workers involved in the removal of asbestos products may be at risk of exposure.
South Africa was the world’s third largest producer of asbestos and the biggest producer of amosite and crocidolite. Many tons were used domestically in the manufacture of asbestos containing products. New boilers and pipes are no longer insulated with asbestos and the manufacture of products, such as asbestos cement sheets, has been replaced with the manufacture of cement sheets using fibres such as cellulose. However, some occupations still involve exposure to asbestos. Where does this legacy of asbestos reside and who might be exposed? The records of the NIOH may indicate which categories of worker are at risk of exposure.
Bulk samples and air filters sent to the NIOH for the identification of asbestos have been recorded over the past 3 years and the information is being analysed to determine where asbestos has been identified.
Some 465 samples have been received from 6 Provinces (Northern Cape, Western Cape, KwaZulu Natal, North West, Gauteng and Mpumalanga). Over half (53%) contained asbestos fibres. The vast majority were from buildings. Asbestos was also found in power stations, ships and rail yards. Our initial data suggests that workers involved with refurbishing and demolition work are at risk of exposure to asbestos. In terms of the asbestos regulations, such work should be carried out under the supervision of an Approved Asbestos Inspection Authority.
For analysis of bulk materials, soils and filters contact the Electron Microscopy Unit, Division of Pathology.