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Egypt : Scientific Research Academy request reopening and operating chrysotile plants and reintegrating workforce of 3500 workers and technicians
14/09/2006

Al-Ahram Newspaper: enviro@ahram.org.eg

Environment – Supervisor : Fawzi Abdul-Halcem

 

September 2006

-What to do … “to open the window or to close it”

Scientific conference recommends reopening of the asbestos plants

 

“To open the window or to close it?” It is a frequent question when an Egyptian citizen is confronted between one thing and its opposite; this is the best way to approach the matter of asbestos, which continues to preoccupy people, authorities and legislative departments.  Because of health hazards in the work force as a substance causing cancer and extremely dangerous to the health of people, numerous asbestos plants have closed and safer substances found as a substitution for asbestos.

However, a conference, held by the Scientific Research Academy, recently recorded the opinions of scientists specialized in environment, industry, preventive medicine and industrial safety; they requested the reopening and operation of the asbestos plants, thereby reintegrating 3500 workers and technicians into the workforce, in the light of the fact that asbestos is not dangerous if the necessary health and industrial measurements are applied in these installations.   One hundred experts and researchers in the fields of industry and environment participated at the conference.  The conference discussed several aspects of the asbestos industry in Egypt:  One of these facts is that the Egyptian yearly consumption of asbestos is relatively small; it does not exceed 2 thousand tons per year, in comparison with other countries like Russia (750 thousand tons) and China (350 thousand tons).  Asbestos is used in the fabrication of pipes, brakes, isolation walls and textile industries; one of its advantages is that asbestos is extremely rigid and uninflammable. 

 

Dr. Ibrahim El Sebaen, Professor at the Faculty of Commerce at Cairo University, said: “When factories of water pipes stopped functioning because they were using asbestos is 2004-2005, products of the company at that time reached 170 million L.E. per year, it declined to 40 million after 7 lines of production were interrupted and scrapped. 3500 workers were working for this company for yearly salaries totaling 25 million L.E., 200 workers are deemed redundant and maintain their presence in the company as “over employment”; yearly profits of the company were 10-12 million L.E. before interrupting production, and now the company has losses of 20 million L.E.

Researches and studies were conducted to find suitable substitution materials for pipes to conserve drinking water.  They concluded that asbestos is the best because it does not react with chlorine in the drinking water, contrary to pipes made of P.V.C. or cast iron, which react with chlorine.

Dr Ahmel Abdel Wahab explained that these plants were functioning from 1952 until 2005, 3500 workers were employed by these facilities, and according to data of the Ministry of health, no dangerous cases were found to warrant closing these plants, which produced 50 million meters of pipes in view of installing the biggest safe water net in the Middle East; this water net is going to work for hundreds of future years, and it was appreciated by the highest international organizations.

During industrialization, pipes are buried underground and solidified; this process is done in a hydraulic environment, and therefore is not harmful and does not affect people.  This net has to be expanded to serve more villages, 2400 villages are waiting for connections of drinkable water.

Considering the American model, the proposal of the Environment Protection Agency (department V), which requested not to use products made of white asbestos, has been refused.  Factories have the right to use asbestos in production since the judgment date, the court explained that substitutes proposed by the Environment Protection Agency, such as cast iron and P.V.C. pipes, are not less harmful, but in fact more, so there is no danger.  The American Agency has since presented its excuses and admitted that using white asbestos in producing pipes is not harmful to health.

 

Dr. Abdel Hakim Mahmoud, Professor of Chest Diseases at the Faculty of Medicine of El-Qaar El Einy, explained that asbestos affects the respiratory system if we breathe it through the air over long periods; that it may cause bronchitis or cirrhosis of lungs and difficulty to breathe, and that it may also cause lung cancer or prolonged allergy.  These diseases do not appear before 10 to 60 years.

 

Professor Dr Mahmoud Mohamed Amr, Director of the National Centre for Clinical Poisons and Environment, confirmed that asbestos fibers may get into the respiratory system through breathing due to their small size, that they are odorless and they stay in the air for a long time; he also stated that dangers arising from asbestos are not contracted drinking water but through the respiratory system and breathing.

 

Professor Dr. Maged El-Sciouhi, Professor of Industrial Medicine and Professional Diseases at the Faculty of Medicine of Ein-Shams, added that workers in the plants were medically checked in the hear 2000; workers were found to be in good health, the factory safe for all workers and abiding by industrial security measurements, environmental tests under supervision of Dr. Ahmed Abdul Karim, Professor of the Centre of Researches and specialized in the field  of environmental tests were undertaken after the development, renewal and transformation of pipe factories owned by the public sector to the mechanized system.  Results showed that asbestos dust could be permitted while using water hoses on the pipes that industrial safety measurements help control the dust for personal safety reasons after delivering clothes and preventive masks.  In a nutshell results showed that it is safe and not harmful to be exposed to asbestos in plants.

 

(translated from Arabic)