Global Asbestos Congress 2000
ASBESTOS PROBLEMS IN KOREA: HISTORY AND CURRENT SITUATION
DOMYUNG PAEK, MD, SCD
School of Public Health, Seoul National University
The above Congress presentation is also available in PDF format, based on the paper reproduced below:
The History of the Asbestos Industry
Asbestos has been mined in Korea since the 1930's under Japanese control. At that time, asbestos was used mainly for the ship-building industry and the Japanese navy was the main consumer. Over two dozen mines were operating under the Japanese occupation which ended at 1945. One of them which was located at Kwang-Chun, Korea, was the largest chrysotile mine in Asia with more than 1000 miners. At that time, all men had to go into the army for World War II, but if they worked at the mine they were exempt from the conscription.
After the withdrawal of the Japanese from the Korean Peninsula, the production of asbestos dropped steeply (Table 1). Almost negligible amounts were mined. However, with the introduction of economic development plans in Korea since 1960's, asbestos consumption has increased again. Especially production of slate and other asbestos containing construction materials increased markedly following the nationwide renovation campaign of traditional houses in the countryside. With this as a signal, asbestos imports, as well as domestic mining, have increased steadily (Table 2).
|Table 1. Amount of asbestos mined in Korea by year (metric tons, MT)||Year||Amount||Year||Amount||Year||Amount||Year||Amount||Year|
- : unknown
Sources: Mineral year book (U.S.A., 1944-1992), Korean Mineral year book (1970-1993), Yearbook of Korean Corporation of Mine Development (1980-1993), Report of Energy and Resource Institute, Mining and Manufacturing Statistical Report, Ministry of Economic Planning, Bureau of Statistics, Census Report of Mining and Manufacturing Industries (1958), Year book of Korean Industry and Commerce Bank, Korean Geological Report, Japanese Colonial Office of Korea, Bureau of Geological Survey (1941), A study on Korean Mines (1944), Report on Korean Mines (1941- 45), Japanese Colonial Office of Korea.
|Table 2. Amount of asbestos imported and exported by year|
Sources: Korean Mineral year book, Yearbook of Korean Corporation of Mine Development, Statistics of Import and Export (1974-1993), Ministry of Economic Planning, Bureau of Statistics, Bureau of Statistics in Korea, Yearbook of Commerce Statistics (1974-1993), Bureau of Taxation
There have been three major uses of asbestos in Korea. Besides the manufacturing of construction materials, asbestos textiles and brake-lining production are the other two industries. These three industries have accounted for more than 95% of usage of raw asbestos fibers in Korea (Table 3)
|Table 3. Consumption of imported asbestos by type of industry (MT (%))|
1 Construction: asbestos slate, asbestos board, asbestos tile, asbestos papers, etc.
2 Friction: brake linings and pads etc.
3 Textile: asbestos yarn, thread, ropes, cords, packing, clothing, etc.
4 Others: gasket, paper, paint, etc.
Manufacturing of brake-lining and other friction materials had started in Korea around mid-1960's with the opening of automobile assembly plants. At first, used asbestos fabrics, especially those discarded from ship-repairing processes, were used as the raw materials. Quite soon, the consumption of asbestos by this industry increased with the growth of automobile manufacturing industries until the early 1990's. As developed nations began to ban the use of asbestos brake linings for small automobiles from the early 1990's, the use of asbestos for brake lining in Korea also was cut back.
The third major asbestos industry in Korea, that is asbestos textile manufacturing, had started in the early 1970's. This was because of the tightening of safety and health regulations in developed countries, especially Japan and Germany. "Rex-Asbest", one of the largest asbestos textile companies from Germany started operations in Korea in the early 1970's and several Japanese textile companies moved over to the southern part of Korea just after the 1974 enactment of the Japanese Occupational Safety and Health Act. At that time no special precautions were exercised about asbestos in Korea. Even though a workers' health examination program had been instituted in 1963 in Korea, no specific screenings such as spirometry and full-size chest X-ray were employed. The first measurement of asbestos fiber in Korea was attempted only after the mid-1980's. The measurement results showed that overall the asbestos textile industry was the dustiest one in Korea (Table 4).
|Table 4. Airborne asbestos fiber concentrations by year and type of industry|
|Textile||6.70||4.4 ~ 5.9||2.57||0.49 ~ 2.0||3.93||2.09||1.22||1.21||1.87|
Sources: 19841: Ministry of Labor, National Institute of Labor Science. 19872: Dooyoung Park, Namwon Paik, Ministry of Labor, National Institute of Labor Science. 19833: Namwon Paik, Yongchul Shin. 19894: Namwon Paik, Korean Occupational Safety and Health Agency. 19915: Namwon Paik, Youngwhan Lee. 19926: Semin Oh, Dooyoung Paek, Yongchul Shin, Korean Occupational Safety and Health Agency. 19937: Korean Institute for Industrial Health.
The asbestos industries have been shrinking since the early 1990's in Korea. This is mainly because of the worsening economic environment, and partly due to the stricter regulations following social worries about hidden problems. As mentioned above, automobile manufacturers had to use non-asbestos friction materials to export cars to developed nations, and this brought the cut-back of asbestos usage in friction material manufacturing industries. At the same time, cheaper asbestos textiles could be imported from other developing countries such as China and Indonesia, and this resulted in transferring asbestos textile plants to those developing countries. As a result of these changes, the amount of imported asbestos friction materials and asbestos textiles has increased more than that of exported ones since the mid-1990's in Korea (Table 5). Before those changes in Korea, raw asbestos fibers were imported, while more fabricated asbestos products were exported.
|Table 5. Asbestos-containing materials imported/exported by year and type of industry (tons)|
1 Construction: asbestos slate, asbestos board, asbestos tile, asbestos papers, etc.
2 Friction: brake linings and pads etc.
3 Textile: asbestos yarn, thread, ropes, cords, packing, clothing etc
Sources: Statistics of Import and Export (1964-1993), Bureau of Statistics in Korea, Yearbook of Industrial Production (1975-1993), Bureau of Statistics in Korea.
Health Problems Associated with Asbestos Use
The first asbestos victim in Korea was identified in 1993, when a former asbestos textile female worker was diagnosed with mesothelioma at the age of 46. She gave up working at the asbestos textile factory a year before the final diagnosis due to the worsening pain. Because she had been working at only one company for 19 years, and mesothelioma was a rare cancer, job exposure was rather easily suspected as a cause of her disease after the final diagnosis. Since then, five more mesothelioma cases were referred for workmen's compensation. However, their exposures to asbestos involved work at ship-building, boiler and mechanics, serpentine mines, or construction sites, and none of these five cases worked in primary asbestos industries, such as manufacturing of construction materials, brake linings or asbestos textiles.
In Korea, about 40 to 50 mesothelioma cases are reported annually through the cancer registry (Table 6). Considering the fact that not all cancer cases are diagnosed or reported at major participating hospitals, the annual incidence of mesothelioma among the general population in Korea stays around 1- 2 cases per million. The sex distribution is almost even with equal numbers of mesothelioma cases among men and women.
|Table 6. Mesothelioma cases among Cancer Registry cases by year|
|Year||Total No of Cancer Registry Cases (A)||Mesothelioma Cases (B)||B/A (%)|
Lung cancer is the fastest growing cancer in Korea, and over the last 15 years the mortality has increased more than 3 times (Table 7). Nowadays, it has become the third most common cancer among Koreans, just next to stomach and liver cancers.
Among these lung cancers, 4 cases were referred for workmen's compensation up to now. Their work history included exposures as underground facility keepers, foundry workers, auto mechanics and maintenance workers. Similar to the cases with mesothelioma, none of the lung cancer cases worked in primary asbestos industries. This number is far too short of potential asbestos cases in Korea, considering the fact that up to a 1:4 ratio can be expected between mesothelioma and lung cancer cases due to asbestos exposures.
When the occupations of lung cancer victims among men were analyzed over the years, professionals, service and sales workers, plant and machine operators, and laborers were the groups with fast increasing numbers, while senior officials, technicians, craft and related trade workers, and house workers showed little or no increase over the period (Table 8).
As for the women, service and sales workers were one of the fast increasing groups (Table 9). These analyses suggest that occupational activities are linked with the increase in lung cancer, especially for men, and asbestos exposures among plant and machine operators and laborers should deserve further attention in the near future in Korea.
|Table 7. Lung cancer mortality in Korea by sex|
|Lung Cancer Death (No)||Mortality (/100,000)||Lung Cancer Death (No)||Mortality (/100,000)||Lung Cancer Death (No)||Mortality (/100,000)|
|Table 8. Lung cancer cases among males by occupation|
|1 Senior Officials||29||42||30||30||36||42||33||53||45||64||17||21||11||10||25|
|5 Service and Sales||7||7||10||12||21||24||34||35||40||79||311||343||344||403||366|
|7 Craft/ Related Trade||107||110||143||154||178||216||231||255||293||426||289||343||268||281||258|
|8 Plant/Machine Op||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||86||89||187||101||95|
|10 House Workers||340||391||496||561||594||658||747||781||811||820||773||820||726||815||855|
|Table 9. Lung cancer cases among females by occupation|
|1 Senior Officials||1||1||3||2||2||5||4||2||7||4||0||0||0||0||0|
|5 Service and Sales||0||1||1||4||2||0||4||7||3||8||45||40||27||40||50|
|7 Craft/ Related Trade||3||6||1||8||3||9||7||8||6||12||7||11||6||13||9|
|8 Plant/Machine Op||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||1||0||1||1||0|
|10 House Workers||311||293||358||389||393||442||464||497||499||607||576||656||576||594||692|
Asbestosis screening was attempted in 1993 among asbestos textile workers in Korea. Among those who had been screened, about 3% showed compatible chest x-ray findings with asbestosis, and half of them also had restrictive lung function changes. There was a clear dose response relationship when the groups were divided according to tenure. No workers with less than 10 years of tenure showed abnormal chest findings, while 8% of those with 20 or more years of work showed abnormal chest xray findings (Table 10).
|Table 10. Prevalence of asbestosis according to exposure duration among asbestos workers|
|Tenure||Asbestosis Cases1||Probable Asbestosis2||Possible Asbestosis3|
|0 - 9||0% (0/82)||0% (0/82)||0% (0/82)|
|10 - 14||0% (0/15)||7% (1/15)||7% (1/15)|
|15 - 19||6% (1/16)||6% (1/15)||13% (2/16)|
|20 -||4% (1/26)||8% (2/26)||23% (6/26)|
|Total||1.4% (2/139)||2.9% (4/139)||6.5% (9/139)|
1. Asbestosis: over 1/0 profusion according to ILO classification with compatible lung function tests
2. Probable Asbestosis: over 1/0 profusion according to ILO classification without compatible lung function tests
3. Possible Asbestosis: 0/1 profusion according to ILO classification or other compatible pleural findings
Current Regulations and Potential Problems
At present, crocidolite and amosite are banned and only chrysotile is allowed for use in the manufacturing of asbestos products. Employers are required by the Industrial Health and Safety Act of Korea to provide health and safety measures for employees when they make asbestos products directly with raw asbestos fibers.
However, those industries which use, install, or remove asbestos products, such as construction, insulation, mechanics or maintenance works are exempt from providing specific health and safety measures for asbestos. Even though most of the compensated mesothelioma and lung cancer cases up to now in Korea have worked in these industries, we have no idea about the numbers exposed or level of exposures among these workers.
Asbestos products are currently sold at hardware stores in Korea without any particular warning or material safety and data sheets. No one single specific provision such as a campaign or educational program has been made to protect employees at hardware stores and their customers who buy and use asbestos products.
The other pitfall of current regulation is that only current employees at the covered worksite can be reached by the health and safety programs. Once they leave the workplace, it is hard to follow them or keep registers updated. Neither employers nor employees are interested in providing or receiving health and safety programs because of entangled economic and other privacy issues.