Global Asbestos Congress 2004

Implications of the Excessive Asbestos Related Disease Burden among Retrenched South African Miners Exposed to Chrysotile Asbestos

[PowerPoint presentation submitted - authors could not attend]

Sophia Kisting and Mohamed Jeebhay
Occupational and Environmental Health Research Unit, School of Public Health and Family Medicine, University of Cape Town, South Africa

Chrysotile asbestos was mined in South Africa from the early part of the 20th century. African Chrysotile Asbestos (ACA), the biggest mine and mill, started operations in 1937 and closed in 2002. From 1975 to 1992 production of chrysotile in South Africa remained on average at 100,000 tons per year (with ACA contributing more than 90%) and declined to around 20,000 tons in 2000.

The number of workers employed at ACA in the 1960s and 1970s was between 2,000 and 2,600 at its peak. In the 1990s the numbers declined gradually and were reduced to about 250 by 2000. Annual average asbestos fibre level counts reported by ACA for the period 1977 to 1995 were below 1 fibre per ml with the exception of 1977 (2.5 fibres per ml), 1979 (2 fibres per ml) and 1983 (1.21 fibres per ml).

The National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) in South Africa, requested occupational medical practitioners to conduct audits of occupational health surveillance programmes at the ACA mine. The audit process of medical records, chest radiographs and lung function tests was completed prior to retrenched workers being repatriated to their homes, including to neighbouring countries Swaziland and Mozambique.

Between 1995 and 2000 the medical records, chest radiographs and lung function tests of more than 1,200 ACA asbestos mine-workers were assessed for asbestos related diseases. The prevalence of asbestos related diseases (ILO score >= 1/0) for the different evaluations varied between 21 and 36%. The findings are comparable to the high prevalence of pneumoconiosis (mainly silicosis and associated tuberculosis), reported by other investigators, among migrant workers from the Eastern Cape Province of South Africa (22-37%) and neighbouring Botswana (26-31%).

The findings of these audits suggests an enormous disease burden associated with exposure to chrysotile asbestos in spite of the recorded low fibre levels, and highlights the importance of worker organization in negotiating exit medical examinations of retrenched workers.

The information so obtained contributed to:

Extract from PowerPoint Presentation:

figure 1
Msauli-chrysotile asbestos mill and tailings dump

Mining of Chrysotile:

Chrysotile Production:

Workers Employed:

Chrysotile Asbestos Research:

Recorded Asbestos Fibre Levels:

Chrysotile in Asbestos-cement Products:

Amended Asbestos Regulations

Important Asbestos developments:

The Minister of the Environment and Tourism indicated in June 2004 that use of chrysotile asbestos for which there are alternatives, will be prohibited: