29th September 2021, Phnom Penh, Cambodia – EuroCham Cambodia has pledged its support to ban the use of deadly asbestos across the country. The move comes as global pressure to curtail its use in the construction industry steps up a gear.
Asbestos is a material composed of flexible mineral fibers that has been used as an insulator in mainly building materials. The qualities of the product have historically made asbestos popular, but exposure to the product is highly dangerous and many countries have now banned its import and use. Asbestos causes cancer, mesothelioma (a specific type of cancer with asbestos exposure as its only known cause) and other serious health issues, such as asbestosis.
On September 27, EuroCham members attended the webinar ‘Impacts of Hazardous Construction Materials’, as a part of the EuroCham Real Estate September webinar-series the Chamber organised. The aim of the session was to identify the role asbestos plays in Cambodia’s construction industry, the health impacts, and why it should be banned across the sector.
Mr. Philip Hazelton, Manager of the Eliminating Asbestos Related Diseases Program for APHEDA, said “In Cambodia the use of asbestos in buildings is prevalent. In total, data from six Ministries indicates 20 percent of their buildings use corrugated cement roof sheeting and much of that is likely to contain asbestos. Also according to the Cambodian National Asbestos Profile (CNAP) from the Ministry of Labour and Vocational Training 11% of homes also have corrugated roof sheet in Cambodia.”
In addition to premanufactured asbestos containing building materials that are imported, the CNAP outlines up to 200 tons of asbestos fibre that is also imported into Cambodia annually.
Mr. Michael Freeman, Vice President of Contracting at Comin Asia, said lack of awareness surrounding the health hazards of using asbestos is the main reason for its continued use in the country.
He added: “We are used to dealing with some hazardous substances and we do so with the appropriate, storage and safe handling procedures, but for asbestos there is no safe threshold of exposure. It’s still available in the market, people purchase and use it because they aren’t aware about asbestos issues. At Comin Khmere we don’t see asbestos specified or used in major construction projects and if it were specified, we would highlight to the client that there are alternatives and we would not ask our employees to work with a material with no safe threshold of exposure. In Cambodia, we are slow to ban it and for small construction projects it can be even harder for them to determine whether the materials contain asbestos or not.”
Currently, asbestos is banned in 66 countries worldwide. Pressure is mounting globally for other nations to join the list. Mr. Hazelton said a strong signal in support of a ban from the construction sector would help the progress of a full ban in Cambodia.
The last few years have seen Cambodia implement measures to reduce the health impacts of asbestos exposure. This includes awareness campaigns and developing the CCF Laboratory the first laboratory in Cambodia that can test products to see if they contain asbestos. This laboratory sits under the Ministry of Commerce.
Mr. Phalroth Chhay, Deputy Director, Directorate General of The CCF Laboratory, recommended before investing in materials for construction, they are sent for testing.
He said: “Nobody knows whether a product contain asbestos or not with their naked eyes. To know, we should test it first at the lab before buying it, and buy it from a credible brand or product with an asbestos-free logo.”
In addition to testing materials, to reduce the risk to construction workers, Charles Amar, Head of the Real Estate Practice Group at DFDL and Vice-Chairman of EuroCham Real Estate & Construction Committee, said workers should be provided with educational workshops on the threats of handling hazardous materials and safety measures.
With Cambodia’s construction sector booming, Mr. Freeman said it is vital that before buying a condominium, investors should check the specification of construction materials to ensure they do not contain asbestos. Additionally, it is important to look at the labelling to see where the materials come from.
He added: “It’s inevitable that asbestos will be banned but the question is when?”
This webinar took place ahead of the ABAN 2021 Conference. The virtual event is invite only and runs until September 30. The event sees members of asbestos ban networks and asbestos hazard activists from across Asia Pacific gather online. For more information on APHEDA, visit https://www.apheda.org.au/
The Union Aid Abroad – APHEDA program on asbestos disease elimination in Cambodia is supported by Solidarity Centre, USAID, DFAT and the Asbestos Safety and Eradication Agency of the Australian Government.
For Further Information:
Phillip Hazelton email@example.com
Veasna Nuon Vesna@apheda.org.au