Despite proven links to cancer, a ban in the European Union and restrictions in the United States, industry lobbyists have ensured that asbestos is still selling like hotcakes in the developing world, a report said Wednesday.
An investigation conducted by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists and the BBC found that the asbestos industry has ignored waves of asbestos-related disease around the world that have led to bans or restrictions in 52 countries, and continues to ply the mineral in developing nations.
More than half of the two million metric tonnes of asbestos that were mined worldwide in 2009 was exported to developing countries like India and Mexico, where demand is high for cheap building materials, the report said.
Most of the asbestos sold in those countries is used in cement for corrugated roofing, in water pipes and for home construction.
The asbestos industry's growth has been fueled by "a marketing campaign involving a global network of industry groups led by the Canadian-government-backed Chrysotile Institute," said David Kaplan, director of the ICIJ.
Chrysotile is another name for white asbestos, the most common form of the mineral.
The asbestos industry has spent "nearly 100 million dollars US in public and private monies since the mid-1980s to keep asbestos in commerce," said Kaplan.
"We found institutes and trade centers in Montreal, Mexico City, New Delhi and elsewhere that are sharing information and coordinating public relations initiatives to promote the 'controlled use' of chrysotile or white asbestos which is the only form of the mineral used today," Kaplan said.
Lax safety regulations in developing nations and increasing exposure of workers to asbestos are likely to lead to epidemics of asbestos-related diseases within the next decade, the report warned.
And the biggest users, China and India, will be hit hardest by the mineral's devastating health effects, said Kaplan.
Researchers in India have estimated that deaths from asbestos-related cancers could reach one million in developing nations by 2020, while an Australian researcher has predicted five to 10 million deaths from cancers caused by asbestos exposure by 2030.
Currently, the death toll from asbestos-related diseases is estimated by the International Labor Organization to be 100,000 worldwide.