The Rwandan Ministry of Infrastructure has issued a statement warning construction and demolition firms about the inherent dangers of improperly handling asbestos-laced building materials. The African nation, torn by a decade-long civil war, is trying to rebuild most of the infrastructure destroyed or damaged during the brutal conflict.
Infrastructure Minister Vincent Karega told reporters that his office has established a group of experts in the field of asbestos removal and remediation to create new procedures that will insure the safety of the workers who will deal with the dangerous fibers, as well as preserving the environment and preventing any further contamination. Karega said that his department had contacted specialists from Canada, one of the leading exporters of asbestos, for advice on the best methods available, including the proper ways to dispose of asbestos-containing materials in building debris.gg
While the country has placed a ban on the use of asbestos similar to those in place in Great Britain, the European Union and Australia, many of the workers are poor and uneducated. The Ministry of Infrastructure is putting forth the effort to ensure that those workers receive the proper training, tools and protective gear necessary to safely dispose of the materials without risking the health hazards associated with asbestos exposure.
During its years as a Belgian colony, workers used asbestos as roofing and fireproofing material in many of the schools, hospitals and other public buildings. Last year, the government set a goal of removing all of the asbestos in their official structures within six months, but missed that deadline and set it back indefinitely.
Karega said that the cost of removing the asbestos from government buildings would cost millions of dollars, not including the expenses involved in disposal of the debris and remediation of the site for future use. He also said that the government was still carrying out feasibility studies in several districts, but now he acknowledges that the process will be a slow one and that further steps need to be carried out “with extra care”.
Since most experts on asbestos agree that the substance is at its most dangerous when it is disturbed, Karega has called for workers involved in roofing projects not to handle the materials without supervision from an asbestos-removal expert. In the interim, the Rwanda government is working on creating an effective and safe plan to remove all of the asbestos. After the government carries out the plan, Rwanda will become the first African nation not to carry any asbestos-containing materials.
During the early stages of the study, government officials have accumulated data from fifteen of the country’s thirty districts. They estimate that the amount of asbestos roofing tiles covering various residences, businesses and government buildings covers more than twenty thousand square miles. They have not released any information on when they expect to complete the survey.
Loose asbestos fibers are known to be the primary cause of several lung disorders. The most severe disease related to asbestos is pleural mesothelioma, a form of cancer that attacks the soft tissue around the lungs. Patients with the disease often do not display symptoms until decades after the initial exposure period and typically only live less than two years.