Journal article

Background: Asbestos products are manufactured and used in Sri Lanka in the construction and automobile industries.

Objective: To determine radiologically if exposure to asbestos caused lung disease among workers handling asbestos products, and to generate data in Sri Lanka where no such data exist due to poor reporting and a poor surveillance system.

Methods: Following ethics approval and written consent plain chest X-rays and exposure data were obtained in 230 workers in asbestos manufacturing, building construction, building demolition, tsunami debris cleanup, and other trades. The assumption was that all exposed workers were exposed to chrysotile. Participants were from provinces with asbestos factories, and where tsunami cleanup had occurred.

Findings and Conclusions: Radiological findings of the 230 participants showed lung fibrosis in 7% (16 cases), and other non-asbestos-related lung conditions. Of the 16 fibrosis cases, none were in manufacturing workers, one in a construction worker, six in tsunami workers, six in demolition workers, and three cases in others. Globally, Sri Lanka has one of the highest consumptions of chrysotile asbestos per capita. This first known study documenting asbestos disease in Sri Lanka is clearly a limited, self-selected group of workers studied with obvious limitations. The prevalence of asbestos-related lung disease among tsunami and demolition worker indicates that a risk exists for asbestos material already in use in Sri Lanka. Hence a significant concern is the safety of asbestos demolition workers and cleanup workers exposed to asbestos debris from major natural disasters such as hurricanes, tornados, typhoons, and tsunamis.

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