The construction industry especially in Africa has witnessed sporadic evolution, from grass thatched huts of the twentieth century to the modern spectacular mirrored skyscrapers. Part of the progress was marked by a reign of fibrous materials that had a perfect combination of preference attributes. Known as asbestos. They stood out as fire resistant materials that were durable and with astounding stability to chemicals, heat, steam and rust. They become an ideal building material gaining prominence in the 80’s and 70’s.
Commonly found in nature, asbestos was used to enhance the strength of concrete, floor tiles, wall boards, pipes, acoustical plaster and as an ingredient of spring mixture on ceilings and walls. Today asbestos roofing is a common scene in schools, hospitals, residential and public old buildings mostly built before 2000. More so as any other household and workplace appliance such as pipe insulation. However, the widespread application has come at a cost of more than 5,000 deaths every year due to inhalation or ingestion of asbestos dust. Asbestos dirt is minute for naked eye visibility without any smell or odor making it highly elusive. It is worth noting, occupying a building built of asbestos does not necessarily present a health risk.
As a take away from the Center for Disease Control, the most likely method of exposure is through renovation and routine maintenance. Conditions that have been attributed to asbestos on little exposure include cancer, scarring and inflammation with degenerate conditions like asbestosis, lung cancer and mesothelioma. The risk factors are dependent on health history, amount exposed, frequency of contact and the type of asbestos fibers. Governments across the world introduced bans, phase out or stringent regulations of asbestos production and end use.
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According to the Legal Notice No. 121 of the Environmental Management and Coordination (Waste Management) Regulations 2006 of Kenya, waste containing asbestos is classified as hazardous waste. In addition, the Legal Notice requires that hazardous waste be disposed in a specified manner as approved by the National Environment Management Authority (NEMA). However, there are plenty still in place across Kenya and East Africa. This is probably because there are only a few people in Kenya have the technical knowhow of handling the asbestos as well as disposing it through the complex procedures that must be inspected by NEMA. Among them is Greenrock Ventures, a NEMA licensed asbestos management and Abatement Company in Kenya registered both as a handler and transporter.
Greenrock works together as a group to create a healthier and safe environment in line with specifications and EMCA waste management Regulation 2006. Contact with damaged asbestos containing materials (ACM) that allow mobility of asbestos particles should be avoided. Persons with high risk of occupational asbestos exposure like construction and demolition workers, firefighters, electricians among others need proper awareness on protective ware when on their tasks. Home owners have alternatives of encapsulating asbestos materials as their removal by unprofessional persons pose greater risks of contamination. That said, people using asbestos in their buildings lack the technical knowhow of how to handle and dispose these noxious materials.
As required by Environmental Management and Coordination Act (EMCA) Cap 370 as well as Environment Management and Coordination (Waste Management
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Regulations, 2006) and National Guidelines on Safe Management and Disposal of Asbestos, a comprehensive Environmental and Social Impact Assessment (ESIA) for removal, handling and disposal of asbestos must be done by National Environmental Management Authority (NEMA) accredited lead expert or firm of experts before commencing the work and License issued by NEMA that will specify safe conditions for removal, handling and disposal of asbestos. Initiatives like the recently launched Kenya Climate Innovation Center strategy that will be supporting among others, innovations in waste management, will hopefully develop more enterprises that can handle the removal and disposal of these hazardous materials. More research also needs to be done on the best methods of forestalling the health effects of asbestos exposure.
A redacted version of this article was first published by Arnold Muthanga and Solomon Irungu on Sunday Standard 3rd October, 2019