THE RISKS FROM ASBESTOS EXPOSURE. AND FACTORS THAT HAVE AFFECTED THE WAY IN WHICH THOSE RISKS HAVE BEEN COMMUNICATED.
The importance of successful risk communication in such a risk as severe as asbestos exposure one would think would be of upmost importance to those most at risk. Even with consideration given that asbestos exposure illness is of a chronic and not acute nature, therefore taking longer to diagnose, and was arguably initially not foreseeable as a health risk. The aim of this essay will be to explore the reasons why the communication of the deadly risks of asbestos exposure have taken so long, has been misinterpreted through people’s perception, and why asbestos continues to be mined, exported and used in developing countries to this day. (Bowker, 2003, p17), states that “Asbestos is not a threat of the past, but a present and future killer”. Concerns over the health of asbestos industry workers surfaced around the turn of the 20th century with the recognition of asbestosis in the mid-1920s, however the health problems attributed to the use of asbestos took until the late 1960s and early 1970s until they became seriously accepted by the industry (Rushton, 2006, p4). Asbestos related diseases also referred to as ARD’s, and deaths from asbestos exposure are currently at the highest recorded rate since asbestos was primarily recognised as a danger to the health of humans. The rate of deaths has not only increased but has meteorically escalated to pandemic proportions. The ARD’s mentioned throughout this essay of significance, are asbestosis, lung cancer, and mesothelioma. Although many more ailments have been reported, we will focus on these aforementioned as they are coherent with the majority of deaths from asbestos exposure. The estimates by the (ILO) International Labour organisation and the World Health Organisation (WHO) have stated that Asbestos kills at least 90,000 workers worldwide each year (McCulloch and Tweedale, 2008, p11). And one report has suggested that, the asbestos cancer pandemic could take at least five million and possibly ten million lives, before asbestos is banned worldwide and exposure ceased (LaDou, 2003, p285). With the awareness of the aptly named “Cancer Pandemic” whereby studies show that about 125 million people are exposed to asbestos in their work environments (WHO 2006) and many millions more have been exposed to asbestos in the past century (Ladou et al. 2010, p897). This data presents a question. Why is it that with a substance as deadly as asbestos and recognised increases of death rates that those most at risk, continue to appear unaware, or rather perceive the risk of asbestos exposure to be inconsistent with its killer reputation? A large number of psychological studies show that we respond to scientific evidence in ways that justify our pre-existing beliefs, selecting information that supports our beliefs and dismissing information that does not (Cormick, 2011, p15). This is known as confirmation bias and can lead us into making inaccurate judgements and perceiving things within the incorrect context. Mixed messages on the risk that Chrysotile asbestos poses exist within the scientific community. One such message stated that: Clinical and Epidemiological studies have established that Chrysotile causes cancer of the lung and malignant mesothelioma and also causes asbestosis, it continues that Chrysotile asbestos is an important cause of human illness and death (Bowker, 2003, p124-125). It is then argued that although a strong link between amphibole asbestos exposure and cancer/mesothelioma has been established, there is still no solid evidence showing sole exposure to Chrysotile causes lung cancer and/or mesothelioma (Branlund, 2010, p78). Risk is perceived in many different ways to different people, social groups, the attitudes they have, and the way in which they make decisions on what they believe. Furthermore, the perception of risk is multidimensional, with a...
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