Residents of Hukuntsi and Lehututu have complained bitterly about old dilapidated asbestos buildings which are currently unused in their villages, many years after government promised to demolish the structures which pose a danger to public health.
Government had evicted occupants of the dilapidated buildings citing health reasons as far back as the year 2000. Asbestos is a grey mineral deposit mined from underground the earth, which does not burn easily and it was used for building houses in the past. Citing insufficient funds to construct brick and mortar buildings, in 1988 Botswana government built asbestos houses in the two villages to alleviate shortage of accommodation by civil servants while other structures were used to house government offices.
In 2000, residents of the two villages were informed about a Directive from Government which sought to terminate the use of asbestos buildings for both accommodation and government offices citing health reasons. However, due to acute shortage of accommodation in rural areas some civil servants ignored the government directive and continue to occupy the asbestos houses.
Although government had long issued a directive for vacation of such structures, Hukuntsi Clinic still operates in Asbestos buildings. Further, some asbestos blocks have been allocated to local youth to run their Youth Development Fund (YDF) projects. Worse still, the current Chairperson of Hukuntsi Sub District Council Keba Mmesetse is also running a gym business in an Asbestos building situated just stones throw from the Hukuntsi Clinic. Mmesetse who is also a Councilor of Hukuntsi is a beneficiary of YDF.
During a consultative Kgotla meetings addressed by the Member of Parliament (MP) for Kgalagadi North Talita Monnakgotla during the week one resident, Nicholas Ngwamotsoko, castigated the Hukuntsi Local Authourity for failing to implement the 2000 Directive which ordered the demolishing of the old asbestos blocks. He said the council had promised them that it had budgeted a certain undisclosed amount for the project in the financial year 2017/18 but it had not fulfilled the promise.
Ngwamotsoko further said the old asbestos blocks are now a haven for illegal activities such as smoking of dagga and other juvenile delinquencies. He decried that the situation is terrible because during the rainy season livestock uses the buildings as shelter and eventually some die in them causing a terrible odour in the neighbourhood and posing a health hazard.
Highly placed sources at the Hukuntsi Sub District Council have confirmed Ngwamotsoko’s sentiments that asbestos buildings could have long been demolished because they had been budgeted for in the previous financial years. However, the funds were later diverted to other projects because Councilors for two villages were reluctant to pursue the matter further.
Responding on behalf of Hukuntsi Local Authority, the deputy District Commissioner Segomotso Nkwane said demolishing asbestos buildings is expensive and government cannot afford to finance it. She said asbestos waste is only dumped in South Africa and they have sourced quotations from suppliers but their charge was around P250 000 for a single trip. She explained that demolishing asbestos buildings needs highly skilled labour and specialised machinery since it is dangerous if inhaled.
The area MP, Monnakgotla, did not comment on concerns raised by residents of the two villages at the meeting.
R5 billion settlement
Meanwhile, in a matter related to the dangers of Asbestos to the health of those who come into direct contact with it, a historic out of court compensational settlement between the mining giants of South Africa and Tuberculosis and Silicosis affected ex- miners was reached on May 3, 2018. The R5 billion deal brought hope to thousands of poor homesteads in South Africa and neighbouring countries including Botswana, who sent thousands of young men to work in the mines to eke out a living.
Richard Spoor attorneys represented the miners in this landmark class action suit. Mining giants involved in the out of court settlement are Anglo American SA, African Rainbow Minerals, Gold Fields, Harmony, Sibanye-Still Waters, Pan African Resources and Anglo Gold Ashanti.
Supporting the action from Botswana were The Centre for Human Rights in Botswana-Ditshwanelo and its offspring, Botswana Labour Migrant Workers Association (BoLAMA) who helped with mobilising and gathering evidence in Botswana. The victims and their dependants are in line to be compensated for the suffering occassioned on the miners by Asbestos they inhaled while working in the mines which caused a plethora of illnesses.
Further, through lobbying and campaigns by BoLAMA government has etsablished a special clinic at Boswelakoko ward in Molepolole, which attends to cases involving ex-miners with an increasing demand for its services.
“Clients come from as far as Shakawe and some time we face difficulties of feeding them,” Chairman of BoLAMA was quoted saying.
Why is asbestos dangerous?
Asbestos is dangerous because it has the ability to break down into microscopically thin fibers. These fibers are so small they can remain airborne for days after they were initially disturbed. While airborne, individuals can breathe these fibers in. Since the fibers are so small, they can travel deep into a person’s lungs, where they may eventually lodge in the lung tissue. Once lodged in the lung tissue, these fibers can cause several serious diseases, including lung cancer, asbestosis (a scarring of the lung tissue) and mesothelioma (cancer of the lining of the lung cavity).
When is asbestos dangerous?
All types of asbestos fibers are dangerous if you breathe them. Some people say that some kinds of asbestos fibers are less dangerous. Many people, including doctors and scientists, disagree. Until proven safe, treat all asbestos as dangerous.
You cannot tell when asbestos is in the air or is hurting your lungs. Asbestos will not make you cough or sneeze. It will not make your skin or throat itch. Asbestos fibers get into the air when asbestos materials are damaged, disturbed or removed unsafely. When asbestos is crushed, it does not make ordinary dust. Asbestos breaks into tiny fibers that are too small to see, feel or taste.
Asbestos fibers can be measured when they are in the air. They are measured in units called fibers per cubic centimeter of air (f/cc). A cubic centimeter is about the size of a sugar cube. The air is checked for asbestos fibers by taking samples of the air using air sampling methods. The Minnesota Department of Health has established a "clean air" level of 0.01 f/cc.
When asbestos is released into the air, it enters the surrounding environment. You can be exposed to asbestos if you enter these environments. If exposed to asbestos, many factors contribute to whether harmful health effects will occur. These factors include dose (how much), duration (how long), the route or pathway by which you are exposed (breathing, eating, or drinking); and other chemicals to which you are exposed.
Individual characteristics may also have an effect, such as age; gender; nutritional status; family traits; lifestyle; and your general state of health.
How do we know that asbestos can make you sick?
Laboratory studies and studies of asbestos workers show us that asbestos can make you sick. If you breathe asbestos fibers, you may increase the risk of several serious diseases, including asbestosis, mesothelioma and lung cancer.
Asbestos exposure may increase your risk for cancers of the digestive system, including colon cancer.
How much asbestos is dangerous?
No amount of asbestos is considered safe. Products that contain greater than 1 percent of asbestos minerals are considered to be asbestos-containing.
The more asbestos you are exposed to, the more likely you are to get an asbestos disease. Asbestosis and lung cancer are dose-related diseases. Dose-related means the more asbestos you breathe, the more likely you are to get sick.
The one asbestos disease that is different is mesothelioma. Very small amounts of asbestos can give you mesothelioma. Asbestos workers' families have gotten mesothelioma from the dust the workers brought home on their clothes.
How long does it take to get sick from asbestos?
All of the asbestos diseases have a latency period. The latency period is the gap between the time you breathe asbestos and the time you start to feel sick. The latency period for asbestos diseases is between 10 to 40 years. You will not feel sick during the latency period. If you get an asbestos disease, you will begin to feel sick after the latency period.
Not everyone exposed to asbestos gets an asbestos disease. However, anyone exposed to asbestos has a higher risk of getting an asbestos disease. All of the asbestos diseases are difficult to treat. Most are impossible to cure. Stopping asbestos fibers from ever entering your lungs is important. The only cure for most asbestos diseases is to prevent them.
Is there any way of knowing if I have been exposed to asbestos?
The most common test used to learn if you have been exposed to asbestos is a chest x-ray. The x-ray cannot detect the asbestos fibers themselves, but can detect early signs of lung disease caused by asbestos. Other tests, such as lung scanning and computer-aided tomography (CAT scan), are also useful in detecting changes in the lungs.
Additional Reporting: https://www.health.state.mn.us/