Asbestos, when inhaled into the human body, is known to cause diseases such as malignant mesothelioma and lung cancer after an incubation period of 10-40 years. It was intensively used in Korea in the 1970s to 1990s, mainly for construction materials (82%), automotive parts such as brake linings (11%), and textiles (5%).

Due to concerns that asbestos will cause a rapid increase in occupational and environmental health damage, the Korean government announced 2007 as the first year of asbestos safety management, and the “Comprehensive Plan on Asbestos Control” was formulated jointly by associated government ministries. The 1st Asbestos Control Master Plan (2013-2017) has been implemented jointly by associated government ministries since 2013.

Asbestos use in Korea was wholly prohibited as of 2009, and as a result, the asbestos safety management became particularly important in terms of environmental health rather than industrial health. The Ministry of Environment is focusing on developing and implementing asbestos control policies in the environmental health sector such as the safe management and demolition of buildings in which asbestos has been used, appropriate treatment of waste asbestos, managing and restoring asbestos mines and areas with naturally occurring asbestos, and preparing a relief system for people whose health has been negatively affected by asbestos.

In order to achieve this, the Asbestos Injury Relief Act was enacted and a relief system was implemented from 2011 for people affected by asbestos injury. The Asbestos Safety Management Act was enacted and enforced as of April 2012 to manage the entire asbestos life cycle. The Ministry of Environment provides building asbestos control, support for slate roof removal, and asbestos injury relief. It has also prescribed an asbestos content limit (1%) for asbestos-containing minerals (substances that may contain asbestos) in accordance with the Asbestos Safety Management Act. It is creating a geological map showing the distribution of naturally occurring asbestos and training supervisors by designating training institutions for supervisors who will oversee asbestos dismantling businesses.

Asbestos Safety Management in Buildings

With the enforcement of the Asbestos Safety Management Act as of April 2012, government agencies, public institutions, schools, public-use facilities, cultural and convention facilities, medical facilities, and older adults’ and children’s facilities throughout the country must carry out an asbestos survey within two to three years. Buildings in which large amounts of asbestos have been used must prepare a building asbestos map that indicates the location, area, and condition of the asbestos materials used, and must designate an asbestos building safety manager to ensure building users do not suffer health damage due to scattering asbestos. If it is deemed that health risks caused by asbestos are of concern, the head of the local government may give orders to dismantle or remove the asbestos from the building.

Removal of Asbestos Slate Roofing in Agricultural and Fishing Villages

Slate is a construction material that typically has a high asbestos content (10-15%). It was widely used in Korea around the 1970s, especially in rural areas. According to a study by the Ministry of Environment in 2010, among the 6.83 million buildings nationwide approximately 1.23 million, or 18%, are slate buildings, of which 55% was built before the 1970s.

The deterioration of such a large number of asbestos slate roofs is raising concern over damage to residents’ health. It appears highly likely that their removal will be delayed or handled inadequately due to cost burdens, as they are mainly concentrated in agricultural villages. To address this, the government worked together with associated government ministries to formulate the Comprehensive Plan on Slate Control (2011-2021) in 2010 and is working towards the timely removal of slate roofs by providing budget support. A total of 28 billion won was injected from the National Treasury from 2011 to 2013 to finance the removal of slate roofing from more than 30,000 buildings. In 2014, removal from 20,000 buildings will be supported with a subsidy of 28.8 billion won.

Asbestos Injury Relief System

The Asbestos Injury Relief Act has been enforced since 2011 to ensure timely and fair relief for people whose health has been damaged by asbestos and bereaved family members. The Asbestos Injury Relief Act is Korea’s first damage relief act for an environmental disease. It is the sixth in the world after France (2002), Japan (2006), Belgium and the Netherlands (2007), and the United Kingdom (2008).

People whose health has been damaged by environmental asbestos exposure and those who have been affected by asbestos bereavement are eligible for asbestos injury relief. Upon applying for asbestos injury recognition, they may be able to receive a relief allowance (convalescence allowance, medical fees, funeral expenses, etc.) after a decision-making process by the Asbestos Injury Decision Committee. A person who is suspected to have suffered asbestos-related health damage is provided with health services such as regular health examinations.

Asbestos injury recognition applications and decisions are being actively made since the system was enforced on January 2011. As of the end of 2013, there were 1,730 cases of deliberations, and 1,035 of these were acknowledged as asbestos injuries.

Efforts are also being made for early identification of potential asbestos injury patients in high-risk groups. Health impact surveys are carried out on residents of areas near abandoned asbestos mines and asbestos factories and the alumni and teaching staff of schools in the surrounding areas.

It is likely that a considerable number of asbestos victims are unable to make full use of the injury relief system due to old age or restricted movement, creating difficulties in accessing information. Since 2011, the government has been increasing policy promotions and provision of relevant information while also providing injury relief by actively seeking asbestos victims instead of simply waiting for applications from victims. The addresses of potential asbestos victims are identified using information on asbestos patients registered with the National Health Insurance Service. These potential victims are provided with information on the system by mail, telephone, and home visits, and when requested, application forms can be completed on their behalf. Service information was provided to 1,795 people until early 2014, and of these, 457 were acknowledged as asbestos victims or bereaved family members and received 13.7 billion won in asbestos injury relief payments.

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Last modified : 2017-12-12 08:38

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