From the Editor - September 2018

This issue is devoted to a range of asbestos-related topics. Two of the scientific papers highlight the ongoing problem of environmental asbestos exposure, despite the banning of asbestos in 2008. We are pleased to announce, albeit belatedly, that in April Dr Sophia Kisting was awarded the President of Convocation Medal at the University of Cape Town (UCT). Dr Kisting is a health activist and current Executive Director of the National Institute for Occupational Health (NIOH). In the early years of the Asbestos Relief Trust she represented claimants on the Board of Trustees. She currently chairs the Q(h)ubeka Trust which disburses compensation to mineworkers with silicosis and silico-tuberculosis, following an out-of-court settlement between the miners and two major gold-mining companies.1

We have a tribute to Prof. Jock McCulloch whose books and papers on asbestos and gold mining in South Africa are a must-read for anyone wishing to understand the devastating health and social impacts of asbestos and silica-related diseases. We also have a report on the NIOH Remembrance Day Commemoration which was held to honour many colleagues who worked in occupational health and have passed on. The Asbestos and Kgalagadi Relief Trusts with the NIOH announce the upcoming launch of the Piroshaw Camay Virtual Asbestos Library in memory of PC.

One of the first and most highly cited studies that ‘convincingly’ described the relationship between pleural mesothelioma and asbestos were published by Wagner, Sleggs and Marchard in South Africa in 1960.2 Fifty years later both the mining and use of asbestos were finally banned in this country. Consequently, we are left with a legacy of many tons of asbestos-containing products. Gaby Mizan and colleagues at the NIOH measured asbestos fibres before and after the removal and replacement of asbestos-cement roofs in two townships in Tshwane. No asbestos fibres were detected in the small sample studied. The study reinforces the importance of adhering to stringent procedures to minimise asbestos exposure when removing asbestos-cement roofs. 

In a larger study, Vorster et al. from the NIOH reviewed data emanating from a service that analyses bulk samples and air filters for asbestos fibres. Asbestos was found mainly in cement products, vinyl floor tiles and cement roofs. The recent upsurge of specimens from schools is associated with concerns regarding health risks to learners and educators. 

Both studies demonstrate the continued asbestos-related public health risks faced by communities. In addition, they show how analysis of routinely collected data can provide important information for action.

As we continue to battle old foes, new foes are emerging. Although power plant workers are also at risk of exposure to asbestos, the third paper in this issue looks at lifestyle risk factors for non-communicable diseases in power plant workers. A third of the workers had moderate-to-high 10-year cardiovascular disease risk, and high prevalence of both behavioural and physical risk factors. Effective workplace interventions are needed to reduce risk. We must not forget that many occupational diseases are also classified as NCDs.

I hope that this issue will inspire us to continue to work to protect the health of workers.



1. teWaterNaude J. Q(h)ubeka Trust - the first big silicosis settlement Occup Health Southern Afr. 2016; 22(2):7.

2. Wagner JC, Sleggs CA, Marchand P. Diffuse pleural mesothelioma and asbestos exposure in the north western Cape province. Br J Ind Med. 1960; 17:260-271.

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