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close this bookAsbestos Overview and Handling Recommendations (GTZ, 1996)
close this folderPart IV Country analysis
close this folder4 Country profiles
View the document4.1 Australia
View the document4.2 Chile
View the document4.3 Republic of China
View the document4.4 India
View the document4.5 Israel
View the document4.6 South Africa
View the document4.7 Tunisia
View the document4.8 USA

4.6 South Africa

4.6.1 General Overview

In South Africa Asbestos fibers are both mined and processed. In the area of fiber mining, there are currently about 2,300 workers employed in the underground mines in the two raw material areas Msouli (chrysotile) and Conetsi (crocidolite).

Asbestos mining is very retrograde in South Africa, and numerous mines have given up production in the past 50 years. (Previously, amosite was also mined.)

A large fraction of the mined Asbestos fibers are exported, as shown by the following numbers from 1995:

Table 32: Asbestos Production and Export in South Africa (1991)











Source: own compilation

The total turnover in this area lies at US $ 43,000,000 per year (1991).

About 7,000 people are employed in the area of fiber processing. Asbestos cement and friction linings are manufactured. Five companies participate in the production of construction materials, pipes and clutch and brake linings. These are situated in Kliprivier, Jacobs, Johannesburg, Rosslyn, Bloemfontein and Brackenfell. About 27,000 tons of fibrous raw material are processed annually, of which 15,000 tons are imported.

The total generated Asbestos cement and friction lining products are used in South Africa itself. An import or export of Asbestos products does not occur.

4.6.2 Legislation

Legal regulations on Asbestos in South Africa have existed in the form of a law stipulating allowable Asbestos concentrations in Asbestos mines since 1956. (Act 27 of 1956).

As of 1956 a maximum fiber emission of 2 fiber/ml has not been allowed to be exceeded in Asbestos mines in an average 8 hour period. Control measurements show, however, that only 20% of all mines tested had Asbestos fiber concentrations of about 2 fibers/ml and 80% of the mines had below 1 fiber/ml.

To reduce fiber emissions, vacuum systems are applied for grinding work, and moistening techniques are used in underground mining. Additionally, filter units are installed and personal protection (face masks) are used in hazardous situations.

The legal regulations for Asbestos processing prescribe a maximum emission rate of I fiber/ml, which must be achieved through various measures (e.g. wet production, air filtration and vacuum cleaning of production wastes). This is anchored in the law of 1983 (Machinery and Occupational Safety Act (Act 6 of 1983)) and in the Asbestos stipulations of 1987.

If the fiber concentration exceeds the limit of I F/ml, the legislation orders the permanent use of respiratory protection (face masks). Measurements in the plants show, however, that this limit is not reached by far. The fiber concentration lies under 0.3 F/ml for 95% of all companies.

In 1985 the Asbestos industry pleaded with the government for legally prescribed controls, so that every mine and plant would be tested monthly. A specially developed spot sampling system reduces this to an average of I control per year.

The workers are also specially instructed and must receive particular safety training. The mine workers receive medical exams every 9 months, which is not yet true for factory workers. Smoking continues to be allowed at the workplace, while eating is generally forbidden.

Import of Asbestos products is not subjected to any legal regulations. Further, there is no law forcing abatement in particular cases; only some provisions in the Asbestos regulations govern this area. They order abatement of defect insulation made of sprayed Asbestos in factories or buildings, which has been performed several years ago. The use of sprayed Asbestos is no longer permitted in South Africa.

During transport of Asbestos products, particular handling regulations must be followed, and the product must be labelled appropriately.

In the future, a tightening of the law should occur, which, for instance, would aim at prescribing medical exams for factory workers and a recognition of particular Asbestos-caused illnesses as occupational illnesses.

4.6.3 Research and Development

In South Africa relatively many research projects have been (are being) performed, which either investigate the health impact of Asbestos or are concerned with the development of substitute substances.

The first type of projects have been performed in the mining sector by the national office for occupational illnesses and in the processing sector by the national health agency. They are concerned primarily with the occurring illness symptoms and the death rates. Ten cases of mesothelioma were reported for 1990 and about 1980 cases of mesothelioma were reported for the period between 1956 and 1990. Around 190 patients were suffering from Asbestosis. The research results showed that mainly people over 30 years old were endangered or became ill, which is due to the relatively long latent period.

The increase of the death rate in the past years was 20% for Asbestosis and 100% for mesothelioma, which could have been induced statistically by the increased supervision. It has not been considered necessary to perform drinking water investigations in South Africa, since no health hazard is considered to be posed by the oral intake of Asbestos fibers.

4.6.4 Substitutes

As already mentioned, the Asbestos industry induced numerous projects concerning research on fiber-containing substitutes. For instance, in the cement area cellulose fibers were used in thin fleeces, and although these fibers are available in the country, they are about 25% more expensive to acquire. The production is more complicated than that of Asbestos cement products, but the processing of the new materials is easier. The technical properties and the weather resistance or long lifetimes are classified as comparable to those of Asbestos cement products, according to the research results. In the area of friction lining, materials such as steel, fiber glass, Kevlar and polyacrylnitrile replace Asbestos. These materials are generally more expensive than Asbestos, and because of their technical suitability, they are used only for light vehicles.

In the area of roofing in South Africa, fiber-free substitutes are applied which are much more expensive, such as steel, concrete and glass reinforced plastic, depending on the particular building structure. Straw is still the traditional roofing material, but is not a real rival for Asbestos material.

In drinking water mains and pipelines, the same fiber-free materials and plastic pipes are used, which are also locally available, but more expensive than Asbestos cement products.

Table 33 illustrates the advantages and disadvantages of the fiber-free substitutes used in water mains construction.

Table 33: Fiber-free Substitutes in Water Mains in South Africa




corroded complicated to move, more expensive


questionable life span, more expensive


difficult to transport and to move more expensive

Source: own compilation

The use of the above-listed materials is often considered, however, Asbestos cement products are the less expensive products with regards to installation, maintenance and price.

In housing construction, the fiber-free substitutes listed in Table 34 are used, which have the following advantages and disadvantages.

Table 34: Fiber-free Substitutes in Housing Construction in South Africa



Steel Rails

locally produced easy to process

Concrete Boards

simple technology easy to process

Source: own compilation

In this area as well, Asbestos cement products are considered the longest lived materials, which are not locally available, but are very often needed to be used for technical reasons.

4.6.5 Risk Philosophy

The main future goal regarding the Asbestos problem is to reduce the health risk of Asbestos and to reinstate production at closed Asbestos mines.

Eventually, one wants to further reduce the limits for the release of Asbestos fibers, but not in the area of Asbestos mining, where the values are already very low.

Individual protest groups are demanding a total prohibition of Asbestos. This demand is not in accordance with the future plans. The use of Asbestos should also be further reduced, as has already happened in the past few years. The government is not going to stop the typical use of Asbestos materials in public buildings, such as school, etc..

Asbestos fiber release into drinking water from Asbestos pipes is not considered dangerous in South Africa.