Ecotourists are by definition individuals who want to travel in an environmentally responsible way, experiencing the best that both nature and human ingenuity have to offer. While most environmentally conscious tourists would rightfully hesitate to travel to a city full of smog and other man-made air pollutants, they may not stop to consider that certain naturally-occurring substances may be just as dangerous. One such substance is asbestos. Because the presence of asbestos in the air makes it dangerous for humans as well as animals, asbestos is considered a pollutant and ought to be avoided abroad as well as at home.
Asbestos was (and in some places of the world, still is) used to fireproof a wide range of materials, particularly in factories and the shipbuilding and construction industries. It is usually not dangerous when bound up in other materials – such as insulation, wall panels, flooring tiles, and many more – but when these products become broken or damaged, they can release asbestos fibers into the air and water. If breathed in or ingested, they can cause serious health problems including cancer. Mesothelioma symptoms, a cancer of the lining of the lungs that can nearly always be linked to asbestos exposure, often go unrecognized until the disease has progressed into its later stages when it is highly resistant to traditional treatments.
While many countries have in fact banned the use or import of asbestos, many – especially in the developing world – have not. A 2009 U.S. Geological Survey report named China, India, Russia, Brazil, and Thailand, in order, as the world’s largest importers of asbestos. In these countries, asbestos is primarily used in construction, adding strength and heat resistance to materials but also making them dangerous. The largest exporters in the world, countries where large deposits of asbestos ore can be found, include China, Russia, Brazil, Kazakhstan, and even Canada. As a casual and conscientious traveler, you are unlikely to encounter dangerous amounts of asbestos in the air or water, but it is still highly advisable to steer clear of construction sites, factories, or mines.
It is also important to pay attention to where you stay. In 2004, the International Ecotourism Society published a list of standards for environmentally friendly hotels that can act as your guide as you plan your accommodations. While the list doesn’t mention any specific contaminants, it does emphasize the need for these hotels to be free of pollution, and that includes asbestos. If your hotel is in a country that mines or imports large amounts of asbestos, considering calling ahead to ask whether the building or buildings are undergoing renovation. If this is the case, you may want to reconsider staying there. Additionally, your room should be in good repair and free of damaged or exposed construction materials. Mesothelioma symptoms are serious, but they are also avoidable if you pay attention to your surroundings and pick your hotel with care.
Krista Peterson is a recent graduate from the University of Central Florida. Currently still living in Florida. An aspiring writer with a passion for the health & wellness of our community & our environment. She tries to live her life the greenest and healthiest way possible and enjoys writing on the topic to help spread awareness of this lifestyle. In her free time, she enjoys reading, doing yoga, and playing with her 3 dogs.