Asbestos
A sign warning of asbestos danger in Nahariya. Photo by Yaron Kaminsky
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Asbestos is the term used to define a group of fibrous minerals that were used for industrial and construction purposes for many decades. In 1977 and again in 1987, the International Agency for Research on Cancer determined that there is evidence that asbestos causes cancer. Israel also included asbestos in the list of positively cancerous substances.

Most of the relevant research finds a definite link between exposure to asbestos and lung cancer, as well as mesothelioma - a unique form of cancer that develops in the lung's membrane and is caused in most cases (79 percent ) by reoccurring exposure to asbestos. Data collected in 2008 by the Health Ministry determined that lung cancer and mesothelioma rates were often 10 times higher than the national average among residents of Nahariya and its surroundings who were employed in the local asbestos plant active from the 1950s until 1997.

Rates of cancer in the lung membrane among Israelis have multiplied by 6.7 percent between 1980 and 2007, from 1.3 cases per million people in 1980, to 8.8 per million in 2007. In November 2000, Health Ministry researchers reported that the rise in mesothelioma cases was related to the use of asbestos in the country, which reached its peak between 1976-1978.

Japanese researchers reported in the July 2011 issue of Respirology that the death rates in Israel related mesothelioma resulting from asbestos exposure, between the years 1994 to 2008, were the second highest in Asia (3.67 per million ) after Cyprus (4.79 per million ).

In recent years the authorities have sought to replace asbestos roofs. Still, the official stance of cancer researchers is that there is no definitive proof that exposure to such roofs which are not in a stage of disintegration increases the risk of cancer, or that living in proximity to asbestos roofs or buildings made of asbestos increases that risk.

The evidence mentioned in medical literature that links asbestos and cancer deals mainly with exposure to the substance during work, especially in plants that produced asbestos boards.