Silicosis Risk Lurks for Returned Migrant Denim Workers, Governments Warned
Migrant workers formerly employed in Turkey’s textile and garment industry may have contracted silicosis from sandblasting denim in factories that lacked basic protective measures, warns the Global Union for the textile and clothing industry.
In a joint letter, the International Textile, Garment and Leather Workers’ Federation and the Solidarity Committee of Sandblasting Laborers have urged the governments of Azerbaijan, Moldova, Georgia and Romania to take measures to protect returned workers who may be at risk.
Says ITGLWF General Secretary Neil Kearney: “The process of sandblasting, in which fabric is blasted with sand in order to give it a worn look, exposes workers to the risk of inhaling dust and thus developing silicosis. The most fatal and irreversible form of silicosis can occur after only a few months of exposure. In the European Union this type of production has been banned for more than 40 years because it represents a major health risk.
“In Turkey sandblasting was widely used from the nineties onwards but it was only in 2005 that the occupation became associated with silicosis. An estimated ten thousand workers in the country are believed to have been exposed to risk in unsafe factories until the process was banned earlier this year.
“To date 550 workers have been diagnosed with silicosis, and 40 have died. However, with an incidence rate estimated at almost fifty percent among workers in the sector the actual number affected could be ten times greater.
“Research has now revealed that many migrant workers from nearby countries were employed – often illegally – alongside Turkish workers and may also be affected by the disease.
The governments of Azerbaijan, Moldova, Georgia and Romania have been made aware of the findings of the Solidarity Committee of Sandblasting Laborers and have been urged to ensure that citizens who worked as sandblasters in Turkey from 1990 onwards, regardless of their legal status, are made aware of the fact that they are at risk of developing silicosis and are encouraged to be tested immediately.