hot water bottle
For illustrative purposes only. Image Credit: Pixabay

Dubai: Doctors have welcomed the decision from Dubai’s Department of Economic Development (DED) to withdraw vacuum flasks from the market that may contain asbestos.

Asbestos particles are used as a cheap alternative in the lining of some low quality products to insulate the flask and keep liquids either hot or cold. However, asbestos is carcinogenic and can cause cancer.

On Wednesday, the DED’s Commercial Compliance and Consumer Protection (CCP) department announced in partnership with the Emirates Authority for Standardisation and Metrology (ESMA) that they would inspect stores and rid the market of such products, while launching an awareness campaign to tell traders that they should only stock products with an Emirates Conformity Assessment System (ECAS) mark.

Dr Mohannad Diab
Dr Mohannad Diab, consultant oncologist and bone marrow transplant specialist at NMC Speciality Hospital, Dubai Image Credit: Supplied

Dr Mohannad Diab, consultant oncologist and bone marrow transplant specialist at NMC Speciality Hospital, Dubai, told Gulf News, “Asbestos is a naturally occurring mineral which exists in very small amount in nature. However, it is synthesised and used abundantly in modern construction such as in buildings, water pipes and electrical cables, because it is light and has insulating properties.

“In other words, it does not let the heat escape and maintains temperature at the same level for a long time. Asbestos is so light that its fibres can be airborne in a room for 72 hours if left open. Inhaling these fibres can trigger lung, larynx and oesophageal cancer as the fibres accumulate in our respiratory pathways.”

Dr Diab added that in some vacuum flasks, a variety of asbestos called Tremolite is used.

“This is compressed into a pellet form and these pellets are pushed between the two chambers [inside the flask] to insulate them. However, with use, small cracks develop in the liquid-holding chambers inside, which may not be visible to the eye. Through these cracks, fine asbestos fibres seep into the liquid and thus get ingested by the individual, exposing them to carcinogenic materials that can trigger cancer.”

The alternative to using asbestos pellets is the modern thermodynamic method, said Dr Diab, who added, “New methods of blocking heat conduction are expensive but safe and these add more cost to the manufacturing process raising the price of the vacuum flask. However, it is advisable to use flasks certified by a recognised body.”

NAT 191205 Dr Pranav Taori Cancer specialist, Zulekha Hospital-1575545352415
Dr Pranav Taori, cancer specialist at Zulekha Hospital Image Credit: Supplied

Dr Pranay Taori, specialist oncologist at Zulekha Hosptial, said: “Cheap flasks have flooded the market in Asia and Africa and most of these contain asbestos pellets. It is a known fact that asbestos triggers the production of certain kinds of proteins in the body that stimulate cancer growths. Asbestos is a well-documented carcinogen. In the UAE, which is grappling with the rise of five major cancers – breast, colon, lung, thyroid and ovarian - it is important that we keep away from known carcinogens. Modern lifestyle has unwittingly exposed us to so many carcinogens as it is. I welcome the move by the Dubai Government to ban cheap flasks.”

Any product that comes into contact with food can be sold only subject to strict procedures laid down in the UAE Ministerial Decree No.20 for the year 2015.

Controls imposed include providing consumers with information on the product.

Such information must be accurate, laboratory-validated, scientifically proven and displayed in a tamper-proof way on the product.

What is a vacuum flask?

A container designed to maintain the temperature of a liquid - whether hot or cold - over a an extended period of time. It does this using different methods, using glass material to stop conduction, creating a vacuum between the two chambers to stop convection, and using a shiny silver surface to stop radiation. However some lower quality flasks use an asbestos lining for insulation.

How does asbestos get into your drink?

With use small cracks develop between the insulation and the main drinks chamber that may not be visible to the user. Through these cracks, fine asbestos fibres can seep into the liquid and get ingested by the individual exposing them to carcinogenic particles that can cause cancer.

NAT 191205 Aylin Noske health and fitness expert-1575545349554
Aylin Noske, health and fitness expert, general manager of Intercity Hotel Dubai Jaddaf Waterfront Image Credit: Supplied

The everyday accessory that could kill you.

Carrying a flask to the office or gym has become an everyday occurrence for some.

Aylin Noske, health and fitness enthusiast and general manager of Intercity Hotel at Dubai Jaddaf Waterfront, said, “With all the modern awareness on health and fitness and the need to drink at least 8-10 glasses of water per day, most people prefer to carry a flask to work, while driving or even to the gym. At the hotel, we always provide guests with glass bottles or good quality flasks. We have banned any kind of plastic or cheap vacuum flasks. It is essential to make people aware about using non-carcinogenic water containers,” she added.