International Ban Asbestos Secretariat

International Ban Asbestos Secretariat



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May 23, 2015

The judge who is overseeing preliminary hearings in a new case (Eternit bis) against asbestos billionaire Stephan Schmidheiny has this week rejected requests from the defendant’s lawyers to transfer the trial from Turin to Ivrea and to exclude partie civiles (civil parties), including the government, region and province, from the proceedings. These decisions are good news for the 258 asbestos victims and their families (see: picture) on behalf of whom this case has been brought. It is hoped that by the end of June a ruling will be made by Judge Bompieri which will allow the case to proceed. See: Eternit bis, lo Stato Italiano è parte civile [Eternit bis, Italian State is a civil party].

May 22, 2015

The latest issue of the Occupational Safety and Health Rights Newsletter (Number 34), a quarterly publication on occupational Health and safety issues in Asia, has just been published. The bumper edition contains many stories about asbestos developments in Asia, including news of grassroots mobilization in India in the run-up to the May 2015 meeting of the Rotterdam Convention, an update on asbestos public outreach programs from Indonesia and a report of a memorial service for asbestos victims in Japan. Also featured are brief reports from key organizations collaborating in the campaign to halt the use of asbestos in Asia. See: Occupational Safety and Health Rights Newsletter.

May 21, 2015

The Australian building materials multinational James Hardie (JH) is significantly reducing contributions to an asbestos victims’ fund despite a 12% rise in profits. In 2014, the former asbestos giant paid Aus$119.9 million to the (Australian) Asbestos Injuries Compensation Fund (AICF); this year's payment will be worth US$ 62.8 million which, at current exchange rates, would be around Aus$80 million. In 2014, the AICF paid out Aus$154.3 million to victims. Actuarial predictions show a large rise in the total bill for asbestos-related claims; a record number of 412 mesothelioma claims were received in 2013-14, an 11% increase in one year. See: James Hardie's payment to asbestos fund set to fall even as claims keep rising.

May 20, 2015

In a judgment handed down today (May 20, 2015) by the UK Supreme Court in the case between Zurich Insurance PLC UK Branch and others, by a decision of 4 to 3, the Court favoured a solution which ensured the full recovery of compensation for mesothelioma victims. Lords Mance, Clarke, Carnwath and Hodge agreed that each insurer on risk for any period of tortious exposure must meet the liability in full. The Association of British Insurers and the Asbestos Victim Support Groups’ Forum UK were both interveners in this case. Their responses to this decision are expected in press releases on May 21. The Supreme Court’s ruling is contained in a 94-page judgment.

May 20, 2105

“Asbestos: the lungs of capitalism,” is the title of an art installation by the Colombian artist Guillermo Villamizar which is being exhibited in the town of Bucaramanga, as part of a series of actions taking place this month to highlight the country’s asbestos scandal. On May 19, a seminar on malignant mesothelioma was held, during which the artist and other speakers made presentations. In 2012 and 2013 Colombia imported 25,164 and 15,961 tons of asbestos, respectively. Available figures for 2014 show a decline in asbestos import levels; this could partially be explained by the restarting of asbestos mining operations in Yarumal (Antioquia), Colombia.

May 20, 2015

On April 30, 2015, the Legislative Assembly of the State of Amazonas enacted law 258/15 prohibiting the use of asbestos and asbestos-containing products. Asbestos use in Brazil is permitted under federal law although the states of São Paulo, Pernambuco, Rio de Janeiro, Rio Grande do Sul, Mato Grosso and Minas Gerais have taken unilateral action to ban asbestos. In 2013, Brazil produced 307,000 tonnes of chrysotile (white) asbestos and consumed 181,168 tonnes. At last week’s meeting of the UN’s Rotterdam Convention, the delegation from Brazil acknowledged the asbestos hazard. See: Uso do amianto é banido por lei no Estado do Amazonas [Asbestos use banned by law in Amazon State].

May 19, 2015

Nearly all the 14,000 UK schools built between 1945 and 1975 contain asbestos as do schools refurbished during that period. Decontamination work is being delayed, says the Local Government Association, because of conflicts over who is responsible for removal costs. As many of the schools are coming to the end of their useful life, the issue of asbestos can no longer be avoided – it is illegal to demolish a building without first removing the asbestos it contains. The Department for Education’s latest audit of the condition of school buildings excluded asbestos, an “oversight” which is indicative of the government’s failure to engage with the “asbestos timbebomb.” See: Schools are facing an asbestos timebomb

May 18, 2015

A recent issue of the World Health Organization Bulletin asks “What will it take to eradicate this [mesothelioma] highly preventable cancer?” The commentary contrasts health risks with assertions that asbestos can “improve quality of life.” The 2-page text details major gaps in the impact of scientific evidence on global disease prevention policy including: using doubt science to justify lack of action, casting aspersions on the safety of asbestos-free products and prioritizing economic development over public health. In some countries, “scientific knowledge of asbestos toxicity seems to have been lost in translation.” See: The asbestos paradox: global gaps in the translational science of disease prevention.

May 14, 2015

At the end of the today’s meetings of the Rotterdam Convention, the motion to include chrysotile asbestos on the Prior Informed Consent list was blocked by Russia, Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan and Zimbabwe. Activists present during the discussion spoke of open frustration by delegates and disappointment in the leadership of the Secretariat in failing yet again to make progress on this issue. The background to this decision is discussed in an article on this website. More information will be forthcoming on today’s events. See: Report from the Asbestos Frontline: Update from Geneva!

May 14, 2015

A press release issued today by the Occupational and Environmental Health Network of India (OEHNI) exposes the duplicitous position taken by the government of India during this week’s discussions at the Rotterdam Convention. India was one of a handful of parties to the Convention to block the listing of chrysotile (white) asbestos on the prior informed consent list using “bogus science” and advocating “controlled use.” The OEHNI spokesman urges the Prime Minister to reverse this position and support action needed to protect occupational and public health. See: OEHNI Press Release.

May 14, 2015

Articles in the Italian media this week covered the new legal proceedings against asbestos entrepreneur Stephen Schmidheiny. Turin public prosecutor Raffaele Guariniello is asking that charges for the murder or manslaughter of 258 Italian citizens be brought. The defense allege that as the accused already stood trial on similar charges, this case should be dismissed on the grounds of double jeopardy. Preliminary objections were heard today (May 14). There will be two hearings a week; the preliminary hearings should be completed by mid-July 2015. See: Eternit, “stavolta speriamo nella giustizia” [Eternit, “this time we hope for justice”].

May 14, 2015

Research to replace chrysotile asbestos-filled rubber as an insulator in Shuttle booster technology has succeeded in producing safer parts using “new processes, new repair techniques, and new inspection techniques that help ensure this is the safest booster ever built.” An additional thin sheet of rubber insulation – the “wallpaper butt-joint lay-up process” – was installed on top of an adhesive layer to add strength to the barrier. This asbestos-free component is “the most defect-free segment ever produced, showing not only a solution to the void issue, but also an improvement to the quality of the segments.” See: QM-1 examinations boost as QM-2 prepares for casting.

May 13, 2015

A press release issued by an umbrella organization representing French asbestos victims group – ANDEVA – has called “for the voice of reason and true consensus” to prevail in the face of an aggressive campaign by cynical “merchants of asbestos and death” to stop UN progress being made in the regulation of the global trade in chrysotile asbestos, the only type of asbestos still being sold. The text of the ANDEVA press release explains that the purpose of the UN’s Rotterdam Convention, now meeting in Geneva, is to “regulate information on hazards of exported products… to ensure ‘prior informed consent…’” See: ANDEVA Press Release.

May 12, 2015

In Geneva, deliberations began today on the inclusion of chrysotile asbestos in a list of dangerous substances subject to regulation under the terms of the Rotterdam Convention. More than twenty industry lobbyists opposing inclusion have turned up, hoping to adversely influence delegates and impede progress on this important issue. Their booth in the exhibition area is distributing glossy multilingual disinformation extolling the virtues of “chrysotile.” It is of interest to note that the word “asbestos” is missing from their posters (see poster 1 and poster 2) as is any indication that this substance is carcinogenic (see: industry booth and propaganda).

May 9, 2015

The first preliminary hearing in the proceedings against Stephen Schmidheiny, charged with the murder of 258 former Eternit workers and members of the public, will take place on May 12. The preliminary hearing judge may decide to indict the defendants and accept all or some of the cases or deny the prosecution’s request. If the action is allowed to proceed to trial, the court must decide whether the charge is murder or manslaughter. AFeVA, the Association of Families and Victims of Asbestos, trade unions and municipal authorities will petition the court for permission to be accepted as parties to the case. See: AFeVA Press Release (Italiano); also available in English and Français.

May 9, 2015

Almost all of Cyprus is supplied with water from the Kouris reservoir, located in the foothills of the Troodos Mountain. The area’s geological composition includes a low percentage of asbestos. According to the authorities, tests carried out on drinking water were negative for the presence of asbestos. Irrigation water, however, was not tested and there are concerns about the effects of contaminated water in cultivated areas. Government services are carrying out studies to determine whether there is high concentration of asbestos fibers in the water. They will also measure environmental levels around the reservoir and the wider Limassol area. See: Call for asbestos study for Kouris water.

May 15, 2015

In this press release, issued by civil society groups at the end of the 2015 meeting of the Parties to the Rotterdam Convention, “grave alarm” is expressed over the hijacking of the UN process by asbestos industry vested interests. The fact that just four countries were able to override the wish of 150+ delegations which wanted to secure environmental and health protections from the known risk of exposure to chrysotile asbestos was a damning indictment not only of the commercial forces at work but also the Convention’s procedural flaws. [Read full article]

May 13, 2015

Too often at meetings of international organizations, the bureaucratic process takes over and the human impact of decisions taken or not taken is ignored. The presence in Geneva this week of an asbestosis sufferer from Bombay has introduced a much-needed element into the proceedings of the Conference of the Parties to the United Nations’ Rotterdam Convention. The activities of Sharad Vittnal Sawant including his participation in a trade union ban asbestos rally, intervention during a plenary session and presentation to an asbestos side event are considered within a discussion of developments on May 12-13, 2015. [Read full article]

May 12, 2015

The International Ban Asbestos Secretariat calls on delegates to the United Nations’ Rotterdam Convention (RC) to ignore spurious objections from vested interests and take action on chrysotile asbestos. National representatives are considering recommendations to list chrysotile asbestos on Annex III; inclusion of chrysotile would ensure that countries are given information about the asbestos hazard prior to importing fiber or products containing it. Failure to list chrysotile will not only endanger millions of people, but will do irreparable harm to the Rotterdam Convention. If the Convention is to fulfil its obligations, all Parties must support the listing of chrysotile. [Read full article]

May 10, 2015

Decades after the Wittenoom asbestos mine in Western Australian (WA) was shut, asbestos cancer continues to pose a threat not only to WA workers but also to members of the public. Efforts are being made to confront the State’s deadly legacy by representatives of Perth-based groups including the Asbestos Diseases Society of Australia (ADSA) and the National Centre of Asbestos Related Diseases (NCARD). An update has been compiled highlighting current and future initiatives after attending the ADSA’s annual general meeting and participating in discussions with ADSA and NCARD staff last month (April 2015). [Read full article]

May 6, 2015

As asbestos lobbyists arrive in Switzerland this week, they will be met by posters circulating around the city center on buses and trams with stark public health warnings about the deadly asbestos hazard! Considering that the purpose of their visit is to prevent delegates to next week’s meeting of the UN’s Rotterdam Convention from designating chrysotile asbestos as a hazardous substance, this powerful advertising campaign will almost certainly be an unpleasant surprise. Another omen which will no doubt provide consternation to industry spin doctors is a highly derogatory statement made today by UN Rapportuer Baskut Tuncak, that singled out the asbestos industry for criticism. Welcome to Geneva! [Read full article]

Apr 30, 2015

On April 24, 2015, the text of this paper was the basis for a presentation made by Laurie Kazan-Allen at a lunchtime seminar at The National Centre for Asbestos Related Diseases in Perth, Australia. Commenting on the widespread lack of knowledge regarding the incidence of mesothelioma, the speaker considered the likely ramifications of the increasing use of asbestos in India. During her talk, she premiered a film entitled: Victims of Chrysotile Asbestos – Voices from South East Asia and highlighted the work of grassroots activists to counter pro-asbestos propaganda promoted by vested commercial and government stakeholders. [Read full article]

Mar 26 2015

On March 30 and 31, 2015, asbestos lobbyists will be hosted in Geneva at the expense of European taxpayers. The European Union is underwriting the costs of bringing nineteen asbestos industry and government stakeholders to Europe to take part in yet another talking shop on chrysotile (white) asbestos under the umbrella of the Rotterdam Convention. Given the unproductive outcome of so many previous encounters, it belies belief that yet more money is being thrown at people who represent an industry which peddles death and pollution around the globe. The Secretariat of the Rotterdam Convention should be ashamed of its collusion with these asbestos deniers. [Read full article]

Mar 12, 2015

Throughout the 20th century, British multinationals invested in, operated and developed asbestos-producing and processing facilities in Southern Africa. When they walked away from their African asbestos liabilities, they abandoned asbestos-exposed workers and asbestos-contaminated communities to their fate; as a consequence of their actions, tens of thousands of individuals are even now being exposed to hazardous levels of asbestos on a daily basis. A communiqué sent last month (February 2015) by the British Parliamentary Group on Occupational Safety and Health to South Africa’s Minister of Labour expressed solidarity for those working to alleviate suffering caused by British asbestos corporations. [Read full article]

Mar 9, 2015

As the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats are on the brink of burying a long-awaited report on asbestos in UK schools, UKIP promises to “get rid of unnecessary (asbestos) regulations.” Unlike the politicians who wish to either hide or deny the asbestos hazard, the Labour Party has a specific program to address the challenges it poses. At the beginning of 2015, Shadow Minister of State for Employment Stephen Timms announced plans for a joined-up long-term national asbestos strategy which would support the injured and pursue the ultimate goal of decontaminating the national infrastructure and environment. [Read full article]

Mar 3, 2015

Cancer researchers have reaffirmed that the UK still has the world’s highest age-standardized mesothelioma incidence. The ubiquity of this asbestos cancer in Britain is not news; neither is the failure by successive governments to engage with this deadly industrial legacy. Under the Conservative–Liberal Democrat coalition, the rights of asbestos victims have been attacked by insurers, their lawyers and the Government. The Labour Party has plans for a long-term national asbestos strategy to support the injured and decontaminate our infrastructure and environment. With the General Election looming, the asbestos policies of prospective candidates should be carefully scrutinized. [Read full article]

Feb 23, 2015

Between May 12 and 15, 2015, members of the Rotterdam Convention (RC), gathered in Geneva at the 7th Conference of the Parties (COP7), will once again consider if chrysotile asbestos should be placed on a list of hazardous chemicals. A technical workshop on chrysotile will be held by the RC secretariat on March 30 and 31, 2015. Amongst the delegates listed are representatives of asbestos industry bodies from India, Ukraine and Zimbabwe. The presence of Vivek Chandra Rao Sripalle, Mr. Oleksandr Sierkin and Shame Chibvongodze will ensure that the concerns of the industry are heard. Once again, the voice of the victims will be missing from the conversation. [Read full article]

Feb 12, 2015

According to the asbestos section in the Mineral Commodity Summaries 2015 of the United States Geological Survey (USGS), which was published on January 30, 2015, 5% of the asbestos imported and used in the United States in 2014 was chrysotile (white) asbestos sourced from Australia, a country which banned the use of asbestos in 2003 and the export of asbestos and asbestos-containing products. “Imports from Australia were,” explained the USGS “either from stocks or transshipments because Australia no longer mines asbestos.” Attempting to clarify this mystery, enquiries have been initiated with the Australian authorities as well as the USGS. [Read full article]

Feb 11, 2015

A report commissioned by the New Zealand Government entitled “Inventory of New Zealand Imports and Exports of Asbestos-Containing Products” has been categorized this week as fatally flawed by Ban Asbestos Campaigner Mrs. Deidre VanGerven who has given stern warnings about the possible repercussions of her country’s lack of asbestos controls. Mrs. VanGerven has warned that Australia might even reconsider its policy on trade with New Zealand in light of the possibility that its products might contain asbestos. “It remains a mystery to me,” she says “how New Zealand politicians can downplay the threat asbestos poses when so many people continue to die every year from their exposures.” [Read full article]

Feb 2, 2015

When Colombia finally prohibits the use of asbestos, 2014 will be remembered as the year that marked the turning point in the perception of this dangerous mineral by industry, government and civil society stakeholders. Discussions, meetings, initiatives and media coverage progressed public and professional awareness of the asbestos hazard. The input of eminent international experts at high-level multilateral events in February and November was of great significance. A unique feature of this ban asbestos campaign is the involvement of artists who have taken asbestos issues as themes for their work. Colombian artists have also initiated asbestos projects with US, French and British colleagues. [Read full article]

Jan 21, 2015

The manufacture, marketing and use of asbestos were banned in Europe as of January 1, 2005. There was an exemption to the EU prohibitions which allowed the import of asbestos-containing diaphragms for existing electrolysis cells. A decade later, under pressure from Dow Chemical, the European Commission and the European Chemicals Agency, is considering the continuation of the exemption until and possibly after 2025. The International Ban Asbestos Secretariat is strongly opposed to the extension of this exemption and calls on the EU Commission and EU Member States to take action to end this sole use of asbestos in the EU. [Read full article]

Jan 14, 2015

Italian Public Prosecutor Raffaele Guaraniello, who was at the center of the historic criminal prosecutions of former asbestos businessmen for the deaths of thousands of Italian citizens, is now investigating reports of asbestos imports into Italy in 2012 despite the fact that the country banned asbestos a decade previously. The existence of this illicit trade was unearthed by Mohit Gupta from the New Delhi-based Occupational and Environmental Health Network of India. In 2012, India exported 1,296 tonnes (t) of asbestos, 1,040t (80%) to Italy. Other importers of Indian asbestos-cement products include five countries which have also banned asbestos. [Read full article]

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Demonstration in Woluwe Park, Brussels, 2006

Under cloudy skies, members of Belgian and French Asbestos Victims' Associations from Dunkirk and Bourgogne marched side-by-side in the third annual demonstration organized by ABEVA, the Belgian Association of Asbestos Victims. Erik Jonckheere, ABEVA's Co-chairman, condemned the government which still refuses to recognize the plight of the asbestos injured.

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