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ABAN Meeting in Colombo

Mar 7, 2024

On March 3, 2024, members of the Asian Ban Asbestos Network (ABAN) – a coalition of grassroots groups and individuals which was founded in Hong Kong in 2009 – met in Colombo, Sri Lanka for the South Asia Strategy Meeting 2024. Speakers from Japan, Sri Lanka, India, Nepal, Bangladesh, Korea, India and Pakistan updated delegates on current struggles and developments in their countries, including the evolving role of victims’ campaigners, environmentalists, trade unionists, medical professionals and consumer groups. The session was co-organized by ABAN and the Centre for Environmental Justice, and co-sponsored by : IBAS, ANROEV, AMRC, Solidarity Center, and the OSHE Foundation. See: Picture of Colombo Meeting Banner.

Asbestos Ban: Update

Sep 28, 2022

As plans to outlaw asbestos use in Sri Lanka were advancing in 2017, the Russian Government announced it would ban imports of Sri Lanka tea. At that time, Russia was the largest importer of Ceylon tea – 48 and 36 million kilograms in 2011 and 2015, respectively; in 2016, Sri Lanka tea exports to Russia were valued at US$143 million. Most of the asbestos fiber in Sri Lanka comes from Russia. As a result of the threat, Sri Lanka postponed asbestos prohibitions. An article published last week, reported that the Sri Lanka had decided to stop using asbestos by 2029. No further information was available. See: Colombo ready to join Russian payment system.

Beginning of Asbestos Phase-out

Mar 17, 2021

In 2018, an asbestos ban in Sri Lanka was overturned due to economic sanctions and political threats from Russia (see: Blackmail of Sri Lanka re Asbestos Ban). The Ministry of Environment has announced its intention to protect citizens by implementing a phase-out on asbestos use starting with a mandatory end to the use of asbestos-containing material on government buildings by the end of 2021. Asbestos material will also be banned for use in the construction of pre-school and school buildings. See: Ministry of Environment plan to set up another roofing tile industrial park associated with the huge clay deposit of Yan Oya reservoir.

Asbestos Propaganda Offensive

Feb 18, 2021

An informercial, masquerading as reportage, extolled the virtues of chrysotile (white) asbestos roofing – calling it a “vital component of Sri Lanka’s construction industry” – and denying any links between exposure to chrysotile and the causation of deadly diseases: “there is no evidence to conclusively establish a significant correlation between health deterioration, particularly cancer, and exposure to chrysotile among the chrysotile cement roofing sheet users in Sri Lanka.” Bemoaning the attacks on the industry, the author noted: “regardless of the importance of chrysotile roofing sheets, the industry has faced constant backlash and baseless allegations claiming that these sheets pose a threat to the health of our society.” See: Chrysotile cement roofing sheets; a misunderstood yet vital component of Sri Lanka’s construction industry.

Occupational Asbestos Exposure

Jul 26, 2019

An academic paper found that in a cohort of 230 at-risk workers in asbestos manufacturing, construction, building demolition, tsunami clean-up and other trades examined, 16 (7%) had contracted lung fibrosis. Of the injured, 1 was a construction worker, 6 were tsunami workers, 6 came from the demolition industry and 3 from other industries. Sri Lanka has one of the highest consumptions of chrysotile asbestos per capita. The authors expressed a: “significant concern… [for] the safety of asbestos demolition workers and cleanup workers exposed to asbestos debris from major natural disasters such as hurricanes, tornados, typhoons, and tsunamis.” See: Prevalence of Asbestos-Related Disease Among Workers in Sri Lanka.

Russia’s Pressure Kills Asbestos Ban

May 13, 2019

An article in The Island – an English-language newspaper in Sri Lanka – on May 7, 2019 explained that the reason the Sri Lankan government failed to implement a national asbestos ban as promised was because of pressure from Russia, which supplied most of the asbestos used in the country. According to Hemantha Withanage, Executive Director of the Centre for Environmental Justice (CEJ): “Even if the government changes, asbestos will not be banned here due to Russia’s threat to ban Sri Lanka tea in retaliation.” The economic blackmail by Russia which forced the ban U-turn in 2017 was widely decried with Sharan Burrow of the International Trade Union Confederation calling it “culpable homicide” (Media Release, January 3, 2018). See (The Island article): Asbestos not banned due to pressure – CEJ.

Ban on Baby Powder Imports

Feb 1, 2019

The Reuters news agency has reported that Sri Lanka has embargoed the imports of Johnson & Johnson (J&J) Baby Powder until J&J India, which exports the popular product to Sri Lanka, provides evidence that the baby powder is free from asbestos. The import license held by the distributor of J&J baby powder in Sri Lanka – A.Baur & Co – expired in December 2018 and will not be renewed until “quality reports from an accredited laboratory to ensure there is no asbestos in their products” are provided, said Kamal Jayasinghe, chief executive of Sri Lanka’s National Medicine Regulatory Authority. See: Exclusive: Sri Lanka halts imports of Johnson & Johnson Baby Powder pending asbestos tests.

Asbestos Industry Offensive

Oct 1, 2018

In response to growing ban asbestos mobilization in Sri Lanka (see: South Asia Asbestos Strategy Meeting), an industry lobbyist from the Fibre Cement Products Manufacturer’s Association wrote a letter to Sri Lanka’s Daily News which reiterated discredited asbestos industry propaganda alleging that: the use of white (chrysotile) asbestos is safe under modern, controlled conditions; once asbestos fibers are enclosed within a cement matrix fibers cannot be liberated; people living or working in premises with asbestos roofing were safe from toxic airborne exposures. See: ‘Chrysotile Conundrum’ Clarified.

Asbestos Limbo?

Jan 29, 2018

Anton Edema of the Fibre Cement Products Manufacturers Association of Sri Lanka has challenged the government to clarify the legality of asbestos use in light of proposals to ban asbestos as of January 1, 2018; according to reports, the prohibition has been “temporarily lifted” after commercial threats from Russia. Edema says the lack of clarity is preventing needed investment in the asbestos industrial sector which employs tens of thousands of people and provides 60% of the country’s roofing. Edema claims there have been no cases of asbestos disease amongst those employed by the industry. See: Give clear picture on Asbestos ban.

Asbestos Propaganda!

Jan 15, 2018

The headline of an article uploaded to the Sri Lanka Sunday Times website on January 14 says it all: “Asbestos isn’t always harmful to health,” it asserts; what follows is tiresomely predictable. Comments by the author – Prof. Ravindra Fernando (see: Chrysotile Asbestos Should Not be Banned) – have previously been used to substantiate industry’s attacks on the Sri Lankan Government’s plans to phase-out asbestos use. Citing outdated and discredited sources, Fernando asserts that: “chrysotile asbestos in its modern day high-density applications does not present risks of any significance to public or workers’ health.” See: Asbestos isn’t always harmful to health.

Asbestos Diplomacy?

Jan 2, 2018

A commentary by columnist Ravi Perera published on January 1, 2018 by Sri Lanka’s Daily News castigates the Russian authorities for “humiliating” Sri Lanka in the ongoing trade war which has seen a tea embargo implemented in retaliation for a Sri Lankan ban on asbestos imports. Admitting that “Russia is the land of towering figures like Lenin, Tolstoy and Solzhenitsyn; men who needed no lessons on social justice,” and that Russia had been “a friend” to Sri Lanka, the author decries the ultimatum issued by Putin’s Russia “to buy their asbestos, or else!” See: Tea vs. Asbestos.

Update: Sri Lanka Asbestos Ban

Dec 22, 2017

After last week’s declaration by Russia of an embargo on Sri Lanka tea, the country has deferred asbestos restrictions until further notice (see: IBAS Blog – Asbestos Endgame: 2017!) On December 21, the headline of a Sri Lanka newspaper reinforced the vital importance of this issue to the national economy: “SL awaiting Russian Govt. response;” 11% of all the country’s tea exports go to Russia. Commenting on the current situation Minister Dissanayaka said: “I am confident that we could convince the Russians [of] the correct position of this controversy and restore tea exports to Russia as early as mid January.” See: SL awaiting Russian Govt. response.

Asbestos Trade War?

Dec 17, 2017

In what is being described by unnamed ministerial sources as a “tit-for-tat” diplomatic offensive against the impending phase-out of the use of chrysotile asbestos in Sri Lanka, most of which is imported from Russia, an embargo on Russian imports of Sri Lankan tea has been declared; the announcement of the December 18 blockade on Ceylon tea has shocked diplomats and exporters alike. Hoping to end the trade dispute, three Sri Lankan Ministers will visit Russia this week to discuss the asbestos issue. See: Russia suspends tea imports from Lanka; three ministers to fly to Moscow for urgent talks.

Government U-Turn?

Nov 21, 2017

In what is seen as an indication that asbestos lobbyists have succeeded in forcing Sri Lanka to reconsider plans to ban asbestos by 2024, last week Science, Technology and Research Minister Susil Premajayantha announced that a team of Sri Lankan experts from various ministries and institutions is being sent to Russia, the world’s biggest asbestos producing nation (and the biggest asbestos supplier to Sri Lanka), to learn more about chrysotile asbestos and its effects on human health. According to the Russians, asbestos can be used safely; independent experts say otherwise. See: Govt. will send experts to Russia to study chrysotile fiber: minister.

Asbestos: Natural Disasters

Nov 6, 2017

A study was undertaken in Sri Lanka to assess the incidence of asbestos disease in a cohort of 230 workers occupationally exposed to asbestos: 17.4% had radiographic abnormalities and another 7% had fibrosis. One of the most interesting findings was the prevalence amongst affected patients of demolition workers and post-tsunami clean-up operatives. The author concluded that: “there are significant implications for cleanup workers worldwide when dealing with asbestos debris after hurricanes, tornados, typhoons and tsunamis.” A poster on this research was presented at the October 2017 meeting of the Collegium Ramazzini in Capri, Italy. See: Prevalence of Asbestos-Related Disease Among Workers in Sri Lanka.

Surge in Asbestos-Free Development

Oct 19, 2017

The development of Sri Lanka’s red clay sector is surging with domestic and foreign demand exceeding supply. According to Sri Lanka’s Minister of Industry and Commerce Rishad Bathludeen: “Our clay is high quality and is in demand for roof tile making due to the asbestos import ban starting next year (2018)… We sent 30 Sri Lankan red clay industrialists for technological training to Belgium and China.” Some of Sri Lankan asbestos-free red tile production is now being exported to the UK; the Sri Lankan government is supporting initiatives to help cut production costs and improve the quality of output. See: New support for Sri Lanka porcelain, red clay and glass.

Asbestos-free Roofing

Sep 21, 2017

According to Sri Lanka’s Minister of Industry and Commerce Rishard Bathiudeen, domestically produced red clay roofing tiles are now in high demand due to national asbestos prohibitions set to come into effect in 2018 which will ban all asbestos imports. This restriction has led to an increase in the production of clay roofing tiles, some of which are exported to the UK. Sri Lanka’s ceramic and glass industries employ 55,000 workers. In 2015 and 2016, Sri Lanka imported 34,505 and 47,379 tonnes of asbestos fiber, respectively. See: Red clay roof tiles in high demand as asbestos ban looms.

Industry Offensive

Jul 2, 2017

A “study” published last week asserted that a proposed asbestos ban in Sri Lanka would disastrously impact on the country’s finances. It is of relevance to note that this report was launched at a seminar entitled: “Socio Economic Impact of the Potential Prohibition of Chrysotile in Sri Lanka” held by the Chrysotile Information Centre of Sri Lanka, an asbestos industry trade association which continues to assert that the “safe use” of carcinogenic asbestos products can be achieved. This industry-tailored document is clearly an attempt to dissuade key decision makers from following through on their pledge to ban asbestos in Sri Lanka by 2024. See: Proposed asbestos ban a costly affair, says report.

Asbestos Conundrum

Jan 3, 2017

Despite a 2015 statement by Sri Lankan President Maithripala Sirisena declaring his intention to ban imports of asbestos roofing by 2018, this material remains the product of choice for poor people. Whilst the government acknowledges asbestos is a carcinogen, asbestos industry propagandists continue to proclaim that “there is no medical evidence to support the claim that white asbestos causes cancer.” An article published by World Is One News (WION) – an international news platform – on January 2 says that “Sri Lanka needs to make a choice, a choice between life and death.” See: Breath of death: Asbestos may be cheap roofing material but it causes cancer.

Landmark Ban Asbestos Event

Dec 6, 2016

On November 28, 2016 a workshop entitled The National Campaign to Promote Dangers of the Use of Asbestos Products was held in Colombo by the National Trade Union Federation and the Building and Woodworkers International (BWI). This, the first grassroots ban asbestos initiative in Sri Lanka, was attended by representatives of trade unions, civil society organizations, government agencies and the asbestos industry. Amongst the speakers were: the General Secretaries of the National Building Workers Union and the Lanka Jathika Estate Workers Union, Dr. Alistair Graham Smith from the ILO, Sugio Furuya, from the Asian Ban Asbestos Network, and the BWI’s Anup Srivastva.

Russian Propaganda Onslaught

Oct 21, 2016

Russia’s Ambassador to Sri Lanka Alexander Karchava publicly challenged plans to outlaw white asbestos at a meeting earlier this month, during which he called on stakeholders including members of the Sri Lanka-Russia Business Council to exert pressure on politicians to safeguard the interests of Russia’s asbestos industry by preserving the status quo. The Ambassador said he had discussed this issue with President Maithripala Sirisena and Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe in meetings which “bore positive results.” Karchava offered to bring experts to Sri Lanka “to educate the people on the safe use of chrysotile asbestos.” See: Russian experts ready to educate Lankans on safe use of chrysotile asbestos: envoy.

2018: Deadline for Asbestos Ban

Sep 14, 2016

Last week (September 7, 2016), Mahaweli Development and Environment Ministry Secretary Udaya Senevirathne told delegates at a climate change conference in Colombo that the Sri Lanka government is committed to banning asbestos in 2018 and eradicating asbestos contamination by 2024. A special committee has been tasked to investigate the health hazards posed by asbestos roofing sheets which are very popular in Sri Lanka. According to a government spokesman: “We have already asked the Moratuwa University to work out a report and hope to discuss the issue shortly.” See: Wiping Out Asbestos By 2024?

Asbestos Ban Approved!

Sep 7, 2016

A proposal to ban asbestos initially proposed by President Maithripala Sirisena, in his capacity as the Minister of Mahaweli Development and Environment, has been approved today (September 7, 2016) by Sri Lanka’s Cabinet of Ministers. As a result, the use and import of asbestos will be controlled from January 1, 2018 and the production of asbestos-containing materials will be banned as of January 1, 2024 when the use of asbestos-free products will become mandatory. In Sri Lanka asbestos is mostly used in the manufacture of asbestos-containing roofing sheets (in 2013, Sri Lanka imported 22,953 tonnes of asbestos). See: Controls on asbestos: use, import, manufacture.

Asbestos-free Pre-School for Sri Lanka

Jun 27, 2016

Last Wednesday, June 22, 2016, a revolutionary new “green” pre-school was officially opened at a ceremony attended by government and business officials during which the Ceylon Institute of Builders issued the building with a Green Label certification. The new building, which is located in the small town of Ahangama in Sri Lanka’s Southern Province, was constructed of locally sourced soil stabilized brick blocks; the roof is composed of zinc aluminium sheets which are “100% asbestos free.” Other environmentally sustainable measures used in the pre-school include solar power and rainwater harvesting. See: First green pre-school in Sri Lanka constructed by Holcim Lanka.

The Future: Asbestos-free Roofing

May 13, 2016

After six years of research and development, the Sri Lanka Engineering Research and Development Centre in Jaela has introduced asbestos-free roofing material in a bid to replace the use of toxic products in the country due to the “grave threat to health” of asbestos exposures. The environment friendly sheeting is made of sand, cement and a type of polythene net and can be produced by members of the public as a do-it-yourself project. The sheet is both heat resistant and strong and costs less than the asbestos alternative. The Sri Lanka government has issued a commitment to ban the new use of asbestos roofing by 2018. See: NERD produces environmental-friendly roofing sheets.

Industry Propaganda Feature

Jan 21, 2016

A pro-asbestos feature appeared today (January 21, 2016) on a Sri Lanka website; the text was based on a paper from the discredited and redundant Chrysotile Institute (Canada). The anonymous author reheats industry rhetoric which discounts the deadly hazard posed by human exposures to chrysotile (white) asbestos, asserting that there is “not an excess of risk to health when it [white asbestos] is responsibly used.” “Low exposures,” he writes “to pure Chrysotile do not present a detectable risk to health… [even after short duration high exposures] the risk of an adverse outcome may be low...” See: Asbestos saga: Why so much emotion?

Industry Fiasco in Colombo?

Dec 3, 2015

Yesterday (December 2), a seminar entitled “Facts about the use of asbestos – Chrysotile Cement Roofing” took place in the capital of Sri Lanka. According to a delegate who attended this event, organized by asbestos vested interests, Dr. Vivek Chandra Rao (India) and toxicologist David Bernstein (Switzerland) voiced industry reassurances that chrysotile (white) asbestos could be used safely. Industry speakers alleged that no research existed which showed that chrysotile asbestos caused the fatal asbestos cancer, mesothelioma. From what can be ascertained, there seems to have been very little media coverage of this meeting.

Asbestos Industry Offensive

Dec 1, 2015

Today, an afternoon seminar entitled “Facts about the use of asbestos – Chrysotile Cement Roofing” is being hosted by Sri Lanka’s trade association representing construction industry stakeholders. Amongst the supporters of this event is the Chrysotile Information Centre, a pro-asbestos lobbying organization. The panel of speakers include industry-linked “experts”: Dr. Vivek Chandra Rao (India), toxicologist David Bernstein (Switzerland) and lobbyist Emiliano Alonso (Belgium). This session is part of the fightback by vested interests against government plans to ban asbestos in 2018. See: CCI to engage global, local asbestos experts to educate industry stakeholders.

Towards an Asbestos Ban

Nov 19, 2015

Progressing along the road to an asbestos ban in 2018, steps are being taken in Sri Lanka to improve the quality and performance of safer roofing material and lower unit costs through increased levels of production, according to news released by Mahendra Jayasekara, President of Lanka Ceramic Council, at a press briefing held in Colombo. Jayasekara said the aim is to lower the price of ceramic roofing to that of asbestos tiles and thereby eliminate the cost advantage which encourages use. In recent days, asbestos lobbyists have aggressively attacked the government’s ban asbestos policy as premature. See: Sri Lanka to set standards for red clay roofing tiles upon asbestos ban.

Asbestos Propaganda Campaign

Nov 16, 2015

Sri Lanka’s English language Sunday Leader newspaper published a feature article this week (November 15) detailing new measures being taken by asbestos manufacturers and their trade association (the Fibre Cement Products Manufacturers Association), to force the government to retract plans to ban asbestos by 2018. In literature just released, the industry repeats discredited propaganda “proving” that the use of chrysotile (white) asbestos presents no human health risk, and is distributing leaflets around the country promoting “safe use” of asbestos-cement products and questioning the President’s motivation for banning asbestos. See: Manufacturers Defend Use Of Asbestos Sheets.

Asbestos Industry on Offensive

Nov 12, 2015

Sri Lanka’s Fibre Cement Products Manufacturers Association has hit back at government plans to ban chrysotile (white) asbestos, the only type of asbestos imported, saying that “it has been accepted that white asbestos has no adverse impact on human health.” Advancing discredited asbestos industry propaganda as evidence, the lobbyists claim the decision to ban asbestos by 2018 was “made without conducting a proper scientific study to prove health hazards linked to asbestos.” A national marketing campaign has been designed to counter the government’s “false” claims about the asbestos hazard. See: Asbestos industry cries foul over 2018 ban.

Pathway to Asbestos Ban

Oct 15, 2015

Following up on a public pledge made on August 12, 2015 to ban asbestos in 2018, the President of Sri Lanka Maithripala Sirisena hosted discussions this week involving senior civil servants and civil society stakeholders which were focused on the implementation of a program to create: public awareness of the asbestos hazard, awareness of the availability of asbestos-free products and demand for these materials. A key point of discussion was on the use of asbestos-free roofing products and construction materials for schools, hospitals and other public buildings. See: The President focuses special attention on regulating the use of alternatives for asbestos.

Asbestos Ban in 2018

Aug 30, 2015

Following up on a public pledge made on August 12, 2015 to ban asbestos in 2018, the President of Sri Lanka Maithripala Sirisena, yesterday reiterated his commitment to the ban during a ceremony held at President’s House. He recalled that previous plans to enact asbestos prohibitions had been scuppered but “today everybody is supporting that programme. Those decisions will be put into action without bowing down to any private company or institution… for the betterment of the country and the people.” See: Sri Lanka president to ban production of asbestos in 2018.

Partial Asbestos Ban in 3 Years?

Aug 14, 2015

On August 12, 2015, during his keynote address to a Colombo symposium on the subject of “Powering Growth through Collaboration,” Sri Lanka’s President Maithripala Sirisena told delegates that his government intends to address the public health hazard posed by asbestos. Consultations at cabinet level are underway to implement a ban on the import of asbestos roofing material by 2018. In 2012, 2013 and 2014, Sri Lanka consumed 54,704, 22,953 and 52,214 tonnes of raw asbestos fiber, respectively. See: Sri Lanka President assures to take steps to ban import of asbestos roofing sheets by 2018.

Protest against Asbestos Factory

Mar 2, 2015

On February 28, 2015, residents and environmentalists stopped traffic when they took to the public highway to protest plans to construct an asbestos factory in the Anawilundawa region, located about 50 kilometers from the Sri Lanka capital of Colombo. Building the factory in this area could, the demonstrators claimed, adversely affect the health of the local community as well as impact on the biodiversity of the world-famous Anawilundawa bird sanctuary. The demonstration was called off when the factory owners agreed to halt construction. See: Protesters block Colombo-Puttalam road at Anawilundawa.

Calls for Asbestos Ban

Feb 1, 2015

Scientists are calling for an immediate ban on the use of asbestos-containing construction products in Sri Lanka; in 2013, national asbestos consumption was ~23,000t. In today’s issue of the Sunday Observer Dr. Waruna Gunathilake, head of the National Toxicology Information Unit, reported that: “It is now medically proven that long-term exposure to asbestos can cause respiratory problems and cancer. Research in recent years has proved this.” He called for consumers to use asbestos-free products in the run-up to national prohibitions and highlighted the lack of a “proper disposal system for asbestos waste in Sri Lanka.” See: Call to ban asbestos use and imports.

Asbestos Debate in Sri Lanka

Jun 25, 2013

The Consumer Affairs Authority in Sri Lanka, a country which over recent years annually used around 55,000 tonnes of asbestos, is considering recommending the use of asbestos-free products to protect the population from hazardous exposures. The Central Environmental Authority admits that workplace monitoring at asbestos processing facilities is inadequate and public as well as occupational awareness of the asbestos hazard remains low. National vested interests are working with international asbestos lobbyists to promote the continuing use of asbestos in Sri Lanka. See: Asbestos an untamed and silent killer thriving on ignorance.