Asbestos Trading through the European Community 

by Bill Lawrence1



When more than 50 delegates from European trade unions and NGO's met at Brussels in June 2011 concern was expressed about asbestos from Canada being trans-shipped in European ports and sent on to the developing world; this set into motion research into the global asbestos trade in asbestos.

As a result, a database was created on nearly 1,500 companies known to be involved in the asbestos trade passing through the USA; from the company profiles it is possible to identify thousands of shipments made since 2007. The database is now being extended to show shipments between many other nations.

Canada may have dominated world trade for many years but nowadays it is the Russian Federation and former Soviet republics such as Kazakhstan that are the global masters. The Russian asbestos industry, worth $800m a year, employs 400,000 people producing around half the world output (around 1 million tonnes a year); though the world's third largest consumer of asbestos it exports three-quarters of its output.

Russia is a major trading partner of the European Community and since 2007 its exports of all commodities into the EU has risen on average each year by 8%. In the last quarter of 2011 its imports into Europe were valued at €49.8m (11.8% of all the community imports), but with the community exporting just €29.4m (7.3% of all exports) to Russia the trade balance is greatly in Russia's favour.

Last year the Russians were pivotal in frustrating efforts by the WHO to adopt measures to prevent future asbestos related diseases (ARDs). They are lamentable in recording the incidence of ARDs. Despite having key hotspots such as Asbest, a city of 70,000 people and the home of the worlds largest asbestos producer, Uralasbest (known as “the dying city” for its high rates of ARDs), and already having mesothelioma deaths arising among dock workers in relatively newly built ports, there is virtually no information available to the populace and asbestos usage remains a normal part of everyday life in the eastern bloc.

The Russian based International Chrysotile Alliance of Trade Union Organisation was part of an industry assault on UN proposals to impose a modicum of regulation on the global trading of asbestos. Russia's chief health officer has declared over 3,000 asbestos-containing products safe. From such standpoints the Russians can be expected to continue strongly protecting their asbestos trade.

At Geneva in December 2011 Russia came to an agreement with the European Community to use its “best efforts not to introduce or increase export duties” on those commodities for which it holds a world dominance of 10% and more – it produces more than half of the world output of asbestos. The letter of agreement signed off by Poland's deputy prime minister and the EU trade commissioner was published in the Official Journal of the EU on February 29th, 2012. It has asbestos and crocidolite asbestos listed in the schedule (asbestos products are excluded since the agreement relates to raw materials). This will do nothing to hinder the trade into and through Europe.

The major port on the Caspian Sea is Aktua Commercial Seaport; it is linked to the asbestos mining regions by rail and being “a non-freezing all-year port” about 10% of the Kazakhstan asbestos production is shipped from here. The other port which is extensively used is Novorrosslysk – “Russia's door to the Black Sea”. From here ships can reach Istanbul, and the Mediterranean in a day and a half. This port exports primarily to Istanbul, Alexandria, Algiers, Barcelona and Valencia.

Typical of shipments now logged on the database were nearly 300 tonnes to Mexalit, a Mexican manufacturer of building panels and roofing. This was delivered to Novorrosslysk on March 28th 2011 and loaded aboard the Frisia Wismar, which sailed on April 8th to Gioia Tauro, a container port in the Straits of Messina, southern Italy. There it was transhipped onto the Jennifer Rickmans, which crossed the Atlantic to Port Everglades, Florida USA, and onto Vera Cruz on the Gulf of Mexico where the containers were unloaded on May 2nd. All those 300 tonnes had “amosite” included in their commodity descriptions on shipping documents.

Shipments of manufactured asbestos products from “developing countries” are also passing through European ports. SFPI pvt Ltd in Gujarat, India shipped “Spitmaan” brand compressed asbestos fibre jointing sheets to the north American brake and clutch company Champion through the Italian ports of Calgliari and La Spezia. The Indian company Basrur Uniseal pvt Ltd in Bangalore shipped asbestos sheets to Italy – among the consignments was 36 tonnes to Athena spa. based in Alotone, Italy.

Another Italian shipper APL can be seen to have made shipments of 10 and 14 tonnes a time through Rotterdam to Oakland and New Jersey in the USA.

The data also shows that nearly 170 tonnes of asbestos products manufactured and originating from Italian companies have been shipped from Genoa, La Spezia, and Naples to Mexico, Bermuda, the Barbados, and onwards to New York, Kentucky and South Carolina in the USA.

Polish ports have been used to ship asbestos to Sri Lanka. Konimpex Ltd of Konin, Poland sent 900 tonnes through Gdansk on a South Korean ship, the Hanin Lisbon to Rhino Roofing products in Columbo.

The USA military based in southern Germany uses its Kaiserslautern harbour in the US enclave near Bremerhaven to ship asbestos, which is described as “military waste” and “US Diplomatic Cargo”, through its US government agency Fleet & Industrial Supply Centre.

From such data it is possible to provide “real time“ information. No longer is it necessary to quote statistics which are often 2 years and more out of date. It can be shown what moved last month and sometimes even more recently. For a given shipment It can be shown who sold it and who shipped it – even the ship which carried it and the container it was packed in. Also shown are the ports it moved through and the site of its final destination – sometimes even the name and phone number of the person who signed the delivery note! When the shipment is raw asbestos it is possible to see what it is made into, and what happens when the resulting asbestos products go from the manufacturer into the marketplace.

June 13, 2012


1 Bill Lawrence can be emailed at:



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