Fake News, Espionage, Threats and Conspiracies:
A Normal Day for the Asbestos Lobby1
For decades, asbestos vested interests have colluded to create a climate in which sales of their toxic wares would prosper. They lied to governments; disseminated misinformation to workers and consumers; spied on campaigners, politicians and victims groups; suborned officials, trade unionists and medical experts; and engaged in conspiracies to control prices, divide markets and manipulate asbestos debates. The word limit for this article is too short to substantiate all these statements, so I will choose a few examples to give readers a flavor of the organized evil propagated by this lobby of mass destruction.
The industrys modus operandi was pioneered nearly a century ago by European industrialists who established a cartel of asbestos-cement producers. To protect profits, they formalized ad-hoc practices to fix prices, share markets and tie customers into non-competitive agreements despite the fact that this behavior was illegal in some if not all jurisdictions.
The asbestos industry has traditionally cultivated friends in influential positions and easy access to politicians was the norm. In 1981, Cyril Smith Member of Parliament for Rochdale from 1972 to 1992 informed personnel at UKs asbestos giant Turner and Newall Ltd. about an upcoming asbestos debate in the House of Commons saying: Could you please, within the next eight weeks, let me have the speech you would like to make (were you able to) in the Debate? In particular, points of disagreement with EEC documentation, points to urge, etc.
When in the mid-1980s, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) set in train plans for phasing out asbestos use, the industry went on a war footing. With the active support of the Quebec and Canadian Governments, asbestos vested interests wielded their financial resources to fight the EPA every step of the way. Unfortunately, one of their legal challenges succeeded and on October 18, 1991 the U.S. Asbestos Ban and Phase-out Rule was overturned. As of February 21, 2022, there is no asbestos ban in the U.S.
Five years after the U.S. ban was vacated, the French Government announced plans to ban asbestos; in retaliation, the Canadian Government launched a legal challenge at the World Trade Organization (WTO). On March 12, 2001 the WTOs Appellate Body confirmed that Member Governments were indeed entitled to protect populations from exposures to toxic substances such as asbestos.
Less favorable outcomes eventuated elsewhere. When Brazils Supreme Court banned asbestos (2017), the asbestos-producing State of Goiás passed a law contravening the Courts ruling and allowed mining to continue. In 2018, the Russian Government issued an embargo on imports of Ceylon tea to punish Sri Lankas Government for plans to block asbestos imports; the asbestos ban was unceremoniously dropped. In June 2017, Ukraines Ministry of Health announced it was banning asbestos; this decision was later nullified by the Ministry of Justice and State Regulatory Service. When a proposition to ban asbestos was adopted by the Ukraine Parliament in February 2021 as part of a package of reforms, the asbestos industry went into overdrive with the publication of pro-asbestos infomercials and fake news claiming the removal of all asbestos roofing would be required. With intervention from the Russian asbestos industry unfeasible due to the military situation, the interests of the asbestos lobby were represented by, amongst others, Kazakhstans Ambassador to Ukraine and the Kazakh Minister of Trade and Integration. As of now, the ban remains in limbo.
The interventions and machinations discussed above are just a few of those we can document. What goes on behind closed doors cannot be validated; rumors of suitcases full of cash are rife. As one ban asbestos campaigner remarked, the asbestos industry can only prosper in countries where there are no democratic institutions to hold it to account. In its quest for respectability, the asbestos lobby pays public relations specialists, lawyers and politicians to provide the acceptable face of a repugnant industry. Like many campaigners before me, I have a bitter knowledge of the visage behind the mask. From 2012 to 2016, I was targeted by a British spy who received over $600,000 to report on the activities, opinions and future plans of the global ban asbestos network. This covert operation codenamed Project Spring was commissioned and paid for by shadowy East Europeans with connections to the asbestos industry.
The evidence on the climate crisis facing humanity is beyond doubt. Unilateral asbestos bans and comprehensive phased removal of asbestos from national infrastructures should be part of plans towards building a greener, safer and sustainable post-Covid world. Facing the impending destruction of our planet, asbestos lobbyists cannot be allowed to hold the world to ransom. The future is asbestos-free.
June 13, 2022
1This is the unabbreviated version of a chapter written for the June 2022 issue of the magazine produced by the NGO Solidar Suisse, which is available online in French (https://issuu.com/solidar/docs/solidarit_2_22), German (https://issuu.com/solidar/docs/solidarit_t_2_22) and English (https://solidar.ch/wp-content/uploads/2022/06/Solidarity-2_22.pdf).