All Asbestos Kills!  

by Laurie Kazan-Allen

 

 

The World Health Organization, like the International Labor Organization, has a clear-cut policy on asbestos. The international agencies tasked with protecting public and occupational health agree, as do other major institutions, that all types of asbestos can kill, safer alternatives are available and the future use of asbestos must be banned.1 The WHO's policy statement on the Elimination of Asbestos-Related Diseases, which echoed the ILO's 2006 Resolution on Asbestos, said:

“Bearing in mind there is no evidence for a threshold for the carcinogenic effect of asbestos and that increased cancer risks have been observed in populations exposed to very low levels, the most efficient way to eliminate asbestos-related diseases is to stop using all types of asbestos.”2

Despite this clarity of language and intent, asbestos lobbyists have continued to misrepresent the WHO's message in industry propaganda. In a newsletter produced by the Canadian asbestos trade association – The Chrysotile Institute – it was clearly stated: “The current policy of the World Health Organization (WHO) does not support a chrysotile ban.” This message has been disseminated through industry channels in different languages to vested interests who have commercially exploited this distortion to reassure customers, civil servants and workers that “asbestos can be used safely.” One such statement, typical of the industry lobby's current rhetoric, comes from the 2013 publication “People for Chrysotile:”

“the use of chrysotile [asbestos] is vitally important for health and social welfare of hundreds of millions of people in the world, especially in the poor and poorest countries.”3

Reconfirming the WHO's position on asbestos, Dr. Maria Neira, the Director of Public Health and Environment, has given a detailed interview in which she makes the international agency's position crystal clear. In the filmed 16-minute question and answer session, Dr. Neira makes the following points. Asbestos is, she says:

  • “a threat to public health. It causes cancer, lung cancer, it will cause mesothelioma, and it will cause chronic respiratory diseases…
  • 125 million people around the world are exposed to asbestos in the work environment… more than 100,000 deaths can be attributable to exposure to asbestos…
  • Chrysotile is not safe. We concluded that all forms of asbestos are carcinogenic to humans. And not only that, but in the latest revision of IARC, they concluded that in addition to mesothelioma and lung cancer, that are very well-known and for which we have enormous evidence, we can add other types of cancer: ovarian and laryngeal cancer…
  • All forms of asbestos including chrysotile asbestos are carcinogenic. There is no ambiguity on WHO's position …
  • For us there is no safe use of chrysotile or any form of asbestos …
  • The most efficient way to eliminate asbestos related diseases, the safest way, will be to stop the use of all forms of asbestos and therefore we will be able to stop exposure, and we will stop to see the diseases caused by exposure to asbestos. The most efficient way will be to stop the use of all forms of asbestos.”4

 

Video Interview with Dr. Maria Neira
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[a version with Spanish subtitles can be viewed at:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-sNy0kYh54k&feature=em-upload_owner]

Last week, the WHO called on governments to adopt prevention strategies to curb the global incidence of cancer which is growing at an “alarming” rate especially in developing countries. “In 2010, the total annual economic cost of cancer was estimated to reach approximately US$ 1.16 trillion. Yet about half of all cancers could be avoided if current knowledge was adequately implemented.”5 The WHO knows that exposure to asbestos causes cancer; Dr. Neira confirmed this in the video: “All forms of asbestos including chrysotile asbestos are carcinogenic.” To prevent future generations from these avoidable cancers, it is time for governments in asbestos-producing and consuming countries to heed the WHO's advice and “stop the use of all forms of asbestos.”

February 10, 2014

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1 For other videos by international asbestos experts, see: Video Downloads: Experts Speak Out! July 8, 2013. http://ibasecretariat.org/video_downloads_experts.php

2 WHO. Elimination of Asbestos-Related Diseases. 2006.
http://whqlibdoc.who.int/hq/2006/WHO_SDE_OEH_06.03_eng.pdf

3 Chrysotile on the Scales of the Rotterdam Convention. People for Chrysotile Newsletter. April 2013.

4 A transcript of Dr. Neira's interview can be accessed at: http://ibasecretariat.org/interview_dr_maria_neira_nov_2013_upl_feb_2014.pdf

5 IARC/WHO Press Release. Global battle against cancer won't be won with treatment alone. February 3, 2014. http://www.iarc.fr/en/media-centre/pr/2014/pdfs/pr224_E.pdf

 

 

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