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

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. 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


1 Footnote void (linked material no longer available).

2 WHO. Elimination of Asbestos-Related Diseases. 2006.

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

4 Footnote void (linked material no longer available).

5 IARC/WHO Press Release. Global battle against cancer won't be won with treatment alone. February 3, 2014.



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