Asbestos: Art, Science and Policy 

by Laurie Kazan-Allen



A remarkable and innovative series of events highlighting the legal, societal and environmental impact of asbestos production and use begins in Bogota on October 28, 2014 and continues over the following week.1 These activities mark a defining moment in the country which is South America’s second biggest asbestos consumer having used an average of more than 20,000 tonnes/year over the last three years. This initiative has been organized by ban asbestos campaigners in collaboration with academic institutions, scientific, medical and technical experts. (An art exhibition featuring the work of British, American, French and Colombian artists intended as part of the initiative has been rescheduled for March 2015.)

On Tuesday, November 5, a one-day session will explore Political Art and Social Activism by considering the artwork of Conrad Atkinson (UK), Bill Ravanesi (US), the Bureau D’Etudes (France) and Colombian artists. Award-winning British conceptualist artist Conrad Atkinson, whose 1978 piece “Asbestos” was purchased by The Tate in 2007, has collaborated with the conference organizers to produce a stunning series of posters for these events.


The discussion on November 5 will consider the ethics of using money derived from the operations of the Schmidheiney family’s asbestos-cement company to fund the Daros Art Collection. A Chilean anthropologist will review the actions of asbestos-cement producers in Chile and their links to the art world.

The next day, November 6, 2014, the agenda will feature presentations on the subject of Asbestos and the Law. Eminent speakers from North America and Latin America will share their expertise during the day with Brazilian Labor Inspector (retired) and veteran ban asbestos campaigner, Fernanda Giannasi examining the global health catastrophe caused by asbestos; Dr. Barry Castleman, discussing the criminal acts perpetrated by the asbestos industry; Dr. Arthur Frank, focusing on the medical consequences of asbestos exposures; and Dr. Eduardo Rodriguez, from Argentina’s Ministry of Health, speaking about his country’s asbestos legacy.

The final day (November 7) will be reserved for presentations related to the mining, processing and use of asbestos in Colombia with presentations from Italian researchers Drs. Paola Castro and Daniela Marsili who have been part of a multinational scientific and technical collaboration designed to disseminate knowledge about the asbestos public health emergency.

Providing the opportunity for authoritative figures from three continents to engage in discussions with their Colombian counterparts, civil society partners and members of the public is a watershed moment. The control of the national asbestos dialogue which has been exerted by industry forces for so many decades will be shattered by these discussions, with the truth finally emerging about the criminal enterprises which have endangered workers and the public not only in Colombia but in every country where asbestos profits have been pursued.

October 21, 2014


1 Asbestos: Art, Science and Policy



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