Asbestos Anomalies 2023
There are a few of us, people who see the world through an asbestos filter. People like me who go to a tourist destination in Western Australia to gawp at the deteriorating asbestos-cement roofing on the outbuildings of a defunct whaling station; or someone like Fernanda Giannasi who zeroed in on a display case containing an asbestos hood for firefighters at the Museum of Japanese Immigration in São Paulo;1 or Mark Ogden who gave an asbestos masterclass to the unsuspecting museum chairman of a facility housing military memorabilia.
Asbestos fireproof hood on display in Museum of Japanese Immigration.
For members of this select tribe, I would like to draw your attention to a few curious developments that have piqued my interest over recent months.
In 2022, the American pharmaceutical giant Johnson and Johnson announced plans to withdraw from sale its talc-based baby powder samples of which had been found to contain asbestos by multiple governments and independent scientists.2 In the summer of 2023, a random check found this product widely available at UK retail outlets.3
Picture taken in Sainsburys Supermarket, Northwest London. July 16, 2023.
When questioned, a young mother admitted that she and her friends were aware of the controversy over the baby powder and said that theyd been advised never to use the product on their infants. The pharmacist at an independent drugstore told me that even though her company was aware of the issue, they still stocked J&J talc-based baby powder because: Everyone knew it wasnt to be used on babies. My question is: why is this product still called baby powder when it is proscribed for use on babies?
This summer, I met up with a friend I hadnt seen since the Covid-19 pandemic. It was great to have the chance to catch up and hear the news from his part of the asbestos multiverse. He told me something which shocked and amused me in equal measures. The name of the company which had fielded a British operative to spy on ban asbestos campaigners in the UK and abroad from 2012-16 had been changed in November 2020 from K2 Intelligence to K2 Integrity.4
Having first-hand knowledge of the behaviour of K2s employee, I was of the opinion in 2019 that the companys claim to value integrity, accountability open and honest communication and discipline did not hold water.5 The replacement of one noun by another in the company name doesnt make the claim any more valid in 2023.6
On September 22, 2023, it was revealed that much of the British military equipment sent to Ukraine including Challenger 2 tanks, Warriors armored fighting vehicles and Bulldog armored personnel carriers could contain asbestos.7 Whilst, this news was reported on a handful of UK news outlets, it was a huge story in Russia with headlines such as:
On September 22/23, 2023, I counted nearly 40 Russian news reports about this story including one in which a pathologist warned that:
Contact with asbestos, i.e. inhalation of asbestos dust or fibres, can lead to asbestosis. It affects the lungs, fibers are deposited, and this leads to fibrosis... which can develop into respiratory failure. When exposed to asbestos, lung cancer often develops...8
Russia is the worlds largest supplier of asbestos; between 2018 and 2022, it produced 3,750,917 tonnes (t) of chrysotile (white) asbestos, 98% (3,6754,917) of which was exported.9 It is, of course, deplorable that asbestos-containing equipment, military or otherwise, is being used, nevertheless, considering the role Russia plays in the deadly worldwide asbestos epidemic, the narrative it has spun around this story beggars belief.
September 27, 2023
1 Kazan-Allen, L, Castleman, B. History in the Making! June 25, 2008.
2 Sweney, M. Johnson & Johnson to stop making talc-based baby powder globally. August 12, 2022.
4 Kazan-Allen, L. Corporate Deceit: Asbestos Espionage at Home and Abroad. March 18, 2019.
5 Website: K2 Intelligence Ltd. Accessed February 1, 2019.
6 K2 Intelligence FIN Announces Corporate Name Change to K2 Integrity. Accessed September 24, 2023.
7 McGuire, R. UK Ministry of Defence Reveals Scale of Asbestos Use in Tanks and Aircraft. September 22, 2023.
8 Bratsky, Y. Пульмонолог Степанян объяснил опасность танков Challenger 2 с асбестом [Pulmonologist Stepanyan explained the danger of Challenger 2 tanks with asbestos]. September 22, 2023.
9 According to asbestos trade data collected by the Unites States Geological Survey, between 2018 and 2022, Russia produced 3,705,917t of asbestos; 755,000t were used at home and 3,6754,917t were exported. Russian output accounted for more than 60% of all global asbestos production during that period.