Asbestos Roulette: Whos Next?
Neither King Charles III,1 Canadian Prime Ministers Jean Chrétien and Stephen Harper and their families2, President Donald Trump and his family,3 Harvard undergrad Matthew Walker,4 British MP Alice Mahon, Spanish TV star José María Íñigo,5 European Commission official Arnaldo Lucaccioni6 nor Israeli politician Tania Mazarsky7 were protected. All of them lived or worked in buildings riddled with asbestos. Three of them, Alice Mahon, José María Íñigo and Arnaldo Lucaccioni, paid the ultimate price for their exposures; as for the others, only time will tell.
Arnaldo Lucaccioni had worked from 1967 until 1987 at the Brussels headquarters of the European Commission, the Berlaymont a building so riddled with asbestos that the entire Commission had to be relocated in 1991. Asbestos removal took 4 years but the Commission could not return until 2004 due a host of problems regarding extensive refurbishments scheduled to follow the elimination of the asbestos contamination.
The restored Berlaymont building, Brussels headquarters of the European Commission from 1967-1991 and again from 2004 onwards.
The 2022 death from mesothelioma, the signature cancer associated with asbestos exposure, of Alice Mahon was widely covered in the British press with at least some of the articles blaming the 18 years she spent in Westminster for her death.8 According to a 2023 Parliamentary report:
Asbestos remains a serious and pressing concern for those who live and work in the Palace and wider parliamentary estate since 2016 there have been 8 asbestos incidents. The Chief Executive of the R&R Delivery Authority informed us asbestos could perhaps be found at 2,500 sites, including within inaccessible areas such as pipe lagging, ducts and voids. Removing asbestos from the Palace could require an estimated 300 people working for two and a half years while the site was not being used.9
To further compound the human health hazard posed to people working or visiting the Palace of Westminster is the presence of not just one but three types of asbestos. In a reply to a Freedom of Information request, the proportion of fiber was given as: 33% chrysotile asbestos, 45% amosite and 22% crocidolite.10
How is it possible that more than 100 years after the British Parliament was first notified of the death of an asbestos textile worker, that asbestos contamination of British public and private buildings remains rife? The human health hazard posed by exposures to asbestos has been acknowledged by the World Health Organization, the International Labor Organization, the International Agency for Research on Cancer and a slew of other expert bodies, all of which agree that the best way to protect human beings from asbestos cancers and respiratory diseases is to stop using asbestos.11 Nevertheless, large amounts of asbestos are still being used with global data from 2021 showing national consumption in key markets as follows: India (408,000 tonnes/t), China (261,000t), Indonesia (130,000t), Uzbekistan (95,400t), Russia (94,200t), Sri Lanka (71,400t), Vietnam (35,300t), Thailand (32,600t), Bangladesh (29,300t) and Kazakhstan (28,200t). 12
You dont need to be a medical specialist, an epidemiologist or even a clairvoyant to see the future. In the absence of government regulation, millions more will die from the cocktail of cancers and diseases caused by exposures to asbestos in workplaces, homes and the environment. In our post-pandemic world, where environmental justice, green technology and sustainability have been embraced as global objectives, asbestos must be consigned to the history books alongside mercury, lead, arsenic and other discredited substances. Its a matter of life or death!
August 22, 2023
1 Hickman, M. How to spend it like the Queen? Try a £1m asbestos bill. July 3, 2012.
2 Freeman, A. The sad story of 24 Sussex, the abandoned, asbestos-filled residence of Canadas prime minister. July 14, 2018.
3 Jacobs, J. White House Relocates Top Aides for Asbestos Abatement Project. August 21, 2019.
4 Leifer, MJ. Asbestos Everywhere, But Risk is Minimal, Administrators Say. April 11, 2017.
5 Kazan-Allen, L. José María Íñigos Last Battle. January 20, 2021.
6 JUDGMENT OF THE COURT OF FIRST INSTANCE (Second Chamber). Case T-165/95. Arnaldo Lucaccioni v Commission of the European Communities. May 14, 1998.
European Commission. Description of the Berlaymont. September 2, 2004.
7 Knesset News. Subcommittee for the Effect of the Environment and Climate on Public Health urges Government to present plan for prevention of asbestos hazards. January 31, 2022.
8 Halifax MP Alice Mahon blamed asbestos in Parliament for disease that killed her, inquest hears. April 14, 2023.
9 House of Commons Committee of Public Accounts. Restoration & Renewal of the Palace of Westminster
Report (page 10). April 24, 2023.
Real and rising risk that Palace of Westminster will be destroyed by catastrophic event before it is restored, says PAC. May 17, 2023.
House of Commons Committee of Public Accounts. Restoration & Renewal of the Palace of Westminster 2023 Report. April 24, 2023.
10 UK Parliament. Asbestos (2019). Accessed August 8, 2023.
11 Kazan-Allen, L. Warnings Unheeded: a British Tragedy becomes a Global Disaster. July 6, 2012.
International Ban Asbestos Secretariat. Asbestos Policies of Major International Agencies. August 22, 2022.
12 United States Geological Survey. Asbestos consumption data for 2021. Accessed August 12, 2023.