Asbestos: Think Global, Act Local
Global asbestos stakeholders must be wondering what has hit them with the avalanche of negative publicity they have been attracting in recent weeks. Just over the last 48 hours, a number of articles and initiatives have been circulating which reveal the build-up of pressure in the run-up to next week's meeting of the Rotterdam Convention. A statement issued by the International Trade Unions Confederation and Global Union Federations is categorical:
We call on Canada and other asbestos stakeholders at the COP (Conference of the Parties to the Rotterdam Convention) to accept that the time has come to include chrysotile on the PIC (prior informed consent) list so that developing countries can make informed decisions on a subject of such deadly importance.:1
While the Canadian Government continues to stonewall enquiries about its position2 regarding the listing of chrysotile asbestos on Annex III of the Convention, a step which would acknowledge its hazardous nature, the Government of the Philippines has decided to support the inclusion of chrysotile on the prior informed consent list.3 It seems that every hour brings media reports, letters and exposés about the asbestos industry. One Canadian observer reported that on June 15 there were scores of articles on asbestos in the Canadian media in addition to radio talk shows and editorials supporting the listing of chrysotile; recent pieces include:
Meanwhile, around the world the work of asbestos victim support groups must go on. The activities of these local, grass-roots groups are pivotal in addressing the needs of those whose lives have been so cruelly affected by exposure to asbestos, much of which came from Canada. One such group the Greater Manchester Asbestos Victim Support Group (GMAVSG) is located in the UK asbestos heartland. Formerly home to the country's biggest asbestos group, Turner & Newall, Ltd., Manchester's industrial heritage has resulted in a high incidence of asbestos-related cancers and respiratory diseases. Since 1994 the GMAVSG has been providing a lifeline to sufferers and their families. Advice and support has enabled victims to navigate the complex bureaucratic and medical processes which accompany an asbestos diagnosis. Social events, information sessions, fund-raising and campaigning events have helped local people impact not only on Manchester issues but also express their opinions regarding global developments such as the expansion of the Canadian asbestos mining industry.
At an art gallery showing on June 15, 2011, a stunning piece of work entitled Forget me knot was exhibited by GMAVSG Trustee Barbara Balmer; the exhibition was attended by GMAVSG members, relatives and well-wishers. Barbara's Father, who died from mesothelioma, had been employed by Turner Brothers Asbestos. As a feminist image maker, Barbara worked with other GMAVSG members to visualize the decimation asbestos has wreaked on families. Commenting on this project, she wrote:
Anyone who has lost someone to asbestos related disease will understand when I say, nothing is ever 'normal' again. The anger, the bitterness and the fear remains and is always lurking below the surface.
Artist Barbara Bulmer with the piece Forget me knot.
Forget me knot.
The day after the showing took place, a lecture was organized by the GMAVSG to update members on international asbestos issues. The meeting was attended by Dr. Greg Deleuil, Medical Advisor to the Asbestos Diseases Society of Australia; Dr. Deleuil has been working with victims of asbestos for more than 25 years. His presentation about the genesis of his country's asbestos epidemic had a resonance with the Mancunians who were well-versed in the types of occupational, domestic and environmental exposure to asbestos that results in disease. Dr. Deleuil explained the horrific conditions which existed at the Wittenoom crocidolite (blue asbestos) mine and the environmental exposures in the mining town which proved fatal to not only adults but also a large number of children. He traced the waves of Australian asbestos deaths and highlighted the ongoing threat to home renovators and D-I-Y enthusiasts whose ignorance about asbestos is resulting in deadly exposures throughout the country. News of current clinical trials to treat mesothelioma in Western Australia was conveyed. During the discussion which Dr. Deleuil's talk stimulated, there was widespread dissatisfaction about the lack of UK funding for lifesaving research and moral outrage that the corporate executives whose decisions underwrote the operations of asbestos companies continue to evade justice.
Group photo of GMAVSG members and Dr. Greg Deleuil (centre, front row).
June 16, 2011
2 Despite the fact that the (Canadian) government has had years to co-ordinate its position on this issue, an official from Environment Canada recently told CBC News that 'Canada's position for the upcoming meeting is under consideration'." See 16 minute TV clip: Power & Politics - Shut down Canada's asbestos industry: NDP.
3 Email from Fiona Murie, Building and Woodworkers International. June 14, 2011.
4 NDP urges Canada to heed health warnings about asbestos. June 14, 2011.
5 Kelly McParland: NDP wins the high ground in asbestos attack. June 15, 2011.
6 Feds asked to caution importers on asbestos. June 15, 2011.
7 Canada can't defend shipping asbestos to the Third World while banning it at home. June 15, 2011.