August Onslaught on Asbestos Industry 

by Laurie Kazan-Allen



This week we are seeing the confluence of decades of capacity building in the struggle to ban asbestos around the world. For the first time, ban asbestos campaigners are operating simultaneously in three of the world's major asbestos-producing countries. The urgent need to eliminate the use of asbestos is being been considered at high-profile meetings of civil society representatives, healthcare professionals and Supreme Court judges in Russia, Canada and Brazil. In the 20th century, Canada was the world's most prolific producer of asbestos; nowadays, that position is occupied by Russia with Brazil in 3rd place. The intensification of concern regarding asbestos in countries with such a high degree of vested interest indicates the overwhelming support by civil society for an asbestos-free future.

On Monday and Tuesday (August 27 & 28, 2012) a workshop entitled “The Elimination of Asbestos-Related Diseases in Russia” took place in Volgograd, a Russian asbestos hotspot.1 The two-day conference was organized by Eco-Accord and Volgograd-Ecopress, NGOs which campaign on a range of issues including asbestos. The choice of Volgograd as the location for this meeting reflected the considerable asbestos challenges faced by its citizens; research carried out in 2011 established that in Volgograd, there is:

  • no register of asbestos-related diseases; these disease are not even considered to be occupationally-related;
  • no public access to the scarce information about asbestos mortality collected by the Volgograd Occupational Pathology Centre and the Foundation of Social Insurance;
  • little public awareness about the asbestos hazard and no awareness whatsoever about the risks posed by the haphazard dumping of asbestos waste;
  • widespread dumping of debris from asbestos factories in waste ponds and on public highways.

Delegates from Volgograd and nearby cities were addressed by Elena Vasilieva and Olga Speranskaya from Volgograd-Ecopress and Eco-Accord, respectively, as well as by international experts including Dr. Rokho Kim from the World Health Organization's European Center for Environmental and Health, and Sugio Furuya, of the Occupational Safety and Resource Center, Japan. Simultaneous translation from Russian to English was provided to facilitate communication and written materials in Russian were distributed to delegates. There was active participation from audience members, many of whom had been unaware of the asbestos hazard.

As the press conference marking the end of the Russian conference was taking place on August 28, final plans were being made for the session Asbestos: policies and action to reduce the cancer burden at the World Cancer Congress in Montreal. The one-hour afternoon session which took place in Room 518 addressed a range of issues; the titles of the presentations and the names of the speakers are informative:

  1. Mesothelioma mortality: trends and as a predictor of the asbestos-related lung cancer burden – Valerie McCormack (France).
  2. Recommendations for action on asbestos - Canada and beyond – Kathleen Ruff (Canada).
  3. Action needed to reduce impact on low- and middle-income countries – Ye Yong Choi (Korea, Republic of)

The expertise and prestige of the speakers at this session is without doubt. Valerie McCormack is a scientist from the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), which in a monograph published this year categorically stated:

“There is sufficient evidence in humans for the carcinogenicity of all forms of asbestos (chrysotile, crocidolite, amosite, tremolite, actinolite and anthophyllite). Asbestos causes mesothelioma and cancer of the lung, larynx, and ovary. Also positive associations have been observed between exposure to all forms of asbestos and cancer of the pharynx, stomach, and colorectum….

All forms of asbestos ((chrysotile, crocidolite, amosite, tremolite, actinolite and anthophyllite) are carcinogenic to humans (Group 1).”2

Two months ago Kathleen Ruff, a well-known Canadian ban asbestos campaigner, addressed the annual Parliamentary Asbestos Seminar in London; the following week she led discussions on Action Mesothelioma Day at a Manchester meeting of asbestos victims. In 2011, she was named the Canadian Public Health Association's National Public Health Hero for her work to raise awareness of the duplicitous and damaging asbestos policies of the Canadian and Quebec Governments.3 This is not the first time that Yeyong Choi, a leader of the Ban Asbestos Network of Korea and an active member of the Asian Ban Asbestos Network, has challenged the export of Canadian asbestos to Asia. In 2010, Yeyong was one of the members of the Asian Solidarity Mission to Quebec,4 an initiative that galvanized public opinion regarding the double standards which support a de facto ban on asbestos use in Canada and yet promote sales of asbestos overseas.

As the dust settles on the events in Russia and Canada, anticipation remains high regarding the outcome of the 2nd day of asbestos hearings due to take place at the Brazilian Supreme Court on August 31. International experts will present evidence for and against banning asbestos; they will be closely watched by representatives of the global ban asbestos community who have journeyed to the Brazilian capital to bear witness to these incredible events. I will be there.5

August 28, 2012


1 Kazan-Allen L. Russia's Asbestos Challenge. August 15, 2011.

2 A Review of Human Carcinogens: Arsenic, Metals, Fibres, and Dusts. Volume 100C (2012). IARC



5 Kazan-Allen L. Tomorrow in Brasilia! August 25, 2012.
Kazan-Allen L. Showdown in Brasilia! August 8, 2012.



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