Ban Proposal Angers Russians
Russian asbestos stakeholders are engaged in an aggressive campaign to forestall adoption of regulations prohibiting asbestos in automotive friction products in the Eurasian Economic Community.1 The draft text of Safety of Wheeled Vehicles, developed by the Russian Federal State Unitary Enterprise "NAMI," could introduce the ban in Russia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Belarus by January 2012. Incensed by the threat posed by this development, the Russian Chrysotile Association has pulled out the big guns, including Vladimir Putin, in an all out fight to retain the status quo. Vested interests have been bombarding Ministry of Health personnel with false information and misleading predictions as a result of which it appears NAMI may withdraw its support for the new restrictions.
Responding to the situation, on July 19, 2011 Dr. Philip Landrigan, President of the Collegium Ramazzini, wrote to Dr. Tatiana Golikova, Russia's Minister of Health and Social Development, and other high-ranking officials to offer support for the ban which he categorized as a progressive attempt to safeguard citizens' well-being. Concern about asbestos-containing friction materials is well justified wrote Landrigan:
because of the high content of asbestos fiber; clearly the higher the content of asbestos, the greater the risk of occupational and environmental contamination. Asbestos exposure from grinding brake pads and cleaning brake assemblies is a widely recognized health hazard. Manufacturers of new cars and trucks all over the world have converted to safer technologies. China and over 50 other countries have banned the use of asbestos in vehicle friction materials. But asbestos-containing replacement brake parts constitute a continuing, long-term cancer hazard to millions of vehicle repair workers in other countries around the world. 2
While domestic asbestos sales for friction materials are likely to account for a small fraction of the industry's annual global sales, industry lobbyists fiercely resist all moves that might increase public awareness of the asbestos hazard. At the June 2011 meeting of the Rotterdam Convention, seven representatives of Russian government departments and agencies were in attendance accompanied by two Russian chrysotile lobbyists even though Russia was not a member of the Rotterdam Convention.3 Observers in Geneva reported the part played by the Russians in the successful attempt to block the listing of chrysotile asbestos on Annex III of the Convention, a move which would have necessitated exporting nations to provide importers with basic information on the asbestos hazard.
The Russian asbestos lobby maintains a meticulous brief not only on emerging international threats but on domestic activities which could impact on sales. At a 2008 meeting in Russia entitled Chrysotile Asbestos: Problems of Its Production and Application in Russia and Elsewhere, industry bullies disrupted proceedings by their threatening and rude behavior. Instead of engaging in an open discussion with civil society representatives, the chrysotile lobbyists accused the NGO participants of being hirelings of the West.4 In 2008 in Russia and in 2011 in Switzerland, chrysotile stakeholders carried out the tasks deemed necessary to protect their industry; they have billions of reasons to do so. In 2007, foreign sales of 644,986 tonnes of Russian asbestos were worth $137,868,101 with China and India respectively absorbing 31% and 24% of Russian asbestos exports.5 In 2009, Russian asbestos sales to India, worth $89,549,236, accounted for 47% of national consumption. Russian asbestos stakeholders are playing for high stakes and are certainly not willing to tolerate the advent of any regulation or trade restriction which might sully the image of chrysotile asbestos.
July 23, 2011
1 Kazan-Allen L. Russian Asbestos Ban?July 6, 2011.
2 Letter from Dr. Philip Landrigan to Minister T. Golikova. July 19, 2011.
4 Speranskaya O, Kazan-Allen L. Landmark Asbestos Meeting in Russia. August 18, 2008.