The Battle over Asbestos in Thailand
Despite a commitment made in 2011 by the Thai Government to prohibit the import, use and sale of asbestos and asbestos products, legislation to enact a ban is yet to be adopted. Developments this week reveal that government departments remain divided over the future use of asbestos in Thailand.1 The Ministry of Industry, which has led the resistance to the ban, has signalled its support for a compromise proposal which would immediately ban the use of chrysotile asbestos in the production of wall panels and rubber floor tiles. The use of asbestos for the production of asbestos-cement roofing and vehicle brake pads would, however, remain legal for some years to come; as these are the main uses of asbestos in Thailand, this proposal would, in effect, allow the status quo to persist.2
Officials from the Ministry of Industry justify their plan using asbestos industry propaganda; the evidence regarding the harmful effect of asbestos is, they say, not conclusive. Nattapon Nattasomboon, director-general of the Department of Industrial Works, the government agency responsible for enforcing any ban legislation, has said that the economic and legal impacts of a ban must be considered as well as the harmful health effects.
On Thursday, June 20, 2013 fifty members of the Thailand Ban Asbestos Network (TBAN) held a demonstration outside of the offices of the Public Health Ministry to call for an immediate ban on asbestos. This demand has widespread support in Thailand. Dr. Surasak Buranatrevedh, an academic from the Association of Occupational and Environmental Diseases of Thailand, supports this call as do many other academics and civil society groups.
TBAN representatives had been scheduled to meet with Dr. Charnwit Tharathep, Deputy Permanent Secretary and Chair of the Health Ministry's Asbestos Committee, on the morning of June 20, but the meeting was cancelled to, it was claimed, give him more time to study the asbestos data.
Dr. Charnwit speaking to TBAN members, June 20, 2013.
Dr. Charnwit met the TBAN delegation outside his office and was handed a letter calling for the Thai government to honor its commitment and immediately implement a national ban on all asbestos. According to a Thai newspaper, Dr. Charnwit has previously indicated that there was not enough medical evidence to justify banning the use of chrysotile asbestos on health grounds.
It is expected that next week, the Public Health Ministry and the Industry Ministry will submit their findings to the (Thailand) Cabinet.
June 21, 2013
1 Kazan-Allen L. Thailand's Asbestos Status Quo: 2013. January 8, 2013.
2 Chaowachuen, T. Industry seeks to ease ban on asbestos import. June 20, 2013.