Canadian Asbestos Ban: Finally!
In September 2003, when delegates to the first international ban asbestos conference in Canada gathered in the Ottawa Parliament for two days of presentations and discussions,1 MPs supporting this event were subjected to a bombardment of pro-asbestos faxes, another scientific report exonerating chrysotile (white) asbestos was released by the industry lobby and Parliament Hill was awash with pickets bused in from Quebecs asbestos mining region.
Fifteen years and many more ban asbestos discussions, sessions and initiatives later, the Canadian government has adopted prohibitions to shut down the import, sale and use of asbestos in the country which throughout most of the 20th century was the worlds largest asbestos producing nation.
The prohibitions are not perfect as they exempt the commercial processing of asbestos mining waste containing up to 40% asbestos and the use of asbestos in chlor-alkali production, but the significance of these prohibitions must not be underestimated.2 For decades Canadian asbestos stakeholders exerted a stranglehold on the national asbestos agenda to such an extent that:
If Canada, a country so closely identified with asbestos, can finally face up to the truth, so too can other nations. The news from Ottawa provides hope that indeed the future is asbestos-free.
1 Kazan-Allen L. Canadian Asbestos - A Global Concern. September, 2003.
2 Canadian Prohibition of Asbestos and Products Containing Asbestos Regulations. October 1, 2018.
4 Kazan-Allen L. The Rise and Fall of the Chrysotile Institute. May 1, 2012.
Progress Report: Banning Asbestos in Canada
When it comes to asbestos, progress is never linear; it seems for every few steps forward, there are two steps back. The situation in Canada is a case in point. The consultation period over Canadian plans to ban asbestos is now completed and the introduction of legislation to prohibit asbestos use is on schedule. However, Canadas perennial asbestos thorn in the side remains Quebec, the countrys former asbestos heartland where entrenched commercial, political and economic vested interests oppose the implementation of more stringent restrictions1 and legislation to prevent the commercial exploitation of mining residue.2
Currently, the Quebec standard allows workers to be exposed to 1 chrysotile asbestos fiber per cubic centimetre (1f/cm3); 10 times higher than that allowed by Ottawa (0.1 f/cm3) and 100 times higher than that in Switzerland and the Netherlands (0.01 f/cm3).3 A public consultation undertaken more than 18 months ago by Quebecs Committee on Standards, Equity, Health and Safety (CNESST) to consider tightening up Quebecs regulations remains bogged down with Quebecs Premier Philippe Couillard wielding civil service doublespeak to explain continued delays:
[scientific] literature must make the link between this level and this health issue. We must follow these rules and especially dispose of them in an organized manner, based on scientific evidence. And that's why there is a working group on this issue.4
Even within the province of Quebec some workers are afforded higher levels of protection from asbestos exposures than others. Relaxed regulatory requirements or adaptations as the CNESST calls them are routine for workplace inspections in the former asbestos mining region of Chaudière-Appalaches where sustained pressure has been brought to reduce operational costs.
According to figures released this week by the Quebec Health Ministry the number of cases of the deadly asbestos cancer, mesothelioma has nearly doubled in Quebec since 2010: from 45 in 2010 to 88 in 2017. Civil servants working for Quebecs Institute of Public Health as well as health and safety campaigners believe these figures under-report the true incidence of the disease as many doctors, despite mandatory reporting protocols, do not report cases of asbestos cancer.5
Although the long-awaited Canadian asbestos ban is expected within months, the battle to safeguard human life from toxic exposures looks likely to be a very long one.
1 Dufresne J. Amiante: des règles de sécurité assouplies, malgré des avis contraires [Asbestos: relaxed safety rules, despite contrary opinions.] September 26, 2018.
2 Despite the warnings of medical professionals, plans are progressing in the town of Thetford Mines to process asbestos mine tailings to reclaim magnesium and other valuable chemicals.
Archer L. The town fighting its killer reputation. May 30, 2018.
K. Ruff. More Canadians than ever dying from asbestos. September 26, 2018.
3 Dufresne J. Amiante: des règles de sécurité assouplies, malgré des avis contraires [Asbestos: relaxed safety rules, despite contrary opinions]. September 26, 2018.
4 Dufresne J. Normes dexposition à lamiante : Québec tarde à prendre position.[Asbestos exposure standards: Quebec is slow to take a stand].
5 Number of Quebec cases of mesothelioma nearly double since 2010: report. September 26, 2018.
Progressing Global Efforts to Ban Asbestos
Last week, meetings on different continents underscored the continuing interactions of international campaigners working to eliminate the asbestos hazard and obtain justice for victims the world over. From September 12 to 14, 2018, the annual conference of the South East Asia Ban Asbestos Network (SEABAN) took place in Hanoi, Vietnam. Amongst SEABAN participants were delegates and experts from eleven countries including representatives of the World Health Organization, Australias Union Aid Abroad (APHEDA), Australias Asbestos Safety and Eradication Agency, the Asian Ban Asbestos Network (ABAN), the Building and Woodworkers International, the Asia Monitor Resource Centre and Suisse Solidar all of whom have formidable track records in quantifying and addressing the multitude of challenges posed by the widespread and unregulated use of asbestos.
Sugio Furuya, ABAN Coordinator, addressing SEABAN delegates in Hanoi.
Amongst the objectives for this SEABAN event was the need to find solutions to accelerate the implementation of the Vietnam Governments Resolution on banning asbestos before 2023.1
Ten thousand miles away, members of the Brazilian Association of the Asbestos-Exposed (ABREA) were gathered in an assembly room in Osasco, São Paulo to welcome back to Brazil Italian asbestos researcher and campaigner Dr. Agata Mazzeo, whose 2017 PhD dissertation focused on the fight for the rights of the asbestos injured in Brazil and Italy.
From left: ABREA President Eliezer João de Souza, Dr. Mazzeo and ABREA members. Osasco, São Paulo, Brazil. September 15, 2018.
During her field work in Brazil, Dr. Mazzeo had become an integral part of the Brazilian ban asbestos network. On September 27, she will participate in a seminar in Vitória da Conquista, Bahia State to consider the public health problems and environmental impact caused by the commercial exploitation of asbestos in the Bahia mining town of Bom Jesus da Serra between 1939 and 1967; also taking part will be French asbestos activist and cancer researcher Professor Annie Thebaud-Mony and Brazilian legal, technical and medical experts.
The work undertaken by ABREA, a group founded in Osasco in 1995, was pivotal in securing the 2017 Supreme Court ruling which declared the use of asbestos unconstitutional throughout Brazil. This development was highlighted by Sugio Furuya during his presentation in Hanoi as an example of how grassroots mobilization can challenge superior political and economic forces and emerge victorious. The future is asbestos-free!
1 Press Release. Annual Conference of the South Eat Asia Ban Asbestops Network. September 13, 2018.
The Asbestos Diktats of Russian Foreign Policy
In desperate attempts to shore up the countrys fading asbestos industry, the Russian Government has resorted to strong-arm tactics against Asian governments plans to protect populations by banning imports of this acknowledged carcinogen. The most recent move was the subject of a Russian language article published on August 8, 2018, which detailed threats to embargo Russias imports of Vietnamese underwear in retaliation for the implementation of a 2023 deadline to outlaw the use of asbestos-containing construction products in Vietnam. In reaction to consultations over the ban, Vietnamese asbestos imports from Russia had fallen from 49,000 tons in 2016 to 22,000 tons in 2017; from 2014 to 2016, Russian asbestos imports to Vietnam averaged 50,000 tons/year which were valued at $30 million.1 It is not known yet what, if any, action Vietnam will take in light of this clear-cut example of commercial imperialism.
At the end of last year (2017), Russia abruptly halted imports of tea from Sri Lanka, causing a major threat to the Sri Lankan economy. Just 2 days later the Sri Lankan Government announced its decision to defer banning asbestos imports from Russia. Sri Lanka had previously announced a phasing out of asbestos starting January 1, 2018 with a full ban planned by 2024. Commenting on Russias actions, Sharan Burrow, General Secretary of the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC), said:
Imposing chrysotile asbestos on an unwilling nation is not fair trade, it is culpable homicide. Unions worldwide abhor this cynical economic blackmail. Russia must not and will not be allowed to blow a hole in fair trade rules. 2
The importance of the Indian asbestos market to Russian exporters cannot be overestimated. India is the worlds largest asbestos importer with annual imports between 2014 and 2016 in excess of 350,000 tons; asbestos sales to India over this period accounted for nearly 25% of global consumption. 3 In February, 2017, a feasibility study was being circulated in India to selected stakeholders, excluding ban asbestos activists, which outlined proposals for a Free Trade Agreement between the Eurasian Economic Union Russia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Armenia and Kyrgyzstan and the Republic of India which would have given the worlds asbestos giants: Russia and Kazakhstan unfettered and unrestricted access to the largest national asbestos market, in return for which India would be permitted to supply without any duty whatsoever products such as tea, cucumbers, gherkins, grapes and concentrates of coffee. Enquiries are being made regarding the status of this proposal.
From the course of action described above it is clear that Vladimir Putins Government stands shoulder to shoulder with the countrys asbestos vested interests. He seems to have an unlikely ally in the White House: President Trump has been vocal in his continued support for asbestos over the years asserting that it was 100% safe, once applied in his book The Art of the Comeback (1997). According to Trump, asbestos had been unfairly maligned: I believe that the movement against asbestos was led by the mob, because it was often mob-related companies that would do the asbestos removal.4 New proposals made this summer by the Environmental Protection Agency which could see the use of asbestos increasing in the United States has incited a media firestorm which shows no signs of abating. I am sure that in such turbulent times the Kremlin is reassured by the presence of an ally in the White House.
1 ХРИЗОТИЛ. Асбест против трусов. Россия поставит "шлагбаум" для нижнего белья из Вьетнама
[CHRYSOTILE. Asbestos for underwear. Russia will stop Vietnamese underwear imports in retaliation for asbestos ban]. August 8, 2018.
2 Media Release. Economic blackmail by Russia against Sri Lankas asbestos ban decision slammed by international trade unions and health networks. January 3, 2018.
3 United States Geological Survey. Asbestos Trade Data. 2018.
Kazan-Allen L. Twenty-first Century Diplomacy: Asbestos for Gherkins. February 17, 2017.
4 Milman O. Russian mining firm puts Trump's face on its asbestos products. July 11, 2018.
Americas Long, Hot Asbestos Summer
As populations in North America and Europe sweltered during an unprecedented heatwave, asbestos remained a hot button issue in the US this month (July 2018) with Russian producers imprinting photographs of President Trump on asbestos shipments, claimants winning a landmark asbestos victory in Missouri, asbestos liabilities sky-rocketing and legacy issues exploding onto the public consciousness. News of US asbestos developments made front page news at home and abroad with a high level of global interest in the Trump seal of approval for Russian asbestos and the multi-billion dollar damages awarded in the case brought over asbestos contamination of baby powder.
On July 11, 2018, the Environmental Working Group, a US non-profit environmental organization, reported that workers from the Russian company Uralasbest, one of the worlds largest asbestos producers, had repaid Donald Trumps much-valued support for asbestos by putting his picture on plastic-wrapped shipments of chrysotile (white) asbestos. The image was accompanied by the words Approved by Donald Trump, 45th President of the United States.1
On July 12, 2018 a St Louis jury ruled, after weeks of testimony, that the ovarian cancers suffered by the plaintiffs had been caused by the use of asbestos-contaminated baby powder produced by the American multinational Johnson & Johnson. This verdict was widely reported not only because it was the first US case to accept the link between ovarian cancer and toxic talc but also because of the size of the damages: the 22 claimants (or their estates) were awarded $4.69 billion.2
On July 16, 2018 Fitch Ratings Inc., one of the worlds biggest credit rating agencies, announced that the estimate for US asbestos-related losses due to claims and litigation had risen to an all-time high of $100 billion. In light of a substantial increase in US asbestos imports in the first quarter of 2018, it is likely that these liabilities will continue to rise.3
On July 19, 2018, an explosion of a steam pipe in lower Manhattan gave rise to headlines such as: Asbestos from Manhattan steam pipe blast forces evacuations; Pipe explosion NYC: What to Know about Asbestos, Health Risks; How NYC is Tackling Asbestos in Wake of Steam Pipe Explosion; Powerful Steam Pipe Explosion Spews Asbestos around Flatiron District; Asbestos Confirmed in Steam Pipe that Exploded in Manhattan, Con Edison Collects Asbestos-Laced Garb after NYC Steam Blast and Asbestos Covers Parts of NYC after Steam Pipe Explosion.4
Despite the huge number of US asbestos deaths5 and the massive challenges posed by the ubiquity of asbestos within the countrys infrastructure, the Trump administration remains determined to rollback efforts to protect occupational and public safety.6 With an asbestophile in the White House, the national asbestos epidemic will continue for decades to come.
1 Formuzis A. Russian Asbestos Giant Praises Trump Administration Actions to Keep Deadly Carcinogen Legal. July 11, 2018.
2 St. Louis Jury Returns $4.69 Billion Verdict in First Trial linking Baby Powder, Asbestos and Ovarian Cancer. July 12, 2018.
3 Fitch raises asbestos claims estimate to $100bn. July 16, 2018
4 Szekely P, Kvetenadze T. Asbestos from Manhattan steam pipe blast forces evacuations. July 19, 2018.
5 According to data sourced from the Global Burden of Disease Study 2016, there were 39,395 asbestos-related deaths in the US in 2016.
Allen D, Kazan-Allen L. Global Asbestos Mortality Data. October, 2017.
6 As Asbestos Toll Mounts, Trumps EPA Ignores It. June 22, 2018.
Asbestos Industry’s Summertime Blues 2018
The momentum of the worldwide campaign to ban asbestos is continuing during the summer (2018) with no let-up in sight. As the days here got longer and the weather warmer, grassroots activists embarked on outreach programs to raise awareness of the deadly repercussions of asbestos consumption and engage with decision-makers on the need for national prohibitions in asbestos hot spots in East and Southeast Asia, Europe and elsewhere.
On June 13, 2018, a documentary entitled: 𢭃Roadmap to banning white asbestos in Vietnam by 2023, was broadcast on Vietnam national TV on channel 2. Included in the program were interviews with Vietnamese and international experts and campaigners including members of the Vietnam Ban Asbestos Network who called for a national asbestos ban as well as film relating the story of Australians such as Lou Williams who died from asbestos-related diseases. Evidence presented by Professor Trinh, President of the Vietnam OSH Association, Professor An Luong, previous Vice President of the Vietnam General Confederation of Labor, Australian campaigner Philip Hazelton and others documented the asbestos health hazard, the existence of safer alternatives and need for urgent government action.
On June 20, 2018, the Minister of Labour and Social Welfare Dr. Khampheng Saysompheng announced that Laos intended to eliminate occupational asbestos-related diseases by ending asbestos use. Calling for global action to ban asbestos, the Minister highlighted the need for member states of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) to immediately prohibit the use of asbestos-containing construction materials saying: Urgent action is required to prevent the extended use of asbestos as a construction material and to ban all forms of asbestos to protect lives, support safer economic growth and ensure social stability in the country under the National Action Plan.1
On June 22, 2018 discussions took place in Phnom Penh to progress work on the National Asbestos Profile of Cambodia. The meeting was co-organized by the Ministry of Labour and (Australias) Union Aid Abroad APHEDA Cambodia with representatives from 13 Ministries, trade unions, employers, the World Health Organization and the International Labor Organization attending. Research findings were reported from samples of building and friction materials that were collected in Cambodia and shipped to Australia for analysis. Over 50% of the products sampled contained asbestos. In the aftermath of these shocking results, participants acknowledged the urgent need to work towards phasing out asbestos use in order to eliminate asbestos-related diseases.
UK asbestos campaigners with Brazilian activist Fernanda Giannasi after June 26, 2018 Parliamentary Asbestos Seminar. Photo copyright Mick Holder.
On June 26, 2018, British asbestos victims confronted Parliamentarians with the reality of living with asbestos cancer at the annual Parliamentary Asbestos Seminar in Westminster. A few days later (June 29), French asbestos victims and campaigners met with colleagues from Brazil, Spain, the UK and Belgium to exchange information and plan legal and political strategies for addressing the challenges posed by asbestos fibers in human lungs, asbestos products in public buildings and asbestos waste at official and illegal dumpsites.2
On July 2, 2018 a week of asbestos action began in Seoul as part of the 10th anniversary celebrations of the Ban Asbestos Network of Korea (BANKO). On Monday (July 2), Korean, Japanese and Indonesian ban asbestos campaigners attended a Symposium at Seoul National University to discuss effective strategies for facilitating a regional ban and improving support for the injured. On Tuesday (July 3), ban asbestos demonstrations were held outside the Seoul embassies of asbestos-producing and exporting countries: Russia, Kazakhstan and China. During the rallies, BANKO members held press conferences and delivered letters to each of the embassies asking for their cooperation in ending global asbestos production.
Over the period July 4-8, international guests, including asbestos victims, will be invited to engage in one to one discussions with Korean mesothelioma patients in the cities of Seoul, Kwangchun and Pusan.3
Other major events planned this summer to progress the asbestos debate in South, Southeast and East Asia, will reinvigorate grassroots activism, reach out to stakeholders in diverse geographical areas and mobilize support from a broad spectrum of civil society groups. The pace of ban asbestos campaigning, as seen by the whirlwind of activity last summer, continues apace.4
Even as efforts to break the chains used to bind countries into purchasing asbestos such as the Free Trade Agreement between the Eurasian Economic Union and the Republic of India5 and the boycott of Sri Lankan tea6 intensify, aggressive marketing tactics and defensive strategies are being used to cultivate markets for asbestos in the industrializing world. On July 4, 2018 an article detailing the most recent of these efforts appeared in the Lao Vientiane Times headlined: Chrysotile asbestos form can be used safely, meeting hears.7 This feature described the first bilateral meeting between Lao and Russian experts in Vientiane (July 3) during which discredited and misleading arguments were promoted based on industrys fallacious safe use dogma. Speakers at this event attacked the World Health Organizations support for ending asbestos use and reasserted that the safe and controllable use of chrysotile (white asbestos) containing products based on scientific and medical evidence of secured and controlled use approach was possible.
Despite industrys determined efforts to prioritize corporate profits at all costs, annual global sales of asbestos have decreased by 30%+ in recent years as more and more consumers turned their back on asbestos. With falling demand and increasing restrictions on use, the asbestos industry is in its death throes. You do not need to be clairvoyant to see that the asbestos industry is outdated, discredited and unsustainable. The future is asbestos-free!
1 Sengpaseuth P. Plans to end asbestos-use, related disease nationwide. June 23, 2018.
2 Oriot M. La Turballe. Les victimes de lamiante en assises. June 29, 2018.
3 Activists urge Russia, China, Kazakhstan to stop mining of asbestos. July 3, 2018.
4 Kazan-Allen L. Ban Asbestos Campaign: Update Summer 2017. July 20, 2017.
5 Kazan-Allen L. Twenty-first Century Diplomacy: Gherkins for Asbestos. February 19, 2017.
6 Media Release. Economic blackmail by Russia against Sri Lankas asbestos ban decision slammed by international trade unions and health networks. January 3, 2018.
Paying the Price for Asbestos Use
According to a paper published online this month (May 2018): Every 20 tons of asbestos produced and consumed kills a person somewhere in the world.1 This chilling statistic corroborates a finding from another publication entitled: Global Use of Asbestos and the Incidence of Mesothelioma (2004) that concluded: 170 tons of produced and consumed asbestos will cause at least one death from mesothelioma, most often as a consequence of occupational exposure.2 Mesothelioma is widely considered a signature disease for asbestos exposure and is often used as a benchmark for estimating the number of other diseases caused by asbestos exposure. Using the British incidence of asbestos mortality as a template, we calculate that the 170 tons of asbestos were also responsible for five deaths from asbestos-related lung cancer as well as three from ovarian and larynx cancer and one from asbestosis; summing up the loss of life it has been estimated that these 170 tons were responsible for 10 deaths around one per 20 tons.3
The impact of the global asbestos epidemic documented by the texts cited above has been a fact of life for workers and communities for decades. Why, in the light of all that is known about the fatal consequences of human exposures, is the sale of this deadly carcinogen still legal?
The answer is to be found in the long-term, coordinated and multifaceted propaganda campaign orchestrated by asbestos industry stakeholders in collaboration with complicit governments, professional spin doctors and hired gun scientists. Using a multitude of measures, both legal and illegal,4 the propagandists implemented strategies in order to prevent asbestos prohibitions being adopted by international bodies,5 regional agencies and national governments.6 Although the most recent available data show that global asbestos production fell by 30+% between 2012 and 2015,7 vested interests in Russia and Kazakhstan remain determined to prioritize their profits regardless of the adverse effects on workers, family members, consumers and members of the public.
The cost of purchasing 20 tons of asbestos enough to kill one person in Asian retail markets is US$ 7,600. Having deducted shipping and other costs from this figure and the retail mark-up, leaves little for the producer of the raw fiber. And yet, it is enough for asbestos vested interests to continue their assault on innocent populations despite the foreknowledge of the consequences. Although in some countries, defendant corporations have been brought to account for the injuries their actions have caused, it is rare for entrepreneurs, CEOs and other corporate officers to face criminal charges for their wrongdoings. It is time for these individuals to be prosecuted for the industrial crimes they have committed.
3 GBD Risk Factors Collaborators. Global, regional, and national comparative risk assessment of 84 behavioural, environmental and occupational, and metabolic risks or clusters of risks, 19902016: a systematic analysis for the Global Burden of Disease Study 2016. September 16, 2017.
4 Kazan-Allen L. Campaigning for Justice: On the Asbestos Frontline. November 17, 2014.
Asbestos, criminal justice and industrial crimes. May 10, 2018.
5 Kazan-Allen L. Asbestos Showdown in Geneva. May 10, 2017.
6 Media Release: Economic blackmail by Russia against Sri Lankas asbestos ban decision slammed by international trade unions and health networks. January 3, 2018.
7 Allen D, Kazan-Allen L. Dramatic Fall in Asbestos Production. May 3, 2018.
Desperate Times for Asbestos Pedlars
Asbestos stakeholders are desperate. Day by day they see global markets for their products shrinking and evidence of the deadly impact of asbestos exposures on humankind mounting. The first two weeks of April brought them bad news on an almost daily basis:
While scores of countries have already prohibited asbestos, others are in the process of doing so, with bans expected in key markets in months to come. Faced with so much gloom, the asbestos lobby has resorted to its well-worn tactics of denial, obfuscation and prevarication. The headline of an asbestos industry news release from Moscow issued on April 18, 2018 is a bald-faced lie: White Chrysotile Asbestos is Safe. 8 This assertion and the conclusion which follows that chrysotile asbestos therefore cannot cause diseases and is, therefore, safe is irrefutably dismissed by international agencies including the World Health Organization, The International Labor Organization, The International Agency for Research on Cancer and others who agree that exposure to all types of asbestos can cause a multitude of cancers and respiratory diseases.9 Supposed evidence cited by the asbestos lobby in this two-page diatribe is sourced from work commissioned by industry stakeholders including the Canadian Chrysotile Association and the International Chrysotile Association and authored by scientists with established links to asbestos defendants. In poorly written English and using unfocused arguments and aggressive language, the International Alliance of Trade Union Organizations Chrysotile (the body behind this document) requires the modification of obsolete rules prohibiting the extraction, processing, and use of chrysotile asbestos [which] stand in the way of progress.
In March, 2018, Eternit S.A., formerly Brazils largest asbestos conglomerate, sought court protection from mounting liabilities in the face of a 2017 Supreme Court verdict banning asbestos. For decades, the company had fought tooth and nail to defend its markets, silence criticism and control the national asbestos debate. It failed. Having been defeated by the ban asbestos movement in Brazil, the company will now have to pay the price for its past actions. The writing is on the wall for all asbestos stakeholders, wherever they are: the future is asbestos-free! As they say in Brazil: A luta continua. [The struggle continues.]
1 La protesta de Greenpeace en Bogotá contra el asbesto. April 18, 2018.
2 Asbestos: What Uganda needs to do about the risky exposure. April 17, 2018.
3 Mumbai: Railway Stations To Have Environment-Friendly Metal Roofs. April 16, 2018.
4 Tấm lợp cho người nghèo: Chuyển dịch xu hướng mới [Roofing for the Poor: Shifting Consumption Patterns]. April 11, 2018.
5 New rules to make State free of asbestos. April 8, 2018.
6 Asbestos a time bomb in Indonesia. April 7, 2018.
8 White Chrysotile Asbestos is Safe, Says International Alliance of Trade Union Organizations Chrysotile. April 18, 2018.
9 Asbestos Policies of Major International Agencies. June, 2017.
Award for Ban Asbestos Activist in Brazil Covert Industry Disinformation in Canada
On March 28, 2018, Engineer Fernanda Giannasi received a prestigious award at a gala ceremony in Rio de Janeiro for her role in the struggle to end Brazils asbestos slaughter.
Fernanda Giannasi accepting the Globo award in Rio De Janeiro.
This recognition of the grass-roots movement to liberate citizens from the asbestos tyranny imposed by ruthless and rapacious vested interests was both timely and apposite. The occasion provided Fernanda with a platform to remind the Supreme Court of its duty to uphold the 2017 decision outlawing asbestos in the face of intense corporate pressure.1 It was also a visible manifestation of the victories that can be achieved when citizens in democratic countries take action to protect health and the environment.
Fernanda Giannasi (center) with ABREA President Eliezer João de Souza on her right and FIOCRUZ Professor Vanda D Acri on her left. March 28, 2018.
The demonstration of people power in Brazil took place at the same time as the Canadian asbestos ban scheduled to be implemented this year (2018) was under attack from anonymous and foreign pressure groups.2 Criticizing the federal governments failure to upload submissions received during the asbestos consultation process, Canadian campaigner Kathleen Ruff wrote:
Canadians will not know who made submissions or what they called for. This lack of transparency weakens democracy. And now we are witnessing a foreign company and an anonymous website, working for undisclosed asbestos interests, seeking to pervert Canadas democratic process and undermine regulations to ban asbestos in Canada. This is corruption of democracy.
To date, attempts to ascertain who was behind a disparaging press release sent to Canadian journalists3 and a similarly derogatory March 21, 2018 online commentary headlined: Muller & Green Comments on PM Trudeaus Canadian Asbestos Policy4 have proved fruitless. An email sent to the website of public relations firm Muller & Green (M&G) has remained unanswered and a stilted and barely distinguishable conversation this week with the person who answered the M&G phone number 0203 289 7118 raised more questions than answers. Moreover, responses to personal enquiries made by health and safety campaigner Mick Holder at the building at 1 Fore Street Avenue, London EC2Y 9DT the address listed as the site of the M&G London office on Monday, March 26, 2018, failed to clarify the situation as there was no record of a company by the name of Muller & Green at the building.
1 Fore Street Avenue, London EC2Y 9DT (photo courtesy of Mick Holder).
Commenting on his enquiries, Mick explained:
I spoke to reception who said they had no record of a company with such a name in the building but their list may not include very recently agreed tenants In the building's ground floor is a large area run by We Work (web link below)5 who operate as a resource for businesses which don't want/can't afford regular office space on a sort of hot desking/hot meeting place/hot office kind of principle. I asked if Muller & Green PR was one of their clients and they happily looked and said not under that name.6
The legions of dirty tricks and propaganda techniques used by those representing the asbestos industry since the early 20th century include numerous instances of industry-backed groups masquerading as public interest bodies to influence national governments, regional authorities, technical experts, medical associations and other decision-makers. It does not take a clairvoyant of exceptional transcendental powers to suggest that individuals representing the asbestos industry are behind the latest PR salvo on Canadas plans to prohibit asbestos, the countrys biggest occupational killer. The asbestos lobbyists are wasting their time; the battle for asbestos in Canada has been lost. Fernanda and her ban asbestos colleagues in Brazil have been at the sharp end of this fight for decades. As we celebrate their success, we find inspiration in their example. As they say in Brazil: A luta continua! The struggle continues.
1 Setti R. Prmio Faz Diferença: pioneira na luta contra o amianto, Fernanda Giannasi Giannasi faz apelo ao STF [Prize for Making a Difference: Pioneer in the fight against asbestos, Fernanda Giannasi appeals to the Supreme Court]. March 28, 2018.
3 PM Trudeau on Verge of Wasting $114 Million on Canadian Asbestos Policy. March 21, 2018.
4 Muller & Green Comments on PM Trudeaus Canadian Asbestos Policy. March 21, 2018.
6 Email Mick Holder to Laurie Kazan-Allen. March 26, 2018.
Par for the Course!
The mission and energy of the Asbestos Diseases Society of Australia (ADSA), one of the world’s leading asbestos victims’ support groups, shows no signs of diminishing more than 35 years after it was founded. After several visits to the Society’s offices last month (the latest on February 27, 2018), I can report that the staff were busier than ever; regrettably, they had already registered 20 new cases of mesothelioma since the beginning of the year among people coming to the society for assistance.
Despite the enormous amount of work which each case requires, the ADSA still makes time to raise funds for scientists at the Sir Charles Gairdner hospital who are at the cutting edge of medical research into the causation, treatment and a possible cure for asbestos cancer. On February 18, I was delighted to observe the latest fund-raising initiative which took place at the Meadow Springs Golf Course in Mandurah, some 40 miles from Perth. The event, organized by ADSA’s Vice President Dave Hall, consisted of 18 fearless teams (see photo below) playing a round of golf on a sunny Autumn Sunday.
Prizes down to 10th place were awarded, with Professor Anna Nowak presenting the winning team “Short Putt” with the annual ADSA trophy. The day raised $13,000 for mesothelioma research.
Commenting on the event, Robert Vojakovic President of the ADSA said:
“I am immensely proud of the fundraising efforts of many contributors who raised a total of $98,000 in the year 2017 which includes the proceeds of the February Golf Tournament and the ADSA Walk 2017. It gives me great hope that there will be advances in the search to find a cure for mesothelioma. The ADSA will continue with our fundraising efforts to support our talented team of researchers at the National Centre for Asbestos Related Diseases Western Australia.”
Asbestos Endgame: 2017!
The enduring rapaciousness of the asbestos industry has been confirmed today (December 20, 2017) with news that Sri Lanka, a country poised to protect human health by restricting asbestos use in 2018, has been bullied into backtracking by the Russian Government. A surprise announcement last week of an impending ban on Russian imports of Sri Lanka tea and agricultural products was widely seen as a tit-for-tat reprisal over plans to curtail Russian asbestos imports by Sri Lanka. The Russian embargo sent shockwaves through the Sri Lankan government and industry stakeholders; Russia is currently the largest importer of Ceylon tea 48 and 36 million kilograms in 2011 and 2015, respectively. In 2016, Sri Lanka tea exports to Russia were valued at US$143 million. Most of the asbestos fiber in Sri Lanka comes from Russia.1 After an emergency cabinet meeting presided over by President Maithripala Sirisena in Colombo on Tuesday, December 19, 2017, the Sri Lanka government announced the asbestos ban would be postponed. The President said he would request Russian President Vladimir Putin consider suspending the embargo.
It seems unbelievable that in this day and age one country can dictate the health and safety policy of another; especially when the substance at the center of the dispute is known to cause a variety of fatal cancers and respiratory diseases.
It is no secret that asbestos vested interests have long relied on a variety of methods, including confidential trade agreements, to preserve asbestos markets; the main difference this time is that the threat to Sri Lanka was so blatant: you buy our asbestos or else!
Considering the huge strides being made around the globe by ban asbestos campaigners, one should not be overly surprised by the desperate measures being taken by the beleaguered industry. On November 27, 2017, Moldova, one of Russias closest neighbors, announced that the sale and import of chrysotile asbestos-containing materials and chrysotile asbestos fiber were to be outlawed by 2019. The same day, confirmation was published that Canada would abide by its decision to ban asbestos in 2018 despite a trade agreement with Ukraine which had come into effect on August 1, 2017.2 On November 29, 2017, Brazils Supreme Court ruled that the production, processing, use and sale of asbestos were unconstitutional and therefore not permitted anywhere in the country. The betrayal by former allies and pro-asbestos fellow travellers Canada had been the worlds largest asbestos producer throughout the 20th century and Brazil was, in recent years, the worlds 3rd largest producer must have been bitter pills for asbestos vested interests to swallow. To add insult to injury at a meeting in Delhi, India on December 16, 2017, a new organization the Indian Ban Asbestos Network was formed to progress efforts to end asbestos use in the worlds largest importing country!
The final days of 2017 have brought no respite for asbestos stakeholders who, despite trade agreements, bullying and the use of covert strategies, are seeing the demand for their goods plummet. When the asbestos mines have finally been shut and asbestos consigned to the history books, 2017 will be regarded as the year the world finally turned its back on asbestos. Happy New Year to one and all!
1 Sri Lanka: Sri Lankan government to temporarily suspend the ban on asbestos. December 20, 2017
Ban on Asbestos to be Relaxed. December 20, 2017.
Russia suspends tea imports from Sri Lanka; three ministers to fly to Moscow for urgent talks. December 17, 2017.
Seven Days, Six Countries, Five Voices – One Mission
As if by a fortuitous alignment of the planets, between November 21 and 28, 2017, the actions of a British campaigner, a Brazilian engineer, a Colombian Senator, an Australian physician and an Indian school teacher highlighted multiple facets of the global struggle for asbestos justice at places as diverse as the British Parliament, universities in Rio de Janeiro and Bogota, a monastery in the West Australian capital of Perth and a United Nations hearing in Geneva.
On Tuesday November 21, 2017, Mavis Nye, who was diagnosed with mesothelioma in 2009 and is in recovery following treatment with the immunotherapy drug Keytruda, attended a meeting of the Parliamentary Asbestos Sub-Group at the House of Commons.1 During the discussions, Mavis drew attention to the discrepancy which now exists between civil court verdicts mandating that defendants cover costs for non-NHS funded treatments such as those she herself benefited from and awards made under the Diffuse Mesothelioma Payment Scheme (DMPS)2 which only provide a one-off lump sum payment to eligible claimants. For a person diagnosed in her late sixties, as Mavis herself was, the amount paid by the DMPS would be around £168,000, enough to pay for about two years of immunotherapy treatment, were the entire award applied to that purpose.3
As a result of Mavis intervention on November 21, enquiries are being made into the feasibility of amending provisions of the DMPS to address this discrepancy. Next month (December 2017), Mavis and her husband Ray are launching the Mavis Nye Foundation to provide a hardship fund and support and financial grants to aid newly diagnosed victims of mesothelioma in the UK.4 In an interview, Mavis said: I was so lucky and believe I was saved from this dreadful disease for a purpose. I hope that the new foundation will enable me to help those still suffering.
Two days later (November 23, 2017) and thousands of miles away, at Brazils National School of Public Health (Escola Nacional de Saúde Pública), Engineer Fernanda Giannasi, retired labor inspector and advisor to Brazils Association of the Asbestos-Exposed (ABREA), addressed students studying for a Masters Degree in Public Health in Rio de Janeiro on Brazils struggle for asbestos justice, with a focus on the ongoing legal and legislative battles to prohibit asbestos use and secure the rights of the injured.5
As the Brazilian students were gaining the benefit of Ms. Giannasis knowledge, another asbestos information session was taking place in Bogota, Colombia. The public hearing was addressed by medical and scientific experts including: Luis Ernesto Gómez, Deputy Minister of the Interior, Dr. Adriana Estrada from the Ministry of Health, Dr. Fabián Méndez Paz, Director of the School of Public Health, Associate Professor Dr. Juan Pablo Ramos of the Department of Civil Engineering, Silvia Gómez, Director of Greenpeace Colombia and Cecilia Riao, sufferer of an asbestos disease.
Pivotal to the public hearing was input from Senator Nadia Blel, whose proposal to ban asbestos as enshrined in the Ana Cecilia Nio Asbestos Ban Bill was approved by the
7th Commission of the Senate on October 11, 2017. The bill is currently proceeding through the Congress.
Marking the end of Australias National Asbestos Awareness Week on Friday, November 24, 2017, an ecumenical service was held by the Asbestos Diseases Society of Australia at the Redemptorist Monastery in North Perth. At this 22nd annual service, the eulogy was given by Professor Anna Nowak, a much-loved and respected clinician held in the highest esteem by the Societys members.
Photo courtesy of the Asbestos Diseases Society of Australia
Professor Nowak spoke about what she had learned from her patients about love and hope. To own up to being an oncologist is a conversation stopper, she said. However, she continued:
my patients and their families have taught me to think differently. An oncologists office is a place of hope, of love, and of learning and its not me that makes it that way. Its my patients and their families, who teach me every day the meaning of hope, the meaning of love, and so many other lessons. Our patients are our teachers.
On Tuesday, November 2, 2017, asbestosis sufferer and former school-teacher Nirmala Gurung testified before delegates at the United Nations Forum for Business and Human Rights in Geneva, Switzerland about the deadly effects of asbestos contamination caused by asbestos-cement manufacturing operations of British and Belgian companies in the Indian town of Kymore in the State of Madhya Pradesh.6 It is believed that representatives of the current owner of the company Everest Industries Limited had been invited to attend.
Nirmala explained how a school teacher became a victim of an industrial disease. In the text she has released prior to the event, she recalled that:
During the dry season asbestos dust particles even blew into the classrooms. Parents and children used to come into the classroom covered with dust. The owners and workers in the UK and Belgium certainly knew about the hazards of asbestos but did not inform the community. I have seen many victims dying slowly and painfully. Its really horrible to watch a healthy person turn into a skeleton. I wish the coming generation to be saved from this and that first and foremost there is a need for proper treatment of the asbestos waste which the factory dumped in the surrounding populated area. Asbestos must be banned and those suffering from asbestos diseases should be compensated.
Mavis, Fernanda, Nadia, Anna and Nirmala are women on a mission; each one of them has had direct experience of the devastation caused by asbestos exposures, and each seeks to prevent future generations from coming to harm.7 The world is a better place with them in it.
1 Mavis Nye One of Few People in the World in Recovery from Mesothelioma. November 15, 2017.
2 The scheme is in place to compensate people with Diffuse Mesothelioma who were exposed to asbestos either negligently or in breach of statutory duty by their employers, and who are unable to bring a claim for compensation against the employer or that employer's Employers' Liability insurer. The scheme can also make payments to eligible dependants of a sufferer of mesothelioma who has passed away.
The Diffuse Mesothelioma Payment Scheme (DMPS).
3 There is a difference in amounts awarded under the DMPS to people diagnosed from July 25, 2012 to February 9, 2012 and those diagnosed after July 25, 2012 with payments to someone diagnosed in their late sixties in the earlier period listed around £134,500 and £168,000 in the later period.
Diffuse Mesothelioma Payment Scheme: Payment Tariff for those diagnosed from February 10, 2015 onwards:
Diffuse Mesothelioma Payment Scheme: Payment Tariff for those diagnosed from July 25, 2012 to February 9, 2012:
5 Aula aberta Banimento do amianto: uma luta coletiva e continua.
6 Environmental Exposure to Asbestos Kills Indian People; Kymore A Slow-Motion Bhopal.
7 Although these events took place in 5 countries, the news of Nirmalas trip to Switzerland will have a significant impact in India as well (see article below); this is why the headline refers to 6 and not 5 countries.
Madhya Pradesh village sees slow death of hundreds of asbestos victims caused by now closed British, Belgian subsidiary. November 21, 2017.
Shedding Light on Tragic Darkness
For decades, victims of an epidemic caused by fibers often too small to be seen were equally invisible, cast adrift by former employers and unacknowledged by governments. Off-loading suffering and treatment costs onto the injured not only left corporate profits undented but also enabled political support for the asbestos sector to go unchallenged. As long as stakeholders could hide the human tragedies caused by their commercial operations, their desired status quo – one in which business could continue as usual – would be allowed to prevail.
However, a remarkable grassroots mobilization of asbestos victims and campaigners eventually turned the tide: one by one, governments across the world are coming to recognize the irreversible harm caused by asbestos, and courts in many jurisdictions have awarded substantial compensation for the negligent behaviour of asbestos-industry employers – with such settlements going back several decades in a handful of countries. Still more needs to be done, but in considering future action we must recognise that the progress that has been achieved so far has only come about following sustained battles fought on multiple fronts against powerful vested interests over many years.
Highlighting these struggles, in recent months, three major documentaries have been screened – in a serendipitous confluence of activity from three different regions (Latin America, Asia and Europe).
The first of the films to appear was a Brazilian production entitled “Não Respire – Contém Amianto” (“Do not Breathe – Contains Asbestos”).1 It was premiered at the 6th Ecofalante Environmental Film Festival in June 2017 in São Paulo, Brazil where it won the jury prize for best film.
Last month (October 2017), the film was shown in the Brazilian city of Florianópolis, with more screenings planned at upcoming film festivals. Given that this year has been pivotal in the Brazilian struggle to ban asbestos, the timing for the release of a documentary exposing the horrific impact of asbestos exposures on Brazilian citizens could not have been better!
In October (2017), a documentary entitled “Sennan Asbestos Disaster” won the Citizen’s Prize at the Yamagata International Documentary Film Festival in Japan and the Mercenat Award at the Busan International Film Festival in Korea.2 This “heart-breaking epic chronicles the prolonged struggle of a dwindling group of dying former asbestos workers and others seeking justice and recognition from an indifferent Japanese government.” The film is 215 minutes long and took ten years of research, filming and post-production to bring to the screen.
On November 8, 2017, “Les Sentinelles: hommage aux victimes de l'amiante et des pesticides” [The Sentinels: tribute to the victims of asbestos and pesticides] premiered in Paris.3 The director of the documentary was Pierre Pézerat, the son of the famous scientist-activist-researcher Professor Henri Pézerat4 who for over 30 years fought to protect his fellow citizens and the environment from hazardous substances, including asbestos. Footage of Henri and fellow ban asbestos activists Annie Thebaud-Mony, Josette Roudaire and Jean-Marie Birbès reinforces the importance of sustained collaborations between experts and workers and highlighted the almost insurmountable challenges they faced and continue to face.
To successfully tackle a problem, one must first define and quantify the key elements to be addressed. “Visualization” of the formerly hidden asbestos epidemic was one of the earliest tasks for campaigners; ensuring that the faces of asbestos victims were seen and that the numbers of those affected were counted heightened asbestos awareness of decision makers as well as members of the public. These films, and others like them, will help ensure that the asbestos fallen and the lessons learned from their fight for justice will not be forgotten.
2 Sennan Asbestos Disaster. 2017.
3 Les Sentinelles.
The Global Asbestos Jigsaw
Reflecting this afternoon on the contents of news items uploaded to this website yesterday and today gave me pause to think. Taken as a whole, the asbestos developments in Europe, Asia, North America and Australasia which they detailed constitute a damning indictment of asbestos use, a shift in even the most hostile of political environments to a prohibition culture and a willingness not only to assign blame for failures to protect workers but also to order negligent political and commercial entities to compensate the injured and/or their surviving family members.
Although the six developments reported are but fragments of a global jigsaw puzzle seen together they reinforce the feelings of public revulsion at the ongoing damage caused by historic and continuing asbestos use. The October 27, 2017 verdict by the Tokyo High Court should put national governments on notice that they will be held to account for the damage done by their failures to act on the asbestos hazard. The Indian Parliament, the Colombian Congress and the People’s Consultative Assembly of Indonesia might do well to consider how they will afford to pay compensation to thousands of future victims whose lives will have been sacrificed for the profits of the asbestos industry.
In rhetoric used by asbestos profiteers the world over, industry stakeholders assert that as no cases of asbestos-related diseases have been diagnosed in their countries, there is no need to take action. Ignoring the fact that human biology is the same the world over, lobbyists for chrysotile (white) asbestos in Sri Lanka and Bangladesh rely on this propaganda to forestall ban asbestos legislation. The fact that amongst these news items are two which report cases of asbestos disease in these same countries is evidence of the disingenuousness of the industry’s argument.
Compared to the self-serving and unfounded claims of the International Chrysotile Association, the (Russian) Chrysotile Association and other interested parties, international agencies are in no doubt about the severity and reach of the deadly asbestos epidemic. In the paper: Barriers and Facilitators to the Elimination of Asbestos Related Diseases—Stakeholders’ Perspectives, which is the subject of one of the November 5 news updates, the authors are categorical that banning asbestos not only saves lives but also saves money. This finding undermines the very last shred of defense for this industry of mass destruction.
You don’t have to be a Greek oracle or the seer of Omaha to predict what the future holds for the asbestos industry. As night follows day, national ban asbestos prohibitions will be enacted, corporate profits will collapse in asbestos-based industries and political influence will evaporate. The future is asbestos-free!
Asbestos Disconnect: Russia vs. Australia
On October 20, 2017, two articles1 were published which clearly demonstrated irreconcilable views on the nature of asbestos, a word so toxic in many countries that it has been eliminated from the names of corporations and trade associations (e.g. Canadas Asbestos Institute was rechristened the Chrysotile Institute), and has brought derision to eponymous communities debate is ongoing regarding a change of name for the mining town called Asbestos in the Canadian Province of Quebec.2
The first article was in Russian and detailed attempts to preach asbestos industry gospel to students at Kazan Construction College, Tatarstan on October 12, 2017. The headline of the article gave an indication of its pro-industry slant: Architectural students from Kazan rediscover chrysotile. It is worth noting that the title of the lecture given by Vladimir Petrovich Uglev of the Chrysotile Association was Chrysotile-cement materials and their applications. The word asbestos did not appear in the title of the lecture nor does it appear in the name of the national trade association the Chrysotile Association3 representing asbestos stakeholders. Clearly, although the profits from asbestos sales are not too toxic for the associations members to covet, the use of the word asbestos is too repellent for general discourse.
During his presentation, Uglev displayed a range of sample products, the qualities of which no doubt he extolled. He also attempted to bolster the audiences interest by informing them of a competition with cash prizes for designs using chrysotile products for childrens play spaces or urban/garden/park environments. Online resources were available to assist designers with the calculations for their projects.
It is unlikely that the industry propaganda peddled by Uglev will be accepted at face value by the students from Kazan Construction College. This summer, the President of Tatarstan, of which Kazan is the capital, confronted an asbestos industry official about the poisonous nature of chrysotile.4 Clearly, information about the deadly effects of chrysotile is available in Tatarstan; given the almost 90 million Russians who use the internet and the online availability of information from international agencies and other independent sources on asbestos, the disinformation conveyed by Uglev will most likely receive the contempt it deserves.5
The second article published on October 20th originated in Australia, a country experiencing its worst epidemic of occupational mortality, the cause of which is asbestos. Although asbestos use was banned in 2003, the presence of millions of tonnes of asbestos-containing products throughout the national infrastructure, the environmental devastation caused by asbestos mining in New South Wales and Western Australia and the uncontrolled and widespread exposures experienced by workers, their families and members of the public has made the subject of asbestos a hot-button issue with local, regional and national asbestos awareness initiatives supported by asbestos victims groups, trade unions, independent agencies, government bodies, medical researchers and others. The subject of the article entitled: Betty - the ADRI House brings asbestos awareness, is one such initiative. Betty is a purpose built mobile model house designed to demonstrate where asbestos-containing products might be found in a typical pre-1987 Australian house. Betty and her minders have travelled extensively throughout New South Wales and further afield to educate residents, home renovators and others about the potentially fatal consequences of asbestos exposures. Quoted in this article are warnings by Asbestos Awareness ambassador and well-known actor John Jarratt:
Most Australians believe that asbestos-related diseases are a thing of the past but theyre very wrong. Each week 13 Australians die of asbestos-related diseases. Today we know better and we do know the risks so if youre a homeowner, renovator, tradie or property manager, please take the warnings seriously.
The disconnect between the Russian and Australian articles could not be greater with the former urging increasing asbestos use and the later warning of deadly effects of toxic exposures. Asbestos propagandists know full well that Russians like people all over the world are dying from asbestos-related diseases. Despite their blanket assurances that chrysotile use is safe,6 new data shows that Russia is amongst the worst affected countries for asbestos-related mortality.7 Whatever the vested interests say, it is the ordinary people in both countries that are paying the price for the asbestos industrys profits.
1 Студенты-архитекторы из Казани заново открыли для себя хризотил [Architectural students from Kazan rediscover chrysotile]. October 20, 2017.
Betty - the ADRI House brings asbestos awareness. October 20, 2017.
2 Five years after asbestos mine closure, Quebec town seeks new identity. Aug 25, 2016.
3 According to the Chrysotile Association website, it works to: Promote the adoption and application of appropriate prevention and control measures, regulations, standards, work practices and techniques for the safe use of chrysotile [asbestos].
4 1 Минниханов — минтрансу: «Г..…е дороги делаете!» [Minnikhanov vs Ministry of Transport]. August 28, 2017.
5 Asbestos policies of major international agencies.
6 A publication issued by the International Chrysotile Association in Autumn 2017 asserted that:
The safe and controlled use of chrysotile is neither a myth nor a pipe dream. It is a well-known and well documented reality. The products marketed are without real health risks because the chrysotile fibre is encapsulated in a cement or resin matrix. Because it is encapsulated, the chrysotile fibre cant be airborne (non airportable) and therefore cant be breathed in (non-respirable).
ICA. ASBESTOS Amphiboles MUST BE BANNED, Chrysotile MUST BE CONTROLLED. Autumn 2017.
Halloween: Asbestos Ghouls and Chrysotile Devils 2017
October 31 is marked in the U.S. and some others countries as Halloween, an opportunity for children to wear fancy dress costumes depicting supernatural figures such as witches, devils, ghosts, vampires, monsters, and characters from popular culture – in my children’s day, Luke Skywalker and Princess Leia costumes were very popular. Horror stories, hopefully age-appropriate, are a feature of the day.
From my vantage point, you don’t have to go far to find a horror story – one that details the activities of a coven of industry stakeholders responsible for a global epidemic of ill health and premature death. Supporters of the International Chrysotile Association (ICA) would certainly be amongst the ghouls so indicted. In the run-up to Halloween, the ICA has published a 30-page booklet aimed at forcing Canada to rescind its pledge to ban asbestos by 2018.1 Such strong-arm tactics will not succeed in swaying the government of Justin Trudeau2 but they have worked and continue to work in other countries where asbestos industry propaganda is distributed as fact.
Last week, news was circulated of an asbestos initiative targeting Russian students such as those at the Nizhny Novgorod State University of Civil Engineering who attended a lecture by Vladimir Galitsyn, director of the (Russian) Chrysotile Association, which extolled the unique properties of asbestos and encouraged the future use of asbestos-containing products. This is one of a series of lectures for students at secondary and higher educational institutions in Russia. There can be little doubt that the offer of cash prizes to the winners of a competition to encourage the use of chrysotile cement products provided an incentive for the students’ interest.
Asbestos stakeholders in Russia and elsewhere purport to represent the interests of people working in the asbestos industrial sector. As has happened in other countries, once the profits evaporate, the tens of thousands left behind with damaged lungs, shortened lives and polluted towns will be on their own. Asbestos comradeship has a limited lifespan; today’s highly vocal spokesmen of the ICA and Chrysotile Association have no interest in the broken lives and toxic landscapes left in the wake of their profit-driven activities.
1 ICA. ASBESTOS Amphiboles MUST BE BANNED, Chrysotile MUST BE CONTROLLED. Autumn 2017.
Asbestos: Redemption, Restitution and Remediation
Canada, a country admired worldwide for its tolerance, civil liberties and enviable living standards, has long had a blind spot: asbestos. Despite the many advantages Canadians enjoy and the country’s top tier ranking as an educational powerhouse,”1 when it came to a substance once known as “white gold” there was no arguing with the perceived wisdom – carefully crafted over decades by industry stakeholders – that the production and use of Canadian asbestos was not injurious to human health.
When inconvenient truths were published in Quebec regarding the high levels of environmentally-caused asbestos cancer in mining areas, the researchers were vilified. When asbestos victims attempted to hold a meeting to discuss the asbestos threat to public health in 2008, they were threatened.2 Years after the dawning of the 21st century, the national discourse on asbestos remained much as it had been for years with political, economic and public support for the industry undiminished.
In under a decade, an astonishing reversal has been achieved led by scientists and researchers in Quebec supported by international experts, campaigning bodies and asbestos victims.3 It seems that almost every day another article or study is published indicting the one-time “magic mineral” for having caused a national epidemic of occupational disease and for having created widespread contamination of the built environment.4 The contrast between the current willingness to quantify the damage caused by this industry of mass destruction with the former wall of silence could not be greater.
As Canada finalizes legislation needed to ban asbestos use and implements measures to protect workers and the public from hazardous exposures, Brazil remains adrift on a sea of indecision and uncertainty. According to a much-argued over Supreme Court decision in August 2017, state legislation banning asbestos is constitutional and the federal government’s policy allowing the commercial exploitation of asbestos is not. If the Canadian ban is surprising due to the country’s former love affair with asbestos it is not quite as remarkable as an expected ban in Brazil. Canada had long ago run out of asbestos and would have needed tens of millions of dollars to develop a new underground asbestos mine. Brazil, now the world’s third largest asbestos producer, is actively mining, selling, exporting and promoting chrysotile (white) asbestos. With Supreme Court verdicts expected shortly regarding the constitutionality of asbestos bans in the State of Rio de Janeiro and elsewhere, it is likely that Brazil’s asbestos industry will be consigned to the history books before long. When this happens, epidemiologists, medical specialists, engineers and others will, as in Canada, find plenty of evidence of the harm which had been done by the country’s asbestos stakeholders. The only way ahead for Canada and Brazil is to prioritize the implementation of national bans, undertake phased remediation of contamination caused by decades of asbestos mining and use, provide assistance needed by those whose lives have been sacrificed to the greed of the asbestos industry and ensure that individuals, corporate entities and other vested interests which caused the epidemics of asbestos-related deaths now occurring are brought to justice. The struggle continues.
2 “Scientists cannot be silenced” The story behind how Canada finally banned asbestos. October 3, 2017.
3 Ruff K. How Canada Changed from Exporting Asbestos to Banning Asbestos: The Challenges That Had to Be Overcome. September 27, 2017.
4 Asbestos: doctors demand a tightening of exposure. September 25, 2017.
Workplace carcinogens lead to thousands of cancer cases in Ontario each year: study. October 3, 2017.
Asbestos Exit Strategies
Wherever asbestos has been used, political, social and commercial frameworks have been constructed to prioritise the interests of the asbestos industrial sector at the expense of workers, the public and the environment. Historically, the growth of support for national bans is accompanied by the erosion of these structures; what happened in Canada to asbestos associations and mining communities is now being replicated in Brazil and Russia.
For decades, Canada’s Chrysotile Institute (CI), formerly the Asbestos Institute, was the mouthpiece for the Canadian asbestos industry and a cheerleader for global asbestos interests.1 The institute’s operations, supported by cash injections from industry and both provincial and federal governments, shrunk as asbestos mines filed for bankruptcy.2 As public opinion turned against the asbestos industry, political support wavered and funding disappeared as a result of which the CI closed its doors in 2012.
Unlike Canada, Brazil still has – for the time being at least – a Chrysotile Institute: the Instituto Brasileiro de Crisotila (IBC). In the aftermath of decisions this summer by Brazil’s Supreme Court upholding the constitutionality of state asbestos bans and the unconstitutionality of asbestos use, it looks like the IBC’s days are numbered. Adding insult to injury, a recent court decision annulled the National Agreement on the Controlled Use of Asbestos between the IBC and the National Commission of Asbestos Workers (Comissão Nacional dos Trabalhadores do Amianto/CNTA) and the National Confederation of [Asbestos] Industrial Workers (Confederação Nacional dos Trabalhadores na Indústria /CNTI), industry-funded groups purporting to represent asbestos workers. The recent court verdict ordered the IBC to desist from “financially supporting, directly or indirectly, any legal entity of a trade union nature representing workers…”3 Without such support, the demise of the CNTA and CNTI is almost certainly guaranteed.
It is not only former asbestos supporters, some of whom may face criminal or civil charges in the post-asbestos era, whose prospects are in ruins but also the future of mining communities with economies built on asbestos. Even as the Canadian towns of Thetford Mines and Asbestos struggle to reinvent themselves with the help of government funding, the Russian monotown of Asbest (Russian: Асбе́ст) is looking to diversify its economy with the support of the authorities of the Sverdlovsk region.4 The outlook for the people of Minaçu, the city which is home to Brazil’s only operational asbestos mine, is bleak.
Commenting on Minaçu’s future, Brazil’s leading ban asbestos campaigner former Labor Inspector Fernanda Giannasi said:
“For years we had advised the workers, local politicians and residents in Minaçu of the need to promote economic alternatives for the region so as not to be totally dependent on asbestos, as the commercial exploitation of this mineral would end either because of the exhaustion of the mine or because of the prohibition of production. None of our arguments convinced them and they continued to rely on demagogic and populist policies. They remained deaf to our appeals; perhaps now they will hear the voice of reason.”
When Eternit pulls the plug on the mine, the city of Minaçu and the state of Goiás will be left with a deadly legacy: generations of asbestos-injured citizens, contaminated infrastructures and polluted landscapes. Will Eternit SA, the company which owns the mine, be there to support the dying, remediate the buildings and clean-up the environment? If experience teaches us anything, the answer to that question is no.
1 Kazan-Allen L. The Rise and Fall of the Chrysotile Institute. May 1, 2012.
3 A farsa do lobby do amianto: Sentença – Acordo nacional do uso seguro do amianto celebrado entre CNTA/CNTI e IBC é extinto [The asbestos lobby farce: Judgment – National agreement on the safe use of asbestos between CNTA/CNTI and IBC is void].
4 Куйвашев поручил властям Асбеста подготовить комплексную стратегию развития города [Kuyvashev instructed the Asbest authorities to prepare a comprehensive city development strategy]. August 9, 2017.