Laurie Kazan-Allen

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Laurie Kazan-Allen

 
 
 
 

January 8, 2024

New Year’s News

Activists worldwide are used to the vicissitudes experienced during grassroots campaigns: a change in government, heightened (or depressed) public awareness and the emergence of competing issues can hasten or derail the speed of change. Progress, unfortunately, is rarely, linear.

In December 2023 the first in-person meeting of the Parliamentary Asbestos Sub-Group took place at the House of Commons since the Covid pandemic forced gatherings to go online.1 MPs, Members of the House of Lords and scores of civil society stakeholders reported to Committee Room 11 at 2:30 p.m., relocating an hour later to Terrace Meeting Room C, to hear presentations pertinent to the topic: Asbestos: Time to Get Rid of It.

Contributions from Ian Lavery, MP (Labor) and Chair of the Sub-Group, Martin Docherty-Hughes MP (Scottish National Party), Matt Hancock, MP (Conservative), Stephen Timms, MP (Labor), Councillor Stephen McKenna (Green Party), Baroness Donaghy (Labor) and Baroness Finlay of Llandaff (Independent) informed the discussions. The session began with a tribute to Mavis Nye, a much-loved campaigner for mesothelioma sufferers, who died from this asbestos cancer in November, 2023.2

Amongst the subjects discussed were:

  • logjams in processing asbestos claims resulting from the closure of the specialist benefits office in Barrow-in-Furness that processed claims for industrial injuries benefits;
  • the failure of Westminster and Cardiff Governments to accept responsibility for dealing with asbestos contamination of Welsh schools;
  • the importance of evidence-based research to assist decision makers to take action on the unmet needs of asbestos patients;
  • the lack of joined-up care for patients with mesothelioma and other asbestos-related diseases in many parts of the country;
  • the need for a national asbestos register and a phased removal of asbestos-containing material from the built environment;3
  • the ubiquity of asbestos in UK schools and healthcare establishments; the threat posed to building users by the deterioration of Reinforced Autoclaved Aerated Concrete (RAAC) in public buildings also containing asbestos.

All of the speakers agreed that the UK’s asbestos epidemic was far from over and that delays in the delivery of medical care and asbestos removal were intolerable. Liz Darlison, CEO of Mesothelioma UK – a national charity which provides specialist mesothelioma nurses in hospitals across the country – said that she was energized by the strong cross-party support expressed during the meeting. To say that I was somewhat surprised by the recommendation made by of one of the more high-profile Tory speakers was an understatement; he advised campaigners to enter into discussions with leaders of the Labor Party as they were, within months, to be the ones in charge.

There was a real buzz created by the bringing together of asbestos campaigners, victims’ representatives and supporters, politicians, technical specialists and others who were able to do in person what they couldn’t do during skype calls: engage in one-to-one exchanges before and after the formal session. As always, the enthusiasm generated by the discussion of shared goals was both infectious and galvanizing. It was definitely, great to be back!

Roll on a couple of weeks and a holiday or two and it seemed we were back where we had been almost eighteen months ago with another asbestos-laden French-built ship steaming towards shipbreakers in Aliağa, Turkey.4 The case of the São Paulo, which was eventually sunk in international waters 350 kilometers off the Brazilian coast by the Brazilian Navy in February 2023, became an international scandal that unfolded over a period of more than two years.

And now we have another such vessel – the Raymond Croze, a French cable-laying ship – arriving in Aliağa containing between 50 to 100 tons of asbestos material. Concerns have already been reported in the Turkish media about the environmental and health impact of dismantling a ship whose Hazardous Substance Inventory Report remains confidential. Reassurances given by the Anadolu Ship Dismantling Company that: “The asbestos in question will be disposed of in an environmentally friendly and regulatory manner, as in the standard processes,” have fallen on deaf ears.5 In the words of the famous New York baseball player Yogi Berra, who was known for his malapropisms (“Yogi-isms”): “It's déjà vu all over again.”

 


Happy New Year to one and all!

Let’s get back to work.

1 This Group operates under the auspices of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Occupational Health and Safety.

2 Kazan-Allen, L. Our Friend Mavis. November 24, 2023.
http://ibasecretariat.org/lka_our-friend-mavis.php

3 It was estimated that at the current rate of asbestos eradication, it would take 400 years for the national infrastructure to be asbestos-free.

4 NGO Platform on Clean Shipbreaking. Press Release – Toxic warship “Clemenceau II” starts voyage from Brazil to the Mediterranean Sea. August 5, 2022.
https://shipbreakingplatform.org/aircraft-carrier-sao-paulo-leaves-brazil/
Aliağa'da bitmeyen sorun, 'Raymond Croze' asbestli mi? [The never-ending problem in Aliağa: Does 'Raymond Croze' contain asbestos?] January 3, 2024.
https://haberglobal.com.tr/gundem/aliagada-bitmeyen-sorun-raymond-croze-asbestli-mi-307279

5 Raymond Croze ship in Izmir created controversy. December 28, 2023.
https://www.haberler.com/guncel/izmir-deki-raymond-croze-gemisi-tartisma-yaratti-16673402-haberi/

November 9, 2023

Hope (And Where to Find It)

Having studied the global asbestos panorama for over thirty years, I can say with certainty that there are no overnight successes. Every legislative landmark, judicial breakthrough and medical discovery is achieved by years of painstaking work. Often, what one would think of as a fait accompli – such as a national asbestos ban – is countered and sometimes even overturned by pressure exerted by vested interests.

Predicting the future can best be achieved by studying the tea leaves – in this case, the small glimmers of hope signalled by recent developments in places such as Ukraine, Cambodia, China, Russia and Belgium.

After years of work by Ukraine’s Ministry of Health, non-governmental organizations and civil society groups, Ukraine’s asbestos ban finally came into force on October 1, 2023. Commenting on this news Welsh Parliamentarian Mick Antoniw, himself of Ukrainian descent, said:

“I am thrilled to know that the efforts of the Ukrainians have succeeded in overcoming the judicial, legal, social and economic hurdles thrown in their way by asbestos profiteers at home and abroad. The fact that this has been achieved during a time when the country has been at war with Russia makes this accomplishment all the more extraordinary.”1

Last week in Phnom Penh, officials from the Cambodian Government confirmed plans to end asbestos use by 2025 at a high-profile workshop attended by representatives of multiple government ministries, employer organizations, trade unions and civil society groups. Addressing the meeting, Dr Huy Hansong, Secretary of State of the Cambodian Ministry of Labour and Vocational Training, highlighted the need for a coordinated platform providing clear guidelines to deal with the multifaceted challenges posed by historic asbestos use. “If we do not have regulations, Hansong warned, “we cannot do anything.” 2

The need for mandatory protocols to address the complexity of national asbestos legacies has even been recognized by China – one of the world’s biggest asbestos producers and users – which has, over time, outlawed some practices – such as the use of amosite and crocidolite asbestos – and increased restrictions on others.3 Earlier this month, China’s Ministry of Environment announced the approval of additional methods for dealing with building waste containing asbestos, deemed to be a toxic substance. Previous government guidelines stipulated that this waste be buried according to strict procedures. Following the amendment to the disposal regulations, the use of chemical or heat treatments to detoxify the waste will now be allowed.4

For decades, Russia has been the world’s largest asbestos producer, accounting for more than 60% of all annual global production. With so many billions of roubles at stake, the asbestos lobby has worked assiduously to suppress negative publicity at home and abroad using a variety of measures including punishment as well as persuasion. When in doubt, the knee-jerk reaction of Russians to the thorny question of asbestos mortality is to deny everything. It was therefore something of a surprise to see an article about surgery for peritoneal mesothelioma – a disease caused by exposure to asbestos – on a Russian news portal on November 1. The six-hour procedure performed on a 59-year old patient was undertaken by a medical team at the Surgut District Clinical Hospital in western Siberia.5

Since it was founded in 1974, the Asian Development Bank (ADB) has loaned $85+ billion to 36 developing countries in the Asia and Pacific region. In a recent ADB paper, the use of asbestos-containing products was banned in all of the bank’s funded projects. The new restriction appeared on pages 23-24 of the Environmental and Social Framework:

“financing production of, or trade in, or use of asbestos fibers is fully prohibited under the new policy. This is a change from the current SPS [Safeguard Policy Statement], which allows the use of bonded asbestos cement sheeting with asbestos content of less than 20%. This prohibition does not apply to projects involving disposal of existing asbestos, provided a suitable asbestos management plan is adopted for disposal…”6

There is no question that this prohibition will lead to a substantial reduction of asbestos consumption as the vast majority of asbestos used in Asia goes into the production of building materials, the use of which will now be outlawed under the revised ADB rules.

In developed countries, progress continues to be made in dealing with asbestos legacies. In Europe, more than 44 million tonnes of asbestos were incorporated within national infrastructures before a European Union asbestos ban was implemented in 2005.7 Europeans have paid a heavy price for the widescale and unregulated use of asbestos; in 2020, 45% of all deaths from the signature asbestos cancer, mesothelioma occurred in Europe.8 To minimize future exposures, new rules were adopted by the European Council last month reducing occupational asbestos exposure limits and mandating the use of improved monitoring methods.

Taken separately, these developments would almost certainly be downplayed by asbestos stakeholders but when viewed as part of a global pattern, it is clear that the asbestos industry is on borrowed time. The sooner this outdated and dangerous technology is banned the better. The future is asbestos-free.

1 Kazan-Allen, L. It’s Official: Asbestos Use Banned in Ukraine! October 25, 2023.
http://www.ibasecretariat.org/lka-its-official-asbestos-use-banned-in-ukraine.php

2 Kazan-Allen, L. Cambodia Asbestos Ban by 2025! November 7, 2023.
http://www.ibasecretariat.org/lka-cambodia-asbestos-ban-by-2025.php

3 Chronology of Asbestos Bans and Restrictions. Accessed November 8, 2023
http://www.ibasecretariat.org/chron_ban_list.php

4 石绵瓦不只能固化掩埋 环境部增“热处理、化学处理法” [Asbestos tiles can not only be solidified and buried, the Ministry of Environment has added “heat treatment and chemical treatment methods”]. November 1, 2023.
https://www.chinatimes.com/realtimenews/20231101003559-260405?chdtv

5 Сургутские онкологи провели операцию по удалению редкой опухоли [Oncologists of the Special Clinical Hospital performed a complex operation to remove a rare neoplasm]. November 1, 2023.
https://in-news.ru/news/surgutskie-onkologi-proveli-operaciiu-po-udaleniiu-redkoi-opuxoli

6 Asian Development Bank. Working Paper. Environmental and Social Framework. October 2023.
https://www.adb.org/sites/default/files/institutional-document/915711/environmental-and-social-framework-w-paper.pdf

7 Kazan-Allen, L. Conference: Europe's Asbestos Catastrophe. November 9, 2012.
http://www.ibasecretariat.org/lka-bruss-europes-asbestos-catastrophe-report-2012.php

8 Kazan-Allen, L. Global Cancer Increase and the Asbestos Hazard. September 20, 2023.
http://www.ibasecretariat.org/lka-global-cancer-increase-and-the-asbestos-hazard.php

October 4, 2023

Asbestos Exports Safe say Russians but Chinese Asbestos Radiators Toxic!

Sometimes, it’s just not possible to square the circle. According to asbestos stakeholders in Russia – the world’s leading producer of chrysotile (white) asbestos – the use of asbestos is perfectly safe. This mineral is, says the chrysotile lobby, a vital resource for developing countries; what vested interests leave unsaid is that it is an invaluable source of foreign currency, without which the industry would die.

Since 2016, China’s annual expenditure on Russian asbestos grew by 93% from US$28 to ~54 million.1 In 2022, the import of ~174,000 tonnes of Russian asbestos accounted for nearly 2/3 of all the asbestos consumed in China.2

Considering that markets for Russian asbestos exports are contracting – e.g., in Sri Lanka and Indonesia – and that Western sanctions have created a logistical nightmare for the industry – according to a building products manufacturer in Zimbabwe, shipments of Russian asbestos ceased in 20223 – you would think that measures would have been implemented by industry stakeholders to prioritize the interests of the country which last year purchased nearly 30% of all Russian production.

 


Fortunately, that doesn’t seem to be the case. In recent years, Russians have been warned about the health hazards posed by human exposures to asbestos as well as the inadvisability of purchasing materials and equipment containing asbestos, some of which originated in China.4

One alert, deploring the popularity in Russia of cheap radiators made in China, noted that:

“the gaskets of all radiator samples examined from China contained asbestos. In some cases, the concentration of this toxic material reached 42%! Asbestos is extremely dangerous for the respiratory system…”5

If Russian asbestos is safe enough to be exported to China, how is the sale in Russia of Chinese radiators containing asbestos gaskets problematic? There is an English saying: You can’t have your cake and eat it too. Maybe that just doesn’t translate into Russian.

1 China Imports from Russia of Asbestos. Accessed October 1, 2023.
https://tradingeconomics.com/china/imports/russia/asbestos

2 Asbestos Price in Russia – 2022. Accessed October 1, 2023.
https://www.indexbox.io/search/asbestos-price-russia/
Monthly value of asbestos exported from Russia from January 2021 to August 2023. Accessed October 1, 2023.
https://www.statista.com/statistics/971769/monthly-value-of-asbestos-exports-from-russia/
USGS. Asbestos Trade Data. Uploaded August 2023.
https://www.usgs.gov/centers/national-minerals-information-center/asbestos-statistics-and-information

3 Turnall Derives Alternatives to Source Asbestos Fibre. October 1, 2023.
https://www.sundaynews.co.zw/turnall-derives-alternatives-to-source-asbestos-fibre/
Khrustalev, K. Градообразующее предприятие «Оренбургские минералы» в 2022 году показало убыток почти в миллиард рублей [The city-forming enterprise Orenburg Minerals showed a loss of almost a billion rubles in 2022]. August 10, 2023.
https://www.ural56.ru/news/700583/

4 Что такое асбест, в чем его опасность для здоровья и чем его можно заменить [What is asbestos, what is its health hazard and how can it be replaced?] June 25, 2019.
https://www.ivd.ru/stroitelstvo-i-remont/stroitelnye-materialy/chto-takoe-asbest-i-v-chem-ego-opasnost-dlya-zdorovya-46651
Почему смертоносная асбестовая промышленность все еще жива и здорова? [Why is the deadly asbestos industry still alive and well?] July 21, 2022.
https://www.ftmmachinery.com/ru/blog/what-is-asbestos-and-asbestos-exposure.html
Настороженность поможет Врач Алексей Сорокин — о профилактике рака легкого [Being alert will help. Doctor Alexei Sorokin - about the prevention of lung cancer]. August 1, 2023.
https://iz.ru/1552138/aleksei-sorokin/nastorozhennost-pomozhet
Почти 1300 случаев рака легких выявили на Южном Урале в прошлом году [Almost 1300 cases of lung cancer were detected in the Southern Urals last year]. August 1, 2023.
https://up74.ru/articles/news/150966/
Врач рассказала, что курение провоцирует почти 90% случаев развития рака легкого [The doctor said that smoking provokes almost 90% of cases of lung cancer]. August 1, 2023.
https://pravda-nn.ru/news/vrach-rasskazala-chto-kurenie-provotsiruet-pochti-90-razvitiya-raka-legkogo/

5 Китайские радиаторы отопления: характеристики и производители [Chinese heating radiators: characteristics and manufacturers]. September 21, 2022.
https://www.kp.ru/guide/kitaiskie-radiatory.html

September 15, 2023

China’s Asbestos Conundrum

Reports appeared this week on news portals in China confirming the widening dichotomy in the national asbestos discourse. In the world’s second largest asbestos-consuming country and its third largest producer, there is a growing divergence between policies espoused by vested interests supporting asbestos technology and experts and officials seeking to protect the population from exposure to a known carcinogen.1

Until fairly recently there has been little information publicly circulated in China about the human health hazard of working and/or living with asbestos.2 On September 14, 2023, I happened upon two new articles which, when taken together, reveal the ever-growing rift in China’s asbestos dialogue. Whilst an article on lung cancer causation highlighting the danger to people working with asbestos appeared on September 12,3 just hours earlier a report was circulated about the annual meeting of the Chrysotile Asbestos Professional Committee (the Committee), a trade association representing the interests of asbestos stakeholders.4

Judging from the scant information available, it seems that although the Chinese Government accepts that deadly workplace asbestos exposures cannot be allowed to continue, it will not do much about it. A statement on the website of the China Government Network dated August 4, 2023 confirmed plans by the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology and the National Health Commission to:

“strengthen the standardized management of production at chrysotile-using enterprises, implement control measures to prevent occupational diseases, circulate information about recommended dust hazard precautions for use with substances such as chrysotile – paying special attention to the occupational and public health risks posed by the demolition of buildings containing asbestos… awareness and education regarding health protection can reduce the occurrence of occupational diseases and protect the health rights and interests of the public.”5

This is the same rhetoric we have seen in other countries where turning a profit and preserving jobs were higher priorities then protecting lives. There is no knowing how many will die as a result of China’s failure to phase-out the mining, processing and use of chrysotile asbestos.

1 Between 2016 and 2020, China used 245,000 tonnes (t) every year, making it the world’s second largest asbestos consumer after India; with an annual asbestos output of ~140,000 tonnes, it’s also the world’s third largest asbestos producer after Russia and Kazakhstan.

2 Kazan-Allen, L. The Demise of the Asbestos Industry: 2023 Update. August 10, 2023.
http://ibasecretariat.org/lka-the-demise-of-the-asbestos-industry-2023-update.php

3 隐藏在工作环境中的肺癌危险因素 [Lung cancer risk factors hidden in the work environment]. September 12, 2023.
https://new.qq.com/rain/a/20230912A0A1AE00

4 According to the article cited below, the Committee is tasked with the promotion of asbestos sales; the expansion of the industry; and supporting the industry’s best interests. It is worrying that one of the Committee’s key interests is “the comprehensive utilization of asbestos tailings.” It is a known fact that the waste from asbestos mines contains significant amounts of asbestos fibers.
专家“会诊”为温石棉产业高质量发展献计 [Expert “consultation” provides suggestions for the high-quality development of the chrysotile asbestos industry]. September 11, 2023
https://new.qq.com/rain/a/20230911A04FTD00

5 工业和信息化部答“长期接触石棉建材等制品会致癌?”问题 [The Ministry of Industry and Information Technology answered the question “Can long-term exposure to asbestos building materials and other products cause cancer?”https://www.gov.cn/hudong/202308/content_6896551.htm

August 21, 2023

A Day like Any Other

 


We all have our morning routines. Mine begins with a cup of tea and some internet surfing. I look at a couple of news sites and then google the word asbestos in English and other languages to catch up on developments around the world. When I did this on August 17, I came up with a slew of articles, all of which detailed the repercussions now being manifested of historic asbestos use throughout Britain. The same carcinogenic fibers causing concern over toxic buildings are, even now, incubating in our lungs; whilst asbestos can be removed safely from the built environment using state-of-the-art protocols, the damage to human bodies once fibers are inhaled, can never be eliminated.

Two of the articles google highlighted on August 17 described the tragic plight of pensioners who had contracted mesothelioma, the signature cancer associated with asbestos exposures;1 three related to asbestos pollution of the environment;2 and one reported the closure of a public swimming pool and fitness center following the discovery of damaged asbestos. 3

Also on August 17, 2023, articles were uploaded which warned of a British asbestos cancer “time bomb” – “the current ratio of 17 deaths from mesothelioma to every workplace death should be a wake-up call” – as a result of the continued presence of asbestos in 100,000 buildings.4 Optimism expressed in the article cited below by T. Turney was questioned by asbestos victims’ campaigner John Flanagan who said that the apparent decrease in mesothelioma mortality claimed by the Health and Safety Executive in 2021 should be viewed in the context of the Covid pandemic:

“According to the Office of National Statistics, there were 67,350 (11.5%) deaths registered in 2021 in England and Wales due to coronavirus. Although there were some figures collected for deaths of people with pre-existing conditions, such as diabetes, mesothelioma was not one of the pre-existing conditions noted on death certificates. It is therefore, not possible to know how many people who died from Covid also had mesothelioma. We believe that number must have been substantial as mesothelioma patients are vulnerable due to the fact that their lung function is compromised by their disease. Until a closer examination of the statistics is possible, we would advise caution in acting on the belief that the UK’s mesothelioma epidemic has peaked.”5

1 Yandell, C. Southampton: Ex-Woolworths worker ‘exposed to asbestos in Sixties.’ August 17, 2023.
https://www.dailyecho.co.uk/news/23718893.southampton-ex-woolworths-worker-exposed-asbestos-sixties/
Slough man's death suspected to be from asbestos exposure. August 17, 2023.
https://www.sloughobserver.co.uk/news/23727475.slough-mans-death-suspected-asbestos-exposure/

2 Brown, H. Asbestos dumped on side of a road as council warns of fines and rogue ‘man with a van.’ August 15, 2023.
https://www.cambridge-news.co.uk/news/local-news/asbestos-dumped-side-road-council-27525881
Mumby, D. Sinkhole and asbestos cause delay to key Somerset roadworks. August 17, 2023.
https://www.somersetlive.co.uk/news/somerset-news/sinkhole-asbestos-cause-delay-key-8681207
Eve, C. Prince Rock playing field closed as hazardous materials left after Traveller encampment. August 16, 2023
https://www.plymouthherald.co.uk/news/plymouth-news/prince-rock-playing-field-closed-8682827

3 Briggs, S. Peterborough Regional Pool to close to remove damaged asbestos. August 16, 2023. https://www.peterboroughtoday.co.uk/news/people/peterborough-regional-pool-to-close-to-remove-damaged-asbestos-4256898

4 Smethurst, S. Asbestos-related cancer deaths fall but ‘time bomb’ threatens. August 17, 2023.
https://www.cieh.org/ehn/public-health-and-protection/2023/august/asbestos-related-cancer-deaths-fall-but-time-bomb-threatens/
Turney, T. Don't get asbestos complacent, warns expert. August 17, 2023.
https://www.hsmsearch.com/asbestos-stats-down-complacent

5 Email received August 18, 2023 from John Flanagan.

August 3, 2023

Question: Asbestos (Russia), Asbestos (Canada) – Compare and Contrast

This month (August 2023), the Russian mining town named Asbestos (асбест) will be celebrating its 90th anniversary.1 The “full program of events” to mark this occasion will start on August 11, with a rock concert by a popular Moscow group on August 13.2

 


The stone marking the entrance to the city limits of the town of Asbestos, Russia.

The lifeblood of this monotown – a municipality whose economy is dominated by a single industry or company – is the open pit chrysotile (white) asbestos mine, claimed to be the world’s largest.3 At 7 miles long, up to 1.5 miles wide and 1000 feet deep, it’s nearly half the size of Manhattan.

Since privatization, this company town has been owned and run by Uralasbest, Russia’s 2nd biggest asbestos conglomerate, producing ~40% of the asbestos used worldwide every year. The wellbeing of Uralasbest, the world's “oldest and largest manufacturer and supplier of chrysotile,”4 is high priority to commercial and municipal leaders as well as to members of the public, some of whom are employed by the company.

It’s not surprising that local politicians as well as representatives of Uralasbest deny that human exposures to chrysotile asbestos can prove lethal: “It's just a PR campaign when they say that asbestos can kill,” said Uralasbest's Viktor Ivanov in 2007.

This inconvenient truth was also denied by people who lived in the chrysotile (white) asbestos mining town of Asbestos in Quebec. They too were proud of their mine and the life it had given them and their families. As the biggest employer in the region, the owners of the Jeffrey mine were, like their counterparts at Uralasbest, in a strong position to lobby politicians, silence criticism of the industry and counter findings which could negatively impact on the corporate bottom line.

 


Welcome to Asbestos, Quebec sign.

Eventually, asbestos mining in Quebec came to an end and, with the evaporation of the industry’s stranglehold on the asbestos discourse, residents were anxious for a fresh start. Two years after the Canadian government implemented an asbestos ban (2018), the electorate in Asbestos, Quebec voted to change the town’s toxic name to Val-des-Sources.5 The following year, Asbestos Street (Rue de L’Aminate) was renamed: rue des Bâtisseurs (Builders’ Street].6

 


Welcome to Val-Des-Sources, Quebec sign.

Despite all the power and political influence of Russian asbestos stakeholders, the news is getting out that exposure to asbestos is hazardous. On World Lung Cancer Day 2023 (August 1, 2023) alerts were issued by medical experts and healthcare authorities around the country advising the population to avoid exposures to asbestos to prevent lung cancer. With dwindling domestic and international demand for chrysotile asbestos, might voters in Russia’s Asbestos be looking to change the name of their town too?7

1 Группа «Корни» выступит на юбилее уральского города [The Korni group will perform at the anniversary of the Ural city]. July 24, 2023.
https://www.ural.kp.ru/online/news/5374989/

2 Мэр раскрыла имена звезд, которые выступят на Дне свердловского города [The mayor revealed the names of the stars who will perform at the Day of the Sverdlovsk city]. July 23, 2023.
https://ura.news/news/1052669300

3 Wikipedia. Asbest, Russia. Accessed August 1,2 023.
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Asbest

4 This boast was found on the website of Uralasbest, the Ural Asbestos Mining & Ore Dressing Company, said journalist Melody Kemp in her article: The Other Deadly White Dust: Russia, China, India and the Campaign to Ban Asbestos. March 29, 2010. Asia-Pacific Journal.
https://apjjf.org/-Melody-Kemp/3332/article.html

5 Kazan-Allen, L. Behind the Asbestos Curtain: Uralasbest 2021. July 21, 2021.
http://ibasecretariat.org/lka-behind-the-asbestos-curtain-uralasbest-2021.php

6 Kazan-Allen, L April Fools’ Day Reflections 2021. April 1, 2021.
http://ibasecretariat.org/lka-blogzxa177.php

7 Настороженность поможет Врач Алексей Сорокин — о профилактике рака легкого [Being alert will help. Doctor Alexei Sorokin - about the prevention of lung cancer]. August 1, 2023.
https://iz.ru/1552138/aleksei-sorokin/nastorozhennost-pomozhet
Воронежцам напомнили о способах избежать рака лёгкого [Voronezh residents were reminded of ways to avoid lung cancer]. July 31, 2023.
https://vestivrn.ru/news/2023/07/31/voronezhcam-napomnili-o-khoroshem-lechenii-onkologicheskikh-zabolevanii/
Почти 1300 случаев рака легких выявили на Южном Урале в прошлом году [Almost 1300 cases of lung cancer were detected in the Southern Urals last year]. August 1, 2023
https://up74.ru/articles/news/150966/
Врач рассказала, что курение провоцирует почти 90% случаев развития рака легкого [The doctor said that smoking provokes almost 90% of cases of lung cancer]. August 1, 2023.
https://pravda-nn.ru/news/vrach-rasskazala-chto-kurenie-provotsiruet-pochti-90-razvitiya-raka-legkogo/

July 17, 2023

From Consumer Icon to Grim Reaper: The Sorry Tale of J&J Baby Powder

Do you remember the scene in the 1984 movie Ghostbusters when the three protagonists confronted by a violent supernatural force were trying to think of something benign and came up with the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man? Almost at once, the evil incarnation of Gozer transformed into a gigantic and malign version of this gooey childhood treat and set off on its mission of destruction.

The scandal which has engulfed Johnson & Johnson’s (J&J) iconic baby powder – due to allegations that the talc used may contain asbestos – continues to unfold day by day under the watchful eye of the global media. With so much personal tragedy, tens of thousands of court cases, legal machinations in multiple jurisdictions and heightened government interest, the once saintly image of this consumer classic was so badly damaged that the company had no choice but to withdraw it from worldwide markets. A once revered product which, just like Stay Puft Marshmallows was a staple of so many childhoods, has vanished from our lives, you might think.

Last week, I read two articles with news of recent J&J developments in the US and India. The July 13th Reuters story reported that LTL Management – a Johnson & Johnson subsidiary – had launched a lawsuit earlier this month in a New Jersey federal court against researchers who had published a paper about studies showing that the use of talc-based personal products could cause cancer. J&J denied these findings. The lawsuit targeted Drs Richard Kradin, Theresa Emory and John Maddox, all of whom were requested to “retract and/or issue a correction” of the study which stated that the use of asbestos-contaminated talc-based consumer products could cause mesothelioma.1

The next day an article in The Times of India announced that Johnson & Johnson (J&J) had “surrendered its licence to manufacture baby powder in its Mumbai plant” on June 22, 2023. The decision to stop manufacturing baby powder in India was, said the company “part of a global move to switch from talc-based to cornstarch-based baby powders.” The author of the article pointed out that J&J had stopped producing its talc-based baby powder in the US and Canada three years ago and described the outrage of former Commissioner of the Maharashtra Food and Drug Administration Mahesh Zagade who deplored the time lag between the action taken in North America and India. “J&J could sell it in India,” Zagade said for three additional years only because we don't have a strong drug regulator.”2

Even now the disgraced baby powder is on sale at retail outlets in many countries with a colleague in Brazil reporting seeing it in her local drugstore on her latest visit.

 


Picture taken at São Paulo Drugstore (Drogaria São Paulo) July 14, 2023. Picture courtesy of the Brazilian Association of the Asbestos-Exposed (ABREA).

As can be seen from the above picture, the Sao Paulo store sold cornstarch-based J&J baby powder (yellow label) as well as talc-based baby powder (purple and pink labels) with the safer alternative costing nearly 38% more.

It is beyond comprehension that, national governments remain passive in the face of this worrying situation. As far as I am aware, no action has ever been taken in the UK regarding the sale of J&J’s talc-based baby powder which can, even now, be purchased online3 and most probably in shops around the country.4

 


Picture from Boots website July 14, 2023. We are told baby powder is free from parabens, dyes & phthalates; only on the back of containers of the type pictured is talc mentioned.

The reassurances given regarding the product sold online by Boots, Chemist4U and Amazon include phrases such as: “Made with purified talc, fully evaluated by scientific and medical experts;”5 “Clinically proven to be safe, gentle and mild;”6 and “Free of parabens, dyes and phthalates. Made of purified talc, fully evaluated by scientific and medical experts.”7

On Sunday morning (July 16, 2023), I strolled down to the local shops to see whether they still stocked Johnson & Johnson’s talc-based baby powder. Imagine my surprise when I found it on sale at one of the 400 shops owned by Savers UK and at Sainsbury’s, the UK’s second largest chain of supermarkets.

 


Picture taken at Savers discount drugstore in Northwest London on July 16, 2023. On the back of the container, the ingredients were listed as: Talc, Parfum. Both this product and the one bought at Sainsbury’s were made in Thailand.

 


Picture taken at Sainsbury’s supermarket in Northwest London on July 16, 2023. On the back of the container, it said: “made with purified talc, fully evaluated by scientific and medical experts.”

It was surprising that at neither Savers nor Sainsbury’s was there any cornstarch-based J&J baby powder on sale when I visited, though this can be bought online and no doubt from other outlets in the UK.

On a day when Matt Hancock, the former health secretary, slammed Ministers for failing to address the “national scandal” caused by asbestos in schools on the front page of The Sunday Times, it might be opportune to draw politicians’ attention to another avoidable danger.8 It makes no sense that J&J’s talc-based baby powder, abandoned by its manufacturer and censured by multiple national authorities, is even now being sold in the UK.

1 Knauth, D. Johnson & Johnson sues researchers who linked talc to cancer. July 13, 2023.
https://www.reuters.com/legal/litigation/johnson-johnson-sues-researchers-who-linked-talc-cancer-2023-07-13/

2 Debroy, S. J&J stops manufacture of baby powder in country [India]. July 14, 2023.
https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/mumbai/jj-stops-manufacture-of-baby-powder-in-country/articleshow/101741363.cms

3 Boots website: Johnson and Johnson’s Baby Powder. July 14, 2023.
https://www.boots.com/johnsons-baby-powder-500g-10260587
Superdrug Website: Johnson and Johnson’s Baby Powder. July 14, 2023.
https://www.superdrug.com/baby/baby-toiletries/baby-powder/johnsons-baby-powder-500g/p/777384
Sainsbury’s Website: Johnson and Johnson’s Baby Powder. July 14, 2023.
https://www.sainsburys.co.uk/gol-ui/product/johnsons-baby-powder-200g

4 Alas, a Parliamentary alert raised by concerned MPs in Early Day Motion (EDM) 1718 on April 12, 2021 entitled: Talcum powder, asbestos contaminants and cancer led to no government sanctions. The EDM was only signed by 20 MPs, none of whom were from the Conservative Party.
https://edm.parliament.uk/early-day-motion/58341/talcum-powder-asbestos-contaminants-and-cancer

5 Boots website. July 15, 2023.
https://www.boots.com/johnsons-baby-powder-500g-10260587

6 Chemist4U website. July 14, 2023.
https://www.chemist-4-u.com/johnson-s-baby-powder-500g

7 Amazon website. July 15, 2023.
https://www.amazon.co.uk/Johnson-and-Baby-Powder/dp/B00W1RPEYM/ref=asc_df_B00W1RPEYM/?

8 Yorke, H & Spencer, B. Failure to remove asbestos is a ‘national scandal.’ July 16, 2023.
https://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/matt-hancock-failure-to-remove-asbestos-from-hospitals-and-schools-is-national-scandal-dtzhxtbjc
Hancock, M. Acting on asbestos will save lives – and millions for the NHS. July 16, 2023.
https://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/acting-on-asbestos-will-save-lives-and-millions-for-the-nhs-bx6zqvclc

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