Chinas Asbestos Conundrum
Reports appeared this week on news portals in China confirming the widening dichotomy in the national asbestos discourse. In the worlds 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 Chinas 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 Chinas 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 worlds second largest asbestos consumer after India; with an annual asbestos output of ~140,000 tonnes, its also the worlds third largest asbestos producer after Russia and Kazakhstan.
2 Kazan-Allen, L. The Demise of the Asbestos Industry: 2023 Update. August 10, 2023.
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 industrys best interests. It is worrying that one of the Committees 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
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
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 UKs mesothelioma epidemic has peaked.5
1 Yandell, C. Southampton: Ex-Woolworths worker exposed to asbestos in Sixties. August 17, 2023.
Slough man's death suspected to be from asbestos exposure. August 17, 2023.
2 Brown, H. Asbestos dumped on side of a road as council warns of fines and rogue man with a van. August 15, 2023.
Mumby, D. Sinkhole and asbestos cause delay to key Somerset roadworks. August 17, 2023.
Eve, C. Prince Rock playing field closed as hazardous materials left after Traveller encampment. August 16, 2023
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.
Turney, T. Don't get asbestos complacent, warns expert. August 17, 2023.
5 Email received August 18, 2023 from John Flanagan.
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 worlds largest.3 At 7 miles long, up to 1.5 miles wide and 1000 feet deep, its nearly half the size of Manhattan.
Since privatization, this company town has been owned and run by Uralasbest, Russias 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.
Its 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 industrys 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 towns toxic name to Val-des-Sources.5 The following year, Asbestos Street (Rue de LAminate) 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 Russias Asbestos be looking to change the name of their town too?7
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.
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.
5 Kazan-Allen, L. Behind the Asbestos Curtain: Uralasbest 2021. July 21, 2021.
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.
Воронежцам напомнили о способах избежать рака лёгкого [Voronezh residents were reminded of ways to avoid lung cancer]. July 31, 2023.
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
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.
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 & Johnsons (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&Js 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 & Johnsons 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 Sainsburys, the UKs 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 Sainsburys were made in Thailand.
Picture taken at Sainsburys 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 Sainsburys 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&Js 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.
2 Debroy, S. J&J stops manufacture of baby powder in country [India]. July 14, 2023.
3 Boots website: Johnson and Johnsons Baby Powder. July 14, 2023.
Superdrug Website: Johnson and Johnsons Baby Powder. July 14, 2023.
Sainsburys Website: Johnson and Johnsons Baby Powder. July 14, 2023.
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.
5 Boots website. July 15, 2023.
6 Chemist4U website. July 14, 2023.
7 Amazon website. July 15, 2023.
8 Yorke, H & Spencer, B. Failure to remove asbestos is a national scandal. July 16, 2023.
Hancock, M. Acting on asbestos will save lives and millions for the NHS. July 16, 2023.
Breaking Through Russias Asbestos Omerta
Once upon a time, an industrial hygienist who specialized in asbestos-related issues recounted to me an exchange he had in Russia. During discussions with his Moscow hosts, he described finding high levels of cancers and respiratory illnesses in UK locations where asbestos had been used; he asked about the incidence of these diseases in Russia. The answer when it came was self-explanatory: There were, he was told, no asbestos-related diseases in the workers paradise. This pretty much sums up the Russian attitude towards asbestos: Russian asbestos was safe to mine, use, sell and export.
According to data collected by the United States Geological Survey (USGS), in 1977 the Soviet Union1 first overtook Canada in the production of asbestos fiber with an output of 1,900,000 tonnes (t) compared to 1,055,667t; due to high levels of domestic consumption in the Soviet Union. Canada, however, remained the worlds largest exporter until 2000 when Russia shipped 332,417t abroad compared to Canadas 314,706t.
As in Canada, where asbestos was nicknamed white gold due to its importance to local, provincial and national economies, criticism of the asbestos mining industry in Russia was not encouraged. Whereas British victims of asbestos poisoning refrained from speaking out about their diseases out of misplaced loyalty to former employers as well as fears over the security of their pensions, in Russia the control exerted by asbestos stakeholders ensured that not even a scintilla of negativity sullied the reputation of chrysotile (white) asbestos. In fact, the whitewash went across the board, including employees, politicians, doctors, medical specialists, epidemiologists, researchers and occupational hygienists.
In light of the above, it is highly significant that in the last couple of weeks items on news portals in the Russian Republic of Udmurt (Volga Federal District), the Republic of Chuvash (European Russia) and the City of Ryazan (Western Russia) about the threat posed by asbestos exposures appeared.2 The articles highlighted the publication of new lung cancer data, the links between exposure to asbestos and the occurrence of lung cancer and the importance of early diagnoses.
As we have seen from the one-sided news about the invasion of Ukraine broadcast on Russian TV every night, he who controls the media, controls the publics perception of the message. As the warnings about the health hazards of asbestos exposures spread, questions will be asked about why this industry is supported by government agencies and institutions.3 One day, and we hope it wont be long, Russian citizens will spurn the asbestos industrys propaganda and reject this deadly and destructive technology.
Decades of Deceit
The Brazilian premiere of a Belgian asbestos documentary took place at São Paulos Ecofalante Film Festival on June 1, 2023. For the Brazilian screenings, the 90-minute French-language film Asbestos: Chronicle of a Disaster Foretold had been subtitled in Portuguese.1 Using footage from the archives of Belgian State TV, the film-makers exposed decades of asbestos crimes and malfeasance. Amongst those attending the films June 1 screening was Eliezer João de Souza, President of Brazils Association of the Asbestos-Exposed (ABREA). Commenting on the film, Eliezer said:
The blatant disregard for human life which was so clearly shown by the historic footage of asbestos factories owned and operated by the Eternit group in Belgium was familiar to ABREA members who had worked at Eternit factories in Osasco (São Paulo State), Rio de Janeiro (Rio de Janeiro State), Simões Filho (Salvador State), Minaçu, Goiânia and Anápolis (Goiás State), and Ponta Grossa and Colombo (Paraná State). We too were tasked with handling raw asbestos in conditions so dusty that you couldnt see the people working next to you, we too were kept in the dark about the hazard of working with no protection from the deadly fiber and we too took the fibers home on our work clothes, thereby endangering the lives of our wives and children. The exploitation we experienced and the injustices perpetrated by asbestos stakeholders are unforgivable. This documentary is a testament to the damage done by an industry which caused death and destruction wherever it went.2
Clips of interviews with Eternit officials in the Belgian film were informative as much for the words which were spoken as the bravado with which they were delivered: asbestos was the future, asbestos was a miracle substance, asbestos workers were part of a family which protected its own. Of course, it was all lies but it was delivered with such conviction that it is easy to see how so many generations of workers fell for it.
In Buenos Aires in 2001 I too found myself amazed by the chutzpah of the asbestos industry as it continued to peddle dangerous untruths. During a presentation by Dr. Eduardo Rodriguez, Coordinator of Argentinas Advisory Commission on Chrysotile Asbestos, the Spanish language speaker denounced myths propagated by his countrys asbestos lobby:
As I listened to the English language translation of Dr. Rodriguezs talk coming through my headphones, I realized I had heard this propaganda before. It was the same litany of arguments used by industry stakeholders to counter growing calls for an end to the asbestos slaughter that they had used in Europe, North-America, and Australia. Their asbestos gospel had been quoted ad nauseum in glossy publications, at high-profile diplomatic receptions, in newspaper articles and, increasingly, on internet sites.
Twenty-two years later, industrys propaganda remains virtually unchanged with more Asian countries being targeted to make up for markets where asbestos use has been outlawed.3 Slick European public relations companies still present the arguments for a discredited and despised industry which will do anything it deems necessary such as spying on health and safety campaigners and threatening activists with lawsuits and criminal charges to protect the status quo.4
What has changed significantly is the public awareness of the methods used by vested interests to preserve global markets. Whether it is bribing government officials, running disinformation campaigns or manipulating international agencies, asbestos stakeholders are swimming against the post-Covid tide. With growing anxiety over the climate crisis, global populations are demanding that corporations and governments embrace environmental sustainability, green technologies and zero pollution. With increasing calls for accountability and for punishment of asbestos stakeholders, the future is asbestos-free.
2 Email from Eliezer João de Souza. June 12, 2023.
4 Kazan-Allen, L. Corporate Deceit: Asbestos Espionage at Home and Abroad. March 18, 2019.
Understanding the Mindset of Westminster Killers
Having read and re-read the Hansard transcript of a May 23, 2023 House of Commons debate on the Safety of School Buildings, I found it difficult to fathom the Tory Governments continued complacency over the presence of a deadly killer within the countrys educational infrastructure.1
Perhaps it has something to do with the fact that the children of Tory Ministers are unlikely to be in danger? Lets investigate. During the debate, the Minister of State for Schools Nick Gibb MP and Robert Halfon MP, Minister for Skills, Apprenticeships and Higher Education spoke on behalf of the Government; neither one of them has children. The majority of current cabinet members went to private schools.2 Its well known that privately-educated Brits tend to provide the same level of education for their kids. Prime Minister Rishi Sunak was educated at the £45,936-a-year Winchester College before going to Oxford University, like every other Prime Minister since the second World War except Gordon Brown. Sunaks 10- and 12-year-old daughters began their education at an elite all-girls school in South Kensington; the elder one is now at a private boarding school. And so it goes
The motion debated on May 23, 2023 between 4:40 p.m. and 6:56 p.m., which was proposed by the Shadow Secretary of State for Education Bridget Phillipson MP, asked the Government to release a long-delayed report on the state of school buildings referred to as the underlying buildings condition survey data completed in 2021. Although the key findings of that research were made public in May 2021, the full report has yet to see the light of day. The delay was inexplicable as well as suspicious said Bridget Phillipson MP:
And here we are in May, two years on from the summary data being published, and there is nothing at once public and specific about the risks and needs of individual schools. What is there to hide? Why will they not come clean with parents and the public?
In 2000, teacher Gina Lees died of the asbestos cancer mesothelioma, having been exposed to asbestos at multiple schools. She was 51 years old.3
In 2009, Dorothy Willmore died of mesothelioma; she was 49 years old. Hours before she died, the Court of Appeal confirmed that the asbestos exposure which had caused her cancer had occurred during the 1970s when she was a pupil at the Bowring comprehensive school in Knowsley.4
Labour MPs who highlighted the on-going national scandal over asbestos in schools on Tuesday afternoon included Bridget Phillipson,5 Simon Lightwood and Liz Twist. It was left, however, to Ian Lavery MP, to make the most damning indictment of 13 years of Tory misrule during his impassioned intervention:
The idea that schools could collapse is terrifying; that they could collapse releasing clouds of asbestos is shudderingly worrying. I want to focus on asbestos for a moment, and the fact that asbestos in schools is still killing teachers. Mesothelioma is the dreaded disease caused by asbestos. The Government are fully aware of the situation with mesothelioma and what is happening in our schools. I could focus on a range of health and safety issues regarding schools, but let us just focus on asbestos.
A staggering 87% of schools are reported to have asbestos in at least one of their buildings. The idea that that stuff is safe in situ, and that it is fine if it is not moved, is a convenient and dangerous lie from a Government that want to wish yet another major issue away.
The Government might be disturbingly surprised to hear that many school teaching professionals are now dying of mesothelioma, at an average of 21 per year up three per year since 1980 yet they persist in burying their head in the sand... I have to tell the Minister that people are dying because of asbestos in schools. Mesothelioma is a disease with a latency period of 10, 20, 30 or 40 years, and there are still people dying as a result of asbestos in schools. He must do something about it. It is not good enough to continue to say that as long as we do not touch it, it will be fine, because peopleteachers and kidsare dying as a result of mesothelioma. We need the data; we need the information. Parents have a right to know if our schools are safe and if their kids are safe when they leave their door in the morning and go into the educational environment.
The motion was defeated with 296 votes against and 171 in favor.
1 Hansard. The Safety of School Buildings. May 23, 2023.
2 Majority of Rishi Sunaks new cabinet went to private school. October 26, 2022.
3 Kazan-Allen, L. The Female Face of Britains Asbestos Catastrophe. July 2012.
4 Davies, C. School asbestos compensation puts councils under pressure. March 9, 2011.
5 During one of her interventions Bridget Phillipson pointed out that: "The trade union Unison estimates that at current funding rates, it will take hundreds of years to fully remove dangerous asbestos from the schools estate. How on earth is that good enough?"
A Tale of Two Cities 2023!
On May 7, 2023 scores of members of the Asian Ban Asbestos Network (ABAN) gathered in Bangkok for the latest ABAN conference; other ABAN members monitored the event online.1 This was the first in-person event organized by ABAN since the Covid pandemic; although a virtual ABAN event in 2021 had allowed hundreds of delegates to take part, the development of relationships, interchange of information and building of trust is best accomplished in person.2 Material was presented on the day by delegates from Australia, Bangladesh, Cambodia, India, Indonesia, Japan, Laos, Malaysia, Nepal, Pakistan, Philippines, South Korea, Sri Lanka, Taiwan, Thailand and Vietnam. Translation from Thai and English facilitated verbal interactions whilst the generous provision of discussion time allowed key concerns to be addressed.
Group photo taken at ABAN Conference on May 7, 2023 in Bangkok, Thailand.
Commenting on the conference, ABAN Coordinator Sugio Furuya said:
It was extremely important for ABAN to provide the opportunity for key voices in the Asian ban asbestos campaign to be heard during conference sessions in Bangkok last week. Whilst in Thailand, ABAN delegates were also able to participate in wider-ranging discussions on occupational health and safety at the annual meeting of the Asian Network for the Rights Of Occupational and Environmental Victims (ANROEV).
At the same time as ABAN and ANROEV campaigners were exploring ways to protect workers and members of the public, asbestos stakeholders from Russia and Kazakhstan were blocking United Nations efforts to safeguard humankind from deadly exposures to asbestos at a meeting of the Rotterdam Convention in Geneva. ABAN members were outraged that just a handful of countries had the ability to overrule the vast majority of nations, all of whom agreed that the best way to protect future generations from asbestos-related diseases was to stop the use of asbestos.
Speaking on behalf of the International Ban Asbestos Secretariat, Coordinator Laurie Kazan-Allen said:
I was in Geneva in 2006 and 2013. I witnessed first-hand how loopholes in the Rotterdam Convention were exploited by stakeholders to prioritize their countries financial interests as opposed to the welfare of global populations. Despite so much hard work to reform the Convention, unfortunately, history repeated itself this month in Geneva when action on asbestos was vetoed by Russia, Kazakhstan, Zimbabwe, India, Kyrgyzstan and Pakistan. Nearly 6,000 miles away in Bangkok, however, plans for high-profile regional campaigns on asbestos and other acknowledged toxins were being progressed by members of the ABAN and ANROEV movements. In the aftermath of a pandemic which ravaged the world, the preservation of life and the environment has become a global priority. The future is asbestos-free.
1 ABAN 2023 was sponsored by the Solidarity Center (AFL-CIO), the International Ban Asbestos Secretariat, ABAN, Asian Network for the Rights Of Occupational and Environmental Victims (ANROEV), the Asia Monitor Resource Center, the Building and Wood Workers International, Australias Union Aid Abroad (APHEDA) and Work and Environment Related Patients (WEPT), Thailand.
2 Kazan-Allen, L. Taking the Asian Battle to Ban Asbestos Online! October 13, 2021.
Also see: Pacific Island Countries Efforts Toward Asbestos Containing Material Ban Presented at 2023 ABAN Conference. May 17, 2023.
Curious or Deliberate Oversight You Decide!
International Chrysotile Protection Day a holiday invented by the asbestos lobby to celebrate the bounty provided by massive deposits of chrysotile asbestos was due to take place on April 16. In years gone by there were April 16 displays of pro-chrysotile fervor by local people as well as industry workers in Russian and Kazakh asbestos mining towns in the Sverdlovsk, Orenburg and Kostanay regions.1 There were meetings, concerts and even sports competitions to share chrysotile propaganda with younger generations. Even when there were no in-person events, there were online articles, blogs and Facebook postings, all of which were used to extol the virtues of mountain flax (a Russian nickname for chrysotile) and denounce its critics. This year, April 16 came and went and there were no rallies, articles, celebrations or Facebook postings. Of this one-time calendar fixture, there was just a reverberating silence.
April 16, 2015 Public Rally in Asbest, Russia on Chrysotile Protection Day.
The timing of chrysotile day was deliberate coming weeks before biennial meetings on a United Nations treaty intended to protect global populations from exposures to dangerous chemicals and substances. The next such meeting of the Parties to the Rotterdam Convention will take place in Geneva in early May. Once again, the contentious issue of listing chrysotile on Annex III of the treaty is on the agenda. Considering the vehemence with which Russian and Kazakh asbestos stakeholders have acted to block eight prior attempts at listing chrysotile, the failure to rally their asbestos troops on April 16 comes as something of a surprise. 2
Of course, Russias war on Ukraine might have gotten in the way of this years chrysotile love-in. Despite the approbation felt by civilized countries over the invasion of Ukraine, Russian delegates to last years Conference of the Parties to the Rotterdam Convention carried on business as usual. Expressing their disapproval of the asbestos refusniks behaviour, civil society campaigners said:
The refusal by certain Parties, led by the Russian Federation, to allow the listing of chrysotile asbestos in the relevant Annex III of the Convention is driven by economic interests and stands in gross violation of the spirit of the Rotterdam Convention and in total contradiction to the decision taken at the International Labour Conference last Friday by all ILO member countries, including those now blocking progress at the Rotterdam Convention COP, to elevate a safe and healthy working environment to a fundamental principle and right to work.3
I am under no illusion that the inaction on April 16 will carry forward to Geneva but wouldnt it be nice if it did?
1 Жители Асбеста вышли на манифестацию под лозунгом «У Асбеста есть будущее!» [Residents of Asbest took to the demonstration under the slogan Asbest has a future!] April 17, 2015.
На Урале прошли необычные митинги в поддержку асбеста [Unusual rallies in support of asbestos held in the Urals]. April 30, 2016.
Россия и Казахстан на страже минерального хризотила [Russia and Kazakhstan Guard the Mineral Chrysotile]. April 23, 2016.
Асбест — город особенный: сегодня там отмечают международный день защиты хризотила [Asbest is a special city: today they celebrate the international day of protection of chrysotile]. April 16, 2018.
День защиты хризотила: более 40 лет хризотил-асбест находится под давлением внешних сил [Chrysotile Day: For more than 40 years, chrysotile-asbestos has been under pressure from external forces]. April 17, 2021.
Народ за хризотил! [People for chrysotile!] April 16, 2022.
2 Kazan-Allen, L. Light at the End of the Tunnel? February 21, 2023.
3 Press Release. Russia violates Fundamental Right to a Safe and Healthy Working Environment. June 15, 2022.
Asbestos Specter Stalks the Globe
A cache of recent news reviewed on April 5, 2023 revealed asbestos legacy issues in North America, Europe, Australia and Asia. The biggest of the stories detailed the latest attempt by the US pharmaceutical behemoth Johnson & Johnson to resolve tens of thousands of lawsuits by cancer sufferers who claimed their diseases were contracted as a result of using the companys iconic baby powder which was contaminated with asbestos fibers.1 This story was covered by media outlets in Russia, China, Vietnam, Canada, France, Italy, Greece and elsewhere.
Although I seriously doubt that the Canadian Prime Minister will become homeless as a result of news from Ottawa, the fact that his official residence at 24 Sussex Drive has, in effect, been dubbed a toxic site can be of little solace to him or his country. It seems that the use of asbestos in building the structure means that a plague of rodents now inhabiting the building cannot be dealt with effectively because the walls of the property are full of asbestos. Until this contamination has been remediated, the air in the building will remain too toxic for human habitation of this national landmark.2
Canadian Prime Ministers Residence, 24 Sussex Drive.
The air in ships belonging to the Spanish Navy was also toxic according to sub-lieutenant Francisco Feal who was quoted in an April 5th, 2023 article entitled Asbestos killed 82 members of Spanish navy in last 20 years: Report. The biggest hazard onboard, he said was the cloud of worn-out asbestos that circulated everywhere and that we breathed in for months, even years. Hundreds of us got sick, and many died of cancer. We are still paying for it today.3 Although asbestos use was banned in Spain in 2002, asbestos material remains on naval ships.
In a lesser-known story, survivors of the February 2023 earthquakes in Turkey on April 4, 2023 took to the streets of the Province of Hatay to protest the fact that asbestos-containing building rubble was being dumped in an area near where temporary shelters had been erected.4
Protest in Hatay, Turkey on April 4, 2023. Twenty protesters were arrested by the police.
According to a spokesperson for the protestors:
People who have not died from the earthquake will die from asbestos...If this practice continues in this way, the people of Samandağ will face new health problems such as lung and pleural cancer.5
Data in a report released by the Australian Government on April 4, 2023, confirmed that Australia continues to have one of the highest measured incidence rates of mesothelioma in the world with up to 800 people dying every year from this asbestos cancer. In the 2019-20 financial year, $32.1 million was spent by the health system on care for Australias mesothelioma patients.6 Whilst the majority of male mesothelioma patients reported occupational asbestos exposures, only 6.6% of women patients experienced occupational exposures.
Meanwhile in China, one of the worlds biggest asbestos consuming and producing nations, an article about the national rise in lung cancer cases warned citizens of the serious health risks posed by occupational exposures to a variety of substances including asbestos, arsenic, chromium, formaldehyde, and vinyl chloride. If you have to work in an environment containing toxic substances such as arsenic and asbestos, you should, wrote the author wear a gas mask and protective clothing to reduce your exposure to toxic substances.7
In countries which have faced up to their tragic asbestos legacies, small steps are being taken to quantify the human and environmental costs of widespread and unregulated asbestos use. In countries where asbestos is still being used, the outlook is grim; continuing toxic exposures will undoubtedly produce higher incidences of cancer and respiratory diseases.
Whilst foreigners may not be able to stop asbestos-producing countries like Russia, Kazakhstan and China exposing their own citizens to asbestos, there is no excuse for allowing them to export their toxic wares. The eleventh meeting of the Parties to the Rotterdam Convention a United Nations protocol designed to progress environmental justice by imposing controls on the international trade in dangerous substances meets in Geneva in May 2023; are there grounds to be hopeful that this time the ninth time something will finally be done to prevent the sale of asbestos to unsuspecting countries?8 One can but hope!
May 10, 2013: Asbestos Victims Groups Protest at 6th Conference of the Parties to the Rotterdam Convention.
1 Hsu, T. Johnson & Johnson Reaches Deal for $8.9 Billion Talc Settlement. April 4, 2023.
2 Cecco, L. Canadian PMs residence shut down over dead mice in walls, documents say. April 4, 2023.
3 Asbestos killed 82 members of Spanish navy in last 20 years: Report. April 5, 2023.
4 Günaydýn, B. O. Earthquake victims in Turkey's Hatay protest dumping of rubble near tent city. April 3, 2023.
5 Footage showing police attacking the protestors was uploaded to a twitter feed:
Protestors detained for trying to prevent uncontrolled rubble dumping in quake zone. April 4, 2023.
6 Australian Institute of Health and Welfare and Australian Mesothelioma Registry. Mesothelioma in Australia 2021. April 4, 2023.
8 Kazan-Allen, L. Light at the End of the Tunnel? February 21, 2023.
Kazan-Allen, L. Rotterdam Convention 2013 an Activist's Diary. May 21, 2013.
Japan: Victims Campaign for Asbestos Justice
In just a few weeks, the Japanese Government will be expanding the legal obligations of companies to protect not only their employees but also self-employed workers who may suffer toxic exposures at workplaces. Revised enforcement regulations of the Occupational Safety and Health Act, which will come into force on April 1, 2023, reflect a more comprehensive approach by the Government to workers rights.1
The change in policy is, one could argue, a result of recent court decisions, many of which have been favorable to asbestos victims.2 The wave of asbestos class actions and personal injury lawsuits achieved a high public profile due to the mobilization and lobbying of groups representing Japanese asbestos victims and trade union members.
Public rally by Construction Workers in Tokyo. May 25, 2022.
Protest by Japan Asbestos Victims in Tokyo. June 7, 2022. Photograph courtesy of JOSHRC.
The Japanese Workers Compensation Situation, which evolved piecemeal over decades, is complex. As I understand it, there is:
|a)||a Workers Compensation Insurance Scheme which covers all workers, including the self-employed, who pay premiums;|
|b)||a relief scheme to compensate the injured not covered by the Workers Compensation Insurance Scheme.|
As an example, an asbestos-injured employed construction worker can receive benefits from a); an asbestos-injured self-employed construction worker can receive benefits from (a) or (b) as long as he paid contributions to the national scheme. The amounts of compensation accessible through these routes are the legal minimum. Both the employed and self-employed can seek additional payments from responsible parties such as their employer, the Government, the manufacturers of asbestos-containing building materials, etc.
Following a landmark judgment by the Supreme Court in 2021, the Government set up a scheme under the Construction Asbestos Benefits Law adopted by the Diet on June 9, 2021 which became operational on January 19, 2022. To date, more than 3,000 claimants have received benefits in addition to those previously obtained under the Workers Compensation Insurance Scheme (a) or the relief scheme (b) discussed above.3
Not very long ago, things were different, as I know from personal experience. In November 2007, I took part in an asbestos workshop in Yokohoma with members of the Japanese trade union movement. I was dumbfounded when I learned that there had been no cases brought by asbestos-injured railway workers.4 Participants at the event were equally amazed to learn of the level of compensation payouts routinely received by UK railway workers who had succeeded in lawsuits against their employers.
Commenting on the progress made, Sugio Furuya, General Secretary of The Japan Occupational Safety and Health Resource Centre (JOSHRC), said:
As recently as 1995 annual asbestos consumption in Japan was 193,800 tonnes, much more than any other G7 country. Given the accumulation of medical and scientific knowledge about the health hazards posed by asbestos exposures, Japanese politicians must have known about the deadly consequences of their failure to protect the population from the asbestos hazard. Equally guilty were building material manufacturers and many others who prioritized profits over safety. Thankfully, the courts have now recognized the culpability of these defendants. Litigation continues to ensure that all Japans asbestos victims are supported and compensated.
The experience in Japan has lessons for other national governments that remain unwilling to end the deadly use of asbestos. They will also be held to account. The most effective way to limit their liabilities is to ban the use of asbestos now.5
1 Kawai, T. 労働安全衛生法の省令が改正 2023年4月から一人親方にも保護義務. [Ministerial ordinance of the Industrial Safety and Health Act has been revised From April 2023, the obligation to protect even the self-employed]. February 24, 2023
Furuya, S. New Developments in Construction Workers Asbestos Litigation in Japan. June 24, 2021.
2 Kazan-Allen, L. Historic Victory for Japans Asbestos Victims. May 20, 2021.
4 Kazan-Allen, L. UK Rail Trade Unions: Action on Asbestos. Presented at: Japanese Trade Union Asbestos Workshop Yokohoma, Japan, November 2007
Kazan-Allen, L. Report on the International Asbestos Conference for Fair and Equal Compensation for all Asbestos Victims and their Families. November 24, 2007.
5 Email from Sugio Furuya, February 28, 2023.
The Sinking of the São Paulo
Environmentalists, campaigners and legal experts around the world were shocked by news that the Brazilian Navy had carried out a series of explosions on February 3, 2023 to sink the São Paulo, its former flagship.1 It was alleged that Brazilian President Lula da Silva signed off on the Navys plans despite objections by the Minister of the Environment and Climate Change Marina Silva, other members of the new administration and supporters of the Workers Party. Under Lulas predecessor, President Bolsonaro, an anti-environmental agenda held sway; Lula had vowed to reverse the environmental destruction. After only a month in office, Brazilians have good reason to question his intentions.
The interest in the São Paulo was not confined to Brazil; media reports on the story were published in Africa, Europe, North America, Asia and Latin America.2 Describing the ship as a Giant Recycling Problem, a toxic package of 30,000 tons and one of the biggest pieces of garbage in the ocean, most of the authors of the articles cited below recapped the inglorious history of the former French aircraft carrier which had drifted aimlessly off the Brazilian coast for months in 2022 before being abandoned in January 2023 by its Turkish owners.
After a less than transparent transfer of ownership from the Brazilian Navy to a Turkish company in 2021, which was called state-sponsored criminal waste trafficking by environmental campaigners, plans were made to dismantle the São Paulo in a Turkish shipyard.3 Following, unrest amongst members of the shipbreaking communities, highly vocal dissent expressed by local and federal politicians and public mobilization by campaigners for workers rights and the environment, the Turkish Government rescinded the permit for the scrapping of the São Paulo to take place in Aliağa over concerns about its contamination with asbestos and other toxic substances.
The ship was ordered back to Brazil in August 2022. Once there, provincial and state authorities refused it permission to dock. Day after day, month after month, the condition of the hull deteriorated leading to questions over the ships structural integrity. The Navy refused to get involved, heaping blame for the situation on the ships Turkish owners Sök Denizcilik, Oceans Prime Offshore, a company under contract to Sök Denizcilik, the Brazilian Institute of Environment and Renewable Natural Resources (IBAMA) and the Turkish environmental agency. 4
In a note released on February 2, 2023, the Turkish owners of the ship robustly challenged the narrative as laid out in a joint official note from Brazils Ministry of Defence, the Attorney General's Office and the Navy:
The [Brazilian] document, far from clarifying the reality of the facts, covers up the waste of public money by the Brazilian taxpayer, literally thrown down the drain, and the inertia of the authorities, who proved to be indifferent over almost six months while the ship wandered aimlessly, burned fuel in the environment and its representatives constantly sought a dialogue with the authorities, as well as alerting society and the press to the current and unresolved problems. A ship that would undergo green and environmentally safe recycling in one of the most respected shipyards in the world and that complied with all legal determinations and impositions will now be sunk in Brazilian waters, with an impact on the environment.5
In January 2023, the Navy took possession of the vessel following an ultimatum by its owners. The Navys preferred solution to the high-profile and complex problem which was the São Paulo involved towing it hundreds of kilometers from mainland Brazil and deliberately scuppering it. Although the Minister of Ecology Marina Silva opposed this solution, the new Brazilian Government was anxious not to provoke the military whilst investigations into Januarys attacks on Congress, the presidential palace and the Supreme Court were ongoing. Considering the very real frictions which existed within government circles, it was always likely that the Navy would have the final say.
On January 31, 2023, a public civil action to prevent the sinking of the ship was filed by the Federal Public Ministry (MPF) at the Federal Court in Pernambuco6; it was rejected.7 Judge Ubiratan de Couto Maurício recognized that sinking the ship would cause environmental damage but that the extent of the damage was unknown; the ship must, he ordered, be sunk at least 350 kilometers off the Brazilian coast, at a depth of approximately 5,000 meters, outside environmentally protected zones or areas with undersea cables. On February 2, 2023, the MPF appealed Mauricios verdict to the Federal Regional Court of the 5th Region; this appeal was also rejected.8
Reflecting on the judicial disposition to allow the Navy to make decisions outside the areas of its expertise, Professor Marijane Vieira Lisboa asked:
If it is for the Navy, Ministry of Defense, Attorney General of the Union (AGU) and Judges without specific training to make environmental policy, why do we have environmental legislation and the Ministry of the Environment?... the Brazilian Constitution expressly states that a prior study of the environmental impact is necessary for any activity potentially causing significant degradation of the environment, in its article IV of chapter VI: On the environment. And it says in Article I that it is up to the Public Power (Attention, AGU!) to preserve and restore essential ecological processes and provide for the ecological management of species and ecosystems.9
From the very beginning of this debacle, national and international campaigners had urged the Brazilian Navy to respect international protocols, at least three of which were broken by sinking the São Paulo. Under President Jair Bolsonaro a retired military officer the authorities had been given carte blanche to ride rough shod over petty inconveniences such as international law. The cursed legacy of their dishonorable actions has left President Lulas administration with a raft of thorny issues to resolve as well as damage to undo. Far from bringing an end to the São Paulo saga, the sinking of the ship will haunt Brazil for decades to come and the bill for defending the countrys actions and reputation at home and abroad will be colossal.10
1 Contrariando ambientalistas, Marinha do Brasil afunda ex-porta-aviões com material tóxico [Contradicting environmentalists, Brazilian Navy sinks ex-aircraft carrier with toxic material]. February 3, 2023.
2 Bharade, A. Brazil wants to abandon a 34,000-ton warship in international waters, and it could become one of the biggest pieces of garbage in the ocean. February 1, 2023.
Dangwal, A. Brazil To Sink Its Toxic 34,000-Ton Aircraft Carrier In International Waters As Sao Paulo Finds No Takers. February 2, 2023.
Бразилія планує потопити авіаносець "Сан-Паулу" в Атлантичному океані (фото) [Brazil plans to sink the Sao Paulo aircraft carrier in the Atlantic Ocean (photo)]. February 3, 2023.
Andreoni, M. A Proud Ship Turned Into a Giant Recycling Problem. So Brazil Plans to Sink It. February 2, 2023.
Brazil bỏ rơi tàu sân bay trên biển: Báo động về thảm họa môi trường [Brazil abandons aircraft carrier at sea: Alarm of environmental disaster]. February 2, 2023.
3 Kazan-Allen, L. The São Paulo: International Hot Potato. September 1, 2022.
Kazan-Allen, L. International Mystery Where is the São Paulo? September 1, 2022.
4 Kazan-Allen, L. São Paulo Blame Game. October 11, 2023.
5 Ex-donos do porta-aviões São Paulo contestam nota do Ministério da Defesa, AGU e Marinha [Former owners of the aircraft carrier São Paulo dispute note from the Ministry of Defense, AGU and Navy]. February 2, 2023.
6 MPF recorre da decisão para afundar porta-aviões [MPF appeals decision to sink aircraft carrier]. February 3, 2023.
7 MPF pede à Justiça que proíba Marinha de afundar porta-aviões aposentado impedido de atracar no Brasil [MPF asks Justice to prohibit Navy from sinking retired aircraft carrier prevented from docking in Brazil]. January 31, 2023.
Marinha confirma plano de afundar navio feito de amianto [Marinha confirma plano de afundar navio feito de amianto]. February 2, 2023.
Enquanto vagou no litoral brasileiro, porta-aviões proibido de atracar poderia ter chegado em qualquer porto do mundo, diz antiga dona do navio [While wandering off the Brazilian coast, an aircraft carrier banned from docking could have arrived at any port in the world, says the ship's former owner]. February 3, 2023.
8 Contrariando ambientalistas, Marinha do Brasil afunda ex-porta-aviões com material tóxico [Contradicting environmentalists, Brazilian Navy sinks ex-aircraft carrier with toxic material]. February 3, 2023.
9 Lisboa, M.V. Professora da PUC detona afundamento: Se é para Marinha, Defesa, AGU e juízes fazerem política ambiental, para que temos legislação e Ministério do Meio Ambiente? [PUC professor detonates sinking: If it is for the Navy, Defense, AGU and judges to make environmental policy, why do we have legislation and the Ministry of the Environment?] February 4, 2023.
10 Porta-aviões brasileiro com amianto à deriva em alto mar: Mais uma herança maldita do governo Bolsonaro [Brazilian aircraft carrier with asbestos adrift in the Atlantic Ocean: Another cursed legacy of the Bolsonaro government]. January 24, 2023.
New Years Woes for Russian Asbestos Sector?
An IBAS blog last year highlighted the dichotomy between the public perception of asbestos in Russia and that elsewhere.1 Where other countries shunned asbestos for causing untold numbers of deaths and ill-health amongst their populations, Russia embraced it. The fact that asbestos fiber produced in Russian mines accounted for nearly 60% of annual global consumption routinely went unmentioned in propaganda disseminated by the asbestos lobby to generate demand for this acknowledged carcinogen.2
For many years, Russian asbestos trade data has proved unreliable. The sanctions imposed in 2022 by Western countries on Russian exports would, one might have expected, have impacted negatively on the financial prospects of asbestos stakeholders. Whilst the making of a public admission to this effect remains unlikely, there is evidence to suggest that Russias asbestos sector is not flourishing.
In the beginning of October, 2022 Uralasbest Russias second biggest asbestos producer began experiencing difficulties sending chrysotile asbestos to China, a major market for Uralasbest asbestos accounting for 20% of the companys total sales.3 Commenting on the refusal of Sverdlovsk Railway to transport more than 4,500 tonnes of asbestos fiber in October and November 2022, a Uralasbest spokesman said:
Now we simply have nowhere to store it. What is loaded in the wagons is the so-called warehouse on wheels, we have almost run out of space in covered warehouses. We are negotiating to somehow resolve this situation [with the] Russian Railways.4
The block in the supply chain could, Uralasbest feared, force it to temporarily stop mining operations.
Meanwhile a 39% fall in asbestos production by Orenburg Minerals, Russias largest asbestos conglomerate, occurred in the period from January to August 2022 compared to the same eight months in 2021 according to statistics released late last year by the authorities in the Orenburg region.5
It would be too much to hope that all asbestos production in Russia would grind to a halt but the fact that the industry is experiencing difficulties is a good note on which to start the new year.
2 United States Geological Survey. Mineral Commodity Summaries 2022 Asbestos. Accessed January 6, 2023.
3 Out of 160,000 tons of chrysotile asbestos exported by Uralasbest in 2022, 36,000 tonnes went to China.
4 "Ураласбест" может снизить выпуск хризотила из-за проблем с отправкой грузов в Китай [Uralasbest may reduce the production of chrysotile due to problems with sending goods to China]. November 18, 2022.
Whose Asbestos Reality is Real?
Theres reality and then theres Russian reality. The perceptions and experiences of billions of people around the world are in direct contrast to those of 146 million Russians. This comes as no surprise; where Putin sees a war of liberation in Ukraine, the rest of the world sees a blood-thirsty attack on a democratic government.
And so it is with the public perception of asbestos. Around the world, this mineral is feared as the harbinger of cancer and yet in Russia it is embraced as a source of wealth creation and national pride. The divergence of opinion is well illustrated by six articles published simultaneously last week, five of which detailed the deadly repercussions of asbestos use and one which extolled measures being taken to modernize the asbestos industry. Even as cancer epidemics continue to rage in former and current asbestos-consuming countries, Russian asbestos stakeholders adhere to the party line: chrysotile (white) asbestos is good, Russian chrysotile is even better.
According to a recent publication: An estimated 3.17 million people have died in the last 40 years in EU 28 as a consequence of inhaling asbestos fibres.1 Each year, more than 100,000 Europeans die from asbestos-related diseases. After decades of heavy asbestos consumption, national infrastructures are riddled with these cancer-causing fibers; this contamination poses an imminent threat to members of the public as well as workers.
In Germany, asbestos products were used in the construction of residential properties between 1965 and 1990. According to Journalist Hildburg Burns, the toxic material is still present in 31,296 apartments in Spandau, Reinickendorf and Neukölln boroughs of Berlin. Expressing his concern about this news, Green Party politician Andreas Otto said: the actual number of dangerous apartments could be much higher. Otto was outraged that the Senate had no information about the size or scale of the asbestos contamination remaining in domestic properties.2
Poland, one of the few countries to commit to a deadline for the eradication of asbestos from the built environment (2032),3 is taking practical steps to ensure that asbestos material is replaced with safer alternatives. One scheme under the National Plan for Reconstruction and Increasing Resilience allows farm owners to access federal subsidies to remove asbestos roofing on agricultural buildings. The maximum area for which funds are available is 500 m2; bursaries are worth PLN 40/m2 .4 The entire roof must be replaced.5
In Didymoteicho, a city in north-eastern Greece, parents raised the alarm over broken asbestos-containing material in a school gymnasium.6 We asked experts and they told us that if the asbestos [flooring] is scratched and abraded, then things are more dangerous. As you can see in the photos, in the floor where the broken sections are [located] the asbestos is showing through. Our kids are students and they train there and besides the possibility of injury due to the damage, it could be worse. The school maintains that the municipality is responsible for maintenance and solving the problems So what is the municipality doing about this situation in a place where so many children exercise every day?
Parents in Italy are also mobilizing over asbestos contamination in the town of Santhià, in the Piedmont region where a derelict warehouse covered with deteriorating asbestos-cement roofing poses a serious danger to the local community. Despite protests and petitions over the failure to address environmental fallout from this municipal eyesore, neither the owner of the property nor the local authorities has taken action to eradicate the hazard.7
With one of the worlds worst incidences of asbestos-related mortality, asbestos is a hot button topic in Italy.8 An October 17, 2022 press release by the Italian Association of Asbestos Families and Victims of Emilia Romagna [L'Associazione Familiari e Vittime (AFeVA)] announced the mesothelioma death of Nino Dall'Olio, a former worker at the Bologna railway workshop. Nino, like many of his workmates, died from a cancer contracted due to occupational asbestos exposures.
There are dozens of articles every week detailing the terrible price paid by populations around the world for their countrys use of asbestos. Ending asbestos use is the official policy of the International Labor Organization, the World Health Organization and other agencies tasked with protecting global health.9 Asbestos use has been outlawed by the United Nations Commission for Refugees, the Asia Development Bank, the World Bank, the a14Asia Infrastructure Investment Banka14, the European Union and others; its use has also been banned by 69 national governments.10
Despite the almost unanimous blacklisting of asbestos, Russian commercial and government stakeholders blithely continue down the asbestos road. Why? The answer is obvious: during the 21st century, Russia has been the worlds largest producer of chrysotile (white) asbestos. Output from Russian mines accounted for nearly 60% of all the asbestos used in 2021.11 The industry has friends and allies at the highest echelons of government.
A Russian language article uploaded on October 17, 2022 considered the Russian chrysotile asbestos sector as a legitimate and intrinsic part of the national wartime economy.12 Crediting the diversification of the product range to heighten consumer appeal as well as targeted marketing at home and in CIS countries for the expansion of use in capital repair programs and repair of the country's infrastructure, the author predicted an increasingly important role for the Russian chrysotile cement industry:
By 2022, we can say that the chrysotile cement industry began to confidently capture the market. And the point here is the restrictions on the part of the West in imports, rising prices and logistical difficulties Today, chrysotile cement products are actively used in the construction of modern residential complexes throughout the country, in private housing construction and the design of office buildings... It is no secret that in recent years there has been more and more talk about the comprehensive modernization of the housing and communal services system in Russia, and contractors choose chrysotile for these purposes.
As more and more countries transition to asbestos-free technologies, markets for chrysotile will continue to contract; a dwindling number of customers will be left in countries with governments aligned with Russia. As we have learned from the Kremlins treatment of Ukraine, this is a government not to be trusted; believe their political and/or commercial propaganda at your peril. The future is asbestos-free.
1 European Public Service Union. European workers demand Parliament to Stop Asbestos Death. September 23, 2021.
2 Burns, H. Asbest-Gefahr in 31.000 Berliner Wohnungen! [Asbestos danger in 31,000 Berlin apartments!]. October 18, 2022.
В берлинских квартирах нашли асбест: он вызывает рак [Asbestos found in Berlin apartments: it causes cancer]. October 19, 2022.
3Opinion of the European Economic and Social Committee on Freeing the EU from asbestos. 2015.
4PLN 40 is worth about US$8.00.
5 Nabory z KPO pierwszy dzieñ i wnioski na blisko 96 mln zł [KPO recruitment - the first day and applications for nearly PLN 96 million]. October 17, 2022.
6 Διδυμότειχο: Σε άσχημη κατάσταση και δάπεδο από αμίαντο το Κλειστό Γυμναστήριο δίπλα στο Δημαρχείο [Double wall: The Indoor Gym next to the Town Hall is in a bad condition and has an asbestos floor]. October 17, 2022.https://www.evros-news.gr/2022/10/17/%CE%B4%CE%B9%CE%B4%CF%85%CE%BC%CF%8C%CF%84%CE%B5%CE%B9%CF%87%CE%BF-%CF%83%CE%B5-%CE%AC%CF%83%CF%87%CE%B7%CE%BC%CE%B7-%CE%BA%CE%B1%CF%84%CE%AC%CF%83%CF%84%CE%B1%CF%83%CE%B7-%CE%BA%CE%B1%CE%B9-%CE%B4/
7 «Santhià continua a vivere nel pericolo del crisotilo di amianto» [Santhià continues to live in the danger of asbestos chrysotile]. October 17, 2022.
8 AMIANTO OGR BOLOGNA. E deceduto Nino DallOlio per mesotelioma. Le condoglianze di AFeVA Emilia Romagna aps. [AMIANTO OGR BOLOGNA: Nino Dall'Olio died of mesothelioma. The condolences of AFeVA Emilia Romagna aps.] October 17, 2022.
9 IBAS. Asbestos Policies of Major International Agencies. Last updated August 20, 2022.
10 IBAS. Current Asbestos Bans. Accessed October 25, 2022.
In addition to the countries listed, the Parliament of Ukraine banned asbestos use on September 6, 2022.
Kazan-Allen, L. Ukraine Bans Asbestos, Finally. September 9, 2022.
11 United States Geological Survey (USGS). Minerals Commodity Summaries Asbestos 2022.
12 Хризотилцементная промышленность: трансформация ради будущего [Chrysotile cement industry: transformation for the future]. October 17. 2022.
Humiliation for Brazil, Victory for Turkey
September 7, 2022 should have been a glorious day for all of Brazil. It was, after all, the 200th anniversary of the countrys independence from Portugal. Unfortunately, the nationalistic fervor which would have been expected was somewhat overshadowed when the Government found itself in the midst of an international furore over its failed attempt to off-load a ship full of toxic waste to Turkey.
The fact that the former warship the São Paulo contained asbestos, PCBs, lead/cadmium paint and possible traces of radioactive material was bad enough, but, even worse was the multitude of international treaties and protocols that the export of the deadly ship had broken. In disregard of international law, a decision had been made by a federal agency (IBAMA) allowing the vessel to set sail from Rio de Janeiro on August 4, 2022.1
After the Turkish Government and Gibraltar authorities refused the São Paulo permission to proceed to its original destination, news was received on September 7th that the vessel had altered course and was proceeding at some speed back to its home port.2
The volte face in the ships reputation from once proud Brazilian flagship to toxic and despised floating wreck came about largely as a result of lobbying by members of the public, local and federal politicians and campaigners in Turkey in collaboration with international partners.3 Explaining the grassroots mobilization against the São Paulo, Project Development Officer at Greenpeace Mediterranean Gokhan Ersoy said;
From a wonderful public rally attended by thousands of people in Aliağa to dramatic demonstrations in the center of Izmir and public statements in front of official buildings, everybody spoke with one voice: stop this toxic ship! Signatures on online and conventional petitions reached over 150,000 in one month! The peoples unbending will and commitment forced policymakers to reconsider the mistake they made.4
Protestors hold aloft a banner at public rally saying: Aliağa dünyanın çöplüğü değildir [Aliağa is not the garbage dump of the world].
At the forefront of opposition to the São Paulos arrival in Turkey was Izmir Metropolitan Municipality Mayor Tunç Soyer who told participants at a demonstration last month:
The São Paulo is not an ordinary ship [it is a container for] a cargo of poison. What is on its way is thousands of tons of poison, thousands of tons of garbage. In the past, imperialists invaded countries with their boots. Now they invade with their toxic garbage, their poison. No passage to the poison ship here. This land is ours. They will go as they came The primary duty of a mayor is to protect his city. As the Mayor of Izmir Metropolitan Municipality, I will work hard to protect the air and water of Izmir.5
Izmir Metropolitan Municipality Mayor Tunç addressing August 2022 public rally.
One can but hope that the international approbation that this illegal attempt to transfer toxic waste has brought Bolsonaro will be exploited in the upcoming election as further evidence of his disqualification to inhabit the highest office in Brazil.
1 The agency which made this decision was the Brazilian Institute of Environment and Renewable Natural Resources [Instituto Brasileiro do Meio Ambiente e dos Recursos Naturais Renováveis (IBAMA)] a federal agency under the Ministry of Environment and the Brazilian Basel Convention Competent Authority.
Kazan-Allen, L. International Mystery Where is the São Paulo? August 9, 2022.
2 Kazan-Allen, L. The São Paulo: International Hot Potato. September 1, 2022.
3 Ölüm Gemisini Durduracağız Platformundan protesto [Protest from the We Will Stop the Death Ship Platform]. August 23, 2022.
4 Após ser proibido de entrar na Turquia, porta-aviões São Paulo está voltando ao Brasil [After being banned from entering Turkey, aircraft carrier São Paulo is returning to Brazil]. September 8, 2022.
5Aliağa'ya yolculuğunu sürdüren ölüm gemisine karşı dava açıldı [A lawsuit has been filed against the death ship that continues its journey to Aliağa]. August 24, 2022
Summer/Winter 2022: Brazils Best and Worst
Someone once told me that in Brazil, they had the best and worst of all things. This theory was well illustrated this summer (or winter if youre in Brazil) by two developments, one of which was of benefit to former asbestos workers and the other to the Brazilan Navy.1
Over four weeks between June 21 and July 27, 2022 health surveillance visits were carried out by staff from the Fiocruz research institute in the territory of Senador Camará, an area dominated by criminal factions at war with civilian and military police as well as drug traffickers. Many former workers from Saint-Gobains asbestos factories live in favelas in Senador Camará.2 Thanks to funding provided by the Brazilian Association of the Asbestos-Exposed (ABREA), Fiocruz staff were able to carry out weekly visits to consult health managers at multiple institutions and dozens of former asbestos workers in their homes.
This pioneering outreach project will resume in September 2022 thanks to another grant from an international donor. Commenting on the work of the Fiocruz team, ABREA Co-Founder Fernanda Giannasi said:
For decades, ABREA has worked closely with researchers, GPs and medical specialists to progress the treatment of our members. In many cases, either due to age or infirmity or lack of money, former asbestos factory workers or others who had been exposed to asbestos are unable to access medical care. For this reason, home visits such as the those provided to Saint Gobains former workers in Rio de Janeiro last month are absolutely vital. The opportunity to hold in-person consultations enabled the surveillance team to identify those who might need follow-up tests or treatments. The planning for the July visits was extensive and ABREA would like to express its grattitude to all those who facilitated these events.3
On the other side of the coin is the thorny issue of the aircraft carrier the São Paulo, a one-time flagship of the Brazilian Navy which has been, from the time it was purchased from France (2000) till now, something of a white elephant if a US $30 million, 871 foot long, 32,800 tonnes (fully loaded) warship could be so categorized. As a result of an explosion in 2005 (ten service personnel injured and one killers) and a fire in 2012 (two injured and one killed) and numerous serviceability issues, the vessel was more of a problem than an asset to the Brazilian Navy.
Disposing of it in March 2021 to a Turkish buyer for nearly US $2 million was to be the end of a perennial headache.4 Unfortunately, Brazilians involved in the sale of the ship including officials from various Ministries and government agencies failed to carry out the research required to fully understand that the international transfer of a ship containing hundreds of tonnes of asbestos, PCBs, and lead/cadmium paint as well as possible traces of radioactive material was not a simple matter. Despite an injunction from a Brazilian court ordering the vessel to return to the port of Rio de Janeiro as I write this blog on August 16 the ship is still on its way to Turkey.
Interpol has been notified as have governments in multiple European countries through whose waters the fugitive ship will sail in the coming weeks. It remains to be seen whether the Brazilian Government will be forced to recall the ship as the French Government was after it had attempted to dispose of the Clemenceau in India in 2006.5
I believe that having read about these developments, it would be hard for a reasonable person to disagree with the opinion of my Brazilian colleague who said: in Brazil we have the best and worst of all things.
1 Kazan-Allen, L. International Mystery Where is the São Paulo? August 9, 2022.
2 Fiocruz is the nickname for the Oswaldo Cruz Foundation, a scientific research institution in Rio de Janeiro which has been at the forefront of efforts to identify and treat patients with asbestos-related diseases.
3 Email from Fernanda Giannasi. August 15, 2022.
4 Brazilian aircraft carrier São Paulo. August 15, 2022.
5 Greenpeace hails recall of Clemenceau [India]. February 17, 2006.
French aircraft carrier Clemenceau. Accessed August 15, 2022.
Britains Asbestos Shame
In the forty years since a Minister defended the UK Governments deficient and dangerous asbestos policy in a debate in the House of Commons more than 100,000 people have died from asbestos-related diseases and cancers.1
In a speech to the House of Commons on July 29, 1982 the Under-Secretary of State for Employment David Waddington castigated critics who accused the Government of inaction and ridiculed people calling for a national ban on all types of asbestos:
They call for the use of substitutes. I remind hon. Members that a substitute providing the unique qualities of asbestos might be equally dangerous. I must also remind hon. Members that asbestos has safety uses. One must remember when one talks about the danger to those involved with asbestos at their work that they may be manufacturing something that will save lives, whether it is fire protection material or brake linings. One cannot ignore the social consequences. There are 18,500 people employed in the asbestos industry and they do not wish the industry to close. The Health and Safety Commission, which includes representatives of the TUC, does not believe that such a drastic step could be justified.2
In other words, the Tory Minister upheld the status quo and by so doing protected the profits of donors such as Turner & Newall who, earlier in the Parliamentary debate, had been outed as Tory paymasters.3
It seems that no lessons were learned about the human cost of asbestos inaction between 1982 and 2022. The attitude and language of a July 18, 2022 response to a report by the Parliamentary Committee on Work & Pensions4 decrying the Governments asbestos regime was more than a little reminiscent of that trumpeted by David Waddington in 1982:
It is little wonder that, having read the Governments delayed response the Chair of the Work and Pensions Committee Stephen Timms was extremely disappointed:
The Government argues that fixing a deadline for asbestos removal would increase the opportunity for exposure, but the risk is likely to increase anyway with the drive towards retrofitting of buildings to meet net zero aspirations. Setting a clear target should just be one part of a new properly joined-up strategy. This strategy should prioritise the highest-risk buildings and urgently boost the evidence base for the safe removal and disposal of a material that is still the single greatest cause of work-related fatalities in the country.6
I had been incensed by the Committees recommendation to allow yet another forty years for the eradication of the asbestos contamination but the Governments total denial of a need for a deadline of any sort is unconscionable.7
The majority of our schools, many of our hospitals, public buildings and domestic properties still contain asbestos. The hazard this poses to members of the public as well as workers has been well documented more than 100,000+ Britons have died from asbestos-related diseases since 1982. The July 28, 2022 declaration by the United Nations General Assembly categorizing a clean and health environment as a universal human right reinforces calls for prompt and definitive action on the UK asbestos hazard. 8 Should we wait four or more decades to act, we could see yet more lives lost.
1 This figure was calculated using mortality data collected by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) for mesothelioma and asbestosis and allowed for a proportion of misdiagnoses; for each death from mesothelioma, one death from asbestos-related lung cancer was added although the likely incidence of this disease was much higher. Deaths from other asbestos-related cancers such as cancers of the larynx, ovary, pharynx, stomach or colorectum were not included.
2 Hansard. Health And Safety At Work. Volume 28: debated on Thursday 29 July 1982.
3 According to MP Bob Cryer: Turner and Newall is a regular contributor to the Tory Party, paying £40,000 over three years British Belting and Asbestos at Cleckheaton gave the Conservative Party £11,500.
4 House of Commons Work and Pensions Committee. The Health and Safety Executives approach to asbestos management Sixth Report of Session 202122. March 30, 2022.
5 The Health and Safety Executives approach to asbestos management: Government Response to the Committees Sixth Report of Session 202122. July 21, 2022.
6 Committee publishes Government response to asbestos management report. July 21, 2022.
7 The Government and HSE reject recommendations for reform of the UKs asbestos management system. July 25, 2022.
Also see: Time for action on asbestos, says global safety body. July 27, 2022.
June 2022: Success and Shame in Switzerland
On June 10, 2022, a major breakthrough was achieved at the International Labour Conference (ILC) in Geneva, Switzerland when occupational health and safety was recognized as a fundamental right.
This extension of workers rights is the first addition to the human rights of working people to be recognized in 25 years.1 All member states of the International Labor Organization will now be obliged to respect and promote the fundamental right to a safe and healthy working environment, whether or not they have ratified the relevant Conventions.
Commenting on this hard-won victory, General Secretary of the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) Sharan Burrow said:
The COVID-19 pandemic showed beyond doubt that action was needed to protect workers who are all too often forced to choose between their health and their livelihood. No one should die just to make a living.
Last weeks decision by the ILC will strengthen the position of trade unions and labor federations in negotiations to: procure workers a voice in risk assessment consultations; progress the eradication of toxic substances and hazardous practices from workplaces; secure free protective equipment and safety training; and end dangerous working practices.
The ILC resolution, which was adopted at an afternoon plenary session on June 10th, reinforced conventions and instruments of other international bodies and associations also safeguarding workers rights. It was therefore singularly disturbing that a lobby for an industry of mass destruction was allowed to take part as an Observer and presenter at the 10th Conference of the Parties to the Rotterdam Convention (RC) just days after the historic breakthrough had been achieved by the ILC.
Demonstration outside the RC conference hall on June 14, 2022. Photo by IISD/ENB Angeles Estrada Vigil.
The provocative title of a side event hosted by the International Chrysotile Association (ICA) on June 14, 2022 was: SDGs: The contribution of chrysotile asbestos.2 Communications to the Rotterdam Secretariat from asbestos victims groups and trade unions about the ignominy of allowing the ICA a profit-driven Russian-backed lobbying group registered in Quebec as a non-profit organization to participate at the meeting were stonewalled by UN bureaucrats.3
The intent of the side event, like all ICA initiatives, was to spread confusion by disseminating propaganda extolling the environmentally-friendly bona fides of chrysotile (white) asbestos, a class 1 carcinogen. To any sane individual, this argument would be a non-starter, not so to the directors of the ICA who hail from Russia, Kazakhstan, Zimbabwe, Mexico, India and the USA, all of whom have financial, political or legal interests in protecting the global asbestos trade.
Attendance at the ICAs session was minimal, we have been informed. Whilst we might take some solace from that, the fact of the matter is that hours before it had even begun, delegations from Russia, Kazakhstan, India, Pakistan and Zimbabwe had blocked a motion to protect global populations from the asbestos hazard.4 As a result, asbestos pushers will continue to reap profits from the unregulated trade in asbestos, millions more people will contract asbestos-related disease many of whom will die and national infrastructures will be further contaminated.
1 International Labour Conference adds safety and health to Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work. June 10, 2022.
2SDGs: Sustainable Development Goals.
Kazan-Allen, L. Russian Assault on United Nations Convention. June 6, 2022.
3 Ruff, K. Exposé of the International Chrysotile Association. February 18, 2013.
Lalonde, M. Health experts around the world ask Quebec to disown pro-asbestos association. November 19, 2019.
4 Earth Negotiations Bulletin: Report of main proceedings for 14 June 2022.
Back on the Road, Again
Travelling post-Covid is nobodys idea of a picnic. Forms to fill out, tests to take, hurdles to jump and thats before you even step on a plane. All things considered, it was reassuring to know that Asian Ban Asbestos (ABAN) colleagues were able to take part in a variety of activities throughout Australia earlier this month (May 2022) to raise awareness of the asbestos reality in countries which are still consuming asbestos.
A delegation of ABAN and other civil society campaigners from Indonesia, Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam flew to Australia to attend the asbestos conference organized by the Asbestos Safety and Eradication Agency (ASEA) in New South Wales (May 19-20), to meet with asbestos victims groups, medical researchers and trade unionists in Western Australian and asbestos removal specialists and trade unionists in Victoria. Throughout their stay, they also had the opportunity for discussions with Members of Parliament, government officials and representatives of cancer charities.
Organizing their hectic itinerary was a logistical challenge considering the multiplicity of requests made for meetings. Commenting on the timetabling of the events, organizer Steve Mullins from Union Aid Abroad APHEDA said:
The opportunity of finally holding face-to-face meetings in Australia with campaigners working throughout the region to address the challenges posed by the ongoing consumption of asbestos in Asia was too good to miss. The diverse nature of the professional expertise of medical specialist Dr Anna Suraya, grassroots campaigner Surya Ferdian (Indonesia), trade unionist Sok Kin and Dr Leong Tong,1 (Cambodia), labor activists Vilay Vongkhaseum,2 and Chanphen Maniseng (Laos),3 campaigners Hoang Xuan Luong4 and Dr Dong Xuan Thu5 (Vietnam) was of great interest to ASEA conference delegates as well as others working on Australias asbestos frontline. It was extremely rewarding to hear first-hand how much work had been done despite the Covid pandemic in these countries. In the days to come, APHEDA colleagues will consider feedback from the participants as we continue our collaborations on strategies and plans to eradicate the asbestos hazard not just from Australia but also from neighbouring countries.6
Meeting in Perth from left: Surya Ferdian, Simon Millman MP, Chef, Dr Anna Suraya, WA Minister Bill Johnston and Indonesian Perth Consul General Listiana Operananta. Photo courtesy of Unions WA.
Commenting on the meeting in Perth with colleagues working on the asbestos frontline in Asia, Australian MP Simon Millman said:
Every year, I attend the Ecumenical Service of the Asbestos Diseases Society of Australia. It is a gruelling manifestation of the price paid by ordinary West Australians for the profits of asbestos companies. Before I entered parliament, I worked regularly with the Asbestos Diseases Society fighting for compensation for victims of asbestos diseases. Now as a Member of Parliament I hear regularly from constituents who have been told of an asbestos diagnosis in their family or the discovery of asbestos products in their homes. This deadly industrial legacy continues to kill nearly 20 years after asbestos use was banned in Australia. The opportunity, along with Industrial Relations Minister, the Hon Bill Johnston, to meet Dr. Anna Suraya and Surya Ferdian was a reminder that asbestos continues to be used in countries throughout our region. Western Australia must do everything it can to share our hard-won expertise on eradicating the asbestos hazard and treating the injured.
Justine Ross, CEO of the Asbestos Safety and Eradication Agency, welcomed the participation at ASEAs first in-person conference since 2019 of campaigners and government representatives from countries where asbestos was still being used. Explaining the importance of their participation, Ms Ross underscored the need for Australians to work collaboratively with their neighbors. The delegates who joined us from southeast Asia were, Ms Ross said encouraged to keep working towards asbestos bans in their countries. We hoped they learnt an important lesson from Australias asbestos tragedy: the longer it takes to ban asbestos the more deaths and disease there will be and the more asbestos there will be to clean up.7
Surya Ferdian addressing the conference of the Asbestos Safety and Eradication Agency on May 20, 2022. Photo courtesy of the Asbestos Safety and Eradication Agency.
Commenting on the significance of the Australian fact-finding trip, Surya Ferdian said:
Speaking on behalf of the delegation, I would like to express our appreciation for all the effort and resources that went into the organization of our trip. We were overwhelmed by the support we received from the multitude of people we met throughout our stay. Sharing our experiences and receiving feedback from Australian colleagues renewed our determination to progress efforts to raise awareness of the asbestos hazard with government officials, consumers, members of labor federations and fellow citizens. We will build on the contacts made in Australia, to create a sustainable and greener future for all; a future built with asbestos-free products.
1 Dr Leong Tong is the Director of Cambodias Ministry of Labor and Vocational Trainings Occupational Health Department.
2 Mr Vilay Vongkhaseum is Vice President of the Lao Federation of Trade Unions (LFTU).
3 Mrs Chanphen Maniseng is the Director of the Lao Federation of Trade Unions Labour Protection Department.
4 Dr Hoang Xuan Luong is the Director of the Research Center for Human Rights in Ethnic and Mountainous Areas, Vietnam.
5 Dr Dong Xuan Thu is the Senior Vice President of the Association to Support Mountain Economic Development (VAMEDA), Vietnam.
6 Email received from Steve Mullins. May 29, 3022.
7 Email received from Ms Ross. May 30, 2022.
Putin's War on Ukraine Demeans Russia's Status in World Affairs
Yesterday (April 18, 2022), we woke to news of yet more Russian bombardment of Ukrainian cities last night; more civilian deaths, more wanton destruction. A paradigm shift in our perception of and relationship with Russia has now become firmly entrenched.1 It is, as the German Chancellor Olaf Scholtz told Parliament on February 27, 2022, no longer a question of détente and engagement but of deterrence and repudiation.2 Business as usual, or as it has been since the end of World War II, is no longer possible.
The United Nations General Assembly acknowledged this on March 3, 2022 when it passed a resolution demanding that Russia: immediately, completely and unconditionally withdraw all of its military forces from the territory of Ukraine within its internationally recognized borders.3 On March 24, a resolution calling for the immediate end to the Russian invasion was supported by the majority of the General Assembly.4
Just a fortnight later, the UN General Assembly adopted a resolution calling for Russia to be suspended from the Human Rights Council (UNHCR) in response to Moscows invasion and alleged rights abuses in Ukraine.5
The remit of the UNHCR is to promote and secure human rights in its capacity as an inter-governmental body operating within the UN system. To protect human beings and the environment from toxic exposures to chemicals, two other bodies the Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations (FAO) and the United Nations Environment Programme (UENP) developed a program in the 1980s that later become the multilateral treaty which is the Rotterdam Convention on the Prior Informed Consent Procedure for Certain Hazardous Chemicals and Pesticides in International Trade (RC).
Unfortunately, it seems that the RC has not yet got the message about Russia. On my third attempt to clarify whether a Russian delegation would be attending the June 6-17, 2022 meeting of the 10th Conference of the Parties (COP),6 I was told:
Please bear in mind that the Conferences of the Parties are the governing bodies of the Basel, Rotterdam and Stockholm Conventions. They are composed of representatives of States and regional economic integration organizations that have accepted, ratified or acceded to the respective Conventions. As such, representatives of all Parties including the Russian Federation may be present at the meetings in accordance with the provisions of the Conventions and the rules of procedure for the Conferences of the Parties to each Convention.7
Readers of this blog may well wonder what the composition of the upcoming RC Conference has to do with asbestos. Ill tell you.
From 2013 until 2019, a Russian-led cabal of asbestos refusniks blocked progress on listing chrysotile (white) asbestos on Annex III of the Convention. It is important to point out at this juncture that Russia is the worlds leading supplier of asbestos, exporting 500,000+ tonnes of asbestos fiber to customers in Asia and Eastern Europe every year.
Despite what the Russians said in statements to delegates present at the Conventions plenary sessions and side events, the act of listing a substance is not the same as banning it; listing chrysotile would have made it mandatory for asbestos exporters to supply information needed for potential importers to assess whether they could use the substance safely. If so, they would have been deemed to have provided prior informed consent.8
The actions of the Russian delegation in Geneva were as contentious as they were objectionable with some members of the delegation having direct links with asbestos stakeholders. I have witnessed first-hand boorish behavior at the RC conference with Russians trying to shout down opponents, disrupt a press conference and derail a process intended to protect global populations.
It seems that as in war so in commerce: Russia takes no prisoners and enters into no meaningful discussions when it comes to protecting its own interests, whether political or economic. There is no place for this toxic delegation in Geneva. One can but hope that without the Russians in attendance, other delegations which had previously shown support for the Russian cause will accede to the common will and list chrysotile on Annex III.
1 This word Zeitenwende [turning point] was first used to encapsulate this shift in approach by the German Chancellor Olaf Scholtz in a speech to the German Parliament on February 27, 2022.
Tausendfreund, R. Zeitenwende - The Dawn of the Deterrence Era in Germany. February 28, 2022.
4 UN General Assembly demands Russia end Ukraine war. March 25, 2022.
6 Tenth Meeting of the Conference of the Parties to the Rotterdam Convention.
7 Email received on April 12, 2022 from the Secretariat of the Basel, Rotterdam, and Stockholm Conventions, United Nations Environnent Programme.
8 George, O. & Kazan-Allen, L. The Rotterdam Convention 2019. May 10, 2019.
Kazan-Allen, L. Asbestos Showdown in Geneva. May 10, 2017.
Press Release: Rotterdam Convention moving backwards, say civil society campaigners. May 15, 2015.
Kazan-Allen, L. Rotterdam Convention 2013 An Activists Diary. May 8, 2013.
Laurie in Wonderland
Like almost everyone else, in April 2022 I appear to be living on shifting sands. An analogy that springs to mind is the 19th century novel Alice in Wonderland, a childrens story which works on multiple levels. When you have someone in the Kremlin calmly embracing Russias noble crusade in Ukraine juxtaposed with the bloody carnage viewed on nightly TV it makes you wonder if the Queen of Hearts had it right when she said: Why, sometimes I've believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast.
As I was surfing the internet today, I came across the reminder that April 16 had been designated by vested interests in years past as Chrysotile [Asbestos] Protection Day. According to the shadowy sponsors behind this initiative, this was a day to celebrate the asbestos industry and decry the actions of those seeking to undermine the profits of Russian and Kazakh asbestos mines and processing plants. Oddly enough, the celebrations of this special day seem to have gone quiet this year.
By happenstance, I came across two articles separated by a year which when taken together reveal the unhinged mindset of asbestos stakeholders. The 2021 article exposed the Russian-Kazakh Kusto Group as having thwarted Ukraines efforts to ban asbestos in preparation for joining the European Union1 and the 2022 article congratulated the Chairman of the Board of the Kusto Group Yerkin Tatishev for winning Kazakhstans Entrepreneur of the Year award.2 According to the Kazakh news report: In June 2022, he [Tatishev] will represent Kazakhstan at the international finals of the competition in Monte Carlo, where he will compete for the title of international entrepreneur of the year. You couldnt make it up.
1 Kusto group блокирует запрет использования асбеста, что угрожает интеграции Украины в ЕС [Kusto group blocks the ban on the use of asbestos, which threatens Ukraine's integration into the EU]. April 27, 2021.
2 EY объявила предпринимателя года в Казахстане [EY announces Entrepreneur of the Year in Kazakhstan]. April 21, 2022.
The Writing on the Wall
In 1961 when President John F. Kennedy signed an executive order introducing trade restrictions on imports of certain Cuban goods, the sale of my Dads favorite cigars became illegal in the U.S.1 Refusing to accept inferior products, he made the overnight decision to stop smoking all together. I am eternally grateful that he did as I am sure that this decision prolonged his life.
Today, Western sanctions are making life difficult for companies which sell Russian asbestos.2 This month, Orenberg Minerals the owner of the chrysotile (white) asbestos mine which produces ~60% of annual Russian output announced that it was experiencing serious disruptions to its delivery chain and was now currently only able to ship cargo by rail to China and from there to Laos, Cambodia and Thailand.3
Russias second biggest asbestos producer Uralasbest revealed on March 21, 2022, that it had decided not to pay dividends this year despite substantial trading profits in 2021. The following day, Uralasbest said that it had asked the Russian government for assistance in overcoming hurdles to exporting asbestos.4 As well as requesting tax holidays and government loans, Uralasbest needed: help in organizing logistics hubs in the ports of countries that have not joined the sanctions
Long before the Russian military invasion of Ukraine, the purveyors of Russian asbestos were engaged in a war of attrition against civil society campaigners, trade unionists, politicians, citizens and consumers who wanted to eradicate the asbestos hazard from their countries.
As the machinery in Indian, Indonesian and Sri Lankan asbestos-cement factories stand idle, now would be the perfect time for these businesses to embrace an alternative, sustainable technology which does not endanger human life or pollute the environment. By doing so, they would be making a giant commitment to improving the lives of all their people.
Just as my fathers decision to stop smoking prolonged his life, the decision to abandon asbestos would make their countries safer for future generations. Russia can no longer threaten any nation wishing to throw off its asbestos shackles. It is time for all national governments to embrace an asbestos-free future.
1 How JFK snagged 1,200 Cuban cigars before the trade embargo. November 19, 2021.
3 According to a Russian article uploaded on March 12, 2022, Orenburg Minerals the owner of the biggest asbestos conglomerate in Russia is sending asbestos shipments by rail to China and at the same time we are solving the issue of delivering products through this country to Laos, Cambodia and Thailand. We are looking for opportunities to arrange supplies to Vietnam and Indonesia. We are trying to resolve issues with Iran and Turkey on shipment to India, but so far it has not been possible.
Андрей Гольм рассказал о работе «Оренбургских минералов» в условиях санкций [Andrey Golm spoke about the work of Orenburg Minerals under sanctions], March 12, 2022.
4 Balkin, V. «Ураласбест» попросил федеральное правительство помочь экспортёрам с логистикой [Uralasbest asked the federal government to help exporters with logistics]. March 22, 2022.
Genocide and Oppression as Viewed through an Asbestos Filter
As we watched the 2001 attack on the World Trade Center unfold before our eyes on TV, the world held its breath and waited.1 Like everyone else, I was paralyzed by fear about the fate of all those in the hijacked planes and buildings attacked. As I waited for news, I did not feel it was appropriate to disseminate information about the presence of asbestos in the buildings. The voracious defendants of the asbestos industry, however, had no such compunction and began circulating junk news about the disaster almost immediately.
Today, I sit before my computer screen and TV once again paralyzed by what I see unfolding before my very eyes. I was well aware of the trade war which East European asbestos interests had declared on Ukraine and their fierce determination to stop Ukraine from banning asbestos in preparation for joining the European Union but had no idea of how this and other issues would play out.
Who is responsible for the humanitarian catastrophe in Ukraine? Who is behind the threats to wipe Ukraine and its citizens from the face of the earth?2 With the use of vile epithets and twisted propaganda Vladimir Putin blames Ukraine for the attack. In a world which had become used to a litany of lies and fake news disseminated by Donald Trump and his disciples, was it possible that anyone would be convinced by Putins insane rhetoric?
Alas, it seems that at least some Russians believe this 21st Tsars propaganda and are taking active steps to show support for the war crimes being perpetrated in Ukraine. We read this morning (March 3, 2022) with shock news from the Sverdlovsk asbestos mining region of Russia that the municipalities of Asbestos and Zarechnyy have changed road signage for their cities by inserting the letter Z Z is an identification mark on vehicles engaged in a special operation in front of the towns name to indicate support for Russias war on Ukraine. 3
According to State Duma Deputy Maxim Ivanov, the towns of Zaikovo in the Irbitsky district, and Talitsa, the capital of the Talitsky District, are planning to follow suit; Sverdlovsk residents, he reported, were also ordering stickers with the letter Z for their cars.
The close ties that the Russian asbestos industry has cultivated with the Kremlin are common knowledge as are the actions taken by Russia to counter attempts by foreign governments which have the temerity to take steps to ban asbestos or by international agencies to regulate the global trade of this acknowledged carcinogen.
As recently as September 2021, Russias Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov confirmed his Governments reassurances that the use of Russian chrysotile (white) asbestos was not harmful to human health. To substantiate the Russian Governments asbestos policy, Lavrov stated that the World Health Organization (WHO) and the International Labour Organization supported the controlled use of asbestos. Of course, this was untrue, as Carolyn Vickers, WHO spokesperson, explained: The scientific evidence that it [chrysotile asbestos] causes cancer is conclusive and overwhelming.4
The same man who lied about asbestos last September was today seen on our TVs ranting about Ukraines Nazi Battalions, and the Russian special military operation to de-militarise and de-Nazify Ukraine.5 Lavrov is a puppet doing his Masters evil bidding; when the war crimes trials begin, he will be in the cell next door to Putin.
No civilized human being can remain unmoved by the plight of Ukraine; we can but hope that the majority of Russians do not share the views of town hall officials, politicians and civilians in Sverdlovsk. We stand united with Ukraine and its people.
1 Kazan-Allen, L. Asbestos Use in the Construction of the World Trade Center. September 19, 2001.
2 Ukraine: Zelenskyy says Russia wants to 'erase our country'. March 2, 2022.
3 According to a news report, the letter Z appeared on one of the entrance signs to Asbestos where it replaced the letter s on the sign.
Свердловский город поменял первую букву на Z [Sverdlovsk city changed the first letter to Z]. March 3, 2022.
4 Kazan-Allen, L. International Ban Asbestos Secretariat Devils Dust Awards 2022. January 18, 2022.
5 Ukraine invasion: Russia's foreign minister Sergei Lavrov rants about Napoleon, Hitler, Hollywood films and Ukraine's 'Nazi battalions'. March 3, 2022.
Winter Olympics 2022 Asbestos-Free Bubble
Beijing is the only city in the world to hold both a Summer (2008) and Winter Olympics (2022). In the run-up to the first event, enquiries were made with Chinese and international organizations about the use of asbestos for the construction of the Olympic arenas and venues.1 These concerns were based on the fact that for decades China had been a prolific producer and consumer of chrysotile (white) asbestos, using an average of 550,000 tonnes (t) per year in the four years leading up to the 2008 event.2
Despite an overwhelming silence from the Olympic authorities and Chinese hosts, responses to back-channel enquiries suggested that the use of asbestos had indeed been banned for high-profile events including the Beijing Olympics 2008, the World Expo in Shanghai (2010) and the 2010 Asia Games in Guangzhou.3
There is no question that asbestos consumption has been decreasing after the implementation of a range of restrictions on use in China;4 data for the years 2012-2016, the most recent available from the USGS, showed that average annual usage was 340,500t.5 Consumption may well have declined further since then and current domestic production of asbestos is estimated to have fallen to below 100,000t per year. Whilst these reductions are welcomed, it is clear that workers in factories throughout the country are still processing and handling asbestos fibers on a daily basis. In addition, people living in asbestos-contaminated homes, 6 studying in schools containing asbestos products and working in the construction and demolition sectors are routinely being exposed to this acknowledged carcinogen.
Hundreds of athletes and support staff from 90 countries attending the Winter Olympics this month (February 2022) will be reassured to know that the air they breathe at the venues in Beijing, Yanqing and Zhangjiakou is free from asbestos. Unfortunately, the same is most definitely not true for people outside the Olympic bubble. The longer Chinese officials wait to comprehensively address the nations deadly asbestos legacy, the higher the final death toll will be.7
2 According to data sourced from the United States Geological Survey (USGS), China apparently consumed 536,895 tonnes (t) of asbestos in 2004, 514,614t in 2005, 531,190t in 2006 and 626,099 t in 2007.
3 Kazan-Allen, L. China Increases Asbestos Restrictions. November 3, 2010.
4 Key landmarks in the evolution of Chinas policy on asbestos include the following: in 2002 the import and use of amphibole asbestos were banned; in 2003, the use of asbestos for automotive friction materials was banned; in 2007, the Ministry of Health adopted new guidelines to protect people working in asbestos factories; the use of asbestos was prohibited for the building of the infrastructure of the Beijing Olympics (2008) and the 2010 Asian Games; as of June 1, 2011, the use of all types of asbestos, including chrysotile, was banned in siding and wall construction materials under Chinese national standard GB50574-2010; as of December 27, 2012 a new List of recommended substitutes for toxic and hazardous raw materials was officially published by China's Ministry of Industry and Information Technology. Asbestos was included in category 3, the most advanced class for which substitutes have been developed and are being used. In the document, asbestos was categorized as a toxic and hazardous substance which could be replaced by safer alternatives.
Chronology of Asbestos Bans and Restrictions. Accessed January 27, 2022.
5 According to the USGS, asbestos consumption in China was: 430,000t (2013), 357,000t (2014), 287,000t (2015) and 288,000t (2016).
Déjà vu, All Over Again Down Under?
The news that Gina Rinehart Australias richest person1 had plans to build an iron ore mine at her familys Pilbara homestead stopped me in my tracks. From what I had remembered of Australian geography, the Mulga Downs cattle station was not far from the notorious Wittenoom crocidolite (blue) asbestos mine, the largest contaminated area in the southern hemisphere.2
Online research confirmed my worst fears; according to one source the northern boundary of Mulga Downs was 31 miles (50 km) north of Wittenoom, according to another, Wittenoom was 7 km southwest of the mines development envelope.3 Whichever way you looked at it, the proposed iron mine and the derelict asbestos mine were too close for comfort especially when viewed in the context of government efforts to shut down the toxic town.
It is no coincidence that Mrs Rineharts childhood home was located so close to the asbestos mine. In 1935, her father Lang Hancock, aged 26, took over the management of Mulga Downs; some while later, he began mining asbestos fiber at Wittenoom Gorge.
In 2013, Hancock Prospecting, one of Rineharts companies, sought approval from the Department of Environment for an iron ore operation about 3.5km (2 miles) from the homestead.4 Earlier this month (January 2022), the company filed a proposal with the Western Australian Environmental Protection Authority (EPA), for the construction of facilities to produce up to 20 million tonnes of iron ore per year for the next 30 years.5
When asked about the proximity of the proposed mine to Wittenoom, Kate Doust, a member of the Legislative Council of Western Australia, raised concerns: I would be interested to know, she wrote what type of testing or research has been done to assess the level of asbestos in the iron ore.
Legislation proceeding through the Legislative Council of Western Australia for the State to purchase the few properties in Wittenoom remaining in private hands recognized that the bill would not:
put an end to the contamination issue in the area; it is part of a larger body of work required to mitigate future public health risks and manage the contamination caused by the mining and use of asbestos in and around Wittenoom.6
The Wittenoom asbestos mine, owned and developed by Lang Hancock and others, was responsible for one of Australias worst epidemics with people still dying from exposures to Pilbara asbestos even though mining in Wittenoom ceased in 1966. The news that his daughter, who has never expressed regret over these deaths, plans to build another mine in the same vicinity is cause for disquiet.
It seems ironic that at the same time as the Legislative Council of Western Australia is considering the Wittenoom Closure Bill 2021 which would facilitate the closure of the former townsite of Wittenoom,7 the Western Australian Environmental Protection Authority has been tasked with signing off on the $US 7.4 billion Mulga Downs mine, rail and deep-water port development project.
One can but hope that concerned citizens, politicians and environmental campaigners in Western Australia working in partnership with the traditional owners of the Pilbara will do their utmost to ensure that the daughter does not repeat the misdeeds of the father.
1 Gina Rinehart has an estimated net worth of $31.06 billion (US$22.2 billion); she is also, Australias biggest landholder controlling 9.2m hectares which is 1.2% of the entire area of the country.
Meet the Mining Billionaires Ransacking Australia. December 31, 2021.
2 Why are people still travelling to asbestos-riddled Wittenoom? August 12, 2021.
3 Gorgan, S. Rinehart lays plans for Mulga Downs mine. January 14, 2022.
5 Philipps, M. Rinehart seeks EPA approval for Mulga Downs mine. January 17, 2022.
6 Hansard. Wittenoom Closure Bill 2021. October 21, 2021.
7 EXPLANATORY MEMORANDUM. Wittenoom Closure Bill 2021.
Goodbye and Thank You!
A Northern rabble rouser, an Aussie medic and a British Lord sounds like the beginning of the joke which continues walked into a bar Unfortunately, this is no joke, in fact it is the very opposite. The deaths of trade unionist Bill Lawrence,1 Professor Bill Musk2 and Lord Bill McKenzie3 on October 30, 2021, November 3 and December 2 respectively has rent the fabric of many lives. Their sad demise has caused me to reflect on the huge loss to their families, colleagues, patients, constituents and communities.
You might wonder what the three of them had in common except for the fact that their deaths came in such close proximity and that their first name was Bill. Yes, they operated in diverse spheres of life and even in different countries: Bill L.s habitat was trade union halls, political meetings and ban asbestos demonstrations throughout the UK and Europe while Bill Ms usual haunts were hospital clinics and scientific laboratories in Western Australia and Bill McKs workplaces included the offices of the accountancy firm Price Waterhouse, Luton Town Hall and the House of Lords.
There was, however, at least one area of convergence and that was the struggle to obtain justice for the asbestos-injured. As a trade unionist Bill Lawrence was well aware of the price paid by ordinary people for their toxic exposures to asbestos. He put his unparalleled skills as a researcher/organizer/consultant to good use helping progress claims for compensation, lobbying for stricter workplace protections, identifying British companies involved in the international asbestos trade and supporting the global campaign to ban asbestos.
Bill Lawrence in back row holding up sign saying Dying for Profit at Russian Embassy ban asbestos demonstration in London, 2013.
Professor Musk was at the forefront of work to address the epidemic of asbestos-related disease in Western Australia, home to many of the people who had worked and lived in the toxic Pilbara mining town of Wittenoom. Experimental therapies such as the use of Vitamin A to prevent disease amongst those at high risk and ultra low dose X-rays were amongst the initiatives that he progressed.
From left: Prof. Bruce Robinson, Prof. Bill Musk and Prof. Nick de Klerk. Meeting of the International Mesothelioma Interest Group, Boston. 2012.
His relationship with the Asbestos Diseases Society of Australia (ADSA), also based in Perth, was personal as well as professional. There was no question that should one of the Societys members present at their offices with a medical problem, then Bill was the first one to be called. More often than not, an appointment was made for the patient to be seen the same day or, at a push, the next. Tributes to Bill called him a visionary and humanitarian, and described him as an outstanding clinician (respiratory physician) who made an enormous contribution to cancer research in WA. He was all that and more. In his memory, last month (November 2021),the ADSA launched a drive to raise funds for the Professor Bill Musk PhD Scholarship.
Lord McKenzie. Source: Labour Party.
Lord McKenzie had been the Vice Chair of the Parliamentary Asbestos Sub-Group for some years and was instrumental in the Groups many accomplishments including setting up a fund of last resort for mesothelioma claimants which has, to date, paid out more than £231 million to 1,600+ applicants. He took an active role in speaking out on behalf of asbestos victims not least during the 2013 Parliamentary session when he supported the Mesothelioma Bill which established the Diffuse Mesothelioma Payment Scheme mentioned above.4
Informing colleagues of his death, Chair of the Parliamentary Asbestos Sub-Group MP Ian Lavery said:
Bill had been a dedicated public servant since the 1970s, first in local government where he went on to lead Luton Council, then later in Parliament as a peer. From 2007 to 2010 he held the role of Under-Secretary of State at the DWP with responsibility for health and safety, and his advocacy for workers rights continued in opposition. Some of you will know just recently he had challenged the government on the under-reporting of Covid cases to RIDDOR. He had also been in conversations about organising an event to mark 50 years since the Robens Report. We will endeavour to take that work forward in his memory.5
There is a collective debt we all owe to these men; we can honor their memories by ensuring that their work continues. Farewell Bill, Bill & Bill.
1 Kazan-Allen, L. Remembering Bill Lawrence. November 26, 2021.
3 Labour peer Lord Bill McKenzie dies, aged 74. December 3, 2021.
4 Good, but not yet good enough. July 17, 2013.
5 Email received December 8, 2021.
A Walk Through History
Some weeks ago, an old friend and I went for a muddy walk through a local country park. As we wended our way along the squelchy woodland trails, we caught up on weeks of family news. Harriet, who I have known for over 30 years, told me about her friend Tanyas bereavement. During the Covid-19 pandemic, Tanyas cousin had died from an aggressive asbestos-related disease. The details Hariet provided about the sudden onset of the illness and its rapid progress made it fairly clear that the cousin had succumbed to mesothelioma, the signature cancer associated with asbestos exposure. Harriet said that the family had received a substantial compensation payout from a government scheme which had not only been helpful financially but had also provided some solace to the relatives who viewed it as official recognition of this death.
Hertfordshire Country Park 2021.
Knowing of my interest in all things asbestos, Harriet said, she was sure I was aware of the scheme and of how it came to be. Indeed, I was. I remember the many discussions at the Parliamentary Asbestos Sub-Group about setting up a fund of last resort for people who had been occupationally exposed to asbestos but could not obtain compensation from their employers, many of whom had disappeared in the decades between the time of their toxic exposure and the onset of their disease. I remembered the politicians who were involved, the negotiations with the insurance industry and the bureaucratic wrangling that had taken place before the Diffuse Mesothelioma Payment Scheme (the Scheme) was finally established in 2014.1
This week the Scheme issued its report for the financial year 2020-2021 which noted that since operations began, it had paid out compensation of £231.7 million to 1,650 people with mesothelioma. Payments in 2019 and 2020 averaged £144,000 per applicant. Although this fund came too late for many UK victims, many others have had the benefit of it. As I walked through the park on that windy day, I felt great pride in knowing that the campaigning by the UK community of asbestos victims, trade unionists, medical and technical experts and others had been pivotal in creating this additional support for asbestos victims.
As we approach the years end, the news seems pretty bleak. Many of us feel despondent about what the future might hold, but we should take heart from the positive impact we have made and the huge strides that have been achieved in recognizing and treating people with asbestos-related diseases in many countries. Local, national, regional and global collaborations have given a voice to those silenced by the deadly dust and exposed the criminal behaviour of the asbestos companies which consumed human beings as just another raw material. The future is asbestos-free!
1 Diffuse Mesothelioma Payment Scheme: annual review 2020 to 2021. November 29, 2021
The Eradication of Asbestos in Britain: A Titanic Struggle!
Sometimes, you hear something that is so obvious you wonder why you hadnt thought of it before. That is what happened yesterday (November 17, 2021) during testimony before the Parliamentary Committee of Work and Pensions investigation into whether the Health and Safety Executives asbestos policy, which advocates managing asbestos rather than removing it from the built environment, is fit for purpose. 1
Attempting to conceptualize the UKs staggering loss of life from asbestos exposures, Liz Darlison CEO of Mesothelioma UK and an NHS Mesothelioma Nurse Consultant expressed the death toll in terms of the number of people who drowned (1500+) on the RMS Titanic, the famous ocean liner which sank in 1912 after hitting an iceberg. In a follow-up interview, Ms. Darlison expounded on her testimony:
So many asbestos fatalities go unnoticed. Its a steady drip with an average of almost 100 deaths every week. While each death is mourned, the totality is not often grasped. If, however, I say that the total loss of life is equal to the sinking of more than three Titanics every year, people begin to take notice. Its ironic that some of those aboard the Titanic survived the voyage; it is rare for someone with mesothelioma to do so. New treatments provide hope, but the government needs to commit to a policy of zero exposures and provide funds for life-saving medical research.2
Time and again during the session, technical and scientific experts from France, Germany, the Netherlands and the UK confirmed the huge disconnect between practices on the continent and those in the UK. The sustained failures of the HSE to adequately address the toxic legacy of asbestos contamination of our schools, hospitals and social housing were in stark contrast with action being taken in Europe. With no UK deadline for the eradication of asbestos, no national inventory of asbestos in public buildings and no prioritization for removing asbestos from schools, the evidence was crystal clear: EU 3: UK 0.
Responding to a question from one of the MPs, Joanne Gordon, Chair of the Forum of Asbestos Victim Support Groups, said that the profile of victims her group was seeing had changed over the years to include more and more people who had experienced low levels of asbestos exposures such as teachers and nurses. There was, she said, no safe level of asbestos exposure. Amen to that!
1 Parliamentary Work and Pensions Committee. Asbestos Hearing. November 17, 2021.
2 Interview with Liz Darlison. November 17, 2021.
Remembering Bill Lawrence
Our friend Bill Lawrence, who died on October 30, 2021 after a long illness, had lived a life in parallel realities, some which were concurrent and some consecutive. He had been a police officer in North East England, a trade union representative, a legal researcher, a health and safety activist, a historian,1 a playwright, a freelance journalist, an international trade analyst,2 an organizer of health and safety conferences, a member of the Construction Safety Campaign and a ban asbestos campaigner. His range of interests included both local and global issues of a social as well as historical nature.
Bill was always off to attend a meeting or an interview to provide support for anyone who found themselves in need. This included British workers injured by industrial diseases, non-English speaking immigrants in difficulties with British bureaucracy or campaigners needing access to the extensive and unique historical database which was Bill Lawrence.
I was fortunate to get to know Bill during his ban asbestos phase he had the most amazing recall for detail, inexhaustible energy and a nature which found travelling 14 hours in the back of a bus to a United Nations meeting in Geneva an exciting adventure. He found great satisfaction in getting around Europe on the cheap reaching London, Brussels and Antwerp at rock bottom prices to consult with legal advisors, trade union colleagues and local historians.
Bill Lawrence addressing French, Italian, Swiss, German, Brazil, Canadian, US & UK asbestos victims campaigners on May 7, 2013 in Geneva, Switzerland
The picture above was taken when Bill was part of our delegation to the 2013 meeting of the Conference of the Parties of the Rotterdam Convention.3 Bill was always there to lend a hand: a banner needed to be displayed at our stall in the foyer of the UN building, Bill found some rope and did it; flyers needed handing out, Bill was your man.
Language barriers and political differences were never a hindrance to Bill as he seemed able to communicate across all such boundaries with a working knowledge of several European languages and an infectious joie de vivre that transcended political divides. I remember a story of him striking up a conversation with a Russian general on a train journey from his home in Tyne & Wear to London. In 2019, I witnessed Bill in action during our ban asbestos demonstration at the Russian embassy in London.4 He began chatting with one of the policemen on guard duty about asbestos and transitioned to industrial deafness, another one of Bills specialities and a subject of great interest to the officer. It was arranged that Bill would, at a later date, attend a meeting of the policemens union to give a presentation on deafness claims.
Bill was part of the fabric of the lives of so many people and he blended into the background to such an extent that it was difficult to find a picture such as the one above showing him center stage. In March 2021, Bill was named this years recipient of the Alan, the most prestigious prize given to UK health and safety activists, in appreciation of his sustained efforts to support working people and the disadvantaged. Like Alan Dalton, the campaigner in whose name this award was given, Bill was a troublemaker of the highest order, someone who had no compunction about causing trouble for the great and the good in order to safeguard the rights of ordinary people.5
Bills beloved wife Faye predeceased him. Bill is survived by his children and grandchildren. Our condolences to them all,
1 The Birtley Belgians and their part in Britain's First World War effort. December 6, 2016.
2 Lawrence, B Asbestos Trading through the European Community. June 13, 2012.
3 Kazan-Allen, L. Rotterdam Convention 2013 an Activist's Diary. May 8, 2017.
4 Kazan-Allen, L. Activists Challenge Russian Asbestos Stakeholders. April 26, 2013.
5 The Hazards Campaign Alan award: the Alan. 2010.
An Ignominious Anniversary!
October 18, 2021 is a date to remember. In just two weeks, it will be the 30th anniversary of the overturn of the US ban on asbestos.1 Since that time, a further 300,000+ tonnes of asbestos have been consumed and an untold number of citizens have been hazardously exposed to a substance known to cause cancer.2
Tens of thousands of Americans die every year from occupationally contracted asbestos-related diseases;3 the death toll from non-occupational exposures such as breathing in fibers brought home on work clothes or from living or studying in buildings with asbestos-containing material remains unknown.
Since the asbestos ban was overturned there have been six Presidents with three Democratic and three Republican administrations. Thirty years of government policies have been implemented, scores of Senators and members of the House of Representatives have come and gone and numerous sessions of Congress have taken place. Although a few attempts to ban asbestos have been made, none has succeeded.
Whilst the amount of asbestos consumption has dwindled, through fear of lawsuits rather than government sanctions, the lack of national prohibitions is a boon to the rapacious asbestos lobby which promotes the US policy as evidence that the use of asbestos is safe. It is also advantageously exploited by defendants in asbestos lawsuits who seek to deny liability for asbestos-related injuries.
In 1974, American author Paul Brodeur hit the nail on the head with his book subtitled: The incredible story of how tens of thousands of American men and women die each year of preventable industrial disease. The name of that book? Expendable Americans.
There has been an unconscionable and sustained failure of governance in the US as a result of which carcinogenic products remain on sale, children attend school in classrooms riddled with asbestos and citizens have justifiable concerns over contamination of the buildings they use and the air they breathe.
It is long past time for the United States to join the scores of other countries4 which have outlawed asbestos; by doing so, the US will not only protect its citizens, but will also safeguard the lives of vulnerable populations currently being exploited by global asbestos pushers.
1 Kazan-Allen, L. October 18, 2021: A Bloody Anniversary. October, 2011.
2 According to the International Agency for Research on Asbestos (2012): Asbestos causes mesothelioma and cancer of the lung, larynx, and ovary. Also positive associations have been observed between exposure to all forms of asbestos and cancer of the pharynx, stomach, and colorectum.
3 In his presentation on September 28, 2021 to the virtual conference of the Asian Ban Asbestos Network 2021 Professor Jukka Takala, President of the International Commission on Occupational Health, reported that in 2019 there were 40,765 deaths in the U.S. from occupational asbestos exposures.
Johnson & Johnson: Reality Check 2021!
It is a well-known fact that when people reach a certain age they can experience short-term memory loss. I had not realized that such a condition could also afflict multinational conglomerates until a few days ago! Imagine my surprise when I happened to discover that a search for the words asbestos, mesothelioma, and talc on the website of Johnson and Johnson (J&J) UK showed no results.1 Considering that the UK company is a subsidiary of a multinational pharmaceutical giant which is currently facing 34,600 lawsuits over asbestos contamination of its talc-based baby powder, this is an oversight of monstrous proportions.
Those of us of a suspicious bent of mind might be inclined to believe that the absence of any references to asbestos on the site of its overseas subsidiary indicates that Johnson & Johnson is intent on hiding inconvenient truths that are emerging in U.S. litigation regarding the toxicity of its talc products that, far from being an oversight, this omission is a deliberate attempt to cover-up the truth in order to preserve sales outside of North America of a product which remains, to this day, the market leader in many countries.
A growing mountain of information detrimental to J&Js credibility is accumulating with the rapidly escalating pace of litigation in the U.S. over asbestos contamination of its iconic baby powder; recently reported have been class actions and personal injury lawsuits at the U.S. Supreme Court, New Jerseys Atlantic County Superior Court, a Delaware Bankruptcy Court, the Appellate Court and Alameda County Superior Court in California, a Missouri District Court and an Illinois Circuit Court. With tens of thousands of lawsuits pending, there will, of course, be thousands of actions in other U.S. jurisdictions.
Lets consider the nature of the disconnect between the U.S. reality and J&Js global cover-up. Corporations are not organic beings: they dont breathe, eat or excrete. They do not suffer from the physical ailments that impact human health and therefore cannot suffer from dementia.
Predatory capitalism, however, which promotes the cultural acceptance of domination and exploitation as normal economic practice is a more viable explanation. When we consider that J&J is still marketing toxic baby powder around the globe, having withdrawn it from sale in North America, then I believe we have found the correct terminology for this behaviour.
In its four paragraph Credo J&J highlights the need to reduce our costs, generate fair profit and sound profit, and produce a fair return for stockholders. Despite having subsidiaries and customers throughout the globe, there is no mention of equitable sales policies or non-discriminatory marketing.2
North Americans injured by J&Js products have access to high-powered lawyers who are, in their droves, bringing lawsuits on behalf of J&J customers who contracted mesothelioma the signature cancer caused by exposure to asbestos and/or ovarian cancer. A lawsuit brought by human rights attorney Ben Crump on behalf of the National Council of Negro Women (NCNW) in July, 2021 asserted that use of the toxic powder had caused NCNW members to contract ovarian cancer.3 Explaining the rationale for this action, the complaint asserted that previous legal challenges had:
not remedied the specific harm that J&J has caused to the Black community and to Black women in particular by targeting their advertisements for this dangerous product at them.
U.S. Attorney Mark Lanier, lead lawyer in a successful $2 billion+ class action against J&J on behalf of 20 ovarian cancer claimants that went all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court,4 summed up the ruthless and destructive behavior of the company and its subsidiary saying they had:
knowingly manufactured and sold dangerous, life-threatening products. Since the verdict, J&J has finally quit selling this asbestos-laced talc product in the U.S. and Canada Asbestos kills people. Asbestos does so without regard to where the people live, the language they speak, or the color of their skin. Why then, does J&J stop selling its asbestos-laced talcum powders only in the US and Canada? That is both racist, and inhuman.5
What could be worse than exposing newborn babies to a carcinogenic substance? Is it really okay, as J&J seems to think, to protect American newborns whilst sacrificing those of other nationalities? All in the name of profit?
The J&J Credo states that mistakes [be] paid for. It is well past time for J&J to acknowledge its predatory behavior and to withdraw its talc-based baby powder from sale worldwide. The company must acknowledge its misdeeds by updating websites and other information portals and make restitution to the injured. There is no long-term future for a company that exploits legislative loopholes and national vulnerabilities to make profit for the few at the expense of the many.
1 When the term asbestos was inserted in the search bar of the J&J UK website, the reply was: There are no results for the search term asbestos. There were no results for the search terms mesothelioma and "talc;" the search for baby powder had just two results neither of which referred to the controversy over asbestos contamination whilst the search for ovarian cancer had one unrelated result. August 26, 2021.
2 Johnson and Johnson. Our Credo. August 30, 2021.
3 Brooks, K.J. Black women's organization sues Johnson & Johnson over talcum-based powder. July 27, 2021.
4 Kazan-Allen, L. Victory for U.S. Ovarian Cancer Victims. June 3, 2021.
5 Press Release. Killer Powder, Toxic Corporation. June 4, 2021.
The Future is Asbestos-Free!
A new graph by Yeyong Choi from the Ban Asbestos Network of Korea (BANKO) perfectly illustrates the collapse in global asbestos production over recent decades. Production levels are at the lowest they have been for seventy years as more and more countries have restricted and even banned the use of asbestos.1 This trend has been accelerated by the repudiation of asbestos by national governments, regional authorities, international agencies and development banks with the latest prohibition announced by the Asia Infrastructure Investment Bank in May 2021.2
|Global Asbestos Production 1900-2020|
Reproduced with permission of Yeyong Choi, Ban Asbestos Network of Korea (Enlarge image)
[Data sourced from the United States Geological Survey].
To mark this landmark news, IBAS commissioned the Indonesian artist Ajat Sudrajat to produce an image portraying our hopes for the future. We think you will agree that this image is not only a work of art but also an accurate depiction of the dream we all share!
2 Asbestos Policies of Major International Agencies.
Action Mesothelioma Day 2021!
As an active participant in the global campaign to ban asbestos, I have seen how creative and effective grassroots campaigners have been in the fight to end the asbestos slaughter and support the injured. Successful outreach projects and multinational collaborations have empowered our struggle and maximized our efforts. This month (July 2021) provides excellent examples in Europe and Asia of the adaptability and resourcefulness of activists working with those affected by deadly asbestos cancers and their families.
On July 2, 2021, UK asbestos victim support groups, mesothelioma charities and campaigning groups will be marking the 16th national Action Mesothelioma Day (AMD).1 Over the years, AMD has grown to become a national day of activity and remembrance in asbestos hotspots all over the country. It was a day when the injured, their relatives, and those who had lost someone to mesothelioma the signature asbestos cancer gathered together to raise awareness of Britains tragic asbestos legacy. They met in church halls, on village greens, in civic centers, conference rooms and elsewhere to learn, commune and provide support. At some meetings, the emphasis was on the spiritual at others it was on raising money for research. Although each meeting was different, they all shared the same motivation and objective: remember the dead and fight for the living.2
Then came the coronavirus and in-person meetings became temporarily, we hope a thing of the past. In 2020, for the first time Action Mesothelioma Day became a virtual event. An online national event, which will be held on July 2, 2021, will feature presentations from leading medical experts as well as mesothelioma patients and a carer. Other online AMD activities will take place this week as well as the launch of fund-raising initiatives.
AMD has always been an inclusive event and over the years guest speakers from the US, Canada, Australia, Belgium, France, Italy, Japan and elsewhere have been welcomed at AMD events throughout the UK. On AMD 2017, members of a Japanese delegation of asbestos victims and family members took part in AMD activities in Manchester, Birmingham, Liverpool, Derby and Sheffield. 3 Their experiences, which were shared when they returned home, inspired asbestos activists in Japan to declare July 2021 as the countrys first mesothelioma awareness month to raise awareness of mesothelioma and of the current situation of patients of this disease and their families, and to improve patients' treatment and living environments.4
It is gratifying to see how Japanese groups, including the Mesothelioma Support Caravan, the National Cancer Center Rare Cancer Center and the National Association of Asbestos-related Disease Victims and Their Families have collaborated on this landmark initiative. The UK experience has shown that the biggest impact of AMD is achieved by coordinated action backed by a spectrum of civil society groups and associations. Speaking on behalf of the Asbestos Victims Support Groups Forum UK (the Forum), Chair Joanne Gordon said:
We are delighted to know that Japanese colleagues will also be marking Action Mesothelioma Day in July 2021. The experiences shared by Japanese victims and campaigners at AMD 2017, made a lasting impact on patients and others who were present during their presentations. Although this year, we will again be marking AMD with online activities, we remain optimistic that in 2022 we will be able to meet in person. Whether in-person or online, the fellowship, support and visibility achieved by AMD remains crucial to the well-being of those affected and to the family members who support them. I know that just as AMD participants in the UK will be thinking of their comrades in Japan on AMD, so Japanese victims will take solace in the knowledge of the solidarity of all those affected by the deadly dust at home and abroad.5
1 Action Mesothelioma Day 2021
ACTION MESOTHELIOMA DAY EDM (Early Day Motion) 1696: tabled on 27 February 2006.
2 The diversity of AMD events pre-2020 can be seen in the photos illustrating these articles:
Action Mesothelioma Day 2019! July 16, 2019.
Action Mesothelioma Day 2018! July 18, 2018.
Action Mesothelioma Day 2016! July 6, 2016.
3 Ban Asbestos Campaign: Update Summer 2017. July 20, 2017
5 Email received from Joanne Gordon on June 28, 2021.
Albert Einstein defined insanity as doing the same thing over and over again-expecting different results.1 And yet decade after decade that is what asbestos vested interests do in the hope that yet another revenue stream can be generated by the commercial exploitation of asbestos.
A Russian language article uploaded to a Kazakhstan website on June 7, 2021 reviewed the financial gains made by the countrys chrysotile (white) asbestos industry during the global pandemic, noting that the [asbestos] company has always shown growth in crisis years (2008 and 2015).2 For decades Kazakhstan has been amongst the worlds top five chrysotile fiber producers and in 2008 the industry received government backing.3
The behaviour of the industry described in the article is suggestive of a type of commercial schizophrenia; at the same time as ecological protocols were being adopted to reduce consumption of water and electricity in the production and processing of chrysotile fiber, research was being progressed to find new ways to use raw chrysotile including, would you believe, in fertilizers.
Given the collapse in the domestic market for chrysotile,4 it was no surprise that the Kazakh asbestos industry was desperate to diversify but the prospect of polluting agricultural land and fresh produce with deadly fibers is a step that, one would have thought, was too far even for these voracious capitalists.
The ruthless pursuit of asbestos profits will not stop until international agencies take decisive steps to ban the global trade in chrysotile. UN efforts to impose even minimal regulations on the asbestos industry via the Rotterdam Convention (RC) have been blocked on multiple occasions by government and commercial stakeholders initially led by the Canadian delegation and latterly by the Russian delegation.5 In February 2021, it was announced that the next in-person meeting of the Convention would not take place until June 2022 because of the global pandemic.6 Based on available data, that delay would allow a further 230,000 tonnes of Kazakh asbestos to be mined, processed and sold. Considering past failures will the RC Conference of the Parties 2022 succeed where others have failed?
1 Psychosis is defined as a condition that affects the way your brain processes information. It causes you to lose touch with reality. You might see, hear, or believe things that aren't real. Psychosis is a symptom, not an illness. A mental or physical illness, substance abuse, or extreme stress or trauma can cause it. In this case, the author suggests that the psychosis is caused by an overwhelming and irrational thirst for monetary gain.
2 According to the data cited in the June 7 article about the Kazakh asbestos company Kostanay Minerals JSC, during the first quarter of 2021, chrysotile fiber production rose by ~20% and exports by ~40%.
3 Спрос на хризотил-асбест будет устойчивым в период коронакризиса [Chrysotile Asbestos Demand Will Be Sustainable During The Corona Crisis].
4 Житикаринское градообразующее предприятие на волне ковидного кризиса показало рост по всем показателям.Подробнее. [In the wake of the crisis, the Zhitikarinsk city-forming enterprise showed growth in all respects]. May 6, 2021.
5 George, O. & Kazan-Allen, L. The Rotterdam Convention 2019. May 10, 2021.
6 Basel Convention COP15, Rotterdam Convention COP10 and Stockholm Convention COP10. February, 2021.
A Multi-Tasking and Long-Lasting Killer!
The fourth slide of one of the first presentations at the 15th meeting of the International Mesothelioma Interest Group1 last week stopped me in my tracks. In the online presentation by Steven Kazan and Faith Melzer entitled: Shipbreaking: Creating Accountability,2 the lead author cited an extract from a 2007 editorial by William Beckett in the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine:
One can speculate that a single batch of asbestos mined in the 1930s could have resulted in plaques and asbestosis in Canadian miners in the 1960s, lung cancer and mesothelioma in US shipyard workers in the 1970s, and in the future, result in lung disease in Indian and Pakistani ship-breakers in the 2010s, and mesothelioma in the 2030s in Indians and Pakistanis exposed currently as children to improperly discarded asbestos waste. 3
Dr Becketts speculation is, unfortunately, coming true as Kazan said in his presentation.
Becketts prediction about the adverse impact on ship-breaking workers has taken on added impetus in light of the ongoing furore in Turkey about plans to dismantle the asbestos-laden Brazilian warship the São Paulo in Aliağa, Turkey at one of the ship-recycling yards on the European list of approved facilities.4 Although inclusion on the EU list was meant to ensure that the dismantling yards were complying with environmental, health and safety and social performance guidelines, and responsibly managing the disposal of hazardous waste, feedback from Turkish campaigners and citizens groups indicates that such is not always the case.
The fact that Turkey's Ship Breaking Business Is Booming,5 partially due to the influx of redundant cruise liners by companies trying to recover some of their Covid-19 losses, is causing concern amongst NGOs and labour rights groups worried about, amongst other issues, the low awareness of occupational diseases such as those caused by workplace asbestos exposures the weakness of Turkish trade unions and the negative impact of the dismantling operations on the environment.6 According to a statement by Lütfü Çamlı from the İzmir Medical Chamber:
The increasing ship dismantling traffic creates a major source of environmental pollution for Aliağa and İzmir and poses a great threat for people living around these facilities and workers.7
Çamlı also pointed out that dismantling yards in İzmir Province, including those in the Aliağa district, were not run transparently or in compliance with national legislation and international conventions.
In his presentation Shipbreaking: Creating Accountability, Steven Kazan outlined routes by which asbestos-injured shipyard workers outside the United States might access compensation from funds set up by American defendant corporations. While this might prove a remedy for a few shipyard workers, what restitution will be made to victims of asbestos exposures from work clothes belonging to family members or residents who inhaled wind-blown asbestos liberated by local dismantling yards? When it comes to asbestos, prevention is the only cure and with governments, such as the one in Turkey, complicit with these unsafe practices, Dr Becketts prophecy will, alas, endure for decades to come.
1 IMIG 2021 Programme Book.
3 Beckett W.S. Shipyard workers and asbestos: a persistent and international problem. Occup Environ Med 2007.
4 Commission Implementing Decision (EU) 2016/2323 of 19 December, 2016 establishing the European list of ship recycling facilities.
5 Banton, L. Why Turkey's Ship Breaking Business Is Booming. May 4, 2021.
6 IBAS online news archive for Turkey.
7 İzmirde gemi söküm tesisleri [Medical chamber expresses concern over aircraft carrier dismantling in İzmir].April 28, 2021.
International Workers Memorial Day 2021: The Glory and the Carnage
International Workers Memorial Day (IWMD), which is marked on April 28, is a day to remember the dead and fight for the living. During the dark days of the Covid pandemic, global labor federations, trade unions and their affiliates have recommitted themselves on IWMD 2021 to achieving recognition of health and safety as a fundamental workers right. With the loss of so many frontline and healthcare workers to the coronavirus, it is incomprehensible that anyone could take issue with this goal.
Like Covid patients, asbestos victims fight for every painful breath. In asbestos hotspots like Casale Monferrato, Monfalcone and Senigallia, Italy the asbestos fallen are remembered on IWMD at municipal and trade union rallies, information sessions and wreath laying ceremonies; to the organizers and participants at these events, April 28 is the International Day for Asbestos Victims.1
There can be no doubt about the dire consequences of the commercial exploitation of asbestos; members of the public as well as workers have paid with their lives for the asbestos industrys profits. And yet, industry lobbyists continue their efforts to promote sales of chrysotile (white) asbestos, despite the fact that international agencies, independent scientists and scores of national governments have categorized chrysotile asbestos as a human carcinogen.
Less than a fortnight before IWMD, April 16 was designated by an unnamed body as Chrysotile Protection Day.2 A Russian language online article explained that the purpose of this day was to rally support for the chrysotile industry which had been under attack by external forces and unfair competitors for more than 40 years. The author of the text, no doubt informed by industry lobbyists, noted that:
By joining in the People for Chrysotile movement, workers in the chrysotile industry defend not only the mineral itself, but their right to work, jobs and a better life. It has been proven by many scientists that chrysotile is safe when used in a controlled manner.
The Government of Ukraine, which is in the process of banning asbestos, has been under constant bombardment from vested interests anxious to prevent draft prohibitions from being adopted.3 International support for the Parliaments actions has been expressed by the Collegium Ramazzini, the European Trade Union Confederation, the European Federation of Building and Woodworkers (EFBWW), the Building and Woodworkers International, PROFBUD the Ukraine construction trade union federation and UK Parliamentarians. As the EFBWW General Secretary Tom Deleu and his colleagues put it in their April 23 letter to the Heads of the Ukrainian Parliament and Committee on Public Health, Assistance and Medical Insurance:
The EFBWW, BWI and PROFBUD remain committed to the objective of protecting all workers from deadly substances. We fully support our affiliate and long-term sister organization PROFBUD, the Ukrainian Building Workers union, in their address to the Parliament on the final voting for the Draft Law 4142 On the Public Health Systems where a significant effort on the chrysotile asbestos ban is made. We express our full solidarity with you and your efforts to ban asbestos in Ukraine as a first step towards eradicating this workplace hazard, which has taken the lives of untold numbers of workers.
As we approach International Workers Memorial Day, we remain committed to the traditional slogan of the day: Remember the dead and fight for the living. It is relevant to point out that the theme for IWMD 2021 is: Health and Safety is a fundamental workers' right. This right belongs not just to EU workers, but to workers the world over.
1 Giornata vittime di amianto, comitati e associazioni marchigiane fanno squadra [Asbestos victims day, Marche committees and associations team up]. April 27, 2021.
Also see: Giornata Mondiale per le Vittime dellAmianto a Monfalcone [World Day for Asbestos Victims in Monfalcone]. April 26, 2021.
Vittime dell'amianto e del lavoro: le iniziative unitarie [Victims of asbestos and work: joint initiatives]. April 23, 2021.
2 День защиты хризотила: более 40 лет хризотил-асбест находится под давлением внешних сил [Day of protection of chrysotile: chrysotile-asbestos has been under pressure from external forces for more than 40 years].
3 Ukraines Asbestos War. April 15, 2021.
April Fools Day Reflections 2021
When I was younger, I lived in a binary world, one in which truth always triumphed and bad things never happened to good people.
I believed that science was definite something was true or not true. As I got older, I learned that legal, medical and scientific opinions could be bought. What some experts said depended, so I found out, more on what they were paid than on what they had discovered.
Doctors and scientists working for asbestos stakeholders have proved time and again that opinions could be purchased and bespoke evidence crafted to support any argument.1 When it comes to asbestos litigation, examples of this are all too readily available as can be seen by the proliferation of defendants experts with theories exonerating exposure to chrysotile (white) asbestos as a cause of asbestos cancer. One popular category of medical research and legal argument is referred to as the ABC defense: Anything But Chrysotile.2
I am no longer the naïve person I once was. I have learned from decades of fighting on the asbestos frontline that progress is neither linear, nor definitive. Even when a judgment has been handed down by the highest court in the land, asbestos vested interests will find a strategy to discount, marginalize or contravene it. A recent case in point is the illegal export of chrysotile (white) asbestos fiber from Brazil despite a 2017 Supreme Court ruling banning the commercial exploitation of asbestos.3
You would have thought that once the Supreme Court had spoken, that would have been the end of the story; you would have been wrong. It seems there is no lengths to which asbestos pushers will not go to continue to milk the asbestos profit stream. Fortunately, however, through the valiant efforts of Brazils Labor Public Ministry, asbestos cargo at the São Paulo Port of Santos was impounded and, pursuant to court injunctions, returned to the asbestos mine.4
Canadian asbestos exports were stopped by legislation not litigation after decades of mining, an untold number of casualties and widespread environmental contamination. Canada had been the worlds largest producer and exporter of chrysotile asbestos for most of the 20th century; chrysotile was such a highly prized natural resource that it was nicknamed: white gold. Any mention of the hazards posed by mining or processing or breathing in chrysotile fibers was quashed by a code of silence ruthlessly enforced by asbestos stakeholders.
How times have changed. In 2020, the mining town called Asbestos was renamed Val-des-Sources after a municipal referendum. As Mayor Hugues Grimard explained, the change had been necessary to distance the town from its toxic past. On March 28, 2021, another name change was announced when news was circulated that Asbestos Street (Rue de LAminate) was being rechristened: rue des Bâtisseurs (Builders Street].5
From developments in Brazil, Russia and elsewhere6, it is clear that asbestos pushers will not give up their mercenary efforts without a fight. Although global consumption has plummeted in recent years, over one million tonnes are still being used worldwide every year, one million tonnes too many! The life and death struggle to protect populations from the deadly hazard of asbestos exposure is one which needs constant surveillance, coordinated efforts and public ownership. As the coronavirus pandemic has so brutally shown us, no one is safe until everyone is safe.
There is no place for this industry of mass destruction in the 21st century; the future is asbestos-free!
1 Kazan-Allen, L. The Doctors and the Dollars. June, 2007.
Kazan-Allen, L. Poisoning for Profit. January 2017.
Kazan-Allen, L. Asbestos: Ignominy, Corruption and Retribution. March, 2016.
2 Egilman, D., Fehnel, C., Bohme, SR. Exposing the myth of ABC, "anything but chrysotile": a critique of the Canadian asbestos mining industry and McGill University chrysotile studies. 2003.
3 Open Letter to Brazilian Authorities: Brazilian Asbestos, A Global Concern. March 10, 2021.
4 Kazan-Allen, L. Confidence Tricksters and Asbestos Thugs from the Brazilian State of Goiás. March 24, 2021.
5 Brochu, T. La rue de lAmiante change également de nom [Asbestos Street is also changing its name]. March 28, 2021.
6 Russian and Kazakhstan news item archives:
Asbestos Heroes & Villains: 21st Century Reboot
Throughout the long and egregious history of the asbestos industry there have been villains a-plenty; who they are has been well-documented in text books like Barry Castlemans opus Asbestos: Medical and Legal Aspects, Geoffrey Tweedaless Magic Mineral to Killer Dust: Turner & Newall and the Asbestos Hazard, Jock McCullochs Asbestos Blues, Matt Peacocks Killer Company: James Hardie Exposed and others. There have also been public-spirited visionaries who risked occupational censure and professional assaults to broadcast scientific discoveries inimical to the financial prospects of the asbestos industry: 20th century heroes such as Dr Irving Selikoff, Dr Eric Saint and Dr Jonny Myers. Whilst their warnings were soundly rejected by government and commercial stakeholders, they were embraced by community activists in asbestos hotspots the world over.1
In the 21st century, corporate criminals have devised new camouflage stratagems to hide their activities and created superior legal mechanisms to protect their identities and interests.2 Their numbers are dwindling as global markets for their toxic products have shrunk. The number of asbestos heroes, on the other hand, is on the rise. They are hard at work in the offices of asbestos victim support groups, research laboratories, clinical settings, operating theaters, town halls, national governments, international agencies and elsewhere anywhere that people are working to address the tragic consequences of asbestos use and improve support for the injured and their families.3
The achievements of one such hero were recognized on January 21, 2021 at the Perth offices of the Asbestos Diseases Society of Australia (ADSA) by the Naval Association of Australia when Jim Lorrimer, representing the Western Australian Section Inc., made a presentation of a plaque to Dr Greg Deleuil for his dedication to the professional treatment of navy personnel.
Commenting on this honor, the ADSAs CEO Melita Markey said:
Through Dr Delueils unique insight into military life and dedication to service he has been able to support naval and other military personnel through their respective journeys with asbestos-related diseases. Sadly, many service personnel were exposed to deadly asbestos fibres working in ships and buildings lagged with asbestos for its insulation and fireproofing qualities and helping clean up disaster zones in Australia and abroad. For more than 30 years, the ADSA has been very proud and privileged to work with Dr Greg Delueil AM, RFD.
I have known Greg or Dr D. as he is called by the Societys members and staff for 20 years+ and I am only too ready to corroborate Melitas comments. I have personally witnessed Dr Ds incredible ability to engage on asbestos issues with a scientist at the cutting edge of cancer research as well as with the most ordinary of people, giving them each his undivided attention.
Greg is never afraid to call out ineptitude or malfeasance as he did so eloquently at asbestos seminars in the British Parliament in 2004 and 20064 and at an asbestos meeting in the European Unions Brussels headquarters in 2015.5 To underscore the esteem in which this much-loved West Australian doctor is held and to show the appreciation of us all, the British illustrator Ned Jolliffee was commissioned to translate our feelings into art!
1 Kazan-Allen, L. The Doctors and the Dollars. June 2007.
2 Kazan-Allen, L. Corporate Deceit: Asbestos Espionage at Home and Abroad. March 18, 2019. http://ibasecretariat.org/lka-corporate-deceit-asbestos-espionage-at-home-and-abroad.php
3 Kazan-Allen, L. Red Letter Day for Asbestos Victims and Campaigners. March 1, 2021
Kazan-Allen, L. Glimmers of Hope 2020! December 22, 2020.
Kazan-Allen, L. Asian Development Bank Bans Asbestos! November 16, 2020.
4 Kazan-Allen, L. Westminster Asbestos Seminar. September 4, 2006.
Kazan-Allen, L. Westminster Asbestos Seminar. July 23, 2004
5 Kazan-Allen, L. Conference Report: Freeing Europe Safely from Asbestos. September 1, 2015.
Brazilian Conundrum: Asbestos Exports from a Country that Banned Asbestos
In 2017, the Brazilian Supreme Court issued a definitive ruling which banned the commercial exploitation of asbestos throughout the country. And yet, figures released by the United States Geological Survey in January, 2021 estimated that last year (2020) Brazil exported 300 tonnes of chrysotile asbestos fiber to the U.S.1 According to a Brazilian source, the country exported a total of 22,000 tons of asbestos in 2020; where did the remaining 21,700 tons go and how did a country which banned asbestos, export any fiber at all?
In the absence of updated trade data, we can only speculate about the destination of the 21,700 tons. In January 2019, the Brazilian Eternit company, which owned the countrys sole producing chrysotile asbestos mine, announced its intention to produce chrysotile despite the Supreme Courts 2017 verdict for export to dozens of countries including the United States, Germany, India, Indonesia, Malaysia and other Asian countries.2
Outraged by the double standards implicit in this statement, campaigners from Asian countries mounted the 2019 Asian Ban Asbestos Mission to Brazil to lobby government officials, politicians, officers of the court, trade unionists and members of the public for an end to Brazilian asbestos exports in particular: No More Brazilian Asbestos Exports to Asia! [Parem com as exportações Brasileiras de Amianto para a Ásia!]3
At the conclusion of the Mission, Coordinator Sugio Furuya was optimistic that: the Supreme Court will in due course confirm that its ruling banning the commercial exploitation of asbestos includes a ban on the mining of asbestos for export.4
Returning to the second question asked in paragraph one how did a country which banned asbestos, export any fiber at all? the explanation involves multiple stakeholders, diverse political actors and hefty financial incentives. In brief, the timeline developed as follows:
Unfortunately, nothing happens quickly at the Supreme Court. The 2019 appeal by the National Association of Labor Attorneys arguing that the Goiás State law No. 20,514 was unconstitutional remains pending. The longer it takes for the Court to act, the more asbestos will be exported from Brazil. In 2017, the Supreme Court defied the economic muscle and political power of the asbestos industry to issue its landmark ruling protecting Brazilians from toxic exposures. One can only hope that in 2021 the Court will, once again, prioritize human rights over corporate profits to ensure that everyone, not only Brazilians, has a right to live a life free from deadly exposures to Brazilian asbestos.
1 U.S. Geological Survey, Mineral Commodity Summaries, January 2021- Asbestos.
2 Eternit deixa de usar amianto em seus produtos e mina produzirá só para exportação [Eternit stops using asbestos in its products and the mine will produce only for export]. January 11, 2019.
3 The Asian Ban Asbestos Mission to Brazil 2019.
Missão Asiática Antiamianto no Brasil 2019.
4 Report from Asian Ban Asbestos Mission to Brazil. April 29, 2019.
5 Kazan-Allen, L. Brazil Bans Asbestos! December 1, 2017.
6 ETERNIT S.A. Paralisação das atividades da mineradora SAMA. [ETERNIT S.A. Stoppage of the activities of mining company SAMA]. December 5, 2017.
7 Rosa Weber decide que, por ora, amianto é liberado onde não há lei contrária [Rosa Weber decides that, for now, asbestos is released where there is no contrary law]. December 20, 2017.
8 Amianto em Goiás: entenda a disputa jurídica [Asbestos in Goiás: understanding the legal dispute].
9 Amianto em Goiás: entenda a disputa jurídica [Asbestos in Goiás: understanding the legal dispute]. November 21, 2020.
Rapping and Tattooing their Way to Asbestos Awareness
A remix of a 2016 rap entitled Ancora Sotto Casa Mia (Still Under My House) by the Sicilian artist Picciotto was uploaded to YouTube on January 9, 2021.1 In an interview, the rapper said that he had been spurred to revisit his 2016 work in light of the failure to achieve asbestos remediation of the community and lack of medical progress in treating patients with asbestos-related cancers, such as mesothelioma, over the intervening years.2 The five-minute rap, featuring singer/medical doctor Stefania Crivellari and Picciotti, and remixed by DJ Crocetta, is accompanied by footage showing contaminated landscapes, newspaper articles, medical examinations and snippets of a performance by the Fuck Cancer Choir. Funds raised by the release of the single are being donated to an Italian charity supporting research into asbestos-related cancers.
This is not the first time that Italian campaigners have made a positive contribution to their countrys asbestos dialogue using innovative means. In 2013, a series of striking images were produced as part of the Amianto Liberiamocene Subito [Asbestos, Let's Get Rid of it Now] campaign which featured Asbestos Free tattoos.3 The backers of that initiative aimed at raising asbestos awareness amongst young people, aged between 18 and 35 included the Italian General Confederation of Labor, the Association of Families and Asbestos Victims of Casale Monferrato and the trade unions UIL, UGL and ANMIL.
One of the six posters produced for the Amianto Liberiamocene Subito campaign.
The Italian designers, artists and backers of these imaginative, vibrant and collaborative campaigns should feel proud of their achievements; they remain an inspiration to us all.
2 ANCORA SOTTO CASA MIA [Still Under My House]. January 11, 2021.
3 Kazan-Allen, L. International Workers Memorial Day 2013. April 10, 2013.
The Long Good-Bye!
There are so many reasons to be grateful to see the back of Donald Trump next month, someone categorized by a close family member as The Worlds Most Dangerous Man.1 A President who played golf as Americans endured the worst catastrophe in living memory; his lack of empathy was as unfathomable as his refusal to accept the verdict of the American electorate. This New York native, who is unwelcome in his hometown, also seems to be persona non grata by neighbours of Mar-a-Lago, his Palm Beach retreat.2 Is it any wonder considering the discord and upheaval which follows in his wake?
Trumps support for asbestos began long before he entered the White House. In his book The Art of the Comeback (1997) he wrote that asbestos had got a bad rap and that campaigns to mandate its removal from schools and public buildings were led by the mob.3 In June 2005, Trump defended asbestos in front of a meeting of the subcommittee of the Senate Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee saying:
A lot of people could say that if the World Trade Center had asbestos it wouldnt have burned down, it wouldnt have melted, okay? ... A lot of people in my industry think asbestos is the greatest fireproofing material ever made.4
In a 2012 tweet, Trump reiterated the claim that had asbestos fire-proofing not been replaced with junk that doesnt work, the World Trade Center would never have burned down.
Under Trump-appointed Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) administrators Scott Pruitt (2017-18) and Andrew Wheeler (2018-2020), the Agency began to roll back measures implemented and/or planned under the Obama Administration to protect public health and clean up the environment.5 A case in point was the Frank R. Lautenberg Chemical Safety for the 21st Century Act which the 114th Congress passed and President Obama signed in 2016; this law updated the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) so that proposals to better protect citizens from hazards such as asbestos might be progressed.6
Ban asbestos campaigners were hopeful that the much-needed reforms to TSCA would enable information to be gathered documenting the continuing use of asbestos products within the U.S. and the location of toxic products already incorporated into the national infrastructure, as a precursor to finally banning all imports and uses of asbestos and asbestos-containing products. When it came time to undertake the asbestos risk evaluation, the EPA ignored a key TSCA directive mandating that all uses of a chemical be studied. Instead, the EPA announced it would exclude from consideration most legacy uses of asbestos. In other words, the EPA intended to disregard hazards posed by asbestos-containing products already incorporated within U.S. schools, homes, factories and other buildings.7 According to EPAs critics, the Agencys intention was to find lower levels of overall risk in order to discount calls for a comprehensive asbestos ban to be implemented.
On December 22, 2020, Federal Judge Edward Chen in the Northern District of California issued a Summary Judgment against the EPA and ordered it to start collecting data as per requests made by a coalition of non-profit public health and environmental organizations that promote awareness about the health risks associated with asbestos and 10 State Attorney Generals. The Judge was scathing in remarks about the multiple failures of the EPA to take action with comments such as those below:
As the EPA has 60 days to appeal, any action taken pursuant to Judge Chens judgment will be accomplished under the Administration of President Joe Biden, a candidate who promised to implement a Green New Deal to address major issues such as climate change and who, as recently as December 29, 2020, underlined his support for the work of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration in protecting workers rights.9
Forty years ago, the EPA was at the forefront of protecting U.S. citizens from the asbestos hazard with plans for a comprehensive national asbestos ban. Unfortunately, in 1991 the U.S. Asbestos Ban and Phase-out Rule (ABPR) was overturned by a lawsuit instigated by asbestos stakeholders from the U.S. Canada and elsewhere. In the vacuum left by the demise of the ABPR, a further 300,000+ tonnes of asbestos fiber were used, most sourced from Canadian mines, and vast amounts of asbestos-containing construction products, friction materials and assorted other asbestos-containing items were incorporated into the U.S. infrastructure.10
Although annual consumption of asbestos in the U.S. remains low averaging around 650 tonnes/year over the last decade, small compared to massive amounts used every year in China, India, Russia, Indonesia, Kazakhstan etc. the importance of a U.S. asbestos ban transcends national borders.11 The international asbestos lobby was well aware in the 1980s and 1990s that should the U.S. ban be upheld, other countries would follow Americas lead. That is even more true now, in the aftermath of a global pandemic when individuals, national governments, regional bodies and international agencies are looking towards a greener future. A reinvigorated EPA could embrace the asbestos challenge and once again become a global leader in the battle for environmental justice.
Adios Donald! Take your asbestos with you as you depart the world stage. Please shut the door as you leave.
1 Walters, J. & Aratani, L. Donald Trumps niece says president is dangerous and calls on him to resign. July 15, 2020.
2 Aratani, L. Mar-a-Lago neighbors say Trump cant live there after White House. December 17, 2020.
3 Higgins, A. In Asbest, Russia, Making Asbestos Great Again. April 7, 2019.
4 Rosenthal, M. The Trump Files: Donald Thinks Asbestos Would Have Saved the Twin Towers. August 3, 2016.
5 Holden, E. Trump's environment agency seems to be at war with the environment, say ex-officials. October 30, 2020.
6 EPA. Summary of the Toxic Substances Control Act. 2016.
7 Benesh, M. How Trumps EPA is Keeping Asbestos Legal. July 11, 2018.
8 Federal Judge Edward Chen December 22, 2020 Verdict in Case No. 19-cv-00871-EMC.
Iovino, N. EPA Ordered to Close Asbestos Reporting Loopholes. December 22, 2020.
Frazin, R. Court orders EPA to step up asbestos data collection. December 23, 2020.
9 Duvall, M, et al. EPA Ordered to Revise TSCA CDR Rule for Asbestos. December 29, 2020.
Biden, J. Biden marks 50th Anniversary of the Occupational Safety and Health Act. December 29, 2020.
10 Kazan-Allen, L. October 18, 2011: A Bloody Anniversary. October 2011.
11 Kazan-Allen, L. & Allen, D. Latest Global Asbestos Data. April, 2018.
Betrayal of Spains Asbestos Victims
Asbestos-injured workers in Spain received another slap in the face earlier this month (November 2020) when a Madrid Commercial Court confirmed a corporate request to put Coemac the owner of the countrys former asbestos giant Uralita into voluntary bankruptcy.1 On January 30, 2020, Coemac had sought judicial protection from its creditors, acknowledging that it had insufficient liquidity to meet its liabilities; the company blamed claims arising from Uralitas manufacture of asbestos-cement construction materials. The next day (January 31, 2020), trading in Coemac shares was suspended by the Madrid Stock Exchange.
Before 2002 when Spain banned asbestos having consumed 2.5+ million tonnes of asbestos fiber Uralita had been the countrys biggest importer and user of asbestos. For decades, the asbestos operations of Uralita had poisoned generations of workers as well as members of their families; environmental contamination generated by the companys factories had endangered the lives of local people2 and the dumping of industrial waste had disseminated the asbestos hazard throughout the countryside.3 Epidemiologists predict that by 2030, 30,000 people in Spain will die from asbestos-related diseases.4
Even before, Coemacs bankruptcy proceedings, claimants with asbestos-related diseases in Spain faced an uphill battle to gain recognition of their diseases and compensation for their injuries. The threat posed to the human rights of plaintiffs by the financial manoeuvrings of Coemac was recognized by legal activists at the Rondo Collective in Barcelona who expressed their concerns as follows:
Our cooperative has been fighting for the recognition of asbestos victims for more than 30 years. A long legal path that has served to unequivocally establish the responsibility of Uralita in hundreds of cases of death and illness, including in people without any kind of employment link, neither direct nor indirect, with the company. In our view, the application for voluntary insolvency of creditors could have a deterrent effect on legitimate claims of people affected by asbestos, conveying to the public the unfounded perception that compensation awarded by the courts, including the Spanish Supreme Court, would never be paid The Uralita legacy is one of death and suffering. Asbestos has claimed thousands of lives in Spain; few of these deaths were recognized as asbestos-related pathologies. Given the long latency of diseases caused by asbestos, people will continue to die from Uralita exposures until at least 2040.5
Judging by bankruptcies of other asbestos conglomerates, Uralitas victims could have a long wait and time is definitely something sufferers of asbestos-related diseases do not have. Bankruptcy proceedings of the US and UK asbestos giants Johns Manville and Turner & Newall respectively took six years to resolve during which asbestos personal injury claims were frozen. In light of the limbo in which former Uralita workers currently find themselves, the calls to establish a nation-wide asbestos compensation scheme have become ever more urgent.6
1 Coemac, la antigua Uralita, declarada en concurso de acreedores [Coemac, the ancient Uralita, declared in bankruptcy]. November 23, 2020.
2 Malignant asbestosrelated disease in a population exposed to asbestos. June 9, 2020.
3 Fábrica de amianto Uralita en Cerdanyola del Vallès (Catalua), Espaa [Uralita asbestos factory in Cerdanyola del Vallès (Catalonia), Spain].
4 Los canallas del Amianto [The asbestos scoundrels]. October 3, 2020.
5 Concurs de Coemac: Iluitarem per les indemnitzacions [Coemac Contest: We will fight for compensation]. February 3, 2020.
6 Proposición de Ley de creación de un fondo de compensación para las víctimas del amianto. [Proposal of Law to create a compensation fund for asbestos victims.]. October 9, 2018.
Johnson & Johnson: Its Profits, Our Lives!
On the same day (October 5, 2020) that global campaigners urged British Parliamentarians to take action on the hazard posed by sales of toxic talc-based baby powder, the manufacturer Johnson & Johnson (J&J) announced it had settled 1000+ lawsuits from U.S. cancer sufferers for a sum in excess of $100 million.1 In a J&J statement, the company confirmed its capitulation but refused to admit liability for the harm its product had done.
This hypocritical double-speak is something campaigners have become familiar with as it has been used by the company to explain away the fact that although talc-based baby powder had been withdrawn from markets in the U.S. and Canada, it was still being sold elsewhere. In response to a petition signed by 200+ groups from 50 countries which called on J&J to end the global marketing of toxic baby powder, the company explained:
The decision to discontinue talc-based Johnsons Baby Powder in the United States and Canada has nothing to do with the safety of the product. Johnsons Baby Powder is safe, asbestos free, and does not cause cancer. However, demand for talc-based Johnsons Baby Powder in North America has been declining due in large part to changes in consumer habits and fuelled by misinformation around the safety of the product and a constant barrage of litigation advertising.2
The companys behaviour has been deplored at home and abroad not only by grassroots activists but also by politicians such as Illinois Congressman Raja Krishnamoorthi who on October 5, 2020 wrote:
We can no longer turn a blind eye to the patterns of manipulation and predatory marketing that have caused higher concentrations of hazardous materials to proliferate in communities of color. And we must hold companies like Johnson & Johnson to account for continuing to sell a product they already know to be poisonous both here in the United States and across the world.
That is why we are joining together today to urge Johnson & Johnson to go beyond its recent commitment to stop selling the product in the U.S. and Canada to aggressively work to remove any remaining inventory from U.S. shelves while also halting all sales of the product globally. We are demanding the company mount a global public-education campaign encouraging consumers to throw away their talc-based products. And we are urging Alex Gorsky and the members of Johnson & Johnsons Board to sit down with current and future victims across the world.3
The question of whether busy UK families [would] be aware of the controversy over the continuing sale of J&Js toxic talc-based baby powder or be in the position to make an informed choice in buying asbestos-free products for their children was raised in a June 17, 2020 press release by the Asbestos Victims Support Groups Forum UK. Condemning J&Js double standards, the Forum called for government action; to date, none has been forthcoming.4
On October 5, 2020, John Flanagan, from the Merseyside Asbestos Victims Support Group, told a Zoom meeting of the Parliamentary Asbestos Sub-Group (APPG) how a summer shopping trip to multiple retail outlets in Liverpool revealed that the safe alternative J&J baby powder which was cornstarch not talc-based had been unavailable. A written submission to the APPG meeting from Janette Robinson Flint, Executive Director of Black Women for Wellness (BWW), described the widespread concern about the actions of Johnson & Johnson and the mistrust its behaviour had engendered. The international coalition led by BWW was, she wrote committed to three demands: cease manufacture of the products, safe disposal of the product and stop targeting Black & Women of Color with aggressive marketing campaigns that increase our use of the toxic chemicals. Ms. Flint urged Parliamentarians and concerned citizens to hold this company to account in every country where the sale of this product continues to endanger human life. We couldnt agree more.
1 Johnson & Johnson to pay more than $100 million to settle over 1,000 talc lawsuits: Bloomberg. October 5, 2020.
2 Email from Kathleen Widmer (J&J Company Group Chairman, North America and Latin America) to Janette Robinson Flint, Black Women for Wellness. July 10, 2020.
3 Talcum Powder Sales Shouldnt Come At The Cost Of Womens Lives. October 5, 2020.
4 Asbestos Victims Support Groups Forum UK. Health Alert: Asbestos in Baby Power. June 17, 2020.
Déjà-Vu All Over Again!
One month after an explosion ripped through the Port area of Beirut, information is emerging of the environmental asbestos contamination let loose by the disaster. As in so many other natural and man-made disasters, this additional hazard for emergency workers and local people was as expected as it was unwelcomed. Wherever asbestos has been used, entire populations become hostages to fortune with inhalation of deadly fibers only one earthquake, tsunami or conflagration away.1
Oddly enough, the first mention I came across of the asbestos situation in Beirut was uploaded on August 5, a day after the event occurred, in a Russian language article. The author cited authoritative warnings Asbestos in damaged buildings poses a significant health risk about the post-disaster hazard posed by airborne asbestos in the aftermath of the explosions, speculating that amongst the 40,000 damaged or destroyed buildings were ones built in the 1950s and 1960s when asbestos use was commonplace.2
In the absence of any immediate mobilization by the central government or the Beirut municipality to address the devastation caused by the blast, non-government organizations (NGOs) and international agencies3 stepped into the breach with local people volunteering their labor. New waste dumps were hastily designated and debris, including asbestos-containing products as well as other contaminated waste, were collected and placed haphazardly in sites, many of which were in residential areas. The volunteers had no equipment or heavy duty vehicles to transport the debris any distance and did what they could to clean-up affected neighborhoods. In any case, even if suitable transport had been available, there was no licensed landfill in Lebanon capable of receiving toxic waste. It goes without saying that the volunteers had neither protective clothing nor equipment such as specialist respirators. Despite urgent calls for a clear management plan for debris removal, including asbestos, no coordinated government action has been reported.4
1 Kazan-Allen, L. The Post-Disaster Asbestos Hazard: 1995-2020. January 21, 2020.
2 Названо самое опасное вещество, оказавшееся в воздухе после взрыва в Бейруте [The most dangerous substance in the air after the explosion in Beirut is named]. https://360tv.ru/news/mir/nazvano-samoe-opasnoe-veschestvo-okazavsheesja-v-vozduhe-posle-vzryva-v-bejrute/
3 Three-page leaflets in Arabic (أسبستوس - المخاطر والممارسات الآمنة للتنظيف بعد انفجار بيروت) and English (ASBESTOS hazards and safe practices for cleanup after Beirut blast) prepared by the World Health Organization, the Environmental Health Group, the American University of Beirut and the Nature Conservation Center were widely distributed amongst volunteer workers and Beirut residents.
4 Cancer risk on the rise after Beirut blast, warn experts. August 27, 2020.
Porter, L. After the blast: how Beiruts clean-up operation is exposing Lebanons wider state dysfunction. August 19, 2020.
Quebecs Asbestos Legacy: A New Reality
The adverse consequences of more than one hundred years of asbestos mining in Quebec were initially ignored, more latterly denied and only recently acknowledged. According to Dr. Jim Brophy, former Director of Sarnias Occupational Health Clinic for Ontario Workers and currently an adjunct professor at the University of Windsor, last weeks publication of the findings of Quebecs Independent Office of Public Hearings on the Environment (BAPE) regarding the Provinces asbestos legacy including the risks posed by environmental contamination and asbestos within Quebecs infrastructure1 represented an important, historic victory for all of those that have fought for so long and so hard to prevent asbestos-related disease here (Canada) and abroad.2 Concurring with Dr. Brophys assessment, Canadian ban asbestos campaigner Kathleen Ruff called the publication a landmark. 3
The 343-page report, available only in French, was produced by the three-member Commission tasked by Quebecs Minister of the Environment in November 2019 to consider how best to deal with the 800+ million tons of asbestos waste created by mining operations in the Province and to investigate the advisability of commercial proposals to process asbestos tailings to extract magnesium and other metals. The Commissions deliberations were thorough and transparent and included consultations with key stakeholders in and out of government as well as technical experts from Canada and abroad. Having acknowledged that all types of asbestos were carcinogenic and that there was no safe level of exposure, the Commission made highly significant recommendations for protecting both workers and members of the public from toxic exposures including:
In its response to the BAPE report, the Association of Asbestos Victims of Quebec (AVAQ) welcomed the criteria set for recovery projects at the asbestos dumps: work at the sites must not pose any additional risk to workers or members of the public and the extraction process must destroy asbestos fibers without impacting on the air quality. We understand, said AVAQs Scientific Advisor Norman King that before any project development to upgrade the dumps, it will take a rigorous risk analysis to demonstrate that there is no additional risk at the health and environmental level This is not a categorical no, but it is not an unconditional yes. We're comfortable with that.6 Having indicated the reports shortcomings, AVAQ was, on balance, positive about the recommendations made but pointed out that the Quebec Government was under no obligation to implement them.
To date, neither the Quebec nor Canadian Government have responded to the report. On August 12, Alliance Magnesium, the leading reclamation company involved in this project, issued reassurances that the company would continue to respect all the [safety] standards in place" and not compromise on matters of health, safety and the environment.7 Given the $145 million investment already made in the project by the Canadian and Quebec governments, the investment banking Montreal-based Alternative Capital Group, the Quebec pension fund: Fondaction, Alliance Magnesium and the Marubeni Corporation of Japan it is likely there will be some accommodation with the BAPE recommendations; how much, remains to be seen.8
1 Létat des lieux et la gestion de lamiante et des résidus miniers amianté [The inventory and management of asbestos and asbestos mine tailings]. August 7, 2020.
2 Email received from Dr Brophy. August 8, 2020.
4 Quebecs current standard for workplace exposure to asbestos is 10 times higher than that in the rest of Canada, meaning Quebec workers have a much higher risk of contracting asbestos-related diseases.
5 Occupational claims for pleural mesothelioma should be recognized automatically due to the acknowledged relationship between exposure to asbestos and the causation of this cancer.
6 LAVAQ confortable avec les conditions du BAPE sur lamiante [AVAQ comfortable with the with BAPE report on asbestos]. August 11, 2020
7 Aucun compromis sur la santé pour Alliance Magnésium [No compromise on health for Alliance Magnesium]. August 12, 2020.
Action Mesothelioma Day 2020
For over 15 years Action Mesothelioma Day (AMD), has been a UK calendar event traditionally observed on the first Friday in July. AMD is a focal point for the activities of UK asbestos victims support groups and mesothelioma charities, an occasion for socializing and fellowship, an opportunity for raising research funds and a time for reaffirming ones membership of a community of like-minded individuals.1 Over the years, AMD has taken place on blisteringly sunny days and under stormy skies with summertime showers, on occasion, preventing butterfly and dove releases. While every event had its own personality, many included musical interludes, floral tributes and post-AMD teas with homemade cakes. My take-away from the events I attended over the years was always one of amazement at the generosity of spirit and strength of character on show by people who had every right to feel aggrieved at the turn their lives had taken. The sustained effort of the volunteers and staff who organized these events was invisible but apparent nevertheless in the smoothness with which the activities were rolled out, the significant input of asbestos victims and the reassuring presence of medical personnel, should a participant be taken ill.
With all this in mind, the prospect of a socially distanced AMD filled me with consternation. Of course, no one would expect people with asbestos-related diseases to take part in a public event with the coronavirus pandemic rampant in the UK. That being so, how could AMD 2020 be marked in a way which would both uphold its objectives and respect the needs of the mesothelioma community.
Of course, there was no need to worry. Asbestos victims support groups and mesothelioma charities more than rose to the challenge with a multitude of virtual AMD events rolled out on July 3, 2020 to keep the conversation going and to maintain a high profile for efforts to address the UKs deadly asbestos legacy not least of which is the ongoing death toll of 5,000+ per year.2 Online information sessions, virtual get-togethers and interviews were accessible on various platforms including facebook and youtube3 throughout the day.4 The announcement of new initiatives such as the HASAG counselling service5 and new resources including a Mesothelioma Charter and an AMD briefing6 were both timely and welcome.
Feedback from AMD suggests that while face-to-face events remain the preferred option, there was a good response to the virtual and online events with one veteran AMD organizer pointing out that it was the first time she had been able to attend events organized by other groups. Commenting on AMD 2020, Joanne Gordon, Chair of Asbestos Victims Support Groups UK Forum said:
In recent months, there has been a big effort by victims groups to create new content and resources informed by the views of our members which prioritized the input of those suffering from asbestos-related diseases for AMD 2020. The videos produced and material created are a great resource which will be much used in the future. Discussions with Forum members continue about the impact of this unusual, and hopefully only, COVID-19 AMD.7
1 Kazan-Allen, L. Action Mesothelioma Day 2019. July 15, 2019.
Kazan-Allen, L. Action Mesothelioma Day 2018 Photos. July 18, 2018.
2 HSE releases annual workplace fatality figures for 2019/20. July 1, 2020.
3 Youtube Premieres: Virtual Action Mesothelioma Day 2020. July 3, 2020.
Virtual Action Mesothelioma Day 2020.
4 June Hancock Mesothelioma Research Fund. Join us for Action Mesothelioma Day 2020.
6 UK Mesothelioma Alliance. Mesothelioma Patient Charter.
Thompsons Solicitors. Action Mesothelioma Day 2020 Your Asbestos Questions Answered.
7 Email from Joanne Gordon received July 4, 2020.
Outrage over Toxic Corporate Strategy!
The bald-faced hypocrisy of the American multinational Johnson & Johnson in withdrawing its iconic talc-based baby powder from sale in North America whilst continuing to market it abroad has led to global condemnation.1 Asbestos victims groups, consumer associations, trade unions and civil society campaigners from Asia, Latin America and Europe have demanded explanations about the companys actions and denounced the implicit double standards which prioritized the lives of Americans at the expense of other nationalities.2
Responses signed by J&J personnel or public relation spin doctors to officials representing Medicina Democratica Movimento di Lotta per la Salute [Democratic Medicine Fight for Health Movement] (Italy), Associazione Italiana Esposti Amianto [the Italian Association of the Asbestos-Exposed], Associazione Familiari Vittime Amianto [Italys Asbestos Victims Family Association], the Brazilian Association of the Asbestos-Exposed (ABREA), the Consumers Association of Penang (Malaysia), the Ban Asbestos Network of Japan (BANJAN), Arugaan (Philippines), the EcoWaste Coalition (Philippines) and the Associated Labour Unions Trade Union Congress of the Philippines, repeated ad nauseum the company line:
A June 4 press release by the French Association for the Defense of Asbestos Victims (Andeva) denounced the infamy of J&Js marketing strategy which valued the lives of North Americans more highly than those of non-Americans and called on the French Government to ban the import of Johnson & Johnsons talc-based baby powder on the grounds of public health.4 In a June 17 press release, the Asbestos Victims Support Groups Forum UK was scathing in its condemnation of J&Js deplorable behaviour stating: Human life is sacrosanct. If the company is unable or unwilling to protect the health of all its customers, then government action is called for.5
Mobilization by the groups cited above and many others has raised the media profile of J&Js outrageous behaviour and increased pressure on national governments, regional intergovernmental organizations and international agencies to take unilateral action.6 It goes without saying that heightened awareness of J&Js duplicity will almost certainly result in more lawsuits being brought by non-Americans over toxic exposures to J&J baby powder. With the multinationals decision-making accomplished at its New Jersey headquarters, it is time for foreign plaintiffs to use the U.S. legal system to seek redress for their injuries. It is almost impossible to imagine a NJ jury excusing Johnson & Johnsons actions especially when a non-lethal version of its baby powder has been available for decades.
1 Kazan-Allen, L. Double Standards: Toxic Talc Banned at Home, On Sale Abroad. May 28, 2020.
2 Press Release: Death, Duplicity and Double Standards. May 25, 2020.
3 Letter from Johnson & Johnson S.p.A. (Italy) to Medicina Democratica Movimento di Lotta per la Salute (Democratic Medicine Fight for Health Movement). June 3, 2020.
4 AMIANTE DANS LE TALC: LAndeva alerte le ministre de la Santé [ASBESTOS IN TALC: Andeva Alerts the Minister of Health]. June 4, 2020.
5 Press Release by the Asbestos Victims Support Groups Forum UK. Health Alert: Asbestos in Baby Powder. June 17, 2020.
6 Talc à l'amiante: J&J cesse la commercialisation nord-américaine [Asbestos talc: J&J stops North American marketing]. June 8, 2020.
L'Abeva alerte la ministre de la Santé quant à la présence d'amiante dans le talc [Abeva alerts the Minister of Health to the presence of asbestos in talc]. June 10, 2020.
Chinas Rejection of Asbestos: Official
A paper published this month (May 2020) signalled that another major step had been taken by the authorities in China a leading consumer and producer of chrysotile (white) asbestos1 in acknowledging the deadly consequences of the commercial exploitation of asbestos. As the text entitled: Distribution of Asbestos Enterprises and Asbestosis Cases China, 1997-20192 was published in the current issue of China CDC Weekly, an online platform for the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention a governmental and national-level technical organization and funded by the National Natural Science Foundation of China and Academy of Engineering, it is probable that the authors findings will have been discussed at and endorsed by the highest levels of government.
In the first section of the paper, the co-authors set out the pariah status of asbestos:
Asbestos is classified as a Class I Carcinogen by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) because exposure causes mesothelioma and lung cancer in addition to asbestosis and plaques. So far, asbestos has been banned in 67 countries, but chrysotile, a commonly encountered form of asbestos, is still widely used in China and most developing countries. Most asbestos-caused cancers are not reported, recorded, and compensated in many countries Enterprises should be encouraged to use safer substitutes and gradually ban asbestos materials in China.
Asked about Chinas current policy on the asbestos hazard, a long-time proponent of asbestos-free technology based in Beijing agreed that the production and publication of this paper was indicative of increasing government acknowledgment of the hazard posed by asbestos production and use. In an email exchange last week, he reported that the amount of pro-asbestos propaganda disseminated by the industry had been greatly reduced and that asbestos-containing products were not promoted by anyone in the market in China. The asbestos industry and its business was, he said, in decline in China.
The experts views are backed up by data showing that between 2012 and 2016, asbestos consumption in China decreased by 33% from 431,000 tonnes to 288,000t.3 Reviewing a chronological timeline delineating national asbestos restrictions,4 a pattern emerges showing increasing curtailment of asbestos use in China:
The global asbestos lobby led in recent years by asbestos stakeholders in Russia and Kazakhstan will be well aware of the significance of Chinas shift in official policy. When China a country which has the worlds second largest reserves of chrysotile asbestos finally prioritizes public and occupational health over financial gain by outlawing the remaining uses of asbestos, other countries in the region will certainly follow suit. The future is asbestos free.
1 Currently, China not only has the second largest asbestos reserves but also is the third largest producer and consumer of asbestos products in the world.
2 Chen M, Wang H, et al. Distribution of Asbestos Enterprises and Asbestosis Cases China, 1997-2019. May 1, 2020.
3 United States Geological Survey. Asbestos Statistics and Information.
International Workers Memorial Day (IWMD) 2019 vs 2020
As I anticipate IWMD 2020 in state-sanctioned isolation, I think back to last years IWMD; the contrast could not be starker. From a day of fellowship in Osasco, Brazil with the Association of the Asbestos-Exposed (ABREA) to one under lockdown in the UK, so much has changed that one has to strongly question whether the memory of the 2019 event had been enhanced retrospectively by the solitude which was to follow. And yet, I believe, that my recollection is accurate: from the calls of the watermelon hawker, to the beams of dappled sunlight filtered through the trees surrounding the Plaza Aquilino Alves dos Santos, to the camaraderie of the ABREA community, IWMD 2019 was a perfect manifestation of the day observed around the world to remember those injured or killed at work. Surrounded by pictures of loved ones whose lives had been sacrificed by the asbestos industry, ABREA supporters and colleagues from Europe and Asia recommitted themselves to the fight for asbestos justice in the presence of spiritual leaders, political figures, family members and friends. The small square was so crowded that one participant quipped: Next year, we need a bigger square.
April 28, 2019. International Workers Memorial Day Commemoration Service, Osasco, Brazil
Those gathered together in Osasco in 2019 were commemorating lives lost to diseases caused by exposure to asbestos, a mineral composed of deadly fibers invisible to the naked eye. In 2020, another microscopic killer is stalking our workplaces, institutions, streets and homes: COVID-19 has transformed our lives and stolen tens of thousands of people from their families and communities. Many of those lost were infected working on the frontline of the coronavirus pandemic; like the asbestos victims, they too were betrayed by employers who ill-prepared them for the dangers they were to face. This year, there will be no large rallies and few union gatherings to mark IWMD due to public health restrictions. Adapting to the ongoing global crisis, IWMD activities are going online with resources and events being accessed via facebook, twitter and ZOOM.1 In recognition of the vulnerability of frontline workers, the International Trade Union Confederation representing 200 million workers in 163 countries has changed the theme for IWMD 2020 to Stop the Pandemic in the Workplace. One can only hope that their efforts will further reinforce demands by the public for adequate protective equipment, universal testing of essential workers and appropriate financial compensation for their service.
Applauding the innovations being pioneered under these difficult circumstances, I will hold close my memories of IWMD 2019: nothing can surpass the experience of standing within a circle of individuals sharing a common ethos and history. I am confident that the solidarity experienced last year will survive this pandemic and that we will call on each of our governments to honor our debt to those whose avoidable deaths were caused by exposures to asbestos, COVID-19 or other deadly agents. On April 28, we will, whether alone or in company: Remember the Dead, and Fight for the Living. Be safe!
1 Hazards Campaign Briefing and Call to Action Plan.
Also see: Union Safety Website:
Also see: Lecco ricorda le vittime dell'amianto con messa e video in streaming [Lecco remembers asbestos victims with streaming and streaming videos]. April 23, 2020.
Another Bitter Blow for Italys Asbestos Victims
A TV news item about the current reality of life under lockdown in Casale Monferrato, the Italian town at the epicentre of the countrys asbestos epidemic, featured interviews with Oncologist Daniela Degiovanni, palliative care specialist and director of a hospice which has cared for asbestos patients for more than a decade, and the current Mayor Federico Riboldi.1
The speakers explained how the decades-long struggle by the town against the deadly asbestos hazard had created a proclivity for this evolving 21st century danger to be taken seriously by local people. There was, said Dr. Degiovanni, a great deal of fear amongst the population, with both townsfolk and healthcare workers affected by the virus.
The broadcast included footage of closed shops in the city center, people wearing face masks and the iconic flag in the national colors calling for: Eternit Giustizia (Eternit Justice).2
There is no question that people already suffering from asbestos-related illnesses and respiratory conditions will be less able to throw off the effects of the coronavirus. It is also likely that the physicians treating them will be part or become part of medical teams caring for virus patients. In fact, on March 12, Dr. Federica Grosso, the head of the Mesothelioma Unit in Piedmont, Alessandria, ~30 kilometers from Casale Monferrato, uploaded a tweet noting the sad demise of her first mesothelioma patient due to the coronavirus. According to a report in La Stampa newspaper, former traffic policeman and mesothelioma patient Giorgio Rosso died on March 8 from Covid-19.3 Seventy-one year old Mr. Rossi had worked in Casale Monferrato from 1973 until 2005 and had been diagnosed with the signature asbestos cancer in 2018. During a short break from his mesothelioma treatment and after having had a high temperature for some while, he was taken to the emergency room at Casale Monferrato hospital where he was tested for the virus (March 5).
Unfortunately, that test proved positive and this much-beloved and popular man from Casale Monferrato died three days later. Writing about this trauma, journalist Silvana Mossano whose husband Marco Giorcelli, editor of the Casale local newspaper Il Monferrato, died of mesothelioma aged 52 in 2012 wrote movingly of Mr. Rossos death: He did not imagine that it would have been a virus smaller than the already invisible asbestos fiber that would end his life.
In the weeks and months to come, we fear that many more mesothelioma victims and others with asbestos-related diseases will die from Covid-19. Our thoughts are with our friends and colleagues whose compromised health systems make them vulnerable to this plague and with the medical professionals who will, once again, be on the frontline in the fight to save life from an invisible and deadly killer.
1 Casale Monferrato al Tg2: come la città martire dell'amianto affronta il coronavirus [Casale Monferrato at TG2: how the iconic asbestos city is facing up to the coronavirus]. March 11, 2020.
2 Eternit was the company responsible for thousands of asbestos deaths amongst workers, their relatives, consumers and members of the public throughout Italy.
3 Mossano, S. Casale Monferrato, lottava con un mesotelioma ma ha perso con il coronavirus: laddio a Giorgio Rosso [Casale Monferrato, struggled with mesothelioma but lost with coronavirus: farewell to Giorgio Rosso]. March 8, 2020.
Un altro duro colpo per le vittime dellamianto in Italia
Di Laurie Kazan-Allen
Traduzione a cura di Raffaella Casati
In un recente servizio televisivo riguardante lattuale situazione a Casale Monferrato, il comune italiano al centro della lotta contro lamianto, sono stati intervistati Daniela Degiovanni, oncologa specializzata in cure palliative e da oltre dieci anni direttrice di una clinica per la cura delle vittime dellamianto, e lattuale sindaco Federico Riboldi.1
Entrambi hanno evidenziato come il pluridecennale coinvolgimento della città contro i pericoli mortali legati allamianto abbia favorito una propensione da parte dei cittadini a prendere particolarmente sul serio la nuova minaccia del 21 secolo. La dott.ssa Degiovanni ha dichiarato che il livello di tensione è molto alto tra la popolazione, dato il numero di cittadini e personale medico affetti dal virus.
Sono state mandate in onda anche immagini del centro città, con negozi chiusi, persone che indossano maschere protettive e la bandiera tricolore che cita Eternit: Giustizia.2
Non cè dubbio sul fatto che le persone che già soffrono di malattie legate allamianto o di altre patologie respiratorie avranno maggiori difficoltà nel combattere gli effetti del coronavirus. è anche probabile che gli specialisti che si prendono cura di questi pazienti entreranno a far parte delle équipe mediche dedicate al trattamento dei malati che hanno contratto il virus. Il 12 marzo, la dott.ssa Federica Grosso, responsabile dellUnità Mesotelioma di Alessandria, ha pubblicato un tweet cha annunciava il decesso dovuto al coronavirus di un suo paziente già affetto da mesotelioma. Secondo un articolo pubblicato su La Stampa, Giorgio Rosso, ex vigile urbano, è deceduto l8 marzo a causa del Covid-19.3 Luomo di 71 anni aveva lavorato a Casale Monferrato dal 1973 al 2005 e aveva contratto il cancro da amianto nel 2018. Nel corso di una breve pausa dal trattamento del mesotelioma, e dopo una persistente febbre alta, il 5 marzo si era recato al Pronto Soccorso dellospedale di Casale Monferrato, dove era stato sottoposto al tampone per il coronavirus.
Il test è risultato positivo, e luomo tanto noto e amato in paese è deceduto tre giorni dopo. La giornalista Silvana Mossano - il cui marito Marco Giorcelli, editore del quotidiano locale Il Monferrato, ha perso la battaglia contro il mesotelioma nel 2012 alletà di 52 anni - ha cos commentato la morte di Giorgio Rosso: Non avrebbe mai immaginato di morire a causa di un virus ancora pi piccolo delle fibre di amianto.
Il nostro timore è che nelle settimane e nei mesi a venire, altri pazienti malati di mesotelioma o affetti da patologie legate allamianto possano essere vittime del Covid-19. Il nostro affetto e i nostri pensieri vanno agli amici e colleghi resi pi vulnerabili a questo virus, nonché al personale medico che si troverà ancora una volta in prima linea nella lotta contro un nemico invisibile e mortale.
1 Casale Monferrato al Tg2: come la città martire dell'amianto affronta il coronavirus. 11 Marzo 2020.
2 Eternit è lazienda responsabile di migliaia di decessi dovuti allamianto tra lavoratori, loro famigliari, consumatori e cittadini in tutta Italia.
3 Mossano, S. Casale Monferrato, lottava con un mesotelioma ma ha perso con il coronavirus: laddio a Giorgio Rosso. 8 Marzo 2020.
Asbestos Bankruptcies: Winners and Losers
The news that the 2020 incarnation of Uralita Spains former asbestos giant had sought protection from its asbestos liabilities by seeking voluntary bankruptcy last month (January, 2020), led me to revisit exit strategies pursued by other asbestos conglomerates.1 In 1982, the U.S. Johns-Manville Corporation (JM) filed for voluntarily bankruptcy under Chapter 11 of the U.S. Bankruptcy Code to escape its asbestos liabilities. Nearly 20 years later, T&N Ltd. the company which had dominated the UK asbestos industry for more than fifty years sought protection from asbestos claims by filing for administration under the UK Insolvency Act of 1986. Around the same time, the Australian asbestos giant James Hardie Industries Limited relocated to the Netherlands and underwent a corporate reorganization, dumping its asbestos liabilities into an underfunded charitable trust called: The Medical Research and Compensation Foundation. In July, 2018, Eternit S.A. formerly Brazils biggest asbestos conglomerate filed a judicial recovery plan to stave off bankruptcy.
A discernible pattern is apparent from the actions of the asbestos Goliaths from North America, Europe, Australia and Latin America; when push came to shove, these companies which had been household names, blue chip stocks and dominant players in local and national economies prioritized as always corporate profits over workers rights. Countless Americans died from asbestos-related diseases as JM took its time rearranging its finances, only emerging from bankruptcy proceedings in 1988. After that, the submission of claims restarted but no lawsuits could be brought and payments made were a fraction of what they might have been. It is early days in the Uralita bankruptcy but it is likely asbestos claims will be frozen until the situation is resolved. Unfortunately, time is never on the side of someone with asbestos cancer and many of the injured will die in the meantime.
There are lessons to be learned from the developments cited above: asbestos companies can never be trusted. People working today for companies such as Hindustan Composites Limited and Shree Digvijay Cement Co. Ltd in India, Orenburg Minerals and Uralasbest in Russia, Kostanai Minerals in Kazakhstan, PT Trigraha and PT Jeil Farjar in Indonesia could pay with their lives and those of their families for their daily bread. There is no place in the 21st century for the asbestos industry. Trust it at your peril.
1 La CNMV suspende la cotización de la antigua Uralita al suspender pagos [The CNMV suspends the price of the former Uralita by suspending payments]. January 31, 2020.
New Year, Old Lies
Reeling from a series of body blows in 2019, the asbestos lobby began 2020 with a feeble attempt to regain control of the asbestos narrative with a feature on a Russian website on January 5 which rehashed industry propaganda supporting the continued use of chrysotile (white) asbestos, asserting that despite being banned in 63 countries, asbestos could be safely used under controlled conditions. Asbestos was, the author claimed, Donald Trumpss favorite stone and the current US President actively advocates for its defense. Citing multiple examples of historical asbestos use, the author noted that mass hysteria in America over asbestos had been a gold mine for lawyers and asbestos removal firms even though Russian scientists unanimously reiterate that, subject to safety measures, asbestos is an extremely useful mineral.1
It is no wonder that the industry is desperate, having suffered a catalogue of defeats throughout 2019 with asbestos bans being achieved in Colombia and upheld in Brazil, government support for asbestos prohibitions being progressed in Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam and increasing awareness of the asbestos hazard in Indonesia, South Africa, Brazil and even Russia the worlds largest asbestos producer. The years final and most probably largest upset for asbestos vested interests was a pronounced shift in the asbestos policy of the Asian Development Bank (ADB), one of the most important financial donors in the Asia-Pacific region. In December, an ADB representative confirmed:
The Asian Development Bank (ADB) has since 2009 explicitly prohibited ADB financing for the production of, trade in, or use of unbonded asbestos fibers. However, the purchase and use of bonded asbestos cement sheeting where asbestos content was less than 20% has been permitted. This was consistent with prevailing industry standards and safety guidance. Given increased concerns regarding the potential risks of these products, ADB is now taking steps to address this. From 2020, ADB will refrain from financing any new projects containing any presence of asbestos; this update will be reflected in the next review of ADBs Safeguard Policy Statement.2
As Asia is the largest market for asbestos and as the ADB is a major donor for infrastructure and other projects, this prohibition marks a seismic moment for the struggle to protect populations from the dangers of toxic exposures throughout the region. There is little doubt that where the ADB goes other financial institutions and regional authorities will follow. There is no place in the 21st century for asbestos not in Asia, not anywhere!
1 ЛЮБИМЫЙ КАМЕНЬ ДОНАЛЬДА ТРАМПА [Donald Trump's favorite stone]. January 5, 2020.
2 Email received by Laurie Kazan-Allen. December 20, 2019.
Asbestos Hot Potato: The São Paulo
News circulating last month (September 2019) that the Brazilian aircraft carrier the São Paulo1 was to be auctioned set off alarm bells in France as well as in Brazil. Before its sale to the Brazilian Navy, the vessel had been part of the French fleet; originally commissioned as the Foch in 1963, she remained in service in France until 2000 when she was sold to Brazils Ministry of Defence.2
The Foch was the sister ship of the infamous aircraft carrier the Clemenceau which caused an international incident when it was sent to India for dismantling in 2006, due to the presence of around 760 tonnes of asbestos-containing material plus quantities of PCBs, lead and mercury.3 After protests by asbestos victims groups, Greenpeace and civil society campaigners and a Supreme Court ruling in India, the French Government reversed its position and brought the Clemenceau home. The demolition of the ship which started in 2009 and was completed by the end of 2010 was undertaken in Hartlepool, UK at the Graythorp Yard.
On October 1, 2019, the Brazilian Association of the Asbestos-Exposed (ABREA) wrote to Emmanuel Macron, the President of France, asking for his assistance in ensuring that the São Paulo was appropriately disposed of and not sold off for scrap to a cash buyer planning to beach it at one of the many unregulated facilities in South Asia.4 The letter from ABREA pointed out:
according to the Basel Convention, the export of toxic waste is prohibited. The São Paulo aircraft carrier is therefore a toxic dump because it is full of asbestos and this fact violates strongly the Basel Convention to which Brazil is a signatory... according to paragraph 8.3 of the tender notice, the French government must authorize the sale of the São Paulo aircraft carrier.
ABREAs fears regarding the final destination of the São Paulo were substantiated by an article published on October 2 which said:
The likely fate [of the São Paulo] is the same as its predecessor, the aircraft carrier Minas Gerais formerly owned by the British and Australian Navies which operated between 1960 and 2000 in Brazil until it was sold as scrap and wound up at the ship graveyard in Alang, in India.5
On October 4, 2019, ANDEVA a French association of asbestos victims groups also asked for the intervention of the French President requesting that Macron use his authority to block any attempt to export the ship to Asia where there is no capacity to undertake its dismantling safely as per international conventions and treaties.
1 Brazil's Aircraft Carrier To Be Auctioned Off After 30 Years Of Disappointment. September 26, 2019.
2 Letter to Brazils Ministry of Defense. September 16, 2019.
3 Kazan-Allen, L. Osasco: Birthplace of the 21st Century Ban Asbestos Movement. April 2006.
4 Letter to Macron (Portuguese). October 1, 2019
5 Casco do porta-avies São Paulo será leiloado em dezembro [São Paulo aircraft carrier hull to be auctioned in December.] October 2, 2019.