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.