Laurie Kazan-Allen

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January 18, 2019

The Future is Here!

In the dying hours of 2018, the long-awaited ban on asbestos in Canada – formerly the world’s biggest asbestos producer – came into force. At a stroke, the global discourse on asbestos was changed forever; it was no longer a question of if countries would act on the asbestos hazard but when they would do so.

The fact that asbestos is still used in many parts of the world, despite all that is known about its deadly effects on human beings and the environment, constitutes a scandal of epic proportions, with up to 300,000 people dying every year from avoidable asbestos-related diseases.1 This is equivalent to wiping out a city the size of Cordoba, Spain, Cincinnati, US or Canberra, Australia every year.

That the unregulated global trade in asbestos persists is, to a large part, due to the dirty tricks, illegal actions and disinformation campaigns sponsored by asbestos stakeholders; disreputable corporate strategies exposed over recent months included: economic blackmail,2 toxic treaties,3 political collusion4 and undercover operations targeting members of the ban asbestos network.5

Despite the asbestos industry’s global machinations, the momentum of the ban asbestos campaign continues to accelerate. From January 12 to 14, 2019 there were a series of activities in Yangon, Myanmar to raise awareness of the asbestos hazard.

 


Amongst the organizations backing these events were: the Confederation of Trade Unions Myanmar (CTUM), the Building and Woodworkers’ International, the Solidarity Center, the Asian Ban Asbestos Network (ABAN) and the Italy-Burma Foundation. The participation of Myanmar Government and World Health Organization officials, Myanmar, Italian and Japanese academics, trade unionists, technical and other experts was evidence, if more were needed, of the growth in anti-asbestos collaborations amongst diverse civil society partners from multiple geographical areas. The future is asbestos-free!

1 Takala J. et al. Comparative Analysis of the Burden of Injury and Illness at Work in Selected Countries and Regions. June 2017. Central European Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine. http://www.omfi.hu/cejoem/Volume23/Vol23No1-2/23_1-2_Article_01.pdf

2 Economic blackmail by Russia against Sri Lanka’s asbestos ban decision slammed by international trade unions and health networks. January 3, 2018.
http://ibasecretariat.org/media_release_blackmail_of_sri_lanka_re_asb_ban_jan_3_2018.pdf
See also: Kazan-Allen L. The Asbestos Diktats of Russian Foreign Policy. August 9, 2018.
http://ibasecretariat.org/lka-blog.php#a144

3 Kazan-Allen, L. Twenty-first Century Diplomacy: Gherkins for Asbestos. February 19, 2017.
http://ibasecretariat.org/lka-twenty-first-century-diplomacy-gherkins-for-asbestos.php

4 Volya, T. The Asbestos Lobby in Ukraine. January 8, 2019.
http://ibasecretariat.org/tv-the-asbestos-lobby-in-ukraine.php

5 Corporate Surveillance: ‘Substantial’ payout in asbestos spying scandal. Hazards, number 144. 2018. http://www.hazards.org/asbestos/ispy.htm

November 27, 2018

The Spy, His Handler, Their Clients and Me

In September 2016, I was told via a phone call that a man I had been working with for four years and who I had come to regard as a friend was not the sympathetic documentary film-maker he purported to be but an agent working for a private security firm: K2 Intelligence Ltd. My initial reaction was total disbelief but my protestations were soundly dismissed and so began my descent into a two-year litigation quagmire that would test my memory, endurance and resolve.

Determined to ascertain the damage which had been done and the danger in which our colleagues in the global ban asbestos network may have been placed, I and fellow ban asbestos colleagues embarked on a lawsuit against K2, its Executive Managing Director Matteo Bigazzi and its agent Robert Moore in October 2016.

The more I discovered about the scope of the spy’s intrusion into my life with my private conversations recorded, my activities recounted and my thoughts relayed, the more I felt I had entered into a dystopian fantasy from which I would soon wake up. Alas, this was not to be. My exhaustive trawl through the 35,000 documents handed over following an injunction by a London court in 2016 was as dispiriting as it was informative.1

When I reread the scores of emails from Robert Moore and recalled the plethora of phone calls in light of this new information, it was clear that everything I had done to assist this person had been turned against me and the people I worked with. Someone I had valued had exploited not only my trust but that of key members of our network many of whom were working in countries where asbestos vested interests exerted considerable political and financial power. The knowledge that my actions might have endangered their lives was devastating and constituted the low point of my professional career.

I had been identified as the primary target of the spying operation codenamed “Project Spring,” in an eleven page document written in 2012 by Moore entitled “IBAS Phase One report.” I clearly remember the shock of reading this document on the small screen of my mobile phone when it first arrived. The shock did not lessen when I was able to review the dossier on a bigger screen. Having set out the objectives of this “project” which included a forensic examination of IBAS operations and contacts, Moore went on to make several observations:

  • Laurie “Kassan (sic)-Allen” (LKA) is prolific and thoroughly dedicated. Some might say obsessed.”
  • “I would like to engage with IBAS and LKA in the most genuine and heartfelt way possible so that I can establish both an intellectual and emotional connection with LKA.”
  • “I don’t believe she will be willing to share the extremely sensitive information I’m being tasked with finding out in this Project, if I present myself as a journalist who accepts the industry PR line about asbestos and cannot see the ‘truth’ as she sees it. The odds are always stacked against a documentary getting commissioned but if I am allowed to genuinely pursue a story and endeavour to get it commissioned I believe this will add to both my credibility with LKA and – more importantly – the veracity of my cover.”
  • “If you read the IBAS website you very quickly detect a degree of (justified) paranoia about the underhand tactics deployed by the asbestos industry to undermine and harass its critics. If I arrive with too tailor-made a calling card might I look too good to be true?”
  • “The longer I have to develop my relationship with LKA, the deeper and more personal my questions can be and the more likely I am to get the most truthful answers.”

After campaigning on asbestos issues for more than 20 years, I had not expected to find myself the target of a covert intelligence operation, paid for by asbestos vested interests in Kazakhstan2 and carried out by a British company which promised to help “clients manage risk and address problems in complex situations…”3 Over a four-year period, the spy received £336,000 in fees and £130,000 in expenses; in the absence of information on how much K2 invoiced its clients for “Project Spring,” I can only venture a guess that it was at least that much again.

The information needed by our lawyers to progress the litigation required hundreds of hours of my time to identify, organize and put it into context. Rereading the files was a distressing experience as I could only wonder at how gullible I had been in the first place. Of course, details divulged during legal proceedings – except those which became public – could not be shared nor could developments in the litigation be discussed with anyone outside the case. The draconian need for secrecy was something which I found very difficult to bear.

After all the technicalities, legal posturing, reversals, delays and denials, the case was settled earlier this month (November, 2018) with “substantial damages” paid by K2 to the ban asbestos campaigners and “no admission of wrongdoing or liability” by the intelligence agency.4

I would like to take this opportunity to thank the other campaigners in this case – Professor Rory O’Neill; Coordinator of the Asian Ban Asbestos Network Sugio Furuya; Solicitor Harminder Bains; and Barrister Krishnendu Mukherjee – and to acknowledge the unwavering commitment of our Solicitor Richard Meeran and the legal teams at Leigh, Day & Co and Matrix Chambers.

The patience and support of global ban asbestos activists sustained us through many dark days and sleepless nights and it is fitting to not only thank them for their encouragement but also highlight the huge leaps and bounds which they have made in the fight to shut down the asbestos industry in the very countries targeted by K2’s clients.5

The struggle for an asbestos-free future continues.

1 Media Advisory. Corporate Intelligence agency pays substantial damages to five anti-asbestos campaigners over claim for spying. November 7, 2018.
https://www.leighday.co.uk/News/News-2018/November-2018/Corporate-intelligence-agency-pays-substantial-dam
Portuguese Translation: Agncia de Inteligncia Corporativa paga danos substanciais em processo de espionagem contra ativistas anti-amianto. November 9, 2018.
https://racismoambiental.net.br/2018/11/09/agencia-de-inteligencia-corporativa-paga-danos-substanciais-em-processo-de-espionagem-contra-ativistas-anti-amianto/
French Translation:
L’agence d’intelligence économique verse des dommages et intérts substantiels sur une plainte pour espionage. November 8, 2018.
https://www.asso-henri-pezerat.org/lagence-dintelligence-economique-verse-des-dommages-et-interets-substantiels-sur-une-plainte-pour-espionnage/ 

2 In March, 2017 K2’s clients were identified as: Wetherby Select Ltd., a holding company registered in the British Virgin Islands, Kazakh national Nurlan Omarov and US citizen Daniel Kunin, both of whom were “directly involved in Kazakhstan’s asbestos industry.”
See also: Weinberg, K. Daniel Kunin interview: Georgia's Alistair Campbell. August 23, 2008.
https://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/europe/georgia/2608953/Daniel-Kunin-interview-Georgias-Alistair-Campbell.html
Gillard, M. Lethal Lies: Part Two: Unmasking The Men Behind The Global Spying Ring. April 23, 2017.
https://newmatilda.com/2017/04/23/lethal-lies-part-two-unmasking-the-men-behind-the-global-spying-ring/

3 K2 Intelligence Ltd. Leading the Way in Complex Corporate Investigations.
https://www.k2intelligence.com/

4 Media Advisory. Corporate Intelligence agency pays substantial damages to five anti-asbestos campaigners over claim for spying. November 7, 2018.
https://www.leighday.co.uk/News/News-2018/November-2018/Corporate-intelligence-agency-pays-substantial-dam
Evans, E. Security firm pays damages to anti-asbestos activists it spied on. November 8, 2018.
https://www.theguardian.com/world/2018/nov/08/security-firm-pays-damages-to-anti-asbestos-activists-it-spied-on

5 Kazan-Allen L. Global Overview: Asbestos Landscape 2018.
http://ibasecretariat.org/lka_paper_global_overview_asbestos_landscape_2018.pdf

October 18, 2018

Canadian Asbestos Ban: Finally!

In September 2003, when delegates to the first international ban asbestos conference in Canada gathered in the Ottawa Parliament for two days of presentations and discussions,1 MPs supporting this event were subjected to a bombardment of pro-asbestos faxes, another “scientific report” exonerating chrysotile (white) asbestos was released by the industry lobby and Parliament Hill was awash with pickets bused in from Quebec’s asbestos mining region.

Fifteen years and many more ban asbestos discussions, sessions and initiatives later, the Canadian government has adopted prohibitions to shut down the import, sale and use of asbestos in the country which throughout most of the 20th century was the world’s largest asbestos producing nation.

The prohibitions are not perfect as they exempt the commercial processing of asbestos mining waste – containing up to 40% asbestos – and the use of asbestos in chlor-alkali production, but the significance of these prohibitions must not be underestimated.2 For decades Canadian asbestos stakeholders exerted a stranglehold on the national asbestos agenda to such an extent that:

  • in 1998 the Canadian Government instituted a legal challenge at the World Trade Organization against the French Government’s 1996 asbestos ban3;
  • Canadian civil servants and diplomats acted as unpaid lobbyists for asbestos vested interests interfering in asbestos dialogues in key markets such as Mexico, Brazil and India and making embassies available for pro-asbestos events;
  • the Canadian asbestos trade association – called the Asbestos Institute and more recently the Chrysotile Institute – which was partially funded by federal and provincial taxpayers, 4 for decades orchestrated a multilingual global marketing campaign using a variety of techniques including: the commissioning of spurious pro-asbestos “scientific reports;” disinformation campaigns to create doubt in the minds of government personnel, consumers and trade unionists regarding the hazards of asbestos exposures; and strong arm measures to silence critics and pressurize employees at international agencies tasked with protecting occupational and public health.

If Canada, a country so closely identified with asbestos, can finally face up to the truth, so too can other nations. The news from Ottawa provides hope that indeed the future is asbestos-free.

1 Kazan-Allen L. Canadian Asbestos - A Global Concern. September, 2003.
http://ibasecretariat.org/lka_ottawa_conf_rep_03_plus.php

2 Canadian Prohibition of Asbestos and Products Containing Asbestos Regulations. October 1, 2018.
http://www.gazette.gc.ca/rp-pr/p2/2018/2018-10-17/html/sor-dors196-eng.html

3 Castleman B. The WTO Asbestos Case and its Health and Trade Implications. December 1, 2000.
http://www.ibasecretariat.org/bc_wto_seattle.php

4 Kazan-Allen L. The Rise and Fall of the Chrysotile Institute. May 1, 2012.
http://ibasecretariat.org/lka-rise-and-fall-of-chrysotile-institute.php

September 28, 2018

Progress Report: Banning Asbestos in Canada

When it comes to asbestos, progress is never linear; it seems for every few steps forward, there are two steps back. The situation in Canada is a case in point. The consultation period over Canadian plans to ban asbestos is now completed and the introduction of legislation to prohibit asbestos use is on schedule. However, Canada’s perennial asbestos thorn in the side remains Quebec, the country’s former asbestos heartland where entrenched commercial, political and economic vested interests oppose the implementation of more stringent restrictions1 and legislation to prevent the commercial exploitation of mining residue.2

Currently, the Quebec standard allows workers to be exposed to 1 chrysotile asbestos fiber per cubic centimetre (1f/cm3); 10 times higher than that allowed by Ottawa (0.1 f/cm3) and 100 times higher than that in Switzerland and the Netherlands (0.01 f/cm3).3 A public consultation undertaken more than 18 months ago by Quebec’s Committee on Standards, Equity, Health and Safety (CNESST) to consider tightening up Quebec’s regulations remains bogged down with Quebec’s Premier Philippe Couillard wielding civil service doublespeak to explain continued delays:

“[scientific] literature must make the link between this level and this health issue. We must follow these rules and especially dispose of them in an organized manner, based on scientific evidence. And that's why there is a working group on this issue.”4

Even within the province of Quebec some workers are afforded higher levels of protection from asbestos exposures than others. “Relaxed regulatory requirements” – or “adaptations” as the CNESST calls them – are routine for workplace inspections in the former asbestos mining region of Chaudière-Appalaches where sustained pressure has been brought to reduce operational costs.

According to figures released this week by the Quebec Health Ministry the number of cases of the deadly asbestos cancer, mesothelioma has nearly doubled in Quebec since 2010: from 45 in 2010 to 88 in 2017. Civil servants working for Quebec’s Institute of Public Health as well as health and safety campaigners believe these figures under-report the true incidence of the disease as many doctors, despite mandatory reporting protocols, do not report cases of asbestos cancer.5

Although the long-awaited Canadian asbestos ban is expected within months, the battle to safeguard human life from toxic exposures looks likely to be a very long one.

1 Dufresne J. Amiante: des règles de sécurité assouplies, malgré des avis contraires [Asbestos: relaxed safety rules, despite contrary opinions.] September 26, 2018.
https://ici.radio-canada.ca/nouvelle/1126142/amiante-regles-securite-assouplies-cnsst

2 Despite the warnings of medical professionals, plans are progressing in the town of Thetford Mines to process asbestos mine tailings to reclaim magnesium and other valuable chemicals.
Archer L. The town fighting its killer reputation. May 30, 2018.
http://www.bbc.com/capital/story/20180529-the-town-fighting-its-killer-reputation
Also see:
K. Ruff. More Canadians than ever dying from asbestos. September 26, 2018.
https://rightoncanada.ca/?p=4234

3 Dufresne J. Amiante: des règles de sécurité assouplies, malgré des avis contraires [Asbestos: relaxed safety rules, despite contrary opinions]. September 26, 2018.
https://ici.radio-canada.ca/nouvelle/1126142/amiante-regles-securite-assouplies-cnsst

4 Dufresne J. Normes d’exposition à l’amiante : Québec tarde à prendre position.[Asbestos exposure standards: Quebec is slow to take a stand].
https://ici.radio-canada.ca/nouvelle/1126388/normes-exposition-amiante-quebec-ottawa-cnesst

5 Number of Quebec cases of mesothelioma nearly double since 2010: report. September 26, 2018.
https://montrealgazette.com/news/local-news/number-of-quebec-cases-of-mesothelioma-nearly-double-since-2010-report

September 17, 2018

Progressing Global Efforts to Ban Asbestos

Last week, meetings on different continents underscored the continuing interactions of international campaigners working to eliminate the asbestos hazard and obtain justice for victims the world over. From September 12 to 14, 2018, the annual conference of the South East Asia Ban Asbestos Network (SEABAN) took place in Hanoi, Vietnam. Amongst SEABAN participants were delegates and experts from eleven countries including representatives of the World Health Organization, Australia’s Union Aid Abroad (APHEDA), Australia’s Asbestos Safety and Eradication Agency, the Asian Ban Asbestos Network (ABAN), the Building and Woodworkers International, the Asia Monitor Resource Centre and Suisse Solidar – all of whom have formidable track records in quantifying and addressing the multitude of challenges posed by the widespread and unregulated use of asbestos.

 


Sugio Furuya, ABAN Coordinator, addressing SEABAN delegates in Hanoi.

Amongst the objectives for this SEABAN event was the need “to find solutions to accelerate the implementation of the Vietnam Government’s Resolution on banning asbestos before 2023.”1

Ten thousand miles away, members of the Brazilian Association of the Asbestos-Exposed (ABREA) were gathered in an assembly room in Osasco, São Paulo to welcome back to Brazil Italian asbestos researcher and campaigner Dr. Agata Mazzeo, whose 2017 PhD dissertation focused on the fight for the rights of the asbestos injured in Brazil and Italy.

 


From left: ABREA President Eliezer João de Souza, Dr. Mazzeo and ABREA members. Osasco, São Paulo, Brazil. September 15, 2018.

During her field work in Brazil, Dr. Mazzeo had become an integral part of the Brazilian ban asbestos network. On September 27, she will participate in a seminar in Vitória da Conquista, Bahia State to consider the public health problems and environmental impact caused by the commercial exploitation of asbestos in the Bahia mining town of Bom Jesus da Serra between 1939 and 1967; also taking part will be French asbestos activist and cancer researcher Professor Annie Thebaud-Mony and Brazilian legal, technical and medical experts.

The work undertaken by ABREA, a group founded in Osasco in 1995, was pivotal in securing the 2017 Supreme Court ruling which declared the use of asbestos unconstitutional throughout Brazil. This development was highlighted by Sugio Furuya during his presentation in Hanoi as an example of how grassroots mobilization can challenge superior political and economic forces and emerge victorious. The future is asbestos-free!

1 Press Release. Annual Conference of the South Eat Asia Ban Asbestops Network. September 13, 2018.

August 9, 2018

The Asbestos Diktats of Russian Foreign Policy

In desperate attempts to shore up the country’s fading asbestos industry, the Russian Government has resorted to strong-arm tactics against Asian governments’ plans to protect populations by banning imports of this acknowledged carcinogen. The most recent move was the subject of a Russian language article published on August 8, 2018, which detailed threats to embargo Russia’s imports of Vietnamese underwear in retaliation for the implementation of a 2023 deadline to outlaw the use of asbestos-containing construction products in Vietnam. In reaction to consultations over the ban, Vietnamese asbestos imports from Russia had fallen from 49,000 tons in 2016 to 22,000 tons in 2017; from 2014 to 2016, Russian asbestos imports to Vietnam averaged 50,000 tons/year which were valued at $30 million.1 It is not known yet what, if any, action Vietnam will take in light of this clear-cut example of commercial imperialism.

At the end of last year (2017), Russia abruptly halted imports of tea from Sri Lanka, causing a major threat to the Sri Lankan economy. Just 2 days later the Sri Lankan Government announced its decision to defer banning asbestos imports from Russia. Sri Lanka had previously announced a phasing out of asbestos starting January 1, 2018 with a full ban planned by 2024. Commenting on Russia’s actions, Sharan Burrow, General Secretary of the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC), said:

“Imposing chrysotile asbestos on an unwilling nation is not fair trade, it is culpable homicide. Unions worldwide abhor this cynical economic blackmail. Russia must not and will not be allowed to blow a hole in fair trade rules.” 2

The importance of the Indian asbestos market to Russian exporters cannot be overestimated. India is the world’s largest asbestos importer with annual imports between 2014 and 2016 in excess of 350,000 tons; asbestos sales to India over this period accounted for nearly 25% of global consumption. 3 In February, 2017, a feasibility study was being circulated in India to selected stakeholders, excluding ban asbestos activists, which outlined proposals for a Free Trade Agreement between the Eurasian Economic Union – Russia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Armenia and Kyrgyzstan – and the Republic of India which would have given the world’s asbestos giants: Russia and Kazakhstan unfettered and unrestricted access to the largest national asbestos market, in return for which India would be permitted to supply without any duty whatsoever products such as tea, cucumbers, gherkins, grapes and concentrates of coffee. Enquiries are being made regarding the status of this proposal.

From the course of action described above it is clear that Vladimir Putin’s Government stands shoulder to shoulder with the country’s asbestos vested interests. He seems to have an unlikely ally in the White House: President Trump has been vocal in his continued support for asbestos over the years asserting that it was “100% safe, once applied” in his book The Art of the Comeback (1997). According to Trump, asbestos had been unfairly maligned: “I believe that the movement against asbestos was led by the mob, because it was often mob-related companies that would do the asbestos removal.”4 New proposals made this summer by the Environmental Protection Agency which could see the use of asbestos increasing in the United States has incited a media firestorm which shows no signs of abating. I am sure that in such turbulent times the Kremlin is reassured by the presence of an ally in the White House.

1 ХРИЗОТИЛ. Асбест против трусов. Россия поставит "шлагбаум" для нижнего белья из Вьетнама
[CHRYSOTILE. Asbestos for underwear. Russia will stop Vietnamese underwear imports in retaliation for asbestos ban]. August 8, 2018.
https://life.ru/t/%D0%B1%D0%B8%D0%B7%D0%BD%D0%B5%D1%81/1141663/
asbiest_protiv_trusov_rossiia_postavit_shlaghbaum_dlia_nizhniegho_bielia_iz_vietnama

2 Media Release. Economic blackmail by Russia against Sri Lanka’s asbestos ban decision slammed by international trade unions and health networks. January 3, 2018.
http://ibasecretariat.org/media_release_blackmail_of_sri_lanka_re_asb_ban_jan_3_2018.pdf

3 United States Geological Survey. Asbestos Trade Data. 2018.
Kazan-Allen L. Twenty-first Century Diplomacy: Asbestos for Gherkins. February 17, 2017.
http://ibasecretariat.org/lka-twenty-first-century-diplomacy-gherkins-for-asbestos.php

4 Milman O. Russian mining firm puts Trump's face on its asbestos products. July 11, 2018.
https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2018/jul/11/asbestos-trump-face-seal-uralasbest-russia

July 24, 2018

America’s Long, Hot Asbestos Summer

As populations in North America and Europe sweltered during an unprecedented heatwave, asbestos remained a hot button issue in the US this month (July 2018) with Russian producers imprinting photographs of President Trump on asbestos shipments, claimants winning a landmark asbestos victory in Missouri, asbestos liabilities sky-rocketing and legacy issues exploding onto the public consciousness. News of US asbestos developments made front page news at home and abroad with a high level of global interest in the Trump seal of approval for Russian asbestos and the multi-billion dollar damages awarded in the case brought over asbestos contamination of baby powder.

On July 11, 2018, the Environmental Working Group, a US non-profit environmental organization, reported that workers from the Russian company Uralasbest, one of the world’s largest asbestos producers, had repaid Donald Trump’s much-valued support for asbestos by putting his picture on plastic-wrapped shipments of chrysotile (white) asbestos. The image was accompanied by the words “Approved by Donald Trump, 45th President of the United States.”1

 


On July 12, 2018 a St Louis jury ruled, after weeks of testimony, that the ovarian cancers suffered by the plaintiffs had been caused by the use of asbestos-contaminated baby powder produced by the American multinational Johnson & Johnson. This verdict was widely reported not only because it was the first US case to accept the link between ovarian cancer and toxic talc but also because of the size of the damages: the 22 claimants (or their estates) were awarded $4.69 billion.2

On July 16, 2018 Fitch Ratings Inc., one of the world’s biggest credit rating agencies, announced that the estimate for US asbestos-related losses due to claims and litigation had risen to an all-time high of $100 billion. In light of a substantial increase in US asbestos imports in the first quarter of 2018, it is likely that these liabilities will continue to rise.3

On July 19, 2018, an explosion of a steam pipe in lower Manhattan gave rise to headlines such as: Asbestos from Manhattan steam pipe blast forces evacuations; Pipe explosion NYC: What to Know about Asbestos, Health Risks; How NYC is Tackling Asbestos in Wake of Steam Pipe Explosion; Powerful Steam Pipe Explosion Spews Asbestos around Flatiron District; Asbestos Confirmed in Steam Pipe that Exploded in Manhattan, Con Edison Collects Asbestos-Laced Garb after NYC Steam Blast and Asbestos Covers Parts of NYC after Steam Pipe Explosion.4

Despite the huge number of US asbestos deaths5 and the massive challenges posed by the ubiquity of asbestos within the country’s infrastructure, the Trump administration remains determined to rollback efforts to protect occupational and public safety.6 With an asbestophile in the White House, the national asbestos epidemic will continue for decades to come.

1 Formuzis A. Russian Asbestos Giant Praises Trump Administration Actions to Keep Deadly Carcinogen Legal. July 11, 2018.
https://www.ewg.org/release/russian-asbestos-giant-praises-trump-administration-actions-keep-deadly-carcinogen-legal#.W1GveNVKhMt

2 St. Louis Jury Returns $4.69 Billion Verdict in First Trial linking Baby Powder, Asbestos and Ovarian Cancer. July 12, 2018.
https://lanierlawfirm.com/st-louis-jury-returns-4-69-billion-verdict-in-first-trial-linking-baby-powder-asbestos-and-ovarian-cancer/

3 Fitch raises asbestos claims estimate to $100bn. July 16, 2018
https://www.intelligentinsurer.com/news/fitch-raises-asbestos-claims-estimate-to-100bn-15845

4 Szekely P, Kvetenadze T. Asbestos from Manhattan steam pipe blast forces evacuations. July 19, 2018.
https://www.reuters.com/article/us-usa-new-york-steam-pipe/new-york-steam-pipe-explosion-creates-urban-geyser-no-injuries-idUSKBN1K91VX

5 According to data sourced from the Global Burden of Disease Study 2016, there were 39,395 asbestos-related deaths in the US in 2016.
Allen D, Kazan-Allen L. Global Asbestos Mortality Data. October, 2017.
http://ibasecretariat.org/da-lka-global-asbestos-mortality-data.php

6 As Asbestos Toll Mounts, Trump’s EPA Ignores It. June 22, 2018.
https://blog.ucsusa.org/derrick-jackson/as-asbestos-toll-mounts-trumps-epa-ignores-it

July 4, 2018

Asbestos Industry’s Summertime Blues 2018

The momentum of the worldwide campaign to ban asbestos is continuing during the summer (2018) with no let-up in sight. As the days here got longer and the weather warmer, grassroots activists embarked on outreach programs to raise awareness of the deadly repercussions of asbestos consumption and engage with decision-makers on the need for national prohibitions in asbestos hot spots in East and Southeast Asia, Europe and elsewhere.

On June 13, 2018, a documentary entitled: 𢭃Roadmap to banning white asbestos in Vietnam by 2023,” was broadcast on Vietnam national TV on channel 2. Included in the program were interviews with Vietnamese and international experts and campaigners – including members of the Vietnam Ban Asbestos Network who called for a national asbestos ban – as well as film relating the story of Australians such as Lou Williams who died from asbestos-related diseases. Evidence presented by Professor Trinh, President of the Vietnam OSH Association, Professor An Luong, previous Vice President of the Vietnam General Confederation of Labor, Australian campaigner Philip Hazelton and others documented the asbestos health hazard, the existence of safer alternatives and need for urgent government action.

On June 20, 2018, the Minister of Labour and Social Welfare Dr. Khampheng Saysompheng announced that Laos intended to eliminate occupational asbestos-related diseases by ending asbestos use. Calling for global action to ban asbestos, the Minister highlighted the need for member states of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) to immediately prohibit the use of asbestos-containing construction materials saying: “Urgent action is required to prevent the extended use of asbestos as a construction material and to ban all forms of asbestos to protect lives, support safer economic growth and ensure social stability in the country under the National Action Plan.”1

On June 22, 2018 discussions took place in Phnom Penh to progress work on the National Asbestos Profile of Cambodia. The meeting was co-organized by the Ministry of Labour and (Australia’s) Union Aid Abroad – APHEDA Cambodia with representatives from 13 Ministries, trade unions, employers, the World Health Organization and the International Labor Organization attending. Research findings were reported from samples of building and friction materials that were collected in Cambodia and shipped to Australia for analysis. Over 50% of the products sampled contained asbestos. In the aftermath of these shocking results, participants acknowledged the urgent need to work towards phasing out asbestos use in order to eliminate asbestos-related diseases.

 


UK asbestos campaigners with Brazilian activist Fernanda Giannasi after June 26, 2018 Parliamentary Asbestos Seminar. Photo copyright Mick Holder.

On June 26, 2018, British asbestos victims confronted Parliamentarians with the reality of living with asbestos cancer at the annual Parliamentary Asbestos Seminar in Westminster. A few days later (June 29), French asbestos victims and campaigners met with colleagues from Brazil, Spain, the UK and Belgium to exchange information and plan legal and political strategies for addressing the challenges posed by asbestos fibers in human lungs, asbestos products in public buildings and asbestos waste at official and illegal dumpsites.2

On July 2, 2018 a week of asbestos action began in Seoul as part of the 10th anniversary celebrations of the Ban Asbestos Network of Korea (BANKO). On Monday (July 2), Korean, Japanese and Indonesian ban asbestos campaigners attended a Symposium at Seoul National University to discuss effective strategies for facilitating a regional ban and improving support for the injured. On Tuesday (July 3), ban asbestos demonstrations were held outside the Seoul embassies of asbestos-producing and exporting countries: Russia, Kazakhstan and China. During the rallies, BANKO members held press conferences and delivered letters to each of the embassies asking for their cooperation in ending global asbestos production.

 


Over the period July 4-8, international guests, including asbestos victims, will be invited to engage in one to one discussions with Korean mesothelioma patients in the cities of Seoul, Kwangchun and Pusan.3

Other major events planned this summer to progress the asbestos debate in South, Southeast and East Asia, will reinvigorate grassroots activism, reach out to stakeholders in diverse geographical areas and mobilize support from a broad spectrum of civil society groups. The pace of ban asbestos campaigning, as seen by the whirlwind of activity last summer, continues apace.4

Even as efforts to break the chains used to bind countries into purchasing asbestos – such as the Free Trade Agreement between the Eurasian Economic Union and the Republic of India5 and the boycott of Sri Lankan tea6 – intensify, aggressive marketing tactics and defensive strategies are being used to cultivate markets for asbestos in the industrializing world. On July 4, 2018 an article detailing the most recent of these efforts appeared in the Lao Vientiane Times headlined: “Chrysotile asbestos form can be used safely, meeting hears.”7 This feature described the first bilateral meeting between Lao and Russian “experts” in Vientiane (July 3) during which discredited and misleading arguments were promoted based on industry’s fallacious “safe use” dogma. Speakers at this event attacked the World Health Organization’s support for ending asbestos use and reasserted that the “safe and controllable use of chrysotile (white asbestos) containing products based on scientific and medical evidence of secured and controlled use approach” was possible.

Despite industry’s determined efforts to prioritize corporate profits at all costs, annual global sales of asbestos have decreased by 30%+ in recent years as more and more consumers turned their back on asbestos. With falling demand and increasing restrictions on use, the asbestos industry is in its death throes. You do not need to be clairvoyant to see that the asbestos industry is outdated, discredited and unsustainable. The future is asbestos-free!

1 Sengpaseuth P. Plans to end asbestos-use, related disease nationwide. June 23, 2018.
http://www.vientianetimes.org.la/FreeContent/FreeConten_Plans_144.php

2 Oriot M. La Turballe. Les victimes de l’amiante en assises. June 29, 2018.
https://www.ouest-france.fr/pays-de-la-loire/la-turballe-44420/la-turballe-les-victimes-de-l-amiante-en-assises-5854466

3 Activists urge Russia, China, Kazakhstan to stop mining of asbestos. July 3, 2018.
http://english.yonhapnews.co.kr/news/2018/07/03/0200000000AEN20180703008500315.html

4 Kazan-Allen L. Ban Asbestos Campaign: Update Summer 2017. July 20, 2017.
http://ibasecretariat.org/lka-ban-asbestos-campaign-update-summer-2017.php

5 Kazan-Allen L. Twenty-first Century Diplomacy: Gherkins for Asbestos. February 19, 2017.
http://ibasecretariat.org/lka-twenty-first-century-diplomacy-gherkins-for-asbestos.php

6 Media Release. Economic blackmail by Russia against Sri Lanka’s asbestos ban decision slammed by international trade unions and health networks. January 3, 2018.
http://ibasecretariat.org/media_release_blackmail_of_sri_lanka_re_asb_ban_jan_3_2018.pdf

7 Chrysotile asbestos form can be used safely, meeting hears. July 4, 2018.
http://www.vientianetimes.org.la/

May 29, 2018

Paying the Price for Asbestos Use

According to a paper published online this month (May 2018): “Every 20 tons of asbestos produced and consumed kills a person somewhere in the world.”1 This chilling statistic corroborates a finding from another publication entitled: Global Use of Asbestos and the Incidence of Mesothelioma (2004) that concluded: “170 tons of produced and consumed asbestos will cause at least one death from mesothelioma, most often as a consequence of occupational exposure.”2 Mesothelioma is widely considered a signature disease for asbestos exposure and is often used as a benchmark for estimating the number of other diseases caused by asbestos exposure. Using the British incidence of asbestos mortality as a template, we calculate that the 170 tons of asbestos were also responsible for five deaths from asbestos-related lung cancer as well as three from ovarian and larynx cancer and one from asbestosis; summing up the loss of life it has been estimated that these 170 tons were responsible for 10 deaths – around one per 20 tons.3

The impact of the global asbestos epidemic documented by the texts cited above has been a fact of life for workers and communities for decades. Why, in the light of all that is known about the fatal consequences of human exposures, is the sale of this deadly carcinogen still legal?

The answer is to be found in the long-term, coordinated and multifaceted propaganda campaign orchestrated by asbestos industry stakeholders in collaboration with complicit governments, professional spin doctors and hired gun “scientists.” Using a multitude of measures, both legal and illegal,4 the propagandists implemented strategies in order to prevent asbestos prohibitions being adopted by international bodies,5 regional agencies and national governments.6 Although the most recent available data show that global asbestos production fell by 30+% between 2012 and 2015,7 vested interests in Russia and Kazakhstan remain determined to prioritize their profits regardless of the adverse effects on workers, family members, consumers and members of the public.

The cost of purchasing 20 tons of asbestos – enough to kill one person – in Asian retail markets is US$ 7,600. Having deducted shipping and other costs from this figure and the retail mark-up, leaves little for the producer of the raw fiber. And yet, it is enough for asbestos vested interests to continue their assault on innocent populations despite the foreknowledge of the consequences. Although in some countries, defendant corporations have been brought to account for the injuries their actions have caused, it is rare for entrepreneurs, CEOs and other corporate officers to face criminal charges for their wrongdoings. It is time for these individuals to be prosecuted for the industrial crimes they have committed.

1 Furuya, S et al. Global Asbestos Disaster. May 16, 2018.
http://www.mdpi.com/1660-4601/15/5/1000

2 Tossavainen A. Global Use of Asbestos and the Incidence of Mesothelioma. Int J Occ Env Health. 2004; Jan/Mar:22-25.
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15070022

3 GBD Risk Factors Collaborators. Global, regional, and national comparative risk assessment of 84 behavioural, environmental and occupational, and metabolic risks or clusters of risks, 1990–2016: a systematic analysis for the Global Burden of Disease Study 2016. September 16, 2017.
http://www.thelancet.com/journals/lancet/article/PIIS0140-6736(17)32366-8/abstract

4 Kazan-Allen L. Campaigning for Justice: On the Asbestos Frontline. November 17, 2014.
http://ibasecretariat.org/lka-paper-campaigning-for-justice-on-the-asbestos-frontline-nov-17-2014.pdf
Asbestos, criminal justice and industrial crimes. May 10, 2018.
https://blogs.mediapart.fr/annie-thebaud-mony/blog/100518/amiante-justice-penale-et-crimes-industriels

5 Kazan-Allen L. Asbestos Showdown in Geneva. May 10, 2017.
http://ibasecretariat.org/lka-asbestos-showdown-in-geneva.php

6 Media Release: Economic blackmail by Russia against Sri Lanka’s asbestos ban decision slammed by international trade unions and health networks. January 3, 2018.
http://ibasecretariat.org/media_release_blackmail_of_sri_lanka_re_asb_ban_jan_3_2018.pdf

7 Allen D, Kazan-Allen L. Dramatic Fall in Asbestos Production. May 3, 2018.
http://ibasecretariat.org/da-lka-dramatic-fall-in-asbestos-production.php

April 20, 2018

Desperate Times for Asbestos Pedlars

Asbestos stakeholders are desperate. Day by day they see global markets for their products shrinking and evidence of the deadly impact of asbestos exposures on humankind mounting. The first two weeks of April brought them bad news on an almost daily basis:

  • On April 18, ban asbestos activists in Colombia staged a dramatic demonstration calling on Congress to shut-down the asbestos industry;1
  • On April 17, an online commentary urging the Ugandan government to ban the import, processing and sale of asbestos was published;2
  • On April 16, news was disseminated of a phased asbestos removal program for suburban railway premises in Mumbai, India which is replacing toxic asbestos roofing with safer steel products;3
  • On April 11, an article was published detailing a 35% fall in the consumption of asbestos roofing in Vietnam in 2017; 4
  • On April 8, plans to make the Indian State of Maharashtra “asbestos free” were discussed in an article about the implementation of a plan to outlaw asbestos manufacturing on health grounds;5
  • On April 7, a video of asbestos victim Sriyono was released to accompany an article revealing the plight of asbestos victims in Indonesia;6
  • On April 2, an academic paper was published detailing a new protocol to address a serious “underreporting of mesothelioma and cancer of the pleura” in Brazil.7

While scores of countries have already prohibited asbestos, others are in the process of doing so, with bans expected in key markets in months to come. Faced with so much gloom, the asbestos lobby has resorted to its well-worn tactics of denial, obfuscation and prevarication. The headline of an asbestos industry “news release” from Moscow issued on April 18, 2018 is a bald-faced lie: “White Chrysotile Asbestos is Safe.” 8 This assertion – and the conclusion which follows that “chrysotile asbestos therefore cannot cause diseases and is, therefore, safe” – is irrefutably dismissed by international agencies including the World Health Organization, The International Labor Organization, The International Agency for Research on Cancer and others who agree that exposure to all types of asbestos can cause a multitude of cancers and respiratory diseases.9 Supposed “evidence” cited by the asbestos lobby in this two-page diatribe is sourced from work commissioned by industry stakeholders including the Canadian Chrysotile Association and the International Chrysotile Association and authored by “scientists” with established links to asbestos defendants. In poorly written English and using unfocused arguments and aggressive language, the International Alliance of Trade Union Organizations “Chrysotile” (the body behind this document) “requires the modification of obsolete rules prohibiting the extraction, processing, and use of chrysotile asbestos… [which] stand in the way of progress.”

In March, 2018, Eternit S.A., formerly Brazil’s largest asbestos conglomerate, sought court protection from mounting liabilities in the face of a 2017 Supreme Court verdict banning asbestos. For decades, the company had fought tooth and nail to defend its markets, silence criticism and control the national asbestos debate. It failed. Having been defeated by the ban asbestos movement in Brazil, the company will now have to pay the price for its past actions. The writing is on the wall for all asbestos stakeholders, wherever they are: the future is asbestos-free! As they say in Brazil: A luta continua. [The struggle continues.]

1 La protesta de Greenpeace en Bogotá contra el asbesto. April 18, 2018.
https://www.elespectador.com/noticias/salud/la-protesta-de-greenpeace-en-bogota-contra-el-asbesto-articulo-750824

2 Asbestos: What Uganda needs to do about the risky exposure. April 17, 2018.
https://www.newvision.co.ug/new_vision/news/1475769/asbestos-uganda-about-risky-exposre

3 Mumbai: Railway Stations To Have Environment-Friendly Metal Roofs. April 16, 2018.
https://www.mid-day.com/articles/mumbai-railway-stations-to-have-environment-friendly-metal-roofs/19324157

4 Tấm lợp cho người nghèo: Chuyển dịch xu hướng mới [Roofing for the Poor: Shifting Consumption Patterns]. April 11, 2018.
http://www.baoxaydung.com.vn/news/vn/vat-lieu/tam-lop-cho-nguoi-ngheo-chuyen-dich-xu-huong-moi.html

5 New rules to make State free of asbestos. April 8, 2018.
http://www.thehindu.com/news/cities/mumbai/new-rules-to-make-state-free-of-asbestos/article23469360.ece

6 Asbestos a time bomb in Indonesia. April 7, 2018.
https://www.trtworld.com/asia/asbestos-a-time-bomb-in-indonesia-16542

7 Recovering missing mesothelioma deaths in death certificates using hospital records. April 2, 2018.
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/29608217

8 White Chrysotile Asbestos is Safe, Says International Alliance of Trade Union Organizations “Chrysotile.” April 18, 2018.
https://www.prnewswire.com/news-releases/white-chrysotile-asbestos-is-safe-says-international-alliance-of-trade-union-organizations-chrysotile-680131003.html

9 Asbestos Policies of Major International Agencies. June, 2017.
http://ibasecretariat.org/lka_asb_polic_maj_int_agencies.php

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