Brexit Collateral Damage: Asbestos Imports?
After hundreds of thousands of avoidable deaths caused by asbestos exposures in Britain, the possibility of post-Brexit asbestos imports was of such concern that campaigners in Liverpool sought a meeting with Metro Mayor Steve Rotheram, who is also the Honorary President of the Merseyside Asbestos Victims Support Group (MAVSG). In a September 3, 2019 media release, MAVSGs John Flanagan summed up the Groups fears as follows:
Decades of Liverpool dock workers were exposed to lethal cargoes of asbestos transported to the UK through our docks. As a result of this and other toxic exposures, the Merseyside area has a horrendous incidence of asbestos-related diseases including fatal cancers. MAVSG has been working for more than 25 years to support the injured and obtain justice for them and their families. We have become increasingly concerned about the possibility of toxic imports via Liverpool in the aftermath of Brexit. Any deal with the US a country which has no asbestos ban and continues to use asbestos in a range of products must stipulate that no shipments of asbestos-contaminated goods would be allowed to enter the UK.1
Mayor Rotherhams subsequent letter to Andrea Leadsom MP, the Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, asked that she guarantee that any trade deal negotiated with any country, and specifically the USA, does not allow the importation of asbestos, in items containing asbestos such as automotive parts. With the UKs current constitutional crisis, the day to day running of the country has been suspended and the odds that such a guarantee will be forthcoming are exceedingly low. In recognition of the Tory Governments drive to deregulate and downgrade measures protecting occupational and public health, Mayor Rotherham is considering all available options to safeguard the lives of Liverpool City Region residents including that of acting unilaterally to protect our citizens from the asbestos hazard.
Just over 20 years ago, the asbestos prohibitions eventually adopted by the UK were implemented under the cover of the European Unions ban as British politicians were too afraid of becoming embroiled in a World Trade Organization dispute to take unilateral action.2 Should Brexit indeed come to pass, who will ensure that toxic material from the US a country where asbestos use remains legal and where the pro-asbestos President has said that asbestos was 100 percent safe3 is not shipped to the UK? With much of the 7 million tonnes of asbestos imported to the UK during the 20th century still in place, British consumers as well as workers have legitimate grounds for concern.
1 Media Release. Liverpool Blockade on Asbestos Imports. September 2, 2019.
2 Kazan-Allen, L. United Kingdom Bans Asbestos. British Asbestos Newsletter, Issue 36, Autumn 1999.
3 Rosner, D. Deregulating Safety: The Case of the Effort to Ban Asbestos. June 2017.
A Tale of Two Cities 2019
Although on different continents and with ~10,000 miles between them, Wittenoom, Australia and Minaçu, Brazil share a common history. For decades both towns were the location of asbestos mines operated by private companies for commercial gain. As the largest local employers, Australian Blue Asbestos Pty Ltd. and SA Minerações Associadas (SAMA) wielded immense political influence at municipal, regional and federal levels and worked assiduously to create a climate in which corporate profits were prioritized over occupational and public safety.
Aerial View of SAMA Industrial Area and Cana Brava Mine (Source: SAMA Sustainability Report, 2013, p. 51).
Wittenoom Asbestos Mine 1979.
The epidemic of disease and death caused by asbestos exposures which took place in Wittenoom have long been acknowledged; decades after mining ceased, people continue to die from the inhalation of toxic fibers during their childhoods. Given that human biology is a constant, it is predictable that despite decades of denial by vested interests, the deadly outcome in Minaçu would be the same. Confirmation of this was first made public in a 682-page report by the [Federal] Chamber of Deputies Environment and Sustainable Development Commission entitled the Asbestos Disaster in Brazil1 and substantiated this year (2019) in a PhD dissertation by Brazilian anthropologist Arthur Pires Amaral who revealed a conspiracy of silence in Minaçu which prevented injured workers and grieving families from publicly denouncing SAMA or speaking out about their illnesses. 2
The Australian solution to the problem of Wittenoom which remains a perverse tourist attraction for some but highly hazardous due to the presence of millions of tonnes of asbestos-contaminated mining waste is to compulsory purchase land still owned by the public in order to bring the whole area under State management.3 Legislation proceeding through the West Australian Parliament to accomplish this goal has been taken: to ensure the health and safety of the public, including the current [few] residents of Wittenoom [and] to finalise the closure of Wittenoom and bring this matter to an end The longer Wittenoom remains, the greater the risk posed by this area becomes.
While closing the town of Minaçu is not an option, ensuring that the operations of the asbestos mine do not recommence to provide fiber for export purposes only as vested interests are aggressively lobbying for is of paramount importance. Minaçus emerging asbestos epidemic was caused not only by corporate greed but also by political and economic dynamics not yet fully divulged. All of those who profited from SAMAs operations have blood on their hands. It is time for the people of Minaçu to publicly disavow the asbestos narrative of yesteryear and demand their right to live a life safe from toxic exposures.
1 Dossiê Amianto Brasil (Brazils Asbestos Dossier): Report of the Working Group of the House of Representatives Committee on the Environment and Sustainable Development to analyze the implications of asbestos use in Brazil. Brasilia, 2010. Accessed: June 28, 2019.
2 Amaral, Arthur Pires. Com o peito cheio de pó: uma etnografia sobre a negação do adoecimento de trabalhadores do amianto na cidade de Minaçu (GO) [With a chest full of dust: an ethnography about the denial of asbestos workers illness in the city of Minaçu (GO)]. 2019. Orientation of the work: Professor Monica Thereza Soares Bargain. 289 f. Thesis (Doctorate in Social Anthropology) - Federal University of Goiás, Goinia, 2019.
3 Wittenoom Closure Bill 2018. Second Reading Speech. August 2019.
Asbestos Shame: At Home and Abroad
Never in living memory have asbestos articles appeared on the front-pages of two leading British newspapers in the same fortnight. The features entitled Revealed: the asbestos risk at hundreds of schools in the print version of The Guardian on July 5, 20191 and UK firms trading in deadly asbestos in the print version of The Sunday Times (Scotland)2 on July 14, 2019 were joined by other online pieces on July 4, 7, 8 & 14. In these pieces, journalists Frances Perraudin and Carlos Alba considered the price paid by UK citizens for the failure of successive governments to address the national asbestos legacy and the circumstances in which UK-registered limited partnership companies continued to profit from global asbestos sales.
While The Guardians coverage looked at the imminent hazard posed by asbestos within the national infrastructure and highlighted the danger to pupils and teaching staff of toxic exposures at schools The Times revealed the names of key global asbestos traders with UK connections: Scottish-based CJ Petrow International, an associate company of one of the worlds biggest traders in asbestos, the South African company CJ Petrow & Co (Pty); Astrade Solutions LP, registered at a virtual office in Edinburgh; Minerals Global Trading LLP, formerly based in north London; and Worldwide Cargo Logistics Solutions, LLP (company number OC387036) registered in north London.3 The hypocrisy of companies in the UK which has the worlds highest incidence of asbestos mortality and has banned asbestos use brokering asbestos trade deals between Russia and developing countries is obvious. In 2015, almost half of all the asbestos mined in Russia was traded by UK-registered companies or businesses associated with them:
Details reported in The Times articles about the asbestos middlemen including an embezzlement scandal and banking fraud in Moldova, a $10bn mirror trading scandal in Russia and the involvement of off-shore companies based in the Seychelles, Panama and the Marshall Islands combined with the protections provided by the obscure [British] law that allows companies to trade in secrecy, suggest that while the businesses in question are happy to reap dividends from their involvement in the asbestos trade, they are not inclined to publicize the nature or extent of their activities. With the impending coronation of a new Prime Minister, the political maelstrom surrounding Brexit and the escalation of tension in the Middle East, is it likely that action will be taken to curtail Britains ignominious role in the global asbestos catastrophe any time soon? The struggle continues.
1 Perraudin, F. 700 English schools reported over asbestos safety concerns. July 4, 2019.
Perraudin, F. Revealed: the asbestos risk at hundreds of schools. July 5, 2019. [Not online; hard copy only front page and page 7.]
Perraudin, F. Britains death toll from asbestos at crisis level, figures reveal. July 7, 2019.
Perraudin, F. Asbestos deaths reach peak after past criminal failings. July 8, 2019. [Not online; hard copy only page 5.]
2 Alba, C. Revealed: the Scottish links to asbestos trade. July 14, 2019. [Page 1, Subscription only.]
Alba, C. UK firms trading in deadly asbestos. July 14, 2019. [Page 7, Subscription only.]
3 Companies House. Worldwide Cargo Logistics Solutions, LLP. Accessed July 21, 2019.
Towards the end of June 2019, it became clear that real progress had been made in the global struggle for asbestos justice by victims, their supporters and grassroots campaigners during the latter half of that month. From France to Brazil via Cambodia, Vietnam, Indonesia, India, the Congo, Spain and Italy research was published documenting the occupational and public hazard posed by exposures to asbestos,1 legal victories were achieved and outreach projects came to fruition.
For decades asbestos stakeholders denied that operations at the SAMA chrysotile asbestos mine in Minaçu posed a health risk to workers or members of the public; these assertions were strongly supported by representatives of the mines yellow trade union. With the closure of the mine and the sacking of the SAMA workforce, the truth is beginning to emerge. The publication of an article documenting the deaths of seven members of one family, all of whom had worked for SAMA, provided tangible proof of the tragic repercussions of the industrys actions.2 The asbestos hearing held at the Chamber of Deputies in Rio de Janeiro on June 28 and the launch of the book Eternidade: The Social Construction of Brazils Asbestos Ban during that event highlighted the importance of the work done by victims groups throughout the country.3
From left: Author Marina Moura, ABREA Co-Founder Fernanda Giannasi and Carlos Minc, Secretary of the Environment for the State of Rio de Janeiro.
Around the world, research documenting the tragic impact of asbestos exposures was made available by international agencies, national authorities, grassroots campaigners and medical experts:
Again, during the fortnight June 17-30, news of multiple legal victories achieved in European asbestos cases was circulated:
Recent developments in India highlighted the repercussions of growing asbestos awareness amongst consumers, with Visaka Industries Ltd., Indias second biggest manufacturer of asbestos-cement roofing, announcing on June 25 that it was expanding production of asbestos-free building products. A person of a cynical disposition might question whether this transition was motivated by consumers preferences or a substantial price increase of Russian asbestos fiber exports as reported in a June 15 circular by insulation and packings manufacturer Eastwell Industries Ltd., in Maharashtra, India.
While Brazilian authorities took steps in June to ensure that the countrys asbestos ban was being observed in the city of Campos dos Goytacaza in Rio de Janeiro State, a website was launched by the former asbestos manufacturer Brasilit as per a court agreement to enable former asbestos workers from the cities of Belém, Capivari, Contagem, Esteio, Recife, São Caetano do Sul and Rio de Janeiro to access free medical care. On June 25 & 26, a healing camp was held in South Chungcheong Province in the west of South Korea to enable 70 victims of asbestos-related diseases and family members to relax in a soothing environment, visit local tourist attractions and develop new techniques for managing their illnesses.
After multiple attempts over twelve years to outlaw the commercialization of asbestos in Colombia, the Ana Cecilia Nio ban asbestos bill was finally green-lighted by the Colombian Congress on June 17, just days before Congress adjourned; once the bill is signed by President Duque, asbestos users will have until January 1, 2021 to make the transition to asbestos-free technologies.4
The battle for asbestos justice which is being fought all over the world is making progress at every level of society; starting the asbestos dialogue remains an important first step but following up with collaborative projects, outreach initiatives and enforcement of regulations is absolutely crucial. The struggle continues!
1 For details of all these occurrences see news IBAS items between June 17 and June 30, 2019.
2 Tragni, CF. The Mine that Kills. June 27, 2019.
3 Malheiros, T. Livro sobre a luta pelo banimento do amianto no Brasil será lançado na Alerj, sexta-feira (28/6) [Book on the fight for banning asbestos in Brazil will be released in the Legislative Assembly in Rio de Janeiro, Friday (28/6)]. June 22, 2019.
4 Posso, A. El presidente Duque sancionará la ley que prohíbe el uso de asbestos en Colombia [President Duque will sanction law that bans asbestos use in Colombia]. July 3, 2019
Global Mesothelioma Fellowship
A small gathering took place at the Law Society in London on June 18, 2019 to honor the efforts of an Australian doctor who has arguably seen more mesothelioma patients than any other general practitioner: Dr. Gregory Deleuil, Medical Advisor to the Asbestos Diseases Society of Australia (ADSA). For thirty-five years, Dr. Deleuil, or Dr. D as he is referred to at the Societys offices in Perth, has been providing medical support for the Societys members. After ten years, his involvement became personal as well as professional when his mother Alice was diagnosed with mesothelioma from exposure to asbestos in Darwin, Australia; she died nine months after receiving the diagnosis (1996).
Dr. D. has travelled extensively to raise awareness of the public health as well as the occupational hazard posed by exposure to asbestos and has lectured throughout the United Kingdom including multiple presentations at the annual Parliamentary Asbestos Sub-Group Asbestos Seminar as well as in Poland, Slovenia, the Netherlands and Belgium. During his frequent trips to the UK, he had the occasion to learn about June Hancock and the Fund the June Hancock Mesothelioma Research Fund (JHMRF/ the Fund)1 which was set up in her memory and he took part in several events co-hosted by the Fund and the law firm of Irwin Mitchell, which had represented June in her titanic battle to hold T&N, plc to account for the negligence of its subsidiary J. W. Roberts Ltd.
In 2009, Dr. D visited Armley (Leeds) in the company of campaigner Jason Addy from the Save Spodden Valley group. He saw first-hand the conditions in which residents had lived check-by-jowl with the J.W. Roberts asbestos factory in Canal Street. It was exposure to the asbestos from this factory that caused the mesothelioma contracted by Maie Gelder, the mother of June Hancock. When June contacted the same cancer 12 years later, she was in no doubt about what lay ahead. It is a rather chilling coincidence that Dr. Deleuil and June Hancock both lost their mothers to the same cancer caused by non-occupational asbestos exposure.2
Upon learning of the publication by the JHMRF of the landmark Mesothelioma Handbook (2016), Dr. D. initiated discussions between the Asbestos Diseases Society of Australia and the JHMRF for permission to publish an Australian adaptation of the Handbook. The Australian version, which was launched in 2017 by author Dr. Clayson, was warmly welcomed by mesothelioma sufferers and family members who said that it had proved a valuable and informative resource.3
June 18, 2019: Presentation to Dr. Deleuil (center) of the June Hancock Mesothelioma Research Fund Lifetime Achievement Award.
Present for the June 18 event in London were solicitors Adrian Budgen, Ian Bailey, Guy Darlaston, Alida Coates and Leah OKeefe from Irwin Mitchell; Laurie Kazan-Allen, a Patron of the June Hancock Mesothelioma Research Fund, also attended. Adrian Budgen had been Junes solicitor and was instrumental in establishing the Fund to carry on Junes battle to conquer mesothelioma. In his capacity as a Trustee of the Fund, he made the presentation to Dr. Deleuil of the inaugural June Hancock Mesothelioma Research Fund Lifetime Achievement Award for services to asbestos victims saying:
On behalf of my fellow JHMRF trustees, I am both honoured and delighted to present the first June Hancock Mesothelioma Research Fund Lifetime Achievement Award to you (Greg Deleuil) in special recognition of your nearly 40 years of outstanding service to mesothelioma sufferers and their families, in Australia, and your very important campaigning and awareness-raising work around the world, including the UK. We owe you a great debt of gratitude, Greg, and this award comes with our very best wishes and love; thank you from the bottom of our hearts.
1 To date, the JHMRF has raised £2 million for UK mesothelioma research. The website of the June Hancock Mesothelioma Research Fund can be accessed at:
Also see: Bridge, V. and Budgen, A. Too Close To Home. British Asbestos Newsletter. Issue 100, Spring 2016. [Pages 62-63].
2 Deadly Legacy. May 27, 2009.
Also see: Kazan-Allen, L. Remembering June Hancock. British Asbestos Newsletter; Issue 67, Summer 2007.
3 Clayson, H. Mesothelioma Handbook. 2016.http://www.junehancockfund.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/03/JHMRF-Mesothelioma-Handbook.pdf
Asbestos Refusniks vs. The United Nations
The predictable but nonetheless despicable behaviour of asbestos stakeholders who held United Nations representatives to ransom at the May 2019 meeting of the 9th Conference of the Parties (COP9) to the Rotterdam Convention1 continues as their victory is exploited for political and social gains. In Russian language articles and on-line features such as one uploaded yesterday (May 15, 2019) headlined: The meeting of the parties to the Rotterdam Convention ended in favor of chrysotile asbestos (translated via Google),2 the news from Geneva was trumpeted with a 100% industry bias and erroneous statements such as:
Prohibiting chrysotile asbestos is not an option under the terms of the Rotterdam Convention. The threat of a ban, however, is the rabble-rousing cause used by the asbestos lobby to foment support amongst workers, community members, local authorities, politicians and other vested interests. In fact, under the terms of the Convention, a chemical or pesticide categorized as hazardous can only be included on a list (Annex III) which triggers the introduction of a prior-informed-consent regime whereby importing countries must be notified of potential hazards posed by the consumption of the listed substance.
To put it in terms that an asbestos lobbyist might understand: if Vladimir is in the market to buy a half liter of vodka in Moscow and is told he can buy a bottle of Beluga Vodka for 775 rubles (US $12.00) or a bottle of an unknown brand (B) for 125 roubles ($2) but brand B might contain industrial alcohol which could cause blindness or death he is free to make an informed decision as to which item he wished to purchase. The Rotterdam Convention was designed to provide the right-to-know to all countries so that vulnerable populations would not be put at risk of exposure to dangerous substances like chrysotile which they were unable to use safely.
The Russian-led 2019 veto which blocked the listing of chrysotile was intended to forestall such an exchange of information. The motivation was financial. According to a recent New York Times article, in 2018, 80% of asbestos output from the Uralasbest chrysotile asbestos mine located in the city of Asbest in the Sverdlovsk Oblast region of the Urals was exported. It is little wonder therefore that the Russian attendees at COP9 blocked the adoption of a UN protocol mandating that importers be advised of the potential hazards faced by purchasing chrysotile despite overwhelming support for such action.4
Convention Observer Omana George, from the Asia Monitor Resource Centre and a member of the ABAN delegation to COP9, expressed the views of many when she criticized the abuse of the Convention by chrysotile lobbyists:
Their behaviour was boorish during our vigil for asbestos victims in the foyer of the Convention Center on May 7 and obstructive during the discussion on listing chrysotile on May 8 when they denied the existence of medical and scientific evidence supporting the links between exposure to chrysotile and the occurrence of asbestos-related cancers and fatal respiratory diseases. It was clear that Russian interests had orchestrated the opposition to listing chrysotile and it was a source of great frustration to delegates in the plenary session that once again, the commercial interests of the few had triumphed over the wishes of the many.5
Omana George addressing the vigil for asbestos victims, May 7, 2019. Photo by IISD/ENB | Kiara Worth
1 George, O. and Kazan-Allen, L. The Rotterdam Convention 2019. May 10, 2019.
2 Заседание сторон Роттердамской конвенции завершилось в пользу хризотил-асбеста
[The meeting of the parties to the Rotterdam Convention ended in favor of chrysotile asbestos]. May 15, 2019. http://life-24.com/post/85738
Other Russian articles celebrating the Rotterdam Convention asbestos rout are listed below:
Вопрос о запрете хризотила в рамках Роттердамской конвенции перенесли еще на два года [The issue of banning chrysotile under the Rotterdam Convention was postponed for another two years.] May 9, 2019.
Жители Асбеста провели в Женеве пикет против запрета на добычу асбеста (Asbestos residents held a picket in Geneva against the ban on asbestos mining.) May 8, 2019.
Нет антиасбестовым запретам! Россияне, индусы и вьетнамцы провели митинг в Женеве [No anti-asbestos restrictions! Russians, Indians and Vietnamese held a rally in Geneva.] May 9, 2019.
3 All the international agencies tasked with protecting occupational and public health agree that the best way to prevent human beings from contracting asbestos-related diseases is to end the use of asbestos and products containing it including asbestos-cement material; exposure to chrysotile asbestos can cause several cancers as well as deadly respiratory disease.
Asbestos policies of Major International Agencies. May 25, 2018.
4 In Asbest, Russia, Making Asbestos Great Again. April 7, 2019.
5 Email from Omana George May 16, 2019.
Also see: ABAN Media Release. The Rotterdam Convention (COP9). May 10, 2019.
Also see: Chronological Record of the Contributions of National Delegations and Others to the Debate on Listing Chrysotile Asbestos on Annex III of the Rotterdam Convention at COP9 in Geneva, Switzerland on May 8, 2019.
Asian delegation slams the failure for the 7th time to list chrysotile asbestos onto the Rotterdam Convention due to unethical veto of asbestos producer countries and their allies.
The Brazilian Association of the Asbestos-Exposed [Associação Brasileira dos Expostos ao Amianto]
As International Workers Memorial Day (April 28, 2019) was being marked by memorial services, public rallies and sundry events around the world, I had the opportunity to participate in the annual ecumenical service of the Brazilian Association of the Asbestos-Exposed (ABREA). The event which was held in Osasco, the one-time center of Brazils asbestos-cement industry, took place in a square named in memory of ABREAs first asbestos victim: Aquilino Alves dos Santos.1 The presence of so many ABREA members as well as international visitors from Japan, India, Indonesia and the UK prompted one attendee to quip Next year, we need a bigger square.
ABREA President Eliezer João de Souza stressed the service was for all religions and indeed a spiritualist Minister as well as Christian missionaries spoke to the gathering. With kind words they gave solace to those who had lost loved ones and praised the fellowship of the ABREA family. The slogan on the back of the tee shirt worn by one of the speakers was apposite: Gente simples, fazendo coisas pequenas, em lugares não importantes, consegue mudanças extraordinárias. The English translation is as follows: Simple people doing small things in unimportant places can bring extraordinary changes.
Indeed, ABREA members are from modest backgrounds. Many of them worked in the Eternit asbestos factory in Osasco or were relatives of those who did; some had worked in other asbestos-using plants or in the informal sector where asbestos use was routine. Most ABREA members had unskilled or semi-skilled jobs. And yet, their backgrounds did not prevent them from challenging companies which were national institutions or contesting the evidence of highly regarded industry experts. Through grassroots projects, media outreach initiatives, scores of lawsuits and legal arguments they brought a countervoice to the national asbestos dialogue. Indeed, a 132-page book entitled Eternidade, published in São Paulo two days before International Workers Memorial Day 2019, was subtitled: A construcao social do banimento do Amianto no Brasil [The social construction of Brazils asbestos ban]. The book, by Marina Moura, contained contributions from award-winning Brazilian journalists Eliane Brum and Conceição Lemes.
Photograph: Wendell Cristiano.
Acknowledging the sustained assistance provided by supporters in the struggle to obtain justice for the victims and to ban asbestos, on April 26, 2019 awards were presented by ABREA honouring Aldo Vincentin and José Roncadim, much-loved members who died of mesothelioma in 2008 and 2009 respectively, to:
Laurie Kazan-Allen, Coordinator of the International Ban Asbestos Secretariat, em reconhecimento por sua dedicacao na luta pelo banimento global do Amianto [in recognition of her dedication in the fight for a global ban on asbestos].
Maria Geruza Correia Elvas, Fundadora da Associação Pernambucana dos Expostos ao Amianto [Founder of the Pernambuco Association of the Asbestos-Exposed], em reconhecimento por sua dedicação na luta por Justiça para as vítimas do Amianto [in recognition of her dedication in the fight for justice for asbestos victims].
Dr. Eduardo Algranti em reconhecimento por sua enorme dedicação às vítimas do Amianto [in recognition of his enormous dedication to asbestos victims].
Dr. Jefferson Benedito Pires de Freitas em reconhecimento por sua enorme dedicação às vítimas do Amianto [in recognition of his enormous dedication to asbestos victims].
Dra. Elizabete Medina Coeli Mendonça em reconhecimento por sua enorme dedicação às vítimas do Amianto [in recognition of her enormous dedication to asbestos victims].
Solange Cristina Soares Pereira em reconhecimento por sua enorme dedicação às vítimas do Amianto [in recognition of her enormous dedication to asbestos victims].
From left: ABREA President Eliezer João de Souza, Gisela Vincentin and Fernanda Giannasi presenting the Aldo Vincentin award to Laurie Kazan-Allen. Photograph: Wendell Cristiano.
Despite the Supreme Court ruling in 2017 outlawing the commercial exploitation of asbestos, Brazilian stakeholders continue to press for an exemption to mine asbestos fiber for export. Commenting on this news, last week an ABREA spokeswoman told journalists: ABREA is strictly against the export of asbestos, because what we dont want for ourselves, cant be allowed to happen to others. The struggle continues.
1 Kazan-Allen, L. Report from Asian Ban Asbestos Mission to Brazil 2019. April 29, 2019.
Behind the White Curtain
In recent weeks, developments have been reported which shed light on the machinations of people working on behalf of the international asbestos industry to protect asbestos markets at the expense of public safety and occupational health; methods used by them to counter the growth in ban asbestos activism included undercover surveillance on campaigners, attacks on medical experts and the commissioning and publication of made-to-measure science.
In March, 2019, a dossier uploaded to the internet revealed details of a four year espionage operation, codenamed Project Spring, paid for by asbestos industry stakeholders with connections to Kazakhstan which spied on ban asbestos activists in Europe, Asia and North America.1 A British operative, employed by a corporate intelligence agency based in London, was tasked with carrying out the instructions of shadowy figures associated with the Union of the Chrysotile Cement Industry (Kazakhstan), Kostani Minerals JSC which operates Kazaksthans only chrysotile asbestos mine and the International Chrysotile Association (ICA), for decades the mouthpiece for global asbestos interests. In a recent letter by ban asbestos campaigners in Vietnam, sent to members of the National Assembly, the ICA and the Vietnam Roofing Association a domestic lobbying group were accused of spreading untrue statements about chrysotile asbestos and false and incorrect information and data about the harmful effects of white asbestos in Vietnam; providing inaccurate and outdated information; and creating confusion and misunderstanding about the situation and the scientific basis for [banning] white asbestos.2
Emails from ICA Presidents Clement Godbout (2010) and Jean Marc Leblond (2013) to the asbestos industrys favorite scientist David Bernstein are revealing about: how the lobby was working behind-the-scenes to influence asbestos dialogues in countries such as Ukraine, Malaysia and Indonesia and how much money it had at its disposal to do so. Positive feedback given by Bernstein to his paymasters included the following comment about the outcome of his 2010 trip to Jakarta: the government was very positive about continuing the use of chrysotile asbestos in Indonesia The Indonesian WHO representative was present and was very impressed.3
Other pertinent information about the workings of asbestos lobbyists was revealed in a 49-page judgment handed down in the London High Court on April 10, 2019 by Mr. Justice Warby.4 The case was brought under the Data Protection Act 1998 by Dr. Robin Rudd, one of Britains leading medical specialists in asbestos-related diseases; his expertise is vital for claimants with mesothelioma, lung cancer and other diseases exposed to chrysotile (white) asbestos, found in a wide variety of asbestos-containing products, including asbestos cement. 5
Rudd had sought to establish the identities of associates of John Bridle, a former asbestos businessman and asbestos advocate, who had: engaged in attempts, funded by the asbestos industry, to discredit the Claimant [Rudd] as an expert witness and/ or to intimidate him from continuing to act for claimants in mesothelioma cases.6 Although the names of individuals were redacted in the verdict, extracts from some of the texts sent by Bridle about his attempt to neutralise Rudd were informative:
Mr. Justice Warby agreed that:
He [Rudd] is entitled to know who his co-accused are. The same applies to the identities of others, whom he is said to have helped, or to have victimised, or the like. That is information that is integral to and indistinguishable from the allegations against him. It is unreasonable to withhold it from him.11
Bridle was ordered to provide, by the end of April 2019:
personal data relating to Dr Rudd which is contained in any such expert report, together with the date, and all information available to the data controller as to the source or sources of those personal data.12
The information about the individuals and/or organizations involved in the attempt to discredit Dr Rudd is eagerly awaited by those who have crossed swords with John Bridle and others who have suffered at the hands of asbestos vested interests in the UK and abroad.
1 Kazan-Allen, L. Corporate Deceit: Asbestos Espionage at Home and Abroad. British Asbestos Newsletter. Autumn-Winter 2018-19.
2 Kazan-Allen, L. Vietnams Asbestos Frontline 2019. March 28, 2019.
3 Ruff, K. et al. Asbestos and insurance interests continue to use discredited scientific argument to sell asbestos and to deny justice to asbestos victims. April 11, 2019.
4 Dr. Robin Rudd vs. John Bridle and J & S Bridle Ltd. April 10, 2019.
5 Leigh Day & Co. Press Release. Landmark Judgment on Data Protection Act 1998. April 11, 2019
Dyer, C. Asbestos disease expert wins right to obtain information held on him, by lobbyist. April 12, 2019.
6 Dr. Robin Rudd vs. John Bridle and J & S Bridle Ltd. April 10, 2019. Para 10, page 4.
7 Ibid. page 17.
8 Ibid. page 14.
9 Ibid. page 15.
10 Ibid. Para 115, page 39.
11 Ibid. Para 199, page 40.
12 Ibid, Para 137, page 45.
Australia’s Asbestos Frontline 2019
Visits to the Perth offices of the Asbestos Diseases Society of Australia (ADSA)1 over recent weeks have reconfirmed a tragic reality: the Australian asbestos epidemic continues unabated. By the beginning of March 2019, the Society had registered 17 new cases of mesothelioma; the previous year, 115 ADSA members had been diagnosed with mesothelioma and 317 members had died from asbestos-related diseases.
ADSA staff continue to work at full capacity to provide the practical, legal and medical support needed by victims and their families. Despite all that entails, energy is still found to develop and implement fund-raising initiatives such as the ADSA golfing day on February 17; the $10,000 raised at the Meadow Springs Golf and Country Club in Mandurah were earmarked for mesothelioma research by Professor Anna Nowak and her team at the National Centre for Asbestos Related Diseases (NCARD). Plans are already well advanced for this years major fund-raiser: the ADSA walk for research and awareness. From November 10-15, 2019, participants will trek from Augusta to Perth via Cape Leeuwin, Margaret River, Cowaramup, Wild Wood, Cape Naturalise, Dunsborough and Busselton with donations, once again, going to NCARD.
The Societys Annual General Meeting on February 24 provided the opportunity to catch up with administrative, legal, medical and political developments affecting the operations of the ADSA and the prospects of its members. A long-standing grievance remains the failure by politicians in Western Australia (WA) to enact legislation to provide asbestos claimants in the state the same rights as plaintiffs elsewhere in Australia who are entitled to a second award for damages should they contract an additional asbestos disease and who can claim compensation for their inability to provide care for another person, such as a child, or perform domestic or other duties.
From left: ADSA President Robert Vojakovic, Professor Anna Nowak (NCARD), Laurie Kazan-Allen, ADSA Counsellor Rose Marie Vojakovic, ADSA Medical Advisor Dr. Gregory Deleuil.
The best part of the AGM is always the chance to speak to ADSA members during the reception which takes place once official business had been conducted. This year was no exception as I made the acquaintance of a charming couple who had emigrated from the UK in the mid-1980s. More than 30 years later, the wife was diagnosed with mesothelioma, a disease she believed she contracted from exposure to asbestos dust liberated by the operations of a factory in Kent. Despite the thousands of miles she had travelled and the decades which had passed, the toxic exposure she had received would not be denied.
1 For more on the work of the Asbestos Diseases Society of Australia see:
Kazan-Allen L. November 2016: Asbestos Action and Reaction. December 9, 2016.
Kazan-Allen L. Western Australias Asbestos Legacy. May 10, 2015.
Kazan-Allen L Grace Under Fire. April 22, 2014.
Mesothelioma 2019: Another Life Lost
On Saturday (January 26, 2019), I received news that a much-loved friend had died. Paul Zygielbaum was an irresistible force of nature; he was dogged, kind-hearted and hilarious – the dinner table tale he told of wild turkeys scrabbling over his California roof will be part of our family’s folklore for decades to come.
After five years of symptoms, Paul was diagnosed with malignant peritoneal mesothelioma in 2003; he was only in his early fifties. Over the next fifteen years he endured multiple operations, medical procedures and treatment protocols to eradicate, or at least contain, the deadly cancer he contracted from workplace exposures to asbestos.
Paul sent periodic updates to his family and friends reporting back from the mesothelioma frontline. Most messages were upbeat, some were not. The last message we received from Paul arrived on January 2, 2019:
“Well, the universe is full of surprises. Or perhaps some of us are prone to fooling ourselves. I’m afraid that my cancer has not chosen to follow my plan for continued health and treatability. I recently underwent radiation treatment for 3 tumors. The follow-up CT scan showed some improvement but not total. Moreover, a variety of new tumors showed up in various places, and some of the older tumors became aggressive. The upshot is that the mesothelioma has won. There are no treatments left that would be useful. I am weakening, and I have placed myself into home hospice care. I know that there isn’t a lot of time left.”
Concluding his final email, Paul wrote:
“Having said goodbye prematurely before, there’s not much left for me to say now. Thank you for letting me be a part of your life. I hope that I have contributed positively. My very best wishes to everyone.
Hoping for a miracle – in his fight to survive mesothelioma Paul had, after all, overcome so many setbacks – proved fruitless. This time, the disease would not be denied. As this blog is uploaded in London (January 28, 2019) Paul’s funeral is taking place in California. His loss will be felt by many people for whom he had become a symbol of survival. That he succumbed to this horrific disease does not for a minute diminish the grace and vigor with which he fought it. Our thoughts today are with his beloved wife Michelle, his children, grandchildren, friends and colleagues. Rest in Peace, dear friend.