Laurie Kazan-Allen

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May 13, 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 Beckett’s speculation is, unfortunately, coming true as Kazan said in his presentation.

Beckett’s 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 Beckett’s prophecy will, alas, endure for decades to come.

1 IMIG 2021 Programme Book.

2 The PowerPoint which accompanied the virtual presentation can be downloaded from the link:

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 İzmir’de gemi söküm tesisleri [Medical chamber expresses concern over aircraft carrier dismantling in İzmir].April 28, 2021.

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 industry’s 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 Parliament’s 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 dell’Amianto 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 Ukraine’s Asbestos War. April 15, 2021.

April 1, 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 Brazil’s 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 world’s 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 L’Aminate) 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 l’Amiante change également de nom [Asbestos Street is also changing its name]. March 28, 2021.

6 Russian and Kazakhstan news item archives:

March 17, 2021

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 Castleman’s opus Asbestos: Medical and Legal Aspects, Geoffrey Tweedales’s Magic Mineral to Killer Dust: Turner & Newall and the Asbestos Hazard, Jock McCulloch’s Asbestos Blues, Matt Peacock’s 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 ADSA’s CEO Melita Markey said:

“Through Dr Delueil’s 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 Society’s members and staff – for 20 years+ and I am only too ready to corroborate Melita’s comments. I have personally witnessed Dr D’s 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 Union’s 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.

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.

 February 9, 2021

Brazilian Conundrum: Asbestos Exports from a Country that Banned Asbestos

[Portuguese translation of this blog item]

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 country’s sole producing chrysotile asbestos mine, announced its intention to produce chrysotile – despite the Supreme Court’s 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:

  • November 29, 2017: By a majority verdict, the Brazilian Supreme Court prohibited the mining, processing, marketing and distribution of chrysotile (white) asbestos.5
  • December 5, 2017: Eternit S.A. announced it had suspended chrysotile asbestos mining operations at its Sama mine.6
  • December 19, 2017: Supreme Court Justice Rosa Weber granted a judicial exemption allowing asbestos mining and manufacture to recommence in states with no asbestos bans.7
  • July 15, 2019: The Legislative Assembly of Goiás State approved law No. 20,514, authorizing Sama to resume mining for export only.8
  • July 22, 2019: The National Association of Labor Attorneys appealed to the Supreme Court asking for the suspension of Goiás State law No. 20,514.
  • November 17, 2020: Asbestos mining recommenced at the Sama Mine.9

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.

January 29, 2021

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 country’s 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.

1 “ANCORA SOTTO CASA MIA” [“Still Under My House]. January 9, 2021.

2 “ANCORA SOTTO CASA MIA” [“Still Under My House”]. January 11, 2021.

3 Kazan-Allen, L. International Workers Memorial Day 2013. April 10, 2013.

December 31, 2020

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 World’s 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?

Trump’s 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 wouldn’t have burned down, it wouldn’t 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 doesn’t 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 EPA’s critics, the Agency’s 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:

  • “EPA declined the petition’s request to collect more information about asbestos-containing articles even though the petition accurately described how little information EPA has about the quantities of asbestos-containing products in the U.S. chain of commerce and the overall consumer and occupational exposure for downstream uses of asbestos.”
  • “EPA is not incapable of collecting this information; instead, it is unwilling to do so.”
  • “EPA’s unwillingness to act stands in the face of its significant statutory authority to require that this information be reported via the CDR [Chemical Data Reporting rule] and runs contrary to its obligation to collect reasonably available information to inform and facilitate its regulatory obligations under TSCA. By failing to do so, the EPA has not acted in accordance with law.”8

As the EPA has 60 days to appeal, any action taken pursuant to Judge Chen’s 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 America’s 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 Trump’s niece says president is dangerous and calls on him to resign. July 15, 2020.

2 Aratani, L. Mar-a-Lago neighbors say Trump can’t 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 Trump’s 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.

November 30, 2020

Betrayal of Spain’s 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 country’s 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 Uralita’s 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 country’s 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 company’s 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, Coemac’s 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, Uralita’s 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.

October 9, 2020

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 Johnson’s Baby Powder in the United States and Canada has nothing to do with the safety of the product. Johnson’s Baby Powder is safe, asbestos free, and does not cause cancer. However, demand for talc-based Johnson’s 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 company’s 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 & Johnson’s 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&J’s 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&J’s 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 couldn’t 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 Shouldn’t Come At The Cost Of Women’s Lives. October 5, 2020.

4 Asbestos Victims’ Support Groups Forum UK. Health Alert: Asbestos in Baby Power. June 17, 2020.

September 3, 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].

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 Beirut’s clean-up operation is exposing Lebanon’s wider state dysfunction. August 19, 2020.

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