Laurie Kazan-Allen

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September 12, 2022

Humiliation for Brazil, Victory for Turkey

September 7, 2022 should have been a glorious day for all of Brazil. It was, after all, the 200th anniversary of the country’s independence from Portugal. Unfortunately, the nationalistic fervor which would have been expected was somewhat overshadowed when the Government found itself in the midst of an international furore over its failed attempt to off-load a ship full of toxic waste to Turkey.

The fact that the former warship the São Paulo contained asbestos, PCBs, lead/cadmium paint and possible traces of radioactive material was bad enough, but, even worse was the multitude of international treaties and protocols that the export of the deadly ship had broken. In disregard of international law, a decision had been made by a federal agency (IBAMA) allowing the vessel to set sail from Rio de Janeiro on August 4, 2022.1

After the Turkish Government and Gibraltar authorities refused the São Paulo permission to proceed to its original destination, news was received on September 7th that the vessel had altered course and was proceeding at some speed back to its home port.2

The volte face in the ship’s reputation from once proud Brazilian flagship to toxic and despised floating wreck came about largely as a result of lobbying by members of the public, local and federal politicians and campaigners in Turkey in collaboration with international partners.3 Explaining the grassroots mobilization against the São Paulo, Project Development Officer at Greenpeace Mediterranean Gokhan Ersoy said;

“From a wonderful public rally attended by thousands of people in Aliağa to dramatic demonstrations in the center of Izmir and public statements in front of official buildings, everybody spoke with one voice: stop this toxic ship! Signatures on online and conventional petitions reached over 150,000 in one month! The people’s unbending will and commitment forced policymakers to reconsider the mistake they made.”4


Protestors hold aloft a banner at public rally saying: Aliağa dünyanın çöplüğü değildir [Aliağa is not the garbage dump of the world].

At the forefront of opposition to the São Paulo’s arrival in Turkey was Izmir Metropolitan Municipality Mayor Tunç Soyer who told participants at a demonstration last month:

“The São Paulo is not an ordinary ship… [it is a container for] a cargo of poison. What is on its way is thousands of tons of poison, thousands of tons of garbage. In the past, imperialists invaded countries with their boots. Now they invade with their toxic garbage, their poison. No passage to the poison ship here. This land is ours. They will go as they came… The primary duty of a mayor is to protect his city. As the Mayor of Izmir Metropolitan Municipality, I will work hard to protect the air and water of Izmir.”5


Izmir Metropolitan Municipality Mayor Tunç addressing August 2022 public rally.

One can but hope that the international approbation that this illegal attempt to transfer toxic waste has brought Bolsonaro will be exploited in the upcoming election as further evidence of his disqualification to inhabit the highest office in Brazil.

1 The agency which made this decision was the Brazilian Institute of Environment and Renewable Natural Resources [Instituto Brasileiro do Meio Ambiente e dos Recursos Naturais Renováveis (IBAMA)] – a federal agency under the Ministry of Environment and the Brazilian Basel Convention Competent Authority.
Kazan-Allen, L. International Mystery – Where is the São Paulo? August 9, 2022.

2 Kazan-Allen, L. The São Paulo: International Hot Potato. September 1, 2022.

3 Ölüm Gemisini Durduracağız Platformu’ndan protesto [Protest from the We Will Stop the Death Ship Platform]. August 23, 2022.

4 Após ser proibido de entrar na Turquia, porta-aviões São Paulo está voltando ao Brasil [After being banned from entering Turkey, aircraft carrier São Paulo is returning to Brazil]. September 8, 2022.

5Aliağa'ya yolculuğunu sürdüren ölüm gemisine karşı dava açıldı [A lawsuit has been filed against the death ship that continues its journey to Aliağa]. August 24, 2022

August 17, 2022

Summer/Winter 2022: Brazil’s Best and Worst

Someone once told me that in Brazil, they had the best and worst of all things. This theory was well illustrated this summer (or winter if you’re in Brazil) by two developments, one of which was of benefit to former asbestos workers and the other to the Brazilan Navy.1

Over four weeks between June 21 and July 27, 2022 health surveillance visits were carried out by staff from the Fiocruz research institute in the territory of Senador Camará, an area dominated by criminal factions at war with civilian and military police as well as drug traffickers. Many former workers from Saint-Gobain’s asbestos factories live in favelas in Senador Camará.2 Thanks to funding provided by the Brazilian Association of the Asbestos-Exposed (ABREA), Fiocruz staff were able to carry out weekly visits to consult health managers at multiple institutions and dozens of former asbestos workers in their homes.

This pioneering outreach project will resume in September 2022 thanks to another grant from an international donor. Commenting on the work of the Fiocruz team, ABREA Co-Founder Fernanda Giannasi said:

“For decades, ABREA has worked closely with researchers, GPs and medical specialists to progress the treatment of our members. In many cases, either due to age or infirmity or lack of money, former asbestos factory workers or others who had been exposed to asbestos are unable to access medical care. For this reason, home visits such as the those provided to Saint Gobain’s former workers in Rio de Janeiro last month are absolutely vital. The opportunity to hold in-person consultations enabled the surveillance team to identify those who might need follow-up tests or treatments. The planning for the July visits was extensive and ABREA would like to express its grattitude to all those who facilitated these events.”3

On the other side of the coin is the thorny issue of the aircraft carrier the São Paulo, a one-time flagship of the Brazilian Navy which has been, from the time it was purchased from France (2000) till now, something of a white elephant – if a US $30 million, 871 foot long, 32,800 tonnes (fully loaded) warship could be so categorized. As a result of an explosion in 2005 (ten service personnel injured and one killers) and a fire in 2012 (two injured and one killed) and numerous serviceability issues, the vessel was more of a problem than an asset to the Brazilian Navy.

Disposing of it in March 2021 to a Turkish buyer for nearly US $2 million was to be the end of a perennial headache.4 Unfortunately, Brazilians involved in the sale of the ship – including officials from various Ministries and government agencies – failed to carry out the research required to fully understand that the international transfer of a ship containing hundreds of tonnes of asbestos, PCBs, and lead/cadmium paint as well as possible traces of radioactive material was not a simple matter. Despite an injunction from a Brazilian court ordering the vessel to return to the port of Rio de Janeiro – as I write this blog on August 16 – the ship is still on its way to Turkey.

Interpol has been notified as have governments in multiple European countries through whose waters the fugitive ship will sail in the coming weeks. It remains to be seen whether the Brazilian Government will be forced to recall the ship as the French Government was after it had attempted to dispose of the Clemenceau in India in 2006.5

I believe that having read about these developments, it would be hard for a reasonable person to disagree with the opinion of my Brazilian colleague who said: “in Brazil we have the best and worst of all things.”

1 Kazan-Allen, L. International Mystery – Where is the São Paulo? August 9, 2022.

2 Fiocruz is the nickname for the Oswaldo Cruz Foundation, a scientific research institution in Rio de Janeiro which has been at the forefront of efforts to identify and treat patients with asbestos-related diseases.

3 Email from Fernanda Giannasi. August 15, 2022.

4 Brazilian aircraft carrier São Paulo. August 15, 2022.

5 Greenpeace hails recall of Clemenceau [India]. February 17, 2006.
French aircraft carrier Clemenceau. Accessed August 15, 2022.

July 31, 2022

Britain’s Asbestos Shame

In the forty years since a Minister defended the UK Government’s deficient and dangerous asbestos policy in a debate in the House of Commons more than 100,000 people have died from asbestos-related diseases and cancers.1

In a speech to the House of Commons on July 29, 1982 the Under-Secretary of State for Employment David Waddington castigated critics who accused the Government of inaction and ridiculed people calling for a national ban on all types of asbestos:

“They call for the use of substitutes. I remind hon. Members that a substitute providing the unique qualities of asbestos might be equally dangerous. I must also remind hon. Members that asbestos has safety uses. One must remember when one talks about the danger to those involved with asbestos at their work that they may be manufacturing something that will save lives, whether it is fire protection material or brake linings. One cannot ignore the social consequences. There are 18,500 people employed in the asbestos industry and they do not wish the industry to close. The Health and Safety Commission, which includes representatives of the TUC, does not believe that such a drastic step could be justified.”2

In other words, the Tory Minister upheld the status quo and by so doing protected the profits of donors such as Turner & Newall who, earlier in the Parliamentary debate, had been outed as Tory paymasters.3

It seems that no lessons were learned about the human cost of asbestos inaction between 1982 and 2022. The attitude and language of a July 18, 2022 response to a report by the Parliamentary Committee on Work & Pensions4 decrying the Government’s asbestos regime was more than a little reminiscent of that trumpeted by David Waddington in 1982:

  • “As a general principle, recognising the serious nature of the risk to death from asbestos, we have to carefully consider the evidence before taking any actions forward.”
  • “While HSE agrees we should continue to look for opportunities to reduce the risks associated with asbestos, there needs to be confidence the changes to the regulatory burden for duty holders and cost to government, are proportionate to the health benefits that would arise.”
  • “Where there is evidence of a new workplace exposure limit being required, there will be a full consultation and cost benefit analysis conducted as part of introducing any change.”
  • “The committee suggested HSE should move to a lower OEL [occupational exposure limit] ... HSE’s evidence to the committee was that the underlying science being used to justify a new limit is not certain at this stage. However, HSE is continuing to monitor international developments in this area.”
  • “The Government believes that GB currently has a mature and comprehensive plan to managing legacy asbestos risks that aligns with the best evidence currently available.”
  • “The Government could only advocate a proactive course of action in this area [setting a 40 year deadline for the eradication of the asbestos hazard] if there is compelling evidence that … [it] is justified in terms of reducing risk of exposure to building users. At present this evidence is not there.”5

It is little wonder that, having read the Government’s delayed response the Chair of the Work and Pensions Committee Stephen Timms was “extremely” disappointed:

“The Government argues that fixing a deadline for asbestos removal would increase the opportunity for exposure, but the risk is likely to increase anyway with the drive towards retrofitting of buildings to meet net zero aspirations. Setting a clear target should just be one part of a new properly joined-up strategy. This strategy should prioritise the highest-risk buildings and urgently boost the evidence base for the safe removal and disposal of a material that is still the single greatest cause of work-related fatalities in the country.”6

I had been incensed by the Committee’s recommendation to allow yet another forty years for the eradication of the asbestos contamination but the Government’s total denial of a need for a deadline of any sort is unconscionable.7

The majority of our schools, many of our hospitals, public buildings and domestic properties still contain asbestos. The hazard this poses to members of the public as well as workers has been well documented – more than 100,000+ Britons have died from asbestos-related diseases since 1982. The July 28, 2022 declaration by the United Nations’ General Assembly categorizing a clean and health environment as a universal human right reinforces calls for prompt and definitive action on the UK asbestos hazard. 8 Should we wait four or more decades to act, we could see yet more lives lost.

1 This figure was calculated using mortality data collected by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) for mesothelioma and asbestosis and allowed for a proportion of misdiagnoses; for each death from mesothelioma, one death from asbestos-related lung cancer was added although the likely incidence of this disease was much higher. Deaths from other asbestos-related cancers – such as cancers of the larynx, ovary, pharynx, stomach or colorectum – were not included.

2 Hansard. Health And Safety At Work. Volume 28: debated on Thursday 29 July 1982.

3 According to MP Bob Cryer: “Turner and Newall is a regular contributor to the Tory Party, paying £40,000 over three years…British Belting and Asbestos at Cleckheaton gave the Conservative Party £11,500.”

4 House of Commons Work and Pensions Committee. The Health and Safety Executive’s approach to asbestos management Sixth Report of Session 2021–22. March 30, 2022.

5 The Health and Safety Executive’s approach to asbestos management: Government Response to the Committee’s Sixth Report of Session 2021–22. July 21, 2022.

6 Committee publishes Government response to asbestos management report. July 21, 2022.

7 The Government and HSE reject recommendations for reform of the UK’s asbestos management system. July 25, 2022.
Also see: Time for action on asbestos, says global safety body. July 27, 2022.

8 UN General Assembly declares access to clean and healthy environment a universal human right. July 28, 2022.

June 16, 2022

June 2022: Success and Shame in Switzerland

On June 10, 2022, a major breakthrough was achieved at the International Labour Conference (ILC) in Geneva, Switzerland when occupational health and safety was recognized as a fundamental right.


This extension of workers’ rights is the first addition to the human rights of working people to be recognized in 25 years.1 All member states of the International Labor Organization will now be obliged “to respect and promote the fundamental right to a safe and healthy working environment, whether or not they have ratified the relevant Conventions.”

Commenting on this hard-won victory, General Secretary of the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) Sharan Burrow said:

“The COVID-19 pandemic showed beyond doubt that action was needed to protect workers who are all too often forced to choose between their health and their livelihood. No one should die just to make a living.”

Last week’s decision by the ILC will strengthen the position of trade unions and labor federations in negotiations to: procure workers a voice in risk assessment consultations; progress the eradication of toxic substances and hazardous practices from workplaces; secure free protective equipment and safety training; and end dangerous working practices.

The ILC resolution, which was adopted at an afternoon plenary session on June 10th, reinforced conventions and instruments of other international bodies and associations also safeguarding workers’ rights. It was therefore singularly disturbing that a lobby for an industry of mass destruction was allowed to take part as an Observer and presenter at the 10th Conference of the Parties to the Rotterdam Convention (RC) just days after the historic breakthrough had been achieved by the ILC.


Demonstration outside the RC conference hall on June 14, 2022. Photo by IISD/ENB Angeles Estrada Vigil.

The provocative title of a side event hosted by the International Chrysotile Association (ICA) on June 14, 2022 was: SDGs: The contribution of chrysotile asbestos.2 Communications to the Rotterdam Secretariat from asbestos victims’ groups and trade unions about the ignominy of allowing the ICA – a profit-driven Russian-backed lobbying group registered in Quebec as a non-profit organization – to participate at the meeting were stonewalled by UN bureaucrats.3

The intent of the side event, like all ICA initiatives, was to spread confusion by disseminating propaganda extolling the environmentally-friendly bona fides of chrysotile (white) asbestos, a class 1 carcinogen. To any sane individual, this argument would be a non-starter, not so to the directors of the ICA who hail from Russia, Kazakhstan, Zimbabwe, Mexico, India and the USA, all of whom have financial, political or legal interests in protecting the global asbestos trade.

Attendance at the ICA’s session was minimal, we have been informed. Whilst we might take some solace from that, the fact of the matter is that hours before it had even begun, delegations from Russia, Kazakhstan, India, Pakistan and Zimbabwe had blocked a motion to protect global populations from the asbestos hazard.4 As a result, asbestos pushers will continue to reap profits from the unregulated trade in asbestos, millions more people will contract asbestos-related disease – many of whom will die – and national infrastructures will be further contaminated.

1 International Labour Conference adds safety and health to Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work. June 10, 2022.

2SDGs: Sustainable Development Goals.
Kazan-Allen, L. Russian Assault on United Nations’ Convention. June 6, 2022.

3 Ruff, K. Exposé of the International Chrysotile Association. February 18, 2013.
Lalonde, M. Health experts around the world ask Quebec to disown pro-asbestos association. November 19, 2019.

4 Earth Negotiations Bulletin: Report of main proceedings for 14 June 2022.

May 31, 2022

Back on the Road, Again

Travelling post-Covid is nobody’s idea of a picnic. Forms to fill out, tests to take, hurdles to jump… and that’s before you even step on a plane. All things considered, it was reassuring to know that Asian Ban Asbestos (ABAN) colleagues were able to take part in a variety of activities throughout Australia earlier this month (May 2022) to raise awareness of the asbestos reality in countries which are still consuming asbestos.

A delegation of ABAN and other civil society campaigners from Indonesia, Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam flew to Australia to attend the asbestos conference organized by the Asbestos Safety and Eradication Agency (ASEA) in New South Wales (May 19-20), to meet with asbestos victims’ groups, medical researchers and trade unionists in Western Australian and asbestos removal specialists and trade unionists in Victoria. Throughout their stay, they also had the opportunity for discussions with Members of Parliament, government officials and representatives of cancer charities.

Organizing their hectic itinerary was a logistical challenge considering the multiplicity of requests made for meetings. Commenting on the timetabling of the events, organizer Steve Mullins from Union Aid Abroad – APHEDA said:

“The opportunity of finally holding face-to-face meetings in Australia with campaigners working throughout the region to address the challenges posed by the ongoing consumption of asbestos in Asia was too good to miss. The diverse nature of the professional expertise of medical specialist Dr Anna Suraya, grassroots campaigner Surya Ferdian (Indonesia), trade unionist Sok Kin and Dr Leong Tong,1 (Cambodia), labor activists Vilay Vongkhaseum,2 and Chanphen Maniseng (Laos),3 campaigners Hoang Xuan Luong4 and Dr Dong Xuan Thu5 (Vietnam) was of great interest to ASEA conference delegates as well as others working on Australia’s asbestos frontline. It was extremely rewarding to hear first-hand how much work had been done despite the Covid pandemic in these countries. In the days to come, APHEDA colleagues will consider feedback from the participants as we continue our collaborations on strategies and plans to eradicate the asbestos hazard not just from Australia but also from neighbouring countries.”6


Meeting in Perth from left: Surya Ferdian, Simon Millman MP, Chef, Dr Anna Suraya, WA Minister Bill Johnston and Indonesian Perth Consul General Listiana Operananta. Photo courtesy of Unions WA.

Commenting on the meeting in Perth with colleagues working on the asbestos frontline in Asia, Australian MP Simon Millman said:

“Every year, I attend the Ecumenical Service of the Asbestos Diseases Society of Australia. It is a gruelling manifestation of the price paid by ordinary West Australians for the profits of asbestos companies. Before I entered parliament, I worked regularly with the Asbestos Diseases Society fighting for compensation for victims of asbestos diseases. Now as a Member of Parliament I hear regularly from constituents who have been told of an asbestos diagnosis in their family or the discovery of asbestos products in their homes. This deadly industrial legacy continues to kill nearly 20 years after asbestos use was banned in Australia. The opportunity, along with Industrial Relations Minister, the Hon Bill Johnston, to meet Dr. Anna Suraya and Surya Ferdian was a reminder that asbestos continues to be used in countries throughout our region. Western Australia must do everything it can to share our hard-won expertise on eradicating the asbestos hazard and treating the injured.”

Justine Ross, CEO of the Asbestos Safety and Eradication Agency, welcomed the participation at ASEA’s first in-person conference since 2019 of campaigners and government representatives from countries where asbestos was still being used. Explaining the importance of their participation, Ms Ross underscored the need for Australians to work collaboratively with their neighbors. “The delegates who joined us from southeast Asia were,” Ms Ross said “encouraged to keep working towards asbestos bans in their countries. We hoped they learnt an important lesson from Australia’s asbestos tragedy: the longer it takes to ban asbestos the more deaths and disease there will be – and the more asbestos there will be to clean up.”7


Surya Ferdian addressing the conference of the Asbestos Safety and Eradication Agency on May 20, 2022. Photo courtesy of the Asbestos Safety and Eradication Agency.

Commenting on the significance of the Australian fact-finding trip, Surya Ferdian said:

“Speaking on behalf of the delegation, I would like to express our appreciation for all the effort and resources that went into the organization of our trip. We were overwhelmed by the support we received from the multitude of people we met throughout our stay. Sharing our experiences and receiving feedback from Australian colleagues renewed our determination to progress efforts to raise awareness of the asbestos hazard with government officials, consumers, members of labor federations and fellow citizens. We will build on the contacts made in Australia, to create a sustainable and greener future for all; a future built with asbestos-free products.”

1 Dr Leong Tong is the Director of Cambodia’s Ministry of Labor and Vocational Training’s Occupational Health Department.

2 Mr Vilay Vongkhaseum is Vice President of the Lao Federation of Trade Unions (LFTU).

3 Mrs Chanphen Maniseng is the Director of the Lao Federation of Trade Unions’ Labour Protection Department.

4 Dr Hoang Xuan Luong is the Director of the Research Center for Human Rights in Ethnic and Mountainous Areas, Vietnam.

5 Dr Dong Xuan Thu is the Senior Vice President of the Association to Support Mountain Economic Development (VAMEDA), Vietnam.

6 Email received from Steve Mullins. May 29, 3022.

7 Email received from Ms Ross. May 30, 2022.

April 19, 2022

Putin's War on Ukraine Demeans Russia's Status in World Affairs

Yesterday (April 18, 2022), we woke to news of yet more Russian bombardment of Ukrainian cities last night; more civilian deaths, more wanton destruction. A paradigm shift in our perception of and relationship with Russia has now become firmly entrenched.1 It is, as the German Chancellor Olaf Scholtz told Parliament on February 27, 2022, no longer a question of détente and engagement but of deterrence and repudiation.2 Business as usual, or as it has been since the end of World War II, is no longer possible.

The United Nations General Assembly acknowledged this on March 3, 2022 when it passed a resolution demanding that Russia: “immediately, completely and unconditionally withdraw all of its military forces from the territory of Ukraine within its internationally recognized borders.”3 On March 24, a resolution calling for the immediate end to the Russian invasion was supported by the majority of the General Assembly.4

Just a fortnight later, the UN General Assembly adopted a resolution calling for Russia to be suspended from the Human Rights Council (UNHCR) “in response to Moscow’s invasion and alleged rights abuses in Ukraine.”5

The remit of the UNHCR is to promote and secure human rights in its capacity as an inter-governmental body operating within the UN system. To protect human beings and the environment from toxic exposures to chemicals, two other bodies – the Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations (FAO) and the United Nations Environment Programme (UENP) – developed a program in the 1980s that later become the multilateral treaty which is the Rotterdam Convention on the Prior Informed Consent Procedure for Certain Hazardous Chemicals and Pesticides in International Trade (RC).

Unfortunately, it seems that the RC has not yet got the message about Russia. On my third attempt to clarify whether a Russian delegation would be attending the June 6-17, 2022 meeting of the 10th Conference of the Parties (COP),6 I was told:

“Please bear in mind that the Conferences of the Parties are the governing bodies of the Basel, Rotterdam and Stockholm Conventions. They are composed of representatives of States and regional economic integration organizations that have accepted, ratified or acceded to the respective Conventions. As such, representatives of all Parties including the Russian Federation may be present at the meetings in accordance with the provisions of the Conventions and the rules of procedure for the Conferences of the Parties to each Convention.”7

Readers of this blog may well wonder what the composition of the upcoming RC Conference has to do with asbestos. I’ll tell you.

From 2013 until 2019, a Russian-led cabal of asbestos refusniks blocked progress on listing chrysotile (white) asbestos on Annex III of the Convention. It is important to point out at this juncture that Russia is the world’s leading supplier of asbestos, exporting 500,000+ tonnes of asbestos fiber to customers in Asia and Eastern Europe every year.

Despite what the Russians said in statements to delegates present at the Convention’s plenary sessions and side events, the act of listing a substance is not the same as banning it; listing chrysotile would have made it mandatory for asbestos exporters to supply information needed for potential importers to assess whether they could use the substance safely. If so, they would have been deemed to have provided prior informed consent.8

The actions of the Russian delegation in Geneva were as contentious as they were objectionable with some members of the delegation having direct links with asbestos stakeholders. I have witnessed first-hand boorish behavior at the RC conference with Russians trying to shout down opponents, disrupt a press conference and derail a process intended to protect global populations.

It seems that as in war so in commerce: Russia takes no prisoners and enters into no meaningful discussions when it comes to protecting its own interests, whether political or economic. There is no place for this toxic delegation in Geneva. One can but hope that without the Russians in attendance, other delegations which had previously shown support for the Russian cause will accede to the common will and list chrysotile on Annex III.

1 This word Zeitenwende [turning point] was first used to encapsulate this shift in approach by the German Chancellor Olaf Scholtz in a speech to the German Parliament on February 27, 2022.
Tausendfreund, R. Zeitenwende - The Dawn of the Deterrence Era in Germany. February 28, 2022.

2 McGuinness, D. Ukraine war: Germany's conundrum over its ties with Russia. April 18, 2022.

3 General Assembly resolution demands end to Russian offensive in Ukraine. March 2, 2022.

4 UN General Assembly demands Russia end Ukraine war. March 25, 2022.

5 UN General Assembly votes to suspend Russia from the Human Rights Council. April 7, 2022.

6 Tenth Meeting of the Conference of the Parties to the Rotterdam Convention.

7 Email received on April 12, 2022 from the Secretariat of the Basel, Rotterdam, and Stockholm Conventions, United Nations Environnent Programme.

8 George, O. & Kazan-Allen, L. The Rotterdam Convention 2019. May 10, 2019.
Kazan-Allen, L. Asbestos Showdown in Geneva. May 10, 2017.
Press Release: Rotterdam Convention moving backwards, say civil society campaigners. May 15, 2015.
Kazan-Allen, L. Rotterdam Convention 2013 – An Activist’s Diary. May 8, 2013.

April 14, 2022

Laurie in Wonderland

Like almost everyone else, in April 2022 I appear to be living on shifting sands. An analogy that springs to mind is the 19th century novel Alice in Wonderland, a children’s story which works on multiple levels. When you have someone in the Kremlin calmly embracing Russia’s noble crusade in Ukraine juxtaposed with the bloody carnage viewed on nightly TV it makes you wonder if the Queen of Hearts had it right when she said: “Why, sometimes I've believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast.”


As I was surfing the internet today, I came across the reminder that April 16 had been designated by vested interests in years past as “Chrysotile [Asbestos] Protection Day.” According to the shadowy sponsors behind this initiative, this was a day to celebrate the asbestos industry and decry the actions of those seeking to undermine the profits of Russian and Kazakh asbestos mines and processing plants. Oddly enough, the celebrations of this “special day” seem to have gone quiet this year.

By happenstance, I came across two articles separated by a year which when taken together reveal the unhinged mindset of asbestos stakeholders. The 2021 article exposed the Russian-Kazakh Kusto Group as having thwarted Ukraine’s efforts to ban asbestos in preparation for joining the European Union1 and the 2022 article congratulated the Chairman of the Board of the Kusto Group Yerkin Tatishev for winning Kazakhstan’s Entrepreneur of the Year award.2 According to the Kazakh news report: “In June 2022, he [Tatishev] will represent Kazakhstan at the international finals of the competition in Monte Carlo, where he will compete for the title of international entrepreneur of the year.” You couldn’t make it up.

1 Kusto group блокирует запрет использования асбеста, что угрожает интеграции Украины в ЕС [Kusto group blocks the ban on the use of asbestos, which threatens Ukraine's integration into the EU]. April 27, 2021.

2 EY объявила предпринимателя года в Казахстане [EY announces Entrepreneur of the Year in Kazakhstan]. April 21, 2022.

March 24, 2022

The Writing on the Wall

In 1961 when President John F. Kennedy signed an executive order introducing trade restrictions on imports of certain Cuban goods, the sale of my Dad’s favorite cigars became illegal in the U.S.1 Refusing to accept inferior products, he made the overnight decision to stop smoking all together. I am eternally grateful that he did as I am sure that this decision prolonged his life.

Today, Western sanctions are making life difficult for companies which sell Russian asbestos.2 This month, Orenberg Minerals – the owner of the chrysotile (white) asbestos mine which produces ~60% of annual Russian output – announced that it was experiencing serious disruptions to its delivery chain and was now currently only able to ship cargo by rail to China and from there to Laos, Cambodia and Thailand.3

Russia’s second biggest asbestos producer Uralasbest revealed on March 21, 2022, that it had decided not to pay dividends this year despite substantial trading profits in 2021. The following day, Uralasbest said that it had asked the Russian government for assistance in overcoming hurdles to exporting asbestos.4 As well as requesting tax holidays and government loans, Uralasbest needed: “help in organizing logistics hubs in the ports of countries that have not joined the sanctions…”


Long before the Russian military invasion of Ukraine, the purveyors of Russian asbestos were engaged in a war of attrition against civil society campaigners, trade unionists, politicians, citizens and consumers who wanted to eradicate the asbestos hazard from their countries.

As the machinery in Indian, Indonesian and Sri Lankan asbestos-cement factories stand idle, now would be the perfect time for these businesses to embrace an alternative, sustainable technology which does not endanger human life or pollute the environment. By doing so, they would be making a giant commitment to improving the lives of all their people.

Just as my father’s decision to stop smoking prolonged his life, the decision to abandon asbestos would make their countries safer for future generations. Russia can no longer threaten any nation wishing to throw off its asbestos shackles. It is time for all national governments to embrace an asbestos-free future.

1 How JFK snagged 1,200 Cuban cigars before the trade embargo. November 19, 2021.

2 Kazan-Allen, L. Asbestos Facts 2022. March 22, 2022.

3 According to a Russian article uploaded on March 12, 2022, Orenburg Minerals – the owner of the biggest asbestos conglomerate in Russia – is sending asbestos shipments by rail to China “and at the same time we are solving the issue of delivering products through this country to Laos, Cambodia and Thailand. We are looking for opportunities to arrange supplies to Vietnam and Indonesia. We are trying to resolve issues with Iran and Turkey on shipment to India, but so far it has not been possible.”
Андрей Гольм рассказал о работе «Оренбургских минералов» в условиях санкций [Andrey Golm spoke about the work of Orenburg Minerals under sanctions], March 12, 2022.

4 Balkin, V. «Ураласбест» попросил федеральное правительство помочь экспортёрам с логистикой [Uralasbest asked the federal government to help exporters with logistics]. March 22, 2022.

March 3, 2022

Genocide and Oppression as Viewed through an Asbestos Filter

As we watched the 2001 attack on the World Trade Center unfold before our eyes on TV, the world held its breath and waited.1 Like everyone else, I was paralyzed by fear about the fate of all those in the hijacked planes and buildings attacked. As I waited for news, I did not feel it was appropriate to disseminate information about the presence of asbestos in the buildings. The voracious defendants of the asbestos industry, however, had no such compunction and began circulating junk news about the disaster almost immediately.

Today, I sit before my computer screen and TV once again paralyzed by what I see unfolding before my very eyes. I was well aware of the trade war which East European asbestos interests had declared on Ukraine and their fierce determination to stop Ukraine from banning asbestos in preparation for joining the European Union but had no idea of how this and other issues would play out.

Who is responsible for the humanitarian catastrophe in Ukraine? Who is behind the threats to wipe Ukraine and its citizens from the face of the earth?2 With the use of vile epithets and twisted propaganda Vladimir Putin blames Ukraine for the attack. In a world which had become used to a litany of lies and fake news disseminated by Donald Trump and his disciples, was it possible that anyone would be convinced by Putin’s insane rhetoric?

Alas, it seems that at least some Russians believe this 21st Tsar’s propaganda and are taking active steps to show support for the war crimes being perpetrated in Ukraine. We read this morning (March 3, 2022) with shock news from the Sverdlovsk asbestos mining region of Russia that the municipalities of Asbestos and Zarechnyy have changed road signage for their cities by inserting the letter “Z” – “Z” is an identification mark on vehicles engaged in a special operation – in front of the town’s name to indicate support for Russia’s war on Ukraine. 3

According to State Duma Deputy Maxim Ivanov, the towns of Zaikovo in the Irbitsky district, and Talitsa, the capital of the Talitsky District, are planning to follow suit; Sverdlovsk residents, he reported, were also ordering stickers with the letter Z for their cars.

The close ties that the Russian asbestos industry has cultivated with the Kremlin are common knowledge as are the actions taken by Russia to counter attempts by foreign governments which have the temerity to take steps to ban asbestos or by international agencies to regulate the global trade of this acknowledged carcinogen.

As recently as September 2021, Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov confirmed his Government’s reassurances that the use of Russian chrysotile (white) asbestos was not harmful to human health. To substantiate the Russian Government’s asbestos policy, Lavrov stated that the World Health Organization (WHO) and the International Labour Organization supported the “controlled use of asbestos.” Of course, this was untrue, as Carolyn Vickers, WHO spokesperson, explained: “The scientific evidence that it [chrysotile asbestos] causes cancer is conclusive and overwhelming.”4

The same man who lied about asbestos last September was today seen on our TVs ranting about “Ukraine’s Nazi Battalions,” and the Russian “special military operation … to de-militarise and de-Nazify” Ukraine.5 Lavrov is a puppet doing his Master’s evil bidding; when the war crimes trials begin, he will be in the cell next door to Putin.

No civilized human being can remain unmoved by the plight of Ukraine; we can but hope that the majority of Russians do not share the views of town hall officials, politicians and civilians in Sverdlovsk. We stand united with Ukraine and its people.


1 Kazan-Allen, L. Asbestos Use in the Construction of the World Trade Center. September 19, 2001.

2 Ukraine: Zelenskyy says Russia wants to 'erase our country'. March 2, 2022.

3 According to a news report, the letter Z appeared on one of the entrance signs to Asbestos where it replaced the letter “s” on the sign.
Свердловский город поменял первую букву на Z [Sverdlovsk city changed the first letter to Z]. March 3, 2022.

4 Kazan-Allen, L. International Ban Asbestos Secretariat Devil’s Dust Awards 2022. January 18, 2022.

5 Ukraine invasion: Russia's foreign minister Sergei Lavrov rants about Napoleon, Hitler, Hollywood films and Ukraine's 'Nazi battalions'. March 3, 2022.

February 2, 2022

Winter Olympics 2022 – Asbestos-Free Bubble

Beijing is the only city in the world to hold both a Summer (2008) and Winter Olympics (2022). In the run-up to the first event, enquiries were made with Chinese and international organizations about the use of asbestos for the construction of the Olympic arenas and venues.1 These concerns were based on the fact that for decades China had been a prolific producer and consumer of chrysotile (white) asbestos, using an average of 550,000 tonnes (t) per year in the four years leading up to the 2008 event.2

Despite an overwhelming silence from the Olympic authorities and Chinese hosts, responses to back-channel enquiries suggested that the use of asbestos had indeed been banned for high-profile events including the Beijing Olympics 2008, the World Expo in Shanghai (2010) and the 2010 Asia Games in Guangzhou.3


There is no question that asbestos consumption has been decreasing after the implementation of a range of restrictions on use in China;4 data for the years 2012-2016, the most recent available from the USGS, showed that average annual usage was 340,500t.5 Consumption may well have declined further since then and current domestic production of asbestos is estimated to have fallen to below 100,000t per year. Whilst these reductions are welcomed, it is clear that workers in factories throughout the country are still processing and handling asbestos fibers on a daily basis. In addition, people living in asbestos-contaminated homes, 6 studying in schools containing asbestos products and working in the construction and demolition sectors are routinely being exposed to this acknowledged carcinogen.

Hundreds of athletes and support staff from 90 countries attending the Winter Olympics this month (February 2022) will be reassured to know that the air they breathe at the venues in Beijing, Yanqing and Zhangjiakou is free from asbestos. Unfortunately, the same is most definitely not true for people outside the Olympic bubble. The longer Chinese officials wait to comprehensively address the nation’s deadly asbestos legacy, the higher the final death toll will be.7

1 Kazan-Allen, L. Asbestos Olympics? April 10, 2008.

2 According to data sourced from the United States Geological Survey (USGS), China apparently consumed 536,895 tonnes (t) of asbestos in 2004, 514,614t in 2005, 531,190t in 2006 and 626,099 t in 2007.

3 Kazan-Allen, L. China Increases Asbestos Restrictions. November 3, 2010.

4 Key landmarks in the evolution of China’s policy on asbestos include the following: in 2002 the import and use of amphibole asbestos were banned; in 2003, the use of asbestos for automotive friction materials was banned; in 2007, the Ministry of Health adopted new guidelines to protect people working in asbestos factories; the use of asbestos was prohibited for the building of the infrastructure of the Beijing Olympics (2008) and the 2010 Asian Games; as of June 1, 2011, the use of all types of asbestos, including chrysotile, was banned in siding and wall construction materials under Chinese national standard GB50574-2010; as of December 27, 2012 a new “List of recommended substitutes for toxic and hazardous raw materials” was officially published by China's Ministry of Industry and Information Technology. Asbestos was included in category 3, the most advanced class for which substitutes have been developed and are being used. In the document, asbestos was categorized as a toxic and hazardous substance which could be replaced by safer alternatives.
Chronology of Asbestos Bans and Restrictions. Accessed January 27, 2022.

5 According to the USGS, asbestos consumption in China was: 430,000t (2013), 357,000t (2014), 287,000t (2015) and 288,000t (2016).

6 Kazan-Allen, L. China’s Asbestos Challenge. May 10, 2010.

7 Kazan-Allen, L. China’s Rejection of Asbestos: Official. May 19, 2020.

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