Chrysotile Industry Counteroffensive 2012  

by Laurie Kazan-Allen



With the demise of the Canadian asbestos industry, the leadership of the global asbestos lobby was always going to fall into Russian hands. During the transition of power, which has lasted for several years, Russian asbestos lobbyists have become increasingly vociferous and strident – but to little effect – as the consensus has grown that continued asbestos use is unsupportable. They seem immune to reasonable argument: when spokespersons from the World Health Organization disagree with the lobbyist's pro-chrysotile stance, they are accused of being corrupt; when NGOs or trade unions adopt pro-ban positions, they are, so the Russian lobbyists say, only doing so to fulfil their financial obligations to American asbestos lawyers. Viewing the world in this jaundiced way, the asbestos lobbyists see malfeasance and dishonesty everywhere.

There are recent reports about the belligerent behaviour of Russian industry spokesmen when confronting staff of widely respected international agencies; new propaganda videos, produced by the Chrysotile Information Centre, say that chrysotile is a substance which cannot and should not be replaced; without chrysotile asbestos the civilized world would, so it is claimed, cease functioning. How strange that countries such as Denmark, Chile, Japan and the UK seem to function pretty well without the use of chrysotile asbestos.

In 2011 Russia became a signatory to the Rotterdam Convention,1 a fact which is highlighted in one of the five new asbestos industry videos. This means that at the 2013 Conference of the Parties it will no doubt be the Russian delegate who will be replacing the Canadian delegate in blocking the listing of chrysotile asbestos on Annex III. In an attempt to position this action as valid, a “scientific” conference is being held in Ukraine on November 21-22, 2012 entitled: “Chrysotile Asbestos: Risk Assessment and Management.” From the documents we have obtained it appears that the sponsors of this event are: The Ministry of Health of Ukraine, the National Academy of Medical Sciences of Ukraine, the Institute for Occupational Health of NAMS of Ukraine, the Russian Academy of Medical Sciences and the FSBI Research Institute of Occupational Health (though representatives of each of these organizations are scheduled to address the conference their names remain blank in the circulated agenda). It is unlikely that this conference will turn out to be what it purports to be, given the close ties which exist between asbestos industry stakeholders and some national bodies in former Soviet Union countries.

The first announcement of the conference explained the background to this meeting as follows (excuse the poor English; all the mistakes are theirs and not ours):

“In the process of discussing the problem of chrysotile asbestos reference to Annex 3, taking place at the 5th Conference of Parties of the Rotterdam Convention concerning the procedure of the prior informed consent on selected dangerous chemicals and pesticides in the international trade (June 19-25, 2011, Geneva, Switzerland) one of delegations proposed to conduct a scientific conference in order to make a grounded decision in respect of the problem concerned at the 6th Conference of Parties.

With this in view, we have the honor to invite you to take part in the International scientific conference 'Chrysotile Asbestos: Assessment and Risk management.'”

On the agenda are a plethora of well-known asbestos industry fellow travellers including David Bernstein and R. Nolan (US), SP Vivek Chandra Rao (India), M. Terra-Filho and Ericson Bagatin (Brazil), E. V. Kovalevskiy (Russia) and Jacques Dunnigan (Canada). A few surprise names are also listed on the draft agenda which IBAS has obtained and one can only hope that their plans will alter once they realize the true objective of this meeting. The tone and content of the agenda as well as the timing, location and secrecy – it is not, apparently, mentioned anywhere on the internet – lead one to suspect that this event is window dressing mounted in preparation for the 2013 Conference of the Parties to the Rotterdam Convention.

It is ironic that just after the Ukraine meeting finishes, the Italian Government will sponsor an Asbestos Conference in Venice.2 This initiative is backed by the Ministry of Health, the Ministry of Environment and the Ministry of Labour and Social Policy in collaboration with academic and environmental partners. The objective of this event is to quantify the scope of Italy's asbestos emergency and begin work on a national asbestos plan. I have no doubts that the conclusions reached in Venice will be diametrically opposed to those reached in Kiev.

November 11, 2012






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