Colombia Bans Asbestos!
On July 11, 2019, Colombian President Iván Duque Márquez signed into law asbestos prohibitions endorsed by both houses of Congress in a frantic rush to beat the June 20, 2019 adjournment of Congress after which all proposed legislation would have been vacated.1 The ban, which prohibited not only the mining,2 commercialization and distribution of all types of asbestos including chrysotile (white) asbestos in Colombia also banned the export of asbestos. This is the first time that asbestos prohibitions have been approved by a legislature in an asbestos mining country; in 2017, the Brazilian Supreme Court, in the face of continuing federal support for the asbestos industry, declared the commercial exploitation of asbestos unconstitutional.3 The new Colombian law will take effect on January 1, 2021 and permits a five year transition period for companies currently using asbestos.4 The fact that this law managed to overcome substantial political as well as legislative hurdles with just days to go before Congress adjourned was testament to the determination of civil society groups, politicians and ban asbestos campaigners who mounted a high-profile nationwide campaign to mobilize support for an asbestos-free future.
Various ban asbestos ban bills had been debated in the Colombian Congress over the last 12 years; the one which succeeded was named after Ana Cecilia Nio, a journalist who died of the asbestos cancer mesothelioma in 2017 aged 42; as a child she had lived in the city of Sibaté, home to Colombias first asbestos-cement factory.5 Although she had never worked with asbestos, she was exposed to deadly fibers liberated by the factory. Despite undergoing major operations and extensive radiotherapy and chemotherapy following her 2014 diagnosis, Ana Cecilia campaigned assiduously for Colombia to ban asbestos. In 2016, she and her husband brought a lawsuit against the Colombian State before the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights for failing to protect citizens from the asbestos hazard.6 Over the last 50 years, 1,700 people have died from asbestos-related diseases, including lung cancer and mesothelioma, in Colombia.7
The Ana Cecilia Nio Ban Asbestos Law was adopted months after the Administrative Court of Bogotá (March 4, 2019) ordered the State to implement a policy phasing out the use of asbestos within five years. The Court issued orders that the Ministries of Health and Labor implement specific measures to ensure that the switch to safer technologies was progressed including the right to impose criminal and administrative sanctions, such as substantial financial penalties, for non-compliance.
Commenting on the achievement of securing the asbestos ban, Senator Nadia Blel, the Cartagena Congresswoman who sponsored The Ana Cecilia Nio Ban Asbestos Bill, said:
Asbestos is in our homes, in hospitals, in schools, in brake pads for vehicles, in everyday products and we wanted to pay tribute to Ana with this law for that voice, that woman who despite difficulty breathing accompanied us to the Congress to lead this initiative. 8
Senator Blel stressed that Ana and other asbestos victims who had fought for a Colombia without Asbestos, had done so to protect future generations.
July 12, 2019
1 Hincapie, L.P. Presidente sanciona Ley que prohíbe el uso del asbesto en Colombia [President sanctions Law that prohibits the use of asbestos in Colombia]. July 11, 2019.
2 Chrysotile (white) asbestos mining operations were commenced at Las Brisas mine in the 1970s by the U.S. asbestos company Johns-Manville (JM); JM abandoned the mine in 1998 but under other management mining took place until fairly recently with one source claiming that as recently as 2012, 25,000+ tonnes of asbestos were produced; in 2013, 16,000 tonnes and in 2014, 8,200 tonnes.
Also see: Kazan-Allen, L. Asbestos in Colombia. October 2, 2012.
3 Brazil was at that time one of the worlds top asbestos producing countries.
4 Alsema, A. Ahead of most other countries, Colombia bans asbestos. June 12, 2019.
5 Ramos-Bonill, JP, Cely-Garcia, MF. An asbestos contaminated town in the vicinity of an asbestos-cement facility: The case study of Sibaté, Colombia. May 6, 2019.
6 Murió la mujer que buscó una Colombia libre de asbestos [The woman who sought an asbestos-free Colombia died]. January 8, 2017.
7 Colombias Congress passes law for complete ban on asbestos. June 12, 2019.
8 El asbesto: un enemigo presente en casas, escuelas y hospitals [Asbestos: an enemy present in homes, schools and hospitals]. June 16, 2019.