Financial Case for Brazilian Asbestos Ban 

by Laurie Kazan-Allen



It is rare for an academic paper to have a profound and immediate impact on issues affecting the lives of ordinary people. The research conducted by Professors Ana Lucia Gonçalves da Silva and Carlos Raul Etulain detailed in: The Economic Impact of the Banning of the Use of Asbestos in Brazil (expertly translated from the original Portuguese publication by Dan Berman) is of immense significance not just for Brazil but for other countries still using chrysotile asbestos.

In a nutshell this document blows away the financial case for continuing asbestos use in Brazil. Vested asbestos interests, such as the Brazilian Chrysotile Institute, have long argued that banning asbestos would have a disastrous effect on local, regional and national economies, penalize consumers and put the country at a competitive disadvantage. Not so, say the researchers who counter every one of the industry's assertions with hard facts:

  • Industry says the price of non-asbestos fiber-cement roof tiles and panels are higher than safer alternatives.
    The researchers respond: “the supposed higher prices of non-asbestos products have not been confirmed.” The prices of fiber-cement products with and without asbestos “are practically the same.”1
  • Industry says that Brazil lacks non-asbestos technology and will have to, at great expense, import alternative fibers.
    The researchers found that “in the last decade Brazil has made serious progress in building its capacity for substitution of asbestos with alternative fibers, with safe options which take into account technical specifications as well as the protection of human health and the environment.”
  • Industry says that Brazilian supply will not be able to satisfy demand for asbestos-free products if a ban is implemented.
    The researchers are adamant that “there will be no shortage of roof tiles and other fiber-cement products, nor do we anticipate an increase in the cost of constuction triggered by an asbestos ban.”
  • Industry says that prohibiting asbestos will have a disastrous effect on the industrial sector.
    The researchers reject this argument stating that the negative effect of a ban “will be felt only in the sphere of asbestos extraction (which in 2007 employed 156 workers in mining and 210 in primary processing.) The problems here can be dealt with through policies of support to the affected region (tourism, for example, can become a promising alternative for Minaçu).”

Urging radical and immediate reform, Professors da Silva and Etulain conclude the case for a Brazilian ban by agreeing with the asbestos policies of international agencies such as the International Labor Organization and the World Health Organization. “Effective control of the risks created by asbestos,” the researchers write “will require a complete ban on the mining, transport, manufacture, sale, and utilization of asbestos, in all its forms, throughout Brazil.” Noting that this action could cost the country $50 million in lost sales, they remark:

“Brazil exports asbestos to poorer countries in the so-called periphery, thus putting millions of people at risk for their lives. Ignorance about the malignantly fatal effects of working with asbestos exacts a human price, but this price will not be paid by those who earn big money from this profitable and macabre commerce.”

There can be little doubt that many of the arguments supporting a Brazilian asbestos ban advanced in this paper will be equally valid in other asbestos-using countries.

January 16, 2011


1The Brazilian Chrysotile Institute has criticized this study saying that asbestos-free products are 30% more expensive and have a much shorter durability than the asbestos alternatives so widely used in Brazil.
Vialli A. Proibir amianto é viável, revela estudo. January 4, 2011.,0.php



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