Global Asbestos Scandal: Some Answers 

by Laurie Kazan-Allen



The publication of papers regarding various aspects of the global asbestos scandal provides further details of the human consequences of hazardous exposures, the politics behind the deadly asbestos trade and the efforts by civil society to ban asbestos. Following the asbestos ban adopted by the Spanish government a decade ago, attempts were made to implement a health surveillance program for at-risk workers (PIVISTEA). The results of these efforts are discussed in the paper: Evaluation of the national health surveillance program of workers previously exposed to asbestos in Spain (2008).1 The authors conclude that post-occupational health surveillance as well as medical and legal recognition of asbestos-related diseases in Spain are “inadequate” with “inter-regional inequalities among affected workers.”

Unlike Spain, Mexico has not banned asbestos. In fact, national consumption of asbestos in Mexico from 2000 to 2010 was 213,414 tonnes, an average of nearly 20,000 tonnes a year. Mexico has a tactical importance for global asbestos producers who have invested heavily in efforts to maintain the Mexican Government's “controlled use” asbestos policy. The commercial, diplomatic and political strategies which have been used by the Canadian asbestos lobby to manipulate Mexico's asbestos agenda are discussed in the paper published in December 2011 entitled: Who is Driving Mexico's Asbestos Policy?2 Using documents obtained from Canadian government sources, the author names Canadian diplomats, civil servants and industry lobbyists who have participated in an orchestrated attempt to preserve the status quo. The interactions witnessed in the exchange of emails analysed by the author reveal why industry interests continue to trounce concern for public and occupational health in Mexico.

At the beginning of this month (January, 2012), the paper: Ban asbestos phenomenon: the winds of change3 was published in the journal New Solutions as was a photographic essay by Indonesian ban asbestos activist M. Darisman: Community environmental health activism in Indonesia a photo essay.4 The author of the former paper details ten historical developments over the last fifty years which signposted trends in ban asbestos mobilization while the author of the latter article highlights grassroots efforts made in Asia to spread public awareness of the asbestos hazard. The cover of the journal, which shows a demonstration mounted in December 2010 by ban asbestos activists in Quebec, is particularly poignant, given the death last month of Korean asbestos victim Rachel Lee, whose picture is in the center of the cover.

January 17, 2012


1 Montserrat GG, et al. Castaneda R, Lopez VG. Evaluation of the national health surveillance program of workers previously exposed to asbestos in Spain (2008). Gac Sanit. 2011.doi:10.1016/j.gaceta.2011.06.012

2 Kazan-Allen L. Who is Driving Mexico's Asbestos Policy? International Journal of Health Services 2012; 42 (1):109-118.

3 Kazan-Allen L. Ban asbestos phenomenon: the winds of change. New Solutions 2012 Jan 1;21(4):629-36.
Link to article:

4 Darisman M. Community environmental health activism in Indonesia – a photo essay. New Solutions 2012 Jan 1;21(4):637-44.



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