Poisoning for Profit
According to calculations based on United Nations trade data, the cumulative value of 5.5 million tonnes of asbestos imported by countries around the world during the years 2010 to 2015 was $3.3 billion. This figure does not include the dollar amount of a similar volume of asbestos produced and used at home by the mining countries of Russia, Kazakhstan, Brazil and China which would, most likely, also be worth billions of dollars.1 These stakeholder countries, in collusion with vested interests in asbestos-using countries, remain determined to continue business as usual despite the medical and scientific consensus that the best way to end the global epidemic of asbestos diseases is to stop the use of asbestos.2 The asbestos industry playbook includes a number of well-honed tactics, some of which are illegal and most amoral and unjust. Methods used by those tasked with progressing the interests of the few at the expense of the many are cited below to illustrate how corporate wealth has been weaponized in the pursuit of ever more profits.
The definition of collusion is secret or illegal cooperation or conspiracy in order to deceive others.
In 1929, European and British asbestos multinationals established a cartel of asbestos-cement producers with set objectives including: organizing the export business, assisting each other in securing raw materials, etc.3 To achieve these goals they used various methods including price fixing, an illegal practice in the US and Canada. The participation of the British asbestos giant Turner and Newall (T&N) in such arrangements was documented in a 1974 report by the Monopolies Commission entitled: Asbestos and certain Asbestos Products:
In the years before the war collective arrangements restrictive of competition operated in virtually all sectors of asbestos products industry. The form varied, the most usual being either quota and market sharing arrangements or price discussions between manufacturers. In addition T&N entered into agreements with individual customers which usually entailed some degree of exclusive trading.4
The contravention of laws was not considered a bar to business as usual to asbestos vested interests which set an example later followed by the tobacco industry.
SPYING ON VICTIMS AND ACTIVISTS
The definition of spying is working for a government or other organization by secretly obtaining information about enemies or competitors.
Examples of asbestos companies spying on their opponents, including asbestos victims, are many. During the 1990s, the Swiss Eternit Asbestos Group set in train a multi-faceted, detailed and long-standing covert operation to monitor the plans, strategies and moods of campaigners in the Italian town of Casale Monferrato under the supervision of a public relations company based in Milan.5 An undercover agent Maria Cristina Bruno sent periodic reports to the company detailing feedback she had gained having attended meetings of the asbestos victims group. Reports she wrote on September 2, 1993 and November 6, 1993 were translated from Italian into English and can be read on pages 61 & 62 of the book Eternit and The Great Asbestos Trial. In the second memo she wrote:
The detonator is about to be triggered on the figures relating to the epidemiological study and environmental sampling. The trade unions are concerned and are trying to increase awareness and public opinion on the severity of the problem or at least of how bad the problem is.
I have heard they are trying to gather information on the companies that currently operate in the province and that are still using asbestos
NB The figures referring to the epidemiological data highlight an incidence of an increase of mesotheliomas amongst non-directly exposed citizens that is to say amongst the community or population or residents who were not directly exposed to asbestos [to asbestos at work].
On October 2, 2004, I attended a meeting organized by a Swiss asbestos victims group and Ban Asbestos France in Geneva. During the morning sessions asbestos victims from Switzerland, France and Italy spoke about their personal experiences and those of their relatives who had suffered due to asbestos exposures working or living near factories owned by the Eternit multinational. Throughout these interventions, an unknown man sitting at the back of the hall took notes. Monsieur X was recognized by two participants at the meeting; they said he was associated with Eternit. When challenged and asked his identity he declined to respond. In an article which appeared the following day in the Swiss newspaper Le Matin, Journalist Camille Krafft wrote:
Different Italian witnesses and the discrete presence in the room yesterday of an Eternit representative who refused to comment showed that the current scandal of this Swiss enterprise, formerly associated with asbestos, is still ongoing.6
There can be little doubt that Monsieur X was spying on the victims meeting on behalf of Eternit.
SUBVERSION OF THE SCIENTIFIC PROCESS
Subversion is defined as the attempt to transform the established social order and its structures of power, authority, and hierarchy . Subversion is used as a tool to achieve political goals because it generally carries less risk, cost, and difficulty as opposed to open belligerency.
Over the last hundred years, asbestos industry-backed groups and experts engaged in multiple attempts to subvert the scientific process by commissioning research and disseminating industry propaganda packaged as science; they also tried to discredit scientists whose work or comments could impact negatively on asbestos markets such as Irving Selikoff. One tactic frequently used was the dissemination of positive messages about the usefulness and safety of asbestos by supposedly independent entities such as the Asbestosis Research Council (UK), The Asbestos Information Committee (Belgium), the Danish Asbestos Information Group, The Asbestos Syndicate and Permanent Committee on Asbestos (France), the Asbestos Trade Association (Germany), Norwegian Asbestos Information Group etc.
While the man on the Clapham omnibus might believe that the pursuit of science is an honest and straightforward process, the use of millions of asbestos dollars by industry-backed scientists has created doubt amongst some decision makers. Often, authors of papers published by those working for the industry did not include disclosures regarding possible conflicts of interest. This failure to disclose was highlighted in a decision of the New York Supreme Court Appellate Division in June 2013 which upheld a New York Supreme Court ruling that found a series of academic, scientific papers commissioned and used by US building products giant Georgia-Pacific (GP) in a bid to frustrate asbestos cancer compensation claims were potentially part of a crime-fraud.7
INTERFERENCE IN NATIONAL ASBESTOS DEBATES AND INTERNATIONAL PROCESSES
The asbestos industry and its supporters, including stakeholder governments, civil servants and trade unions, have held scores of training sessions, outreach programs and conferences in countries around the world to spread the word about how chrysotile asbestos can be used safely under controlled conditions.8 The fact that no country, not even one in the industrialized world, has achieved this, is never mentioned.
The asbestos A Team often appears in countries poised to ban asbestos. They sent such a trade mission to the UK in March 1999 just as plans were being finalized for UK and EU asbestos bans. My application to interview the asbestos spokesmen which included Vangala Pattabhi (India), Edward Chindori-Chininga (Zimbabwe), Andre Brochu (Canada), Bob Pigg (US) was rejected.
The attempt to dissuade the Government of Chile from banning asbestos described below was typical:
Early in 2001, the Republic of Chile gave notice that the import and use of asbestos would be banned by July 2001. On June 29, 2001, the Prime Minister of Canada, Jean Chrétien, personally telephoned the Chilean President Ricardo Lagos in an attempt to persuade him to abandon the prohibition of chrysotile.9
On March 20, 2001, Margot Edwards, the Commercial Officer at the Canadian Embassy in Chile wrote to an official in Quebec:
Canada (mainly Quebec), as a major exporter of Asbestos to Chile, has undertaken (through NRCan and PMO Office) extensive lobbying in Chile in order to promote safe use of Asbestos in lieu of total ban. Several Government of Canada missions have taken place followed by extensive exchange of information. A seminar on the safe use of asbestos and its effects on human health is being organized jointly by the Canadian and Chilean Governments. It will take place in June in Santiago.
Scores of books, academic papers, magazine articles, essays, depositions and other evidence amassed over decades substantiate a litany of misdeeds, misrepresentations, deceits, illegal activities, corruption10 and dirty tricks carried out by individuals working for the asbestos industry. The modus operandi of their operatives has not changed much over the years nor has their main objective: the prioritization of corporate profits over public safety.
Ban asbestos campaigners will not be bullied or deterred from their efforts to make the world a safer place by this industry of mass destruction. In December 2016 and January 2017, members of the Ban Asbestos Network of Korea (BANKO) held weekly protests outside the Seoul embassies of asbestos-producing countries beginning on December 21 with the Russian embassy and continuing on December 28 at the Chinese embassy, January 4 at the Kazakhstan embassy and January 11 at the Brazilian embassy.
December 21, 2016: demonstration outside Russian Embassy, Seoul.
January 4, 2017: demonstration outside Kazakhstan embassy, Seoul.
January 11, 2017: demonstration outside Brazilian Embassy in Seoul.
One of the slogans devised by BANKO campaigners for the January 11 demonstration Samba without Asbestos Danger, has already been adopted by Brazilian activists as: SAMA and Samba Dont Mix.11
The ingenuity, panache and enthusiasm of global ban asbestos campaigners more than make up for our lack of financial resources. Let the asbestos profiteers be warned. Ours is a legitimate, grassroots campaign supported by thousands of individuals around the world. Poisoning for profits is reprehensible, unethical and indefensible. Industry stakeholders can no longer hide behind their wealth or positions; you cannot silence those who have stared death in the face as they watched loved ones die excruciating deaths from asbestos cancer. We will not be suppressed or subverted. The struggle continues!
January 16, 2017
1 The United States Geological Survey estimated global annual asbestos production as follows: 2010 (2,029,586t (tonnes)), 2011 (2,070,974t), 2012 (1,961,728t), 2013 (2,104,484t), 2014 (2,025,734t), 2015 (2,026,921t).
2 Asbestos Policies of International Agencies.
3 Ruers B. Eternit and the SAIAC Cartel. 2012
Castleman B. Asbestos Medical and Legal Aspects. 5th edition. Page 31 etc.
4 Monopolies Commission. Asbestos and certain Asbestos Products. 1974. Paragraph 37, page 12.
Also see: Report of the First international Conference of Asbestos Information Bodies. 1971.
5 Kazan-Allen L. Eternit vs. The Victims. 2012.
6 The actual text said: Differents temoignages d'Italiens et la presence discrete dans la salle hier d'un representant d'Eternit, qui s'est refuse a tout commentaire, demontrent que le scandale entourant cette enterprise suisse autrefois specialisee dans l'amiante est toujours vivant. The translation was undertaken by the author.
Kazan-Allen L. Secrecy and Subterfuge in Switzerland. October 5, 2004.
9 Kazan-Allen L. The Asbestos War. International Journal of Occupational and Environmental Health. 2003; 9: page 176.
10 Kazan-Allen L. Cyril Smith: MP, Paedophile and Asbestos Stooge! July 23, 2014.
11 S.A. Mineraçes Associadas (SAMA) is the company which owns Brazils only chrysotile asbestos mine.