Report from the Asbestos Frontline 2012
In the last sixty years, Thailand has used more than four million tons of asbestos. Consumption figures for the last four years show an increase of 17% in national usage, making Thailand the 4th biggest consumer of chrysotile asbestos in Asia. It was therefore appropriate that Bangkok was chosen as the venue for a series of ban asbestos activities last week. On Monday, November 19, the annual meeting of the Asian Ban Asbestos Network (A-BAN) took place.
Opening Session of A-Ban 2012 Meeting.
Throughout the A-BAN sessions, presentations were made delineating the current situation in countries and administrative regions throughout Asia. A packed agenda included contributions from delegates representing 15 countries at various stages of the ban asbestos process. Whilst there was good news about impending asbestos bans in four Asian countries, concern was expressed by speakers regarding industry counteroffensives in two countries in south Asia. Of particular interest was the participation in the A-BAN meeting of several delegates new to the network, amongst whom were younger campaigners including at least two for whom this was their first time making presentations in English. Their efforts were warmly received!
Faye from No More Asbestos in Hong Kong Alliance; on her right: colleague Chan Kam Hong.
Amongst the important points raised during the discussions were the following:
The asbestos debate, which has become a mainstream topic of discussion in Thailand thanks to civil society ban asbestos mobilization, has been the subject of many newspaper and TV features. To maximize the impact of A-BAN and T-BAN's (Thailand Ban Asbestos Network) Bangkok activities, a press conference was held on November 19. Amongst the participants were Dr. Adul Bandnukul (T-BAN), Sugio Furuya and Professor Domyung Paek (A-BAN), Korean asbestosis sufferer Jung Ji-Yul (Ban Asbestos Korea) and Laurie Kazan-Allen, Coordinator of the International Ban Asbestos Secretariat (IBAS).
Welcoming the media, Dr. Adul Bandnukul explained the purpose of the events which were planned and the urgent need for the Thai Government to honor its commitment to ban asbestos. Following his remarks, the Bangkok Declaration 2012 of the Asian Ban Asbestos Network One Ban for All! was launched with English and Thai versions being read. The Declaration, which had been endorsed by all thirty-three groups in attendance, stated:
It is unacceptable that while Japan and Korea have recognized the dire consequences for human beings of exposure to asbestos, Thailand, China, Indonesia and other countries have not. All Asian citizens have the right to live an asbestos-free life One Ban For All!
Laurie Kazan-Allen informed the press about key elements of industry strategy to forestall the introduction of Thai asbestos prohibitions. The Thai asbestos lobby, she said routinely misleads officials and the public with commercial propaganda such as that contained in an article entitled: 'Lessons learned from asbestos ban in England.' The Thai article had been translated into English and analyzed by IBAS. The commentary which resulted exposed multiple errors, inaccuracies and lies; a Thai translation of the IBAS commentary was distributed at the press conference.1 Articles on November 20 in the Bangkok Post and other news outlets provided coverage of the November 19 session.2
Shortly after the press conference ended, a public hearing on asbestos was held at the Ministry of Industry during which a five-year plan to phase-out asbestos use was considered. T-BAN representatives strenuously objected to the long delay saying that the government had announced its support for an asbestos prohibition nearly two years ago. A demonstration was held outside the Ministry.
On November 20, 150 delegates attended the Bangkok Asbestos Conference which was held by T-BAN. It is significant to note that the venue for this event the Asia Hotel Bangkok was the same as that for the landmark Asian Asbestos Conference 2006 at which the first Bangkok Asbestos Declaration was proclaimed.3 Calling for a total asbestos ban, it clearly stated that: Asbestos mining, the use and recycling of asbestos and asbestos-containing products should be totally banned in all countries. The 2006 Declaration was highly significant not only in raising the profile of the ban asbestos debate in Thailand but also in impacting on the levels of imports. A graph displayed by Dr. Plernpit Suwanampai, from the Thai Ministry of Public Health showed a dramatic decrease in Thai asbestos imports after the Bangkok Declaration.
The high level of government support for banning asbestos in Thailand was evidenced by the fact that the November 20 event was officially opened by key government officials: Dr. Prasit Chaiwiriratana, Deputy Secretary-General to the Prime Minister and Dr. Narongsak Angkasuwapla, from the National Health Commission.
Dr. Prasit Chaiwiriratana.
Referencing the 2006 Bangkok Asbestos Conference, which was supported by the Ministry of Public Health and the Ministry of Labor, Dr. Prasit Chaiwiriratana delineated steps taken in Thailand towards banning asbestos in the last six years. As a medical doctor as well as a politician, the speaker affirmed his whole-hearted commitment to the goal of banning asbestos: Health is, he said, more important than money. The mesothelioma death in 2007 of Dr. Chaiwiriratana's assistant served as a constant reminder about the importance of protecting Thai citizens from asbestos.
Dr. Prasit Chaiwiriratana being interviewed.
Personnel representing the World Health Organization (WHO) in Thailand have been the focus of intensive efforts by Thai asbestos stakeholders intent on neutralizing WHO support for the elimination of asbestos use.
Dr. Brenton Burkholder.
In his presentation, Dr. Brenton Burkholder, Acting WHO Representative in Thailand, was categorical about the WHO position on asbestos which he summarized as follows:
The main areas of discussion on November 20 were: Asia's progress on banning asbestos, regional networking efforts and the current situation in Thailand. International and Thai experts representing many civil society actors including asbestos victims, trade unionists, academics, government officials, civil servants, environmentalists and activists representing consumer groups and labor federations contributed to the discussion. Some of the key points which emerged during these sessions were:
From the presentations made and the discussions which ensued it is clear that T-BAN members have adopted a global perspective on the asbestos challenge. The launch on November 20 of the Thai translation of the English monograph entitled: Eternit and The Great Asbestos Trial was evidence of the Thai campaigners' eagerness not only to understand their own asbestos legacy but also to engage with the worldwide tragedy caused by asbestos.
Cover of the Thai translation of the IBAS monograph.
In recognition of the fact that much of the asbestos imported by Thailand came from Canada, a demonstration was held outside the Canadian Embassy on the afternoon of November 20.
As protestors held up their banners and took part in activities which highlighted the effects of asbestos exposure on Asian populations, A-BAN member Professor Domyung Paek (Korea) and T-BAN representative and President of the Thai Labour Solidarity Committee Chalee Loysoong attended a meeting with a Canadian official. Having delivered an A-BAN letter addressed to the Canadian Ambassador to Thailand Ron Hoffman calling on Canada to help reduce the number of asbestos disease [cases] which will affect people worldwide by immediately banning the mining, trade and export of all forms of asbestos, Paek and Laysoong asked the Canadian official to seek an answer from Ottawa on the following questions:
As discussions continued inside the Embassy, outside the building a performance representing the poisoning of Asian citizens by asbestos took place. As masked victims lay dying on a map of Asia, aggressive industry salesmen covered them with asbestos fibers (here represented by pieces of white confetti).
Commenting on the unfolding drama, activist Buddhi Netiprawat from a Thai trade union affiliated with the Building and Woodworkers International condemned the global asbestos trade and called for an asbestos ban to be introduced throughout Asia. While the atmosphere outside the Embassy was far from threatening, the presence of a considerable number of security staff and Canadian observers left no doubt as to the disquiet felt by the foreigners at the high-profile nature of the demonstration. They may well have hoped that the fact that Canada was now out of the asbestos business might have deflected former asbestos importing countries from making such protests. They were mistaken.
November 30, 2012
2 Activists urge Thailand to ban asbestos. November 20, 2012. http://www.bangkokpost.com/news/health/322088/activists-urge-thailand-