Showdown in Brasilia
Since the Global Asbestos Congress held in Brazil in 2000, the country's ban asbestos movement has migrated from the outer fringes of public consciousness to center stage of the political arena. The fact that São Paulo, Rio de Janeiro, Rio Grande do Sul, Pernambuco and Mato Grosso States have banned asbestos and that ban asbestos legislation is pending elsewhere clearly indicates that the dominance asbestos industry stakeholders once exerted on the national asbestos debate has been lost. Despite the weakened position of the country's asbestos lobby, there is still sufficient wealth and determination to defend a status quo based on the controlled use of asbestos. As long as things stay the way they are, profits from the commercial exploitation of asbestos will continue to fill the coffers of asbestos companies, fund the political campaigns of asbestos-friendly politicians and pay for discredited groups which purport to represent labour.
This month (August 2012) the Brazilian Supreme Court will reengage with the asbestos issue as it hears evidence from Brazilian and international experts including those who favour industry's position and those who don't. This is not the first time the Court has confronted thorny questions regarding asbestos in a country which is now the world's 3rd biggest producer. In June 2008, the Court first upheld the constitutionality of state asbestos bans when it ruled that the São Paulo Government had the right under the Brazilian Constitution to prohibit use of a substance judged to be a threat to human health and the dignity of labor.1
This week, the agenda of the court hearings to be held on August 24 & 31, 2012 has been finalized. Amongst the 35+ speakers scheduled to testify are well-known industry mouthpieces from Brazil, Switzerland, Russia and Canada, including: Ericson Bagatin, Mario Terra Filho,2 Milton do Nascimento, David Bernstein,3 Evgeny Kovalesky and Jacques Dunnigan. The presence of this veritable who's who of asbestos industry propagandists should come as no surprise given the fact that they were nominated by groups representing the industry or bodies connected to it such as the Brazilian Chrysotile Institute and the National Confederation of Workers. Independent experts who will be detailing the epidemiological, medical, social and economic justification for São Paulo's ban include: Benedetto Terracini (Italy), Barry Castleman and Arthur Franck (US), Fernanda Giannasi (Brazil) and representatives of the Ministries of Health and Environment of São Paulo State. The fact that the August 31 proceedings will be translated into English is an indication of a high level of global interest in this litigation.
The lines have been drawn and the issues are clear. Will Brazil's highest court once again uphold the rights of citizens to live a healthy life: one free of deadly exposures to asbestos? Watch this space!
August 8, 2012
1 Kazan-Allen L., Castleman B. History in the Making! June 25, 2008.
2 Lemes C. Manoel de Souza, Another Victim of Asbestos, Dies. August 28, 2008.
3 Lemes C. Swiss asbestos expert was paid by the Brazilian Asbestos Industry, September 28, 2009.