Thai Ban Asbestos Struggle 2014
Three years ago the Thai Cabinet approved a ban asbestos resolution. Unfortunately, since that time, domestic asbestos stakeholders, in collaboration with Russian industry lobbyists, have forestalled progress in implementing legislation required to affect this much-needed public safety measure.
Last Saturday (August 3, 2014), a meeting organized by the Thailand Ban Asbestos Network (T-BAN) was held at Bangkoks Kasetart University. Speakers discussed the reasons for the delay and highlighted internal government dynamics which had support for the ban from the Ministry of Health and opposition from the Ministry of Industry (MOI). According to T-BAN representative Mrs. Somboon Seekamdokkae, the MOI was advocating a five-year delay with no date for when prohibitions should start (see: T-BAN Press Release). Professor Dr. Surasak Buranatreeweth from the Faculty of Medicine, Thammasat University reiterated the global consensus that all asbestos should be banned citing positions taken by leading international agencies and bodies tasked with protecting public and occupational health. On August 16, 2014, T-BAN members will again discuss these issues with MOI representatives.
In July, 2014, an Open Letter to the government headlined Asking National Council for Peace and Order for Fairness in Making a Ban to Chrysotile Asbestos was published in several Thai newspapers (see: original Thai version) by the Chrysotile Information Centre of Thailand, an association representing asbestos commercial stakeholders. This document lauded the wonderful properties of chrysotile (white) asbestos and called on the National Council for Peace and Order to be fair to the industry when considering whether to ban the use of asbestos. According to this letter (see: English translation), the health justifications for a ban remain unproved, the use of asbestos is safe and the ban could cause damages to the economy as much as 5 trillion baht.
As to be expected, the text of this document is incorrect and misleading. It categorically states that the price of substitute fibers and alternative raw materials is prohibitively expensive and results in a doubling of the cost of roofing tiles which have a shorter product life. The thrust of this letter is that the Thai economy and citizens cannot survive without asbestos.
While the Chrysotile Information Centre begs for fairness for the industry, there is no mention of fairness for workers, consumers, or members of the public who become disabled or die from the asbestos tsunami that will hit Thailand in the years to come. Where will the manufacturers be when these people get cancer and need to pay for medical care and hospital bills? It will be the families, communities and government left to care for the injured the manufacturers will, as they have elsewhere, seek to avoid liability for the damage they have done by the import this century of nearly 1.5 million tonnes of asbestos into Thailand; average annual consumption since 2000 has been 104,914.1
The Chrysotile Information Centre (CIC) is disingenuous in calling for fairness for an industrial sector responsible for human deprivation and misery. In the years since Thai campaigners and health professionals alerted the government and public to the known risk of asbestos, the CIC could have worked with its partners to transfer their commercial operations to non-asbestos technology. That they have chosen not to do so is a clear indication of their ruthless pursuit of profit and total disregard for human health. They do not deserve fairness. They deserve condemnation and censure.
August 6, 2014
1 These figures come from the United States Geological Survey.