Thailand's Asbestos Liars
To a seasoned observer of the global asbestos scene it comes as no surprise that asbestos vested interests in Thailand are liars. The asbestos business worldwide is based on lies: lies told to governments, customers, workers and the public. But steps taken by the Thai lobbyists have put these individuals in a class of their own. Where other vested interests may have tried to spin the truth to their own advantage, these industry stakeholders engaged in out and out, bald-faced lies. As the industry's deceptions have been revealed, support for a national asbestos ban has grown. The formation in February 2012 of the Thailand Ban Asbestos Network marked the end of industry dominance of the national asbestos debate.1
In recent years, asbestos stakeholders have been distressed by the increasingly outspoken statements of international agencies such as the International Labour Organization (ILO) and the World Health Organization (WHO) regarding the hazardous nature of all types of asbestos. It is not good public relations to have the substance at the heart of your industry categorized as a killer. Even though the ILO and WHO have adopted pro-ban positions, industry lobbyists continued to allege that these bastions of occupational and public health supported the safe use of chrysotile asbestos. In Thailand, they have taken this lie to the next level. On the front of tee shirts produced by Oranit, a company which manufactures asbestos-cement roof tiles, is the Oranit logo and the slogan (in Thai): A toothpick is more dangerous than Asbestos.
On the back of the tee shirt it says:
Only Chrysotile can be digested and not accumulate in the body. 85% of the world's population still need it. WHO certifies that it is safer than substitutes. USA accepts that TOOTHPICKS are more dangerous. GOOD and CHEAP.
The tee shirts were problematic for WHO officials in Bangkok who have been working with social partners to raise awareness of the asbestos hazard in a country which, according to the most recent data, uses nearly 80,000 tonnes/year. Generally speaking the WHO does not respond to misleading statements and distortions made by vested interests but it is no coincidence that on April 28, 2012, International Workers' Memorial Day (IWMD), WHO Thailand included a statement on the asbestos hazard in its message:
One in every three deaths from occupational cancer [worldwide] is estimated to be caused by asbestos. Each year around 107,000 people die from asbestos related cancers, mesothelioma and asbestosis (fibrosis of the lung) as a result of exposure to asbestos at work. All forms of asbestos and products containing asbestos, including non-friable or 'high density' chrysotile asbestos, are considered by WHO as hazardous for human health.Asbestos products have the potential to deteriorate and pose a risk to the community and especially to workers carrying out alterations, maintenance and demolition .
In collaboration with the International Labor Organization, intergovernmental organizations and civil society, WHO is actively working towards the elimination of asbestos-related diseases. The most effective way to eliminate asbestos related diseases is to stop the use of all types of asbestos.2
A video uploaded by the WHO to youtube to commemorate IWMD reiterated these sentiments saying: "All forms of asbestos are harmful to human health including all forms of chrysotile asbestos Eliminating all forms of asbestos will eliminate all forms of asbestos-related diseases."3
There is more bad news for Thai asbestos vested interests. Despite an impasse on progress towards the implementation of asbestos ban legislation, there is every indication that the legal instruments required to enforce the ban will be adopted by the end of this year. A Call for an Asbestos Ban for Worker Safety, was issued last month by the Alliance of Worker Councils, while an upcoming one-day conference in the capital entitled Thai Worker Safety by No Asbestos Policy, will provide the opportunity for Thai experts from the civil service, academia, trade union movement and medical community to inform delegates and collaborate on future initiatives to ensure that asbestos is finally banned in Thailand.
May 1, 2012
1 Kazan-Allen L. Ban Asbestos Mobilization in Thailand. February 2012.
3 Asbestos Hazardous for Human Health. WHO. 2012.
Also see: http://www.facebook.com/WHOThailand and https://twitter.com/#!/WHOThailand