Tomorrow in Brasilia 

by Laurie Kazan-Allen



(Postscripted August 25, 2012)

In just one day's time, asbestos hearings in Brazil's Supreme Court will begin. To say that these proceedings are important would be a significant understatement; at stake are the lives of millions of citizens not only in Brazil but also in countries to which Brazilian shipments of asbestos are sent. If the highest Court in the world's 3rd largest asbestos-producing country decides that the Constitution upholds a State's right to ban asbestos to protect public health, there can be little doubt that the political and financial support for the asbestos industry will evaporate. Once that is gone, so too will be Brazil's asbestos industry.

Although one should never tempt fate by making predictions, there is evidence that Brazilian civil society is increasingly in favour of banning asbestos. Events which have occurred over the last fortnight give some cause for optimism. This week an important, nay ground-breaking, document was published by the Brazilian Health Ministry entitled: "Mortality Bulletin on Asbestos-Related Diseases in Brazil, 2000-2011."1 An online translation of text from this six-page document is informative. Highlighting the increase in Brazilian mortality from asbestos diseases since 2000, the document states categorically that:

“Exposure to this mineral fibre [asbestos] can occur occupationally or environmentally. Therefore, this exposure can affect a significant number of people, causing serious diseases that can compromise functional capacity and well-being, and can lead to death. For these reasons, the WHO and the main national and international institutions of health recommend that this carcinogenic substance is replaced to prevent hazardous exposure and the health repercussions of such exposure.”

Furthermore, this bulletin recognizes the fact that the harm caused by asbestos is “fully avoidable;” in other words, ban asbestos and you eliminate asbestos disease.

Other important developments in recent weeks include:

  • a court decision to withdraw a judicial exemption given to Confibra, a company manufacturing asbestos-cement products in São Paulo; as asbestos use is banned in this State, asbestos operations could only continue with a judicial exemption. As this has now been withdrawn, further asbestos production must cease.2
  • an article on August 18th in the most popular newspaper in São Paulo, Folha de S. Paulo, headlined “Should Brazil Ban Asbestos? Yes.”3
  • a feature in the August 20th issue of época, one of Brazil's most widely read magazines, by award-winning journalist Eliane Brum which documents the lengths to which industry stakeholders have gone, including the use of illegal and immoral means, to continue profiting from the commercial exploitation of chrysotile asbestos.4
  • a court order earlier this month (August 2012) upholding a complaint by Senior Labor Inspector Fernanda Giannasi, the leader of the Latin American campaign to ban asbestos; the court ruled that the Brazilian Chrysotile Institute, the asbestos mine workers' trade union and freelance journalist Luiz Carlos Bordoni must remove from their websites and blogs offensive remarks made about Ms. Giannasi.
  • a huge judicial victory for the family of mesothelioma victim Aldo Vincentin, a founding member of the Brazilian Asbestos Victims' Group (ABREA) who died in 2008 from occupational exposure to Eternit asbestos. A fortnight ago, Eternit was found guilty and ordered to pay compensation of U.S. $150,000, 6 times more than Eternit had offered to settle the case. The Vincentin family's lawyers are appealing for additional compensation for moral damages.

Brazil's asbestos stakeholders have spared no expense to bring “their experts” to Brasilia for the hearings on August 24 and August 31. Fortunately, civil society is now well-acquainted with the lies told by the “merchants of death.” The industry's reassurances that “asbestos can be used safely under controlled conditions,” rings ever more hollow in the face of government statistics showing the increased mortality of Brazilian citizens due to asbestos-related diseases. The Supreme Court is the highest court in the land; there is every reason to hope that this esteemed body will uphold the right of every Brazilian citizen to live a life free from asbestos harm. Let's see….

August 23, 2012

Postscript (August 25, 2012)

News received from Brasilia on August 24 suggests that the expert witnesses who testified on August 24 in support of the Sao Paulo State asbestos ban did an excellent job. Attendance at the court was massive with national media coverage of the day's events. Questions asked by the judges indicated their disbelief of the propaganda mouthed by pro-industry witnesses with one judge calling an industry expert a "terrorist" when he alleged that banning asbestos would cause massive unemployment. There are great expectations regarding the 2nd hearing on August 31 when international experts will be heard.


1Boletim Epidemiológico Morbi-Mortalidade de Agravos à saúde relacionados ao amianto no Brasil, 2000 a 2011.






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