Trouble in Russia's Asbestos Paradise? 

by Laurie Kazan-Allen



The Russian town of “Asbest” is one of 340 so-called Russian monotowns – a municipality devoted principally to one industry. In this case, as the name itself suggests, it is the mining of asbestos.1 But times are hard for Uralasbest, the company which runs the asbestos mine and provides employment for 6,700+ people. According to Russian journalist Anna Nemtsova “in the past nine months, the profits of the town's main employer have been melting away because of shrinking global demand and local economic pressures such as steep tariffs on mining trains.”

Disgruntled Uralasbest workers report substantial reductions in pay. One employee from the ore-dressing line told Ms. Nemtsova that although his monthly salary was 25,000 roubles ($767) his pay packet only contained 15,000 roubles ($460). In an IBAS interview with an expert on the Russian asbestos industry, Uralasbest's economic plight was confirmed:

“Uralasbest faces major economic problems mainly because of a drop in demand for asbestos among its trade partners including India. Some producers of asbestos containing products purchased too much asbestos and their storage facilities are overloaded. Thus Uralasbest had to reduce asbestos mining. The facility stopped operations for one week in November. This is the third suspension in production in 2013. People are leaving and trying to find new jobs.”

This situation is a far cry from the one portrayed in asbestos industry literature distributed at the Geneva meeting in May 2013 of The Rotterdam Convention.2 The headlines of various articles from a full-color 12-page English propaganda newssheet with the screaming front-page headline PEOPLE FOR CHRYSOTILE portray a workers' paradise; a selection of these titles with excerpts is informative:

  • Uralasbest Works, The Town Lives by Vladimir Vlaskov, First Deputy Minister of the Sverdlovsk Region, Honorary Citizen of Asbest
    “On the 80th anniversary of the town of Asbest, I am pleased to state that regardless of the anti-asbestos campaign the URALASBEST, JSC works steadily. Chrysotile, your main product is now in great demand both in Russia and abroad… I wish health and family welfare to all citizens of Asbest and economic stability to the chrysotile industry!”
  • A Conscious Approach From an Early Age – Author Unknown
    “In the midst of an anti-asbestos campaign young people do not want to stay aside. During its first year the Youth Union of the Chrysotile Industry has strengthened, gained experience and taken a number of actions.
    Many people took part in the mass meeting held in Asbest in support of chrysotile within the Ural Forum of Young Trade Unionists. The Chrysotile in Fire cartoon was distributed in an instant. And in the evening a dummy symbolizing chrysotile adversaries was burnt in a grand fire to demonstrate discontent of the youth with attacks on the natural mineral.”
  • Asbest Citizens Work Well and Celebrate Nicely – Author Unknown
    “Five years ago the first carnival procession took place in Asbest during traditional City Day celebrations… The largest and most impressive processions were that of Uralasbest. In 2011 its team members dressed like cosmonauts ready for an interplanetary travel and accompanied [by] a 'spaceship'. Young people joked that chrysotile would soon be mined on Mars, too. Yet, many a true word is spoken in jest.”
  • Inexhaustible Source of Life – Author Unknown
    “Asbest is a typical industrial center and a 'dying town,' the epithet stubbornly imposed by foreign mass media, is not at all appropriate for the town. Asbest has always been considered a versatile and harmoniously developing area, economically independent and attractive both for the location of production and living.”
  • Summer and Winter Sports Competitions by Elena Kiseleva, Uralasbest Physical Education and Sports Instructor
    “The town of Asbest is famous for its sports traditions kept by schoolchildren, students and Uralasbest workers… Our [Uralasbest] sportsmen participate in all local competitions and in many regional and all-Russian sports events.”
  • School is a Source of Knowledge by Elena Tanidi, Principal of School 18, Deputy of Asbest City Duma
    “…Asbest is one of the most beautiful towns of the Urals with a developed infrastructure, multistory apartment buildings, and many shops that are a sign of the fact that the town is still alive and that its citizens live pretty well… our chrysotile will keep occupying a worthy place in solving social problems of millions of people.”
  • Health Should Be Taken Care Of by Galina Tulkanova, Deputy Head Doctor of the Uralasbest Medical Unit
    “Only a relatively healthy man can work in the chrysotile industry… A worker can, however, get sick in the chrysotile industry if he does not take care of himself. Some Uralasbest employees have worked in the chrysotile mine or mills for 40 and 50 years and they have successfully preserved their health by leading a healthy lifestyle.”

The Russian idyll described above suggests a thriving town where civic pride, history and financial necessity have created a population supportive of the town's lifeblood – the chrysotile industry. And yet, despite what Dr. Galina Tulkanova, Deputy Head of the Uralasbest Medical Unit says, people in Asbest are not immune to asbestos. According to local resident and former Uralasbest employee Galina Brusnitsyna: "Every second person [at Uralasbest] has asbestosis -- tiny fibers of asbestos -- stuck in our lungs and covered with scar tissue."3 Commenting on the health risk from environmental exposure created by Uralasbest's mining of 348 million tonnes of asbestos, local children's specialist Dr. Aleksei Kislinsky advised parents “to move to an ecologically cleaner place than Asbest…”

While it is too early to predict whether the current economic difficulties of Uralasbest foreshadow the end to over a hundred years of asbestos mining, the Russian Ministry of Labor is offering families in monotowns between $9,000 and $25,000 to relocate “to more successful cities.” With young people also leaving to find better paid employment, Asbest may follow the same road trod by the Canadian town of Asbestos where chrysotile mining operations at the Jeffrey Mine officially ended last year (2012).4 Jeffrey mine workers, like their Russian counterparts, had also experienced shut-downs, part-time working and pay reductions. The Canadian chrysotile asbestos industry had ruled the roost for over a century; asbestos lobbyists had exploited political channels, commissioned phony science and collaborated with global stakeholders to whitewash the image of chrysotile. When the end finally came, the profiteers slipped off into the mist, abandoning populations in contaminated mining towns. Whether this will be the fate of the 67,000 inhabitants of Asbest remains to be seen.

December 4, 2013


1 Nemtsova A. Russia's Monotown of Asbest: The Town Asbestos Built. December 1, 2013

2 Kazan-Allen L. The Rotterdam Convention – An Activist's Diary. May 21, 2013.

3 Nemtsova A. The People of the Pit. November 16, 2013.,0

4 Kazan-Allen L. Canada: No More Asbestos!12, 2012.



       Home   |    Site Info   |    Site Map   |    About   |    Top↑