Westminster Asbestos Seminar
The annual asbestos seminar has been a fixture of the parliamentary calendar for more than a decade. This year's event took place on June 27, 2012 in Committee Room 11 of the House of Commons. The session, held under the auspices of the Asbestos Sub-Group of the All Party Parliamentary Occupational Safety and Health Group, attracted a large number of asbestos victim support representatives, campaigners, trade unionists, medical and legal professionals and researchers as well as Members of Parliament including: Gemma Doyle, West Dunbartonshire, Derek Twigg, Halton, Cheshire, Simon Danczuk, Rochdale, Littleborough and Milnrow, Lancashire, John Cryer, Leyton and Wanstead, London and Ian Lavery, Wansbeck, Northumberland.
The objective of the annual seminar is to not only keep asbestos high on the UK political agenda but also to provide the opportunity for interested parties to hear news about current developments abroad. Reflecting the balanced approach traditionally adopted, this year's agenda had three presentations about UK asbestos issues and three on global subjects. After having been buffeted by the ill winds of legislative and judicial reverses in recent years, some good news was to be found in the presentations by Barrister David Allan and Chair of the Asbestos Victims Support Groups' Forum Tony Whitston regarding court and parliamentary victories in 2012 on behalf of asbestos victims. Mr. Allan highlighted the difficulty in achieving success for sufferers from asbestos-induced lung cancer while Mr. Whitston reminded delegates that although a reprieve had been achieved which exempts mesothelioma sufferers from draconian legal aid reforms, this exclusion is only temporary. With a review by the Lord Chancellor of this exemption and the rumor regarding the imposition of a bureaucratic scheme for asbestos claims there is, he said, no room for complacency. The final UK speakers were Jason Addy, Paul Watts and Peter Brewin who detailed the distressing experience of local people who had tried and failed to stop property developers from building new homes on a site which had formerly been occupied by the Marley Eternit asbestos-cement factory.
Barrister Mukherjee's dramatic presentation detailed the experience of people living in the world's biggest asbestos importing country: India. With virtually no effective health and safety legislation and no controls on workplace exposures, commercial interests are able to make huge profits from asbestos processes whilst workers endure industrial conditions last seen in Britain in the 1950s. Mukherjee challenged delegates to the seminar to confront British companies, including banks and financial institutions, which invest in the Indian asbestos industry; the naming of British financial stakeholders stimulated a great degree of concern and discussion about how such immoral investments might be publicized.
Co-chair John Cryer making presentation to Krishnendu Mukherjee.
Kathleen Ruff, well-known as the voice of the ban asbestos movement in Canada, explained the changes that have revolutionized the Canadian asbestos debate in recent years. Having discussed the possible revival of asbestos operations at two Quebec chrysotile mines, she warned that pressure from civil society must be sustained to ensure that production is not resumed.
Co-chair John Cryer MP and Kathleen Ruff.
The final presentation of the day was by Alex Burdorf, an epidemiologist from the Netherlands whose work has been pivotal in getting his government to recognize the dangers posed by low level exposures to asbestos. Burdorf explained that as a result of research he and his colleagues had conducted, the risk from asbestos products contained in Dutch schools has been deemed unacceptable. Asbestos removal work has consequently been carried out in those facilitates classed as high priority with phased removal work planned for other schools. The political will to decontaminate the schools in the Netherlands is in sharp contrast to the coalition government's reluctance to tackle the national scandal in our own schools.
From left: Paul Watts, Peter Brewin, Jason Addy, Alex Burdorf, Chris Knighton.
A more detailed report on the presentations made on June 27 will form the basis of the feature article of the Summer 2012 issue of the British Asbestos Newsletter which is due out in August.
June 29, 2012