Algeria Says "Non" to Asbestos
At the end of July 2008, the Algerian Government shut down four asbestos-cement factories on health and environmental grounds, according to several French language articles sourced on the internet. The order to close the factories in Algiers, Mascara, Bordj-Bou-Arréridj and Blida was signed by Cherif Rahmani, Minister for Land Management, Environment and Tourism.1 On July 28, 2008 the New Republic newspaper (Algeria) reported a statement made by Minister Rahmani when he attended the official closing of the asbestos-cement factory in Meftah (Blida):
I cannot deny that this is a very difficult situation, but the health of our citizens, especially the health of the workers, is beyond price. For this reason, following scientific studies and negotiations with the government, we have decided to permanently close this factory which presents a danger to the workers who are in direct contact with asbestos as a raw material.2
The 480 workers from the Meftah factory will receive redundancy payments of up to 70 months wages.
Algeria's use of asbestos-cement began with the construction in 1950 of a factory by Eternit de Gué de Constantine in Algiers; in 1977 other factories were built in Meftah (Blida), Zahana (Mascara) and Bordj-Bou-Arréridj. In 1998, the government officially adopted the controlled use principle of asbestos regulation; because conditions at the Algiers factory were deemed beyond remedy, the unit was closed by government order. In 2003, legislation was passed which stipulated that by January 2005, airborne asbestos levels must not exceed 0.1 fibre/cc. Subsequent research commissioned by the Government established that these targets were not being met with levels as high as 6.7f/cc-13f/cc being recorded. As a consequence of these hazardous conditions, there were many deaths; from 1982 to 1997, more than 123 asbestos-related fatalities occurred nationwide, 12 of which were from the Meftah asbestos-cement plant. An ex-employee of this factory said: My brother died from cancer and left a wife and two children. They receive 12,000 DA (Algerian Dinars/ US$198) a month. This is not enough.
Concluding that the controlled use of asbestos was not possible, Minister Rahmani closed down the factories to protect public health. A phased program of work will be carried out which will:
People who live in the area around the Meftah site are concerned about asbestos debris dumped locally and for which no remedy has yet been announced.
The news of the Government's actions must come as a terrible disappointment to global asbestos suppliers who are aggressively targeting consumers in developing countries like Algeria. According to data from Natural Resources Canada, in 2006 Algeria was the fourth biggest importer of Canadian asbestos milled fibers (grades 4 & 5) accounting for sales of $4,583,000. Its imports of another category of fiber (grades 6, 7 & 8) had more than doubled between 2004 and 2006. Closing these factories will, almost certainly, have a negative impact on national demand for chrysotile.3
August 14, 2008
1 Hammadi S and Hakim A. Algerian Environment Minister orders to close 4 cement and asbestos facilities. July 27, 2008. http://www.echoroukonline.com/eng/algeria/2541.html?print
2 Bersali H. Fermeture de l'unité amiante-ciment de Meftah. [Closing the Meftah asbestos cement factory.] July 28, 2008.
Also: Maiche Z A. L'unité amiante-ciment de Meftah en voie d'tre décontaminée. [Asbestos-cement factory in Meftah to be decontaminated.]
3Minerals and Metals Sector, Natural Resources Canada. Chrysotile.