Brazilian Minister Bans Asbestos!
On January 29, 2009, Brazilian Minister Carlos Minc signaled a historic breach in his government's position on chrysotile asbestos when he announced that the Ministry of the Environment (MoE) will prohibit the use of asbestos by all its agencies including the Brazilian Institute of Conservation of Biodiversity, the Brazilian Forestry Service, the National Water Agency, the Institute of the Environment and Natural Resources, and the Institute of Research for Botanical Gardens (Rio de Janeiro).1 Minc, who said that the MoE's ban was another step in the long campaign to protect workers and society from asbestos, pledged to continue his efforts until there was a complete ban throughout Brazil. In his remarks, the Minister said that it was likely that the Health Ministry would be the next government department to ban asbestos.
The Environment Ministry's unilateral decision runs counter to the blatant disregard for the suffering of Brazil's asbestos-injured which has, since 2002, characterized the government of President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva. Although Presidential candidate Lula's party, the Workers Party, had expressed support for a national asbestos ban in the run-up to the election, once in power all bets were off. Using a variety of well-known political stalling techniques, including setting up a spectacularly useless Interministeral Commission on Asbestos,2 Lula's government continued to support the production and use of chrysotile asbestos in Brazil.3
The date, venue and manner of Minc's announcement were of utmost significance. The Minister convened a well-publicized press conference in the midst of the World Social Forum (WSF),4 an annual gathering of up to 100,000 global activists, to declare his divergence from the government's pro-asbestos policy. Throughout the event, Minc shared the media spotlight with Labor Inspector Fernanda Giannasi, renowned in Brazil as a founding member of ABREA, the Brazilian Association of the Asbestos-Exposed, and the leader of the Latin American ban asbestos movement. That the press conference took place the day after an asbestos workshop was held, during which industry bully boys verbally attacked Ms. Giannasi, propelled the issue onto the front pages of national newspapers.
Minister Minc praised the work of Labor Inspector Giannasi, saying she was "a courageous woman," who continued to campaign to ban asbestos even when threatened. Minc disagreed with the Brazilian Chrysotile Institute's condemnation of Ms. Giannasi and said that her work represented public service of the highest order. Repudiating recent accusations against Ms. Giannasi made by Marina Julia de Aquino, President of the Brazilian Chrysotile Institute, Minc expressed "unrestricted solidarity" with the beleaguered Inspector. In light of Minc's declaration and support, it seems unlikely that the Ministry of Labor and Employment will accede to pressure from the Chrysotile Institute that Ms. Giannasi be disciplined for, what it termed, "illegal and irresponsible" behavior.5
Welcoming Minister Minc's annoucement, Eliezer João de Souza, President of ABREA, said:
we wish to thank the Minister for the decisive and brave action he has taken in ending the use of asbestos in his Ministry and in supporting the work of Inspector Giannasi. Ms. Giannasi continues to inspire not only the members of ABREA but all Brazilians who believe in the human right to life. We did not ask to be exposed to this deadly dust nor did we ask to contract these debilitating and deadly diseases. We hope that other Ministries will follow the lead set by Carlos Minc and that asbestos will finally be banned throughout Brazil.
February 2, 2009
2 Giannasi F. Brazil's Position on Chrysotile, No Position! Chrysotile asbestos: Hazardous to Humans, Deadly to the Rotterdam Convention. 2006. See: http://ibasecretariat.org/chrys_hazard_rott_conv_06.pdf
3 The use of asbestos is banned in several Brazilian states including São Paulo; in June 2008, the Supreme Court upheld the rights of individual states to prohibit the use of asbestos on health grounds.
Kazan-Allen L, Castleman B. History in the Making! June 2008.