A Great Week for the Ban Asbestos Campaign!
Developments this week reveal an escalation of support for national asbestos bans and increasing awareness of the need to protect society from the asbestos hazard. As debate rages over the possibility of government funding for a new asbestos mine in Québec, developments elsewhere show that the industry lobby is losing ground in major consuming and producing countries.
Thailand, whose asbestos imports of 102,738 tonnes in 2009 made it the world's 5th largest consumer, is progressing towards a national ban according to news from Bangkok. On December 16, Dr. Vithaya Kulsomboon, from the Chulalongkorn University and the Noasbestos Organization, reported that the National Health Assembly (NHA) had passed a resolution banning the use of chrysotile (white) asbestos, other forms of asbestos having been banned previously.1 The NHA resolution will now be considered by the National Health Commission (NHC) which is chaired by the Prime Minister. The NHC resolution, should it be adopted will, says Dr. Kulsomboon, go to the government cabinet for policy implementation.
These developments are not isolated incidents but part of a national shift against the use of asbestos in Thailand. On November 16, the National Economic and Social Advisory Council sent its ban asbestos proposal to the Prime Minister. The National Consumer Protection Board advocates a policy to protect consumers from the asbestos hazard by adopting a national ban. On November 25, the Office of Consumer Protection Board, the Foundation for Consumers and the Health Consumer Protection Program signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) on the need to raise public awareness of the asbestos hazard by mandating warning labels on asbestos-containing products such as roofing materials, pipes and brakes; the MOU also expressed support for a national ban.
Even as asbestos forces seem to be losing the battle for Thailand, in Brazil recent attempts by the asbestos lobby to water down Brazilian restrictions on asbestos use were defeated in Brasilia when an important vote went against the industry on December 16, 2010. And in Canada, attempts by policy advisers from Minister Christian Paradis'2 office to suppress the release of information on asbestos developments have been exposed this week in an article by the Canadian Press.3 Marc Toupin and Jillian Andrews have been implicated for their role in censoring information requested under the access-to-information scheme about a damning report on asbestos, written by a federal panel. When civil servants working for the information commission asked for an explanation, Tourpin replied in a July 2009 email: Those comments are inappropriate and improper, not relevant to the request and should not be disclosed. Replying to Toupin, civil servant Julie Lafrance pointed out there were no grounds in the Access to Information Act to deny compliance with requests due to 'inappropriate and improper' comments.
As shown by the events this week in Thailand, Brazil and Canada, it is clear that not only has the asbestos industry lost control of national asbestos agendas but also that governments are finally seeing through industry pro-asbestos propaganda. Unfortunately, history has shown that this deadly industry is at its most aggressive when pushed into a corner. With the next meeting of the Rotterdam Convention due to take place in six months, ban asbestos campaigners cannot afford to relax either their vigilance or the pressure being brought to bear on elected representatives and international bodies to end the use of asbestos throughout the world. 4
December 17, 2010
1 Email received December 16, 2010 from Dr V Kulsomboon.
2 Christian Paradis is the Minister for Natural Resources; he was born in the town of Thetford Mines, the heartland of Canada's asbestos industry.
3 Wyld A. Two Tory staffers tried to block access to info: CP. December 15, 2010. http://winnipeg.ctv.ca/servlet/an/local/CTVNews/20101215/paradis-documents-101215/20101215/?hub=WinnipegHome