Latin American Asbestos Meeting 

by Laurie Kazan-Allen



The Latin American Asbestos Meeting, attended by delegates from nearly all the countries in the region, took place in Buenos Aires on October 1-3, 2001. The conference was organized by The Ministry of Health, which regards the issue of asbestos as a top priority. A declaration by the Social Action and Health Commission of the Parliament recognized this conference as being of national importance. The event was supported by PAHO (Pan American Health Organization/World Health Organization), The Brazilian Association of The Asbestos-Exposed (ABREA), GTZ (a German Agency for Technical Co-operation) and The International Ban Asbestos Secretariat (IBAS).

The opening session was presided over by Dr Hector Lombardo, the Minister of Health of Argentina; Dr George Alleyne, Director of PAHO, His Excellency Estrada Oyuela from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Argentinean Congressional Deputies and a Member of the Dutch Parliament were also in attendance. In plenary and workshop sessions during the three-day meeting, asbestos victims, government advisors, representatives from international NGOs, social activists, trade unionists, engineers and academics discussed a range of issues: asbestos-related diseases, medical surveillance, epidemiology, compensation, asbestos legislation, alternative products, asbestos removal procedures and Latin American strategies. An exhibition of stunning photographs taken in South Africa by Hein du Plessis was opened by Mlungisi Washington Makalima, South Africa’s new Ambassador to Argentina. Delegates were welcomed to Buenos Aires at an evening reception on October 1, which featured live music, tango, Argentinean wine and empanadas, a delicious national delicacy containing ham and cheese or cheese and onion fillings in crescent-shaped pastries! The end of the conference was marked with a splendid dinner at Siga la Vaca (Follow the Cow) restaurant.

The following notes include information obtained during some sessions; as some events took place simultaneously, the notes are not exhaustive. Omission of speakers’ names is no slight on their presentations but only an indication that the author was otherwise engaged during their talks.


During the opening session, Dr. Ana Digón, Co-ordinator of the Chemical Risks Program of the Ministry of Health, spoke about recent developments in Argentina. In 1997 a workshop, to identify national priorities for tackling the misuse of chemical substances, was held. A permanent advisory team was constituted to study chemical risks; it included participation from health, labour, environmental and government institutions. Meetings were held with various sectors to locate risks and groups at risk. As a result of the extensive consultation process The Advisory Committee on Chrysotile Asbestos was set up.

Ana said that sometimes first world laws are not strong enough for third world conditions where there are problems with work, information, access to medical attention among others; in such situations even stricter laws and norms are needed because the concept of "controlled use" is not applicable under national conditions. A firm political will is needed to manage chemical substance risks.

The presentation by Dr. Eduardo Rodriguez, Co-ordinator of Argentina’s Advisory Commission on Chrysotile Asbestos, Ministry of Health, was entitled: Kicking Away the Myths. Eduardo graphically demonstrated how the successful use of propaganda by industry had prolonged the consumption of asbestos in his country:

Myth 1.

Crocidolite is carcinogenic, chrysotile is not.

Myth 2.

The use of asbestos was dangerous under hazardous working conditions which existed decades ago; under current working conditions the use of asbestos is safe.

Myth 3.

There are no new cases of asbestos-related diseases.

This fantasy could not be disputed as there are no statistics, no surveillance or epidemiological data on this subject in Argentina. Eduardo said that the same experiments conducted in other countries do not need to be repeated domestically to prove what has been established about the hazards of asbestos elsewhere.

Myth 4.

Asbestos-cement is safe.

A situation which disproves this occurred in Buenos Aires when a Jewish social club and the Israeli Embassy were blown up by terrorists. The rubble from these buildings was taken to a site near a campus which was attended by thousands of students. There was a lot of asbestos in the debris and no adequate management of the waste.

Myth 5.

There was no use of sprayed asbestos in Argentina. Documents obtained by the Ministry of Health reveal that sprayed asbestos equipment had been sold to the railway and to private companies.

Myth 6.

There are no safer alternatives to asbestos.

Myth 7.

The prohibition of asbestos would lead to unemployment.

Before asbestos was banned in Argentina, there were already high levels of unemployment. Eternit, a multinational group whose subsidiary in Argentina used asbestos, had successfully converted to non-asbestos technologies in Argentina and other countries.

Myth 8.

Asbestos was an occupational health problem.

Eduardo says that for Argentina it is considered a public health problem.


According to Eduardo, asbestos-containing gaskets imported into Argentina are labelled in Spanish, French, German, English and Portuguese -- the languages of the exporting countries. A customer list (September, 2001) from an Argentinean company specializing in the sale of asbestos-containing gaskets shows exports to firms in: Paraguay (3), Chile (13), Uruguay (5), El Salvador (3), Ecuador (2), Brazil (5), USA (3), Jordan (1), Nigeria (4), Mexico (3), Algeria (1) France (2) England (1), Lithuania (1) and Columbia (1). It also exports to Germany. This is of particular relevance to the governments of Chile, France, Germany and the UK -- all of which have banned the use of asbestos. The export of dirty technology to the developing world is unacceptable; a global ban on asbestos is needed.


Dr. María Elisa León Carrasco, Chief of the Department of Occupational Health, Ministry of Health, was proud that her country had been the first in Latin America to ban asbestos. She discussed the democratic process by which this was achieved including: a review of regulations in 1999, bans on asbestos brakes and the use of asbestos-cement in pipes and public housing in 2000 and the banning of asbestos in 2001.

Dr. Isabel Lincolao Garces, from The Institute of Political Ecology, an environmental NGO in Santiago, described the prolonged campaign that was necessary to achieve a ban in a country which had a long history of asbestos use. In 1950, asbestos consumption by Pizarreno S.A. made Chile the largest consumer of asbestos in Latin America. In 1992, 43% of the housing in Chile had asbestos-cement roofing. Although official data is not available on the incidence of asbestos-related disease, there are 340 known cases.

Some of Chile’s landmark dates are:


Legislation passed which stipulated that companies must ensure safe working conditions.


Asbestosis and mesothelioma officially recognized as occupational diseases.


Law passed which gave citizens the right to live in a pollution-free environment; Article 37 of the consumer law stipulated that goods should be safe for consumers.


NGO campaign to raise public awareness of the hazards of asbestos.


Ministry of Health begins an investigation into the occupational health risks of asbestos.


Ministry of Housing announces that asbestos will no longer be used in public housing.


Law to ban asbestos approved and published (January) in the Official Diary of Chile; Presidential declaration signed implementing the law on July 12, 2001.

Isabel discussed efforts made by the Canadian Prime Minister to persuade the President to overturn the law banning asbestos The Institute of Political Ecology spear-headed a campaign in the media and on the internet which resulted in thousands of letters being received by the President supporting the ban.


Engineer Fernanda Giannasi congratulated Chile and Argentina on banning asbestos and predicted that the domino effect would ensure that other Latin American countries followed suit.

Key dates mentioned by Fernanda were:


ILO convention 162 incorporated in the labor regulations by Brazil.


Rio de Janeiro State proposals to ban asbestos.


Ban Asbestos Conference held in Milan.


Ban Asbestos Network formed.


ABREA (Association of Brazilians Exposed to Asbestos) formed.


Federal law supporting "controlled use" of asbestos approved.


After France banned asbestos, Brazilian representatives proposed a law (not passed) to ban asbestos.


St. Gobain announced plans to introduce non-asbestos technology in its Brazilian subsidiaries.

Since 2000, the towns of Osasco, São Caetano do Sul, Mogi Mirim and the states of Mato Grosso do Sul, Rio de Janeiro, Rio Grande do Sul and São Paulo have banned asbestos. Although a national ban has not been adopted, the bans listed above cover 70% of the Brazilian asbestos market. The Brazilian Supreme Court recently decided that the ban in Mato Grosso do Sul was not legal; the other bans could now be in jeopardy.


Government officials from Paraguay, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, Ecuador, Uruguay, Peru, Cuba, Venezuela discussed various issues including: national policies based on the principle of "controlled use," neglect of public health, lack of disease data, lack of national legislation, poor enforcement, a need for asbestos inventories of existing structures and widespread use of asbestos in construction. The ILO convention 162 has been ratified by Ecuador (1990) and Uruguay (1995).

Of particular interest were the comments from delegates summarized below.

Paraguay: The Government is interested in banning asbestos.

Nicaragua: Asbestos-cement sheets are not manufactured since the Ministry of Health closed down the country’s principal manufacturer (1990/91). A national law to regulate asbestos was passed in 1998; a national committee was set up at that time to regulate the use of hazardous substances. The use of asbestos in informal jobs in small companies is unregulated: a good example is the brake linings sector. In the 1980s there were no spare automotive parts in Nicaragua; mechanics in small workshops hand-made asbestos-containing brake linings.

Costa Rica: A policy of "controlled use" was legalized in 1996 (Decree No. 25056-1996); however, there is no enforcement. Although asbestos fiber isn’t used currently, asbestos-cement products are widely used in construction. Asbestos is also used in brake linings for motorcycles and cars. A database is kept of companies which import asbestos products; this registry is not overseen by any government department. There is no training of workers, no awareness of the hazards of working with asbestos, no protective clothing or product labelling.

Ecuador: The use of asbestos-cement products by the construction industry for pipes and roofing materials is widespread. Construction workers have no knowledge of the risks, no training and no protection. Although ILO convention 162 was ratified in 1990, there is no enforcement of its provisions. There is no registry of asbestos-related cases. The delegate condemned the dumping of asbestos goods by countries which have banned asbestos on others which have not.

Uruguay: Nationally, only two cases of asbestosis have been acknowledged – surprising as there are 2-3 small companies producing brake linings and at least one Eternit facility producing asbestos-cement goods. A decree was proposed in 2001 to prohibit the amphiboles (!); the principle of "controlled use" for chrysotile is followed.

Peru: Although some private companies are replacing asbestos with substitutes, asbestos-cement and asbestos textiles are still widely used.

Cuba: Dr. Maria Elena Reyes told delegates that a lot of asbestos is used in Cuba. All water and sewage pipes are made of asbestos-cement as is much roofing material and 98% of water tanks. There are 3 asbestos-cement plants employing 3,000 workers. Morbidity and mortality records show that cancer is the second highest cause of death. Eighteen cases of mesothelioma have been recorded in 10 years. An Asbestos Commission, set up in 1998/99, is looking into the question of safer alternatives.

Venezuela: No asbestos products are manufactured nationally but asbestos-cement products can be (and are) imported by foreign companies. Although asbestos-free brakes are manufactured for export, domestically asbestos-containing brakes are used.


According to Dr. Barry Castleman, asbestos use in the US is now 15,000 metric tons a year, 2% of what it was in 1974 when usage peaked. It’s mainly used in asphalt–asbestos roofing, gaskets and brakes. It’s not possible to quantify asbestos products imported into the US because import classifications give total figures; the figure for the import of brake linings and pads ($89 million in 2000; $59 million in 1996) is not analysed into asbestos-containing and asbestos-free products. Ten thousand US citizens die every year from asbestos disease. Compensation for asbestos-related diseases has been pursued by hundreds of thousands of claimants causing thirty-five companies to declare bankruptcy. There is support amongst the business community for a legislative solution to the problem. In 1989, the Environmental Protection Agency tried to ban asbestos but the ban was overturned by the court. Senate hearings held in July, 2001 indicated that there is Congressional interest in a ban; national legislation would probably be required for a ban to be adopted. Barry said: "the lack of a ban means:

  • products can continue to be made in other countries under conditions that would be illegal in the US;

  • US-made and imported asbestos products can continue to compete 'unfairly' against safer products (both made in the US and imported);

  • US workers, consumers and the general public may continue to be placed in danger from asbestos products that may not even carry warning labels;

  • probably no one will be around to assume liabilities for the harm caused by these products 20 or more years from now."

Natural disasters such as the Kobe earthquake and attacks such as that on the World Trade Center illustrate the problems of using asbestos in buildings. One third of the dust samples analysed at or near ground zero contain 1% or more asbestos.


According to Laurie Kazan-Allen, the Coordinator of IBAS, the road to an EU ban on asbestos took many turns (Appendix 1):

"The turning point in the European campaign to ban asbestos came when the French government reversed its position. During the 1990s, calls to ban asbestos had been heard in the EU. The most vociferous opponent to these demands was France. Many French health and safety activists believe that their government’s pro-asbestos stance was largely orchestrated by the Permanent Committee on Asbestos (Comite Permanent Amiante/ CPA). This public relations body, which received funds from the French Asbestos Association, operated in France for more than a decade. It advocated the continuation of the "controlled use" policy…. Largely as a result of the CPA’s successful lobbying operations, by 1994 France was one of the biggest consumers of asbestos in Western Europe. Despite industry’s best efforts, the momentum for a French asbestos ban grew."

The Global Asbestos Congress held in Osasco, Brazil from September 17-20, 2000 was a pivotal event in the international campaign to ban asbestos. Over 400 delegates from 32 countries gathered to exchange information and plan initiatives. Building on the Brazilian experience, a series of workshops and seminars was held in Scotland, England, Belgium and Holland during June, 2001. The core event was a two-day meeting at the European Parliament: the European Asbestos Seminar. Sessions on June 7 & 8, 2001, were attended by more than fifty representatives from twenty countries, including many delegates from Eastern Europe.

A delegate from Lithuania described the situation inherited from the Soviet regime under which there was:

"no (asbestos) legislation, no specialists, no occupational disease registry, no monitoring facilities, (no) equipment and quality management, no good occupational and abatement practice, no waste disposal, no public awareness, an unknown amount of exposed people and no registered cases of deaths caused by asbestos."

Over the coming decades, the death-toll from asbestos misuse in Bulgaria, Lithuania, Latvia, Poland, Romania, Hungary and the Slovak Republic will be very high. To bring the needs of asbestos victims to the attention of national governments, EU and international agencies, the European Asbestos Seminar Resolution (Appendix 2) was issued.


Bob Ruers called for asbestos victims to adopt a global strategy for dealing with asbestos multinationals. In the Netherlands, one of the biggest sources of asbestos-related disease is Eternit. There has been a lot of successful litigation brought against Eternit on behalf of Dutch asbestos victims. If Eternit, a multinational with subsidiaries in more than 35 countries, is liable for the illnesses of Dutch people, it must be liable for the same illnesses occurring in Peru, Chile and elsewhere. Asbestos victims and their representatives must make global efforts to secure compensation from the multinationals.

The Dutch Asbestos Victims’ Group and the Dutch Socialist Party propose that an initiative called: Global Strategy for Eternit’s Asbestos Victims be established.

"We are convinced that international cooperation will lead to mutual benefits, and a strengthening of the position of asbestos victims in the different countries. I would therefore like to urge the representatives of all Latin American victim organisations to join us in our strive for international cooperation."


Dr. Eduardo Algranti, from FUNDACENTRO in Brazil’s Ministry of Labour, made a presentation on non-malignant respiratory diseases among former workers at an asbestos-cement factory. Research showed a strong relationship between the time from first exposure and the development of asbestosis and pleural thickening, the loss of pulmonary function due to dust exposure and a relationship between pleural thickening and shortness of breath. The results suggest that the effects observed in asbestos-cement plants in other countries have also occurred in Brazil.

Guadalupe Aguilar Madrid, from the Mexican Institute of Social Insurance, reported that 1,881 companies were importing asbestos in 1998. A 1999 survey found that half of the heavy industries using asbestos were in residential areas; asbestos waste is often used for building shanties and roads. Two hundred and fifty workers, average age 30, employed in the asbestos-using industries were interviewed. They said that despite high unemployment, turnover rates were high. It was found that 46% of the workers were "totally ignorant of the health risks" of working with asbestos, 50% smoked and most wore work clothes home. Between 40,000-57,000 Mexican mesothelioma deaths are predicted.




John Gilbert, who has been working in Kazakhstan for four years, amazed delegates by describing an almost unbelievable situation. In Kazakhstan, one of the world’s largest producers of chrysotile, there is: no asbestos legislation, widespread use of asbestos, no controls on the sale of asbestos products, no awareness of health risks and fully operational asbestos mines and plants. Ninety per cent of all residential roofing is made of asbestos-cement sheeting. The vulnerability of the population to tuberculosis is increased by the presence of asbestos in their lungs.

Working in a huge power station, John has observed: manual opening of asbestos sacks, storage of asbestos in open bins, no controls of any sort on asbestos use, disintegrating asbestos insulation, contamination of workers’ clothes and shoes, constant vibration of old equipment causing the continuous liberation of fibers and dumping of large amounts of asbestos waste within the city. Action taken to improve the situation in the plant includes:

  • the banning of future use of asbestos-containing materials;

  • raising staff awareness of the hazards;

  • an asbestos audit of the plant;

  • a prioritised program of works based on risk assessment;

  • the limited removal of damaged asbestos products;

  • use of Thermoseal, a sodium silicate, to seal in-place insulation and render it dust-free.


Dr. Christian Schepers, from The University of Dortmund, described a program for dealing with asbestos in buildings which satisfies the high level of German regulations. The University, built between 1968 and 1985, was contaminated with asbestos, which included chrysotile and crocidolite; remedial work has been carried out since 1997. The asbestos problem is national: Germany was a large user of asbestos. In the 1970s, approximately 200,000 tons were consumed annually: 96% chrysotile, 3% crocidolite and 1% amosite. Over 70% of chrysotile was used in the manufacture of asbestos-cement products such as building facades, sewage duct systems, fire protection elements and consumer goods. The program Christian discussed included stages for recognition, measurement, registering, risk analysis and action. The use of technical devices such as optical or acoustic alarms, modular multi-chamber systems and industrial vacuum cleaners was explored.


Fatima Sueli Neto Ribeiro, from the Ministry of Health in Rio de Janeiro, described the discovery of disintegrating sprayed asbestos in a popular movie theatre in Rio. A political decision was taken to remove the asbestos. The contaminated product, trademark Limpet, contained amphibole asbestos and had been exported to Brazil by a subsidiary of the British multinational: Turner and Newall Ltd. The cost of removing twelve tons of contaminated waste was $300,000.


A representative of ABREA, The Brazilian Association of The Asbestos-Exposed, presented a set of proposals which had been agreed by asbestos victims at The Global Asbestos Congress last year. They included demands for: accident benefits and pension rights, recognition of pleural plaques and the review of extrajudicial agreements. ABREA members also called for: a government fund for asbestos victims, use of computer technology to record relevant information, increased contact with the medical community, and compensation from multinationals operating in Brazil (Appendix 3).

Ana Paula de Simone, from the Central Workers’ Union (CUT), Brazil reiterated the need for a unified struggle to achieve justice for asbestos victims, while Carlos Aparicio Clemente, a trade unionist and Councillor of Osasco City, recalled attempts by the trade unions to negotiate a phased-in ban on asbestos in the automotive industry which were torpedoed by the Labor Minister. Wellington Carneiro, of The International Federation of Builders and Woodworkers, called for regional action in Latin American to promote national asbestos bans. He deplored the transfer of risks from the first to the third world, illustrating this trend by citing the example of a Spanish company which introduced non-asbestos technology in Spain but transferred dirty production to Peru.

Eva Delgado Rosas, representing The Asbestos and Labour Risks Research Program in Peru, said that according to the Peruvian government, the country does not have any asbestos problems. Asbestos victims remain invisible; only six cases of asbestosis have been proved. A subsidiary of Eternit, Belgium began operating in Peru in 1941; their facilities used crocidolite, amosite and chrysotile. Although there were no controls on workplace exposures to asbestos, the company maintained that workers were not at risk. Six asbestos factories in the country consumed most of the fiber imported:

Total Imports 1993-2000        


4,742,968 peak

Eva deplored the transfer of risks to countries such as Peru where there are no regulations and the current trend of making jobs in asbestos factories temporary so that workers can be easily dismissed.

Engineer Fernanda Giannasi, Coordinator of The Citizen’s Virtual Network for Banning Asbestos in Latin America, urged civil servants, labour inspectors, and government researchers to campaign for national asbestos bans. The risks of working with asbestos are well known and there is a social responsibility to protect future generations from these hazards. Workers should not be forced to choose between hazardous jobs and no jobs; a policy of "just transition" must be followed.


The last day of the conference was devoted to debate and discussion. The Charter of Buenos Aires was drafted and agreed (Appendix 4). The Charter notes:

"Within this framework, the discussions identified asbestos as an obstacle to improving the current and future health of the region’s people, and considered the links between asbestos and ill-health, especially in relation to housing, social justice and equality. It was agreed that Health is a Fundamental Right, that Asbestos is a Public Health problem, and that the use of asbestos by our people should be considered as an indicator of inequality."

In addition, The Charter called for more cooperation and increased campaigning to ban asbestos: " (We) encourage the region’s governments to commit themselves to move towards banning the production, circulation, sale, international trade in and use of asbestos."

Resolutions were discussed and agreed by delegates to the two workshops. The conclusions of the government representatives’ workshop included:

  • consider this the first meeting of a Permanent Latin American Asbestos Forum;

  • cooperate to encourage regional governments to ban asbestos;

  • work with international organizations to publicise the existence of safer alternatives;

  • lobby for a ban in the Mercosur (Latin America’s equivalent to the European Union);

  • encourage governments to work with all social actors including trade unions, victims’ groups and academics, on asbestos problems.

The conclusions of the social organizations and trade unions’ workshop included:

  • request Latin American governments "to ban the mining, use, production, transit, sale, export, import, domestic and cross-border transport of asbestos in all its forms, and all products that contain it, including those in which it is a contaminant (talc and vermiculite);"

  • introduce a policy of transparency to publicize government attitudes to asbestos in the fields of health, work, environment, transport and waste;

  • enact legislation to make asbestos companies, construction companies, intermediaries, traders, importers and exporters liable for the environmental contamination and health problems they create;

  • set up epidemiological studies;

  • introduce regulations for labelling of all asbestos-containing products.


Laws adopted by Chile and Argentina earlier this year have boosted the momentum generated by The Global Asbestos Congress for a ban on the future use of asbestos. Despite severe economic turmoil, Argentina’s Ministry of Health signalled its recognition of the severity of the region’s asbestos problem by allocating scarce resources to The Latin American Asbestos Meeting; delegates in Buenos Aires were given the opportunity to share their experiences and examine political and practical remedies. There was a consensus that the continuing use of asbestos in developing countries constituted a dumping by the first world of discredited and dangerous products and created an inequality of health that must be abolished.



Appendix 1

European Union Asbestos Bans
(prior to entry in italics)


UK voluntary industry ban on import of crocidolite fibre


Denmark bans sprayed asbestos and the use of asbestos in insulation products


UK voluntary industry ban on import of amosite fibre


EU Directive 83/477/EEC1 bans sprayed asbestos, sets maximum exposure limit values and introduces protective measures for workers
EU Directive 83/478/EEC was the first measure on marketing of asbestos; it banned crocidolite and mandated warning labels


Iceland introduces ban (with exceptions) on all types of asbestos (updated 1996)


Norway introduces ban (with exceptions) on all types of asbestos (revised 1991)


EU Directive 85/610/EEC imposes limited restrictions on the use of chrysotile, amosite, anthophyllite, actinolite, tremolite


Denmark introduces ban (with exceptions) on chrysotile (came into force 1993)


1986 Sweden introduces the first of a series of bans (with exceptions) on various uses of chrysotile (up to 1996)


UK bans the import of crocidolite and amosite fibre


European Community - attempt to introduce a phased ban on the use of asbestos narrowly defeated


Austria introduces wide-ranging ban on chrysotile (some exceptions)


EU Directive 91/659/EEC bans the use and sale of crocidolite, amosite, anthophyllite, actinolite and tremolite fibre and products containing them
The Netherlands introduces the first of a series of bans (with exceptions) on various uses of chrysotileAustria introduces wide-ranging ban on chrysotile (some exceptions)


Finland introduces ban (with exceptions) on chrysotile (came into force 1993)


Italy introduces ban on chrysotile (some exceptions until 1994)


Germany introduces ban (with exceptions) on chrysotile


France introduces ban (with exceptions) on chrysotile


Belgium introduces ban (with exceptions) on chrysotile


UK bans chrysotile (with minor exemptions) this includes England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland


Ireland bans chrysotile (with exceptions)


Spain and Luxembourg plan to ban chrysotile


Greece and Portugal to ban asbestos under EU deadline

Dates of Accession to EU

Austria (1995), Belgium (1951), Denmark (1973), Finland (1995), France (1951), Germany (1951), Greece (1981), Ireland (1973), Italy (1951), Luxembourg (1951), Netherlands (1951), Portugal (1986), Spain (1986), Sweden (1995), United Kingdom (1973).



Appendix 2

Resolution: European Asbestos Seminar


Although the European Union has adopted directives to ban the use of all types of asbestos by 2005, scientists predict that the total number of asbestos-related fatalities in the coming thirty years could exceed five hundred thousand in Western Europe alone. The origin of the asbestos exposure is predominantly occupational. However, asbestos-related fatalities from environmental sources of exposure can be significant. In view of the rising number of asbestos victims, the delegates to the European Asbestos Seminar held at the European Parliament on 7 & 8 June, 2001 wish to make the following recommendations to the European Commission, the European Parliament and governments of Member States.

Regarding the Politics of Prevention:

  • the support of local, national and international networks for the identification and recording of sources of occupational and environmental asbestos exposure; the provision of practical and financial assistance for work undertaken to compile an inventory of these sources;

  • the timely provision to people at risk of accurate information on the presence and hazards of asbestos and asbestos products;

  • the rejection of proposals intended to raise the current level of acceptable concentration of asbestos in waste material;

  • the development and implementation of techniques for treatment of asbestos-containing waste;

  • the rejection of present or future exemptions on the use of asbestos such as the current derogation permitting the continued use of asbestos for chlorine production.

Regarding Victims’ Rights:

  • the harmonisation of criteria for the identification and compensation of asbestos-related diseases caused by occupational and environmental exposure;

  • the study of inter-country legislative differences regarding legal responsibility for asbestos-related diseases.

Regarding New Research Priorities:

  • a commitment to medical surveillance of exposed populations in order to provide victims with access to effective medical treatment and compensation;

  • a commitment to develop effective diagnostic and therapeutic approaches for asbestos-related diseases;

  • a commitment to monitor the current burden of asbestos-related disease and to continuously update epidemiological predictions;

  • a commitment to integrate clinical research with investigations into the human and social costs of asbestos-related diseases to victims and their families.

Regarding Double Standards:

  • the monitoring of the operations of European companies and their subsidiaries in non-EU countries; the identification and prosecution of corporate behaviour which infringes European asbestos regulations;

  • the enactment and enforcement of legislation which ensures that EU corporations guilty of exposing EU workers, the public and the environment to asbestos will be held liable; the setting of compensation levels guaranteed by funds put up by Member States;

  • the encouragement of the ILO and WHO to update asbestos-related measures such as ILO convention 162 and Chrysotile Criteria 203 in line with European Directives.


The Seminar acknowledges the pivotal role of asbestos victims’ groups in improving the plight of asbestos victims and strongly urges cooperation with these groups, other social movements and NGOs working in this field as is the practice of the United Nations. We stress the necessity and urgency of funding for projects intended to improve the situation of asbestos victims.

It is clear that many East European countries have problems relating to the unregulated and continuing use of asbestos. We strongly recommend that steps be taken to evaluate the extent of these problems.

Outside the established market economies, exposure to asbestos is a significant occupational and environmental hazard. This observation was confirmed by Indian and Brazilian representatives at the Seminar. As there is no "safe threshold," any exposure/contact with asbestos can cause fatal lung disease including cancer. Increasing efforts to market asbestos in the developing world are being made by the international asbestos industry. It is imperative that every possible effort be made to provide objective scientific information on the hazards of asbestos and the availability of safer alternatives to the countries which have not banned asbestos. In addition, research to quantify past and current asbestos use and production should be commissioned; this information should be disseminated to all "at risk" populations.

The EU countries which have not yet banned asbestos, Luxembourg, Greece and Portugal, should be urged to do so immediately.



Appendix 3

(Association of Brazilians Exposed to Asbestos)

After five years work, we at ABREA have the duty to evaluate the difficulties encountered by victims and indicate new ways of overcoming these problems. We have therefore prepared the following proposals which we now present for discussion and approval by the Global Asbestos Congress – Past, Present and Future.


The National Social Security Institute Rights (INSS) has made the award of benefit conditional on the presentation of an employer’s Technical Report. This demand is illegal and inappropriate, because the law has only required an SB-40 document for the award of special pension since 1993 when Eternit closed down.


The rights of asbestos victims with pleural plaques are not being recognised because medical reports are saying that pleural plaques do not reduce a person’s capacity to work. It is essential that doctors prepare written reports disputing such opinions so that victims have the technical documentation they need to challenge such medical reports.


The INSS is refusing to award accident benefit to asbestos victims on the grounds that the condition does not affect a person’s capacity to work. Together with the trade union movement, we must present medical and legal evidence so that these procedures are dropped by the INSS.


Although a large number of victims have signed extra-judicial agreements with their employers, these agreements should not be considered definitive and should be open to judicial review. We must encourage victims to make claims for compensation from these companies, even when they have signed such contracts, as their consent was only obtained under duress.



Many cases brought against companies and against the INSS have been thrown out by the courts because the medical reports presented did not prove that exposure caused ill-health. These cases should be reviewed as soon as further evidence can be presented. We must back new claims based on medical evidence produced by new examinations showing how the disease has progressed and how disability has increased.

We need to:

  • Research the creation, in partnership with governments and the trade union movement, of a fund for the assistance of asbestos victims. Such a fund would be integrated into health, social welfare and environmental legislation and be developed with the help of national and international exchanges and agreements.

    Create a computerised database containing the following information:

1. a register of diagnosed cases of disease;

2. a bibliography of legal literature and case law;

3. a bibliography of medical literature;

4. records of international cases that indicate how we might best proceed in the fight to ban asbestos.

  • Intensify exchanges with international environmental, public health and worker organisations.

  • Initiate partnerships with doctors and lawyers at a national and international level.

  • Ask lawyers recommended by ABREA to commit themselves to maintaining up-to-date case files at the Association’s headquarters.

  • Seek medical partners that can provide technical assistance in workplace accident investigations and compensation claims.

  • Progress the discussion about claiming compensation from international companies based in the United States, France, Belgium and Switzerland.

  • Hold companies liable for the asbestos exposures they permitted and the environmental damages they have caused.


Osasco, Brazil September, 2000



Appendix 4

Latin American Asbestos Meeting
Buenos Aires, Argentina
October 1 to 3, 2001


The organisers of the Latin American Asbestos Meeting, held in Buenos Aires, October 1 to 3, 2001, present this CHARTER, which is formulated on the basis of the discussions that took place during the plenary sessions and the workshops. Participants included representatives of governments (Ministries of Health and/or Labour) and civil society organisations (unions, consumers, victim associations, exposed workers, environmentalists, academic groups and other professionals), representing 20 countries2, 13 of which were Latin American nations.

The meeting was convened to evaluate future common actions on the use of asbestos in the region, and focused on health and sustainable development issues.

Within this framework, the discussions identified asbestos as an obstacle to improving the current and future health of the region’s people, and considered the links between asbestos and ill-health, especially in relation to housing, social justice and equality.

It was agreed that Health is a Fundamental Right, that Asbestos is a Public Health problem, and that the use of asbestos by our people should be considered as an indicator of inequality.

The Asbestos that is produced and/or used in America, in spite of the availability of less dangerous alternatives, is known to cause cancer and other debilitating or deadly diseases, the development of which does not depend on labour safety polices nor affects only workers. In addition, all the countries in the region are signatories to the Earth Charter, which considers that human welfare and not production should be the focus of sustainable development. The role of asbestos in development must be reviewed in the light of these facts.

Participants considered this meeting to be the first of a Permanent Latin American Forum aimed at building on moves in the southern Cone and achieving a continent-wide ban on asbestos.

In line with previous documents, the meeting issued an alert about double standards, unequal compensation for victims, the transfer of hazardous products and technologies, the lack of information needed to give people the right to know and the vulnerability of many countries and social sectors that puts them at a disadvantage in relation to dealing with and resolving labour and health conflicts.

With this in mind, we:

Consider we are giving continuity to the São Paulo and Osasco Charters and the Strategies for Latin America formulated by the Global Asbestos Congress held in Osasco, and embrace the commitments made in the Ottawa Charter for Health Promotion.

Agree on the need to strengthen community action and joint work in the region in order to achieve the substitution of asbestos in all its forms and in all its uses.

Encourage the region’s governments to commit themselves to move towards banning the production, circulation, sale, international trade in and use of asbestos.

Ask the international agencies to provide technical and financial support for joint action to eliminate the use of asbestos from Latin America.

Suggest that all available discussion forums be used to inform about the risks of exposure to asbestos, given that workers, users and consumers need accurate, complete and timely data to make informed choices.

Urge the implementation of policies, in developed and developing countries, to counter the double standards that militate against equal and fair trade among nations.

Demand the maximisation of measures to protect exposed populations until asbestos is banned and sources of contamination are eliminated.

Propose a survey of the risks caused by direct and indirect exposure of the population in each country; this should pay special attention to the installed asbestos (particularly in houses in poor condition) that will represent a health problem for decades to come.

Recommend governments to adopt measures that guarantee the restoration of contaminated natural and urban sites and provide social and legal protection for victims.

Finally, we remember the commitment made in the Ottawa Charter for Health Promotion: "Participants pledge to counteract the pressures towards harmful products, resource depletion, unhealthy living conditions and environments; and to focus attention on public health issues such as pollution, occupational hazards and housing".

Buenos Aires, Argentina, October 2001.



Appendix 5

Latin American Asbestos Meeting
Buenos Aires, Argentina
1 to 3 October, 2001


1. Conclusions of the government representatives’ workshop

The government representatives present at the Latin American Asbestos Meeting, Buenos Aires, Argentina, 1-3 October, 2001,

Considering that:

Health is a fundamental human right

That national governments are signatories to the Earth Charter, which considers that human welfare and not production should be the focus of sustainable development

It has been scientifically proven that asbestos causes cancer and other health problems

Asbestos is a public health problem

The production, use and sale of asbestos and other chemicals banned in developed countries should be considered as an indicator of inequality

The principle of free trade and international trade is only possible under conditions of fair competition

We agree to:

I)  Consider this to be the first meeting of a Permanent Latin American Asbestos Forum.

II) Work together at a regional level to substitute asbestos.

III) Recommend governments of the region to accept their responsibility and commit themselves to moving towards the ban on asbestos initiated in the southern Cone.

IV) Urge governments that have not already done so, to ratify ILO Convention 162 as a first step towards taking responsibility for substitution.

V) Request international organisations to provide technical and financial support for the substitution of asbestos by demonstrably less harmful substances in each of our countries.

VI) Use all forums for discussion to publicise and provide information on the risks of exposure to asbestos.

VII) Alert people to the existence of double standards associated with the transfer of hazardous goods, products, inputs, technologies and waste.

VIII) Recommend parliamentary commissions to include a ban on asbestos in international trade treaties, as Argentina has done in Mercosur.

IX) Recommend that all possible measures are taken to protect those exposed to asbestos until we achieve a ban and existing sources of contamination are substituted.

X) Monitor the risk and the risk factors that condition exposure of the population directly or indirectly in each country.

XI) Urge governments to built permanent information and communication networks that will allow them to keep abreast of the minimum level of information indispensable for facilitating decision making in each country from a regional perspective.

XII) Urge governments to establish links with social organisations, trade unions, universities and others that allow them to initiate feasible activities, transfer information and strengthen local management.

Representatives of the Ministers of Health and/or Labour of the following countries: Brazil, Costa Rica, Cuba, Chile, Ecuador, Nicaragua, Paraguay, Peru, Uruguay and Venezuela.

Buenos Aires, 3 October, 2001.


2. Conclusions of the social organisations and trade unions workshop

This workshop, attended by representatives from civil society organisations: trade unions, NGOs, victims’ associations, exposed workers, academics and other professionals, participants in the Latin American Asbestos Meeting, held in Buenos Aires, Argentina between 1 and 3 October, 2001, agree to:

  1. Request the governments of Latin American countries to ban the mining, use, production, transit, sale, export, import, domestic and cross-border transport of asbestos in all its forms, and all products that contain it, including those in which it is a contaminant (talc and vermiculite).

  2. Demand that governments publicise their health, work, environment, transport and waste policies with regard to asbestos.

  3. Propose to the respective governments that they support Argentina’s proposal to include chrysotile and other types of asbestos in appendix 3 of the Rotterdam Convention (Prior Informed Consent).

  4. Recommend national governments, the WHO and all health, labour and environment agencies to reject the concept of benignity in the international classification of diseases.

  5. Demand that asbestos production companies, construction companies, intermediaries, traders, importers and exporters are held legally responsible for the contamination of the environment and the health effects to workers and the general public.

  6. Demand that governments and companies respect the right to know about the risks of asbestos.

  7. Demand that governments establish and prioritise occupational and environmental epidemiological monitoring programmes on asbestos exposure.

  8. Demand that governments and companies respect the right of workers and the general public to participate in the prevention of risks from asbestos.

  9. Include the problem of asbestos in environmental policies.

  10. Request the United Nations to recognise that asbestos-related problems constitute a violation of human rights.

  11. Globalise and standardise the character and size of financial compensation on the basis of the existing standard that is most beneficial to the victim, without distinction of country, race and gender.

  12. Demand that all products containing asbestos, including as a contaminant (talc and vermiculite) should be labelled.

  13. With a view to achieving these objectives, we present the following activities and initiatives:


Formulate the Charter of Buenos Aires as a document so as to incorporate the Charters of São Paulo and Osasco.


Promote the exchange of medical, technical, legal and social information to boost the fight against asbestos and set up commissions to work on particular aspects of the problem.


Propose a Latin America Day for the Victims of Asbestos.


Organise a campaign to provide information to consumers and encourage them to boycott products containing asbestos.


Give added impetus to the Latin American Ban Asbestos Network by incorporating the channels offered by FIOCRUZ.


Accept the commitment of each participant to put these agreements into practice in a co-ordinated way, maintaining the Latin American co-ordination in Brazil.


Carry out a regional analysis of the Eternit Group and its subsidiaries using the questionnaire designed by Senator Ruers to collect information.


Strengthen support for the ban asbestos movement in those countries where there is opposition to the struggle against asbestos.


Organise another meeting with a stronger presence of trade unions and victims.

Buenos Aires, 3 October, 2001.


a) The Brazilian delegation requests the inclusion of the following amendments to the conclusions of the governmental representatives' workshop.

a-1) item 1. "Latin American Asbestos Forum" should be changed to "Latin American Ban Asbestos Forum".

a-2) Item 4. Amend to read as follows: "Urge governments that have not already done so, to ratify ILO Convention 162, in accordance with its article 10, and ratify ILO Recommendation 172, as a first step towards taking responsibility for substitution."

a-3) Item 5. Amend the phrase "by demonstrably less harmful substances." To read "….less harmful substances, in accordance with the safest technology available and observing the precautionary principle".

a-4) Item 11. Replace "minimum level of information indispensable" with "information indispensable".

b) The plenary congress approved a proposal to create a Global Photographic Library on Asbestos, incorporating all the existing photographic material on the subject in the world, so as to enrich the travelling exhibitions. The proposal established that the project should be co-ordinated by Technikon Free State Science Park, South Africa.

c) The plenary session accepted ABREA’s proposal to repudiate the report presented to the National Brazilian Congress by Deputy Ronaldo Caiado opposing the Bill to ban asbestos in Brazil.


November 28, 2001


1EU regulations:

2Argentina, Brazil, Costa Rica, Chile, Cuba, Ecuador, Germany, Italy, Kazakhstan, Mexico, Nicaragua, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, South Africa, The Netherlands, United Kingdom, United States, Uruguay, Venezuela.



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