Major Breakthrough in Vietnam
Although Vietnamese spokesmen confirmed in 2004 that their Government was committed to banning asbestos, commercial pressures from asbestos stakeholders have forestalled the implementation of national prohibitions on the use of chrysotile (white) asbestos which accounts for 10% of the content of the 70 million m2 asbestos-cement roofing material produced annually. Asbestos imports to Vietnam were 60,717 tonnes in 2006,1 making Vietnam Asia's 4th largest asbestos consumer after China, India and Indonesia.2 No wonder efforts made last year to organize an Asian Asbestos Conference in the Vietnamese capital were blocked!
In light of the far-reaching influence of vested interests, it is, therefore, significant to report that an asbestos workshop was held in Hanoi on August 12, 2008 which was attended by 80+ delegates from the Vietnam National Union of Building Workers, Vietnam General Confederation of Labour, National Institute for Labour Protection, Vietnam asbestos-cement industry and various Ministries, including Construction, Health, Environment, Natural Resources, Trade & Industry, Labor and Social Affairs
The objective of the one-day scientific program was to highlight the risks faced by thousands of Vietnamese workers exposed to asbestos in scores of enterprises including 40 asbestos-cement roofing tile companies, 17 of which are state-owned, in an effort to improve health and safety protection. The event included the participation of international experts, all of whom agreed that the best way to protect workers from the asbestos hazard was to ban its use; the international speakers included: Dr. Igor Fedotov from the International Labor Organization (ILO), Dr. Ivan D. Ivanov from the World Health Organization (WHO), Apolinar Z. Tolentino, Jr. conference co-chair and representative of the Building and Woodworkers International and Paul Bastian, the Secretary of the New South Wales branch of the Australian Manufacturing Workers' Union. Speakers from Vietnam were, however, not unanimous in their views about the desirability of a national asbestos ban with strong opposition being voiced by the representatives of the Vietnam Roofing Tile Association and the Dong Ang Roof Tile Company both of whom insisted that the higher cost of asbestos-free substitutes and questions over the durability of the safer alternatives remained problematic.3
In written comments made by Apolinar Z. Tolentino, Jr. about the conference, he reported that the industry's arguments were shattered by technical presentations made by Dr. Do Quoc Quang, Nguyen Trinh Huong4 and Nguyen Dinh Kien, all of whom had been involved in the development of asbestos-free roofing products, and by a display of these products in the lobby of the conference venue.
Retro-fitting the Hatscheck processes through the technology developed by the Ministry of Industry and Trade's Research Institute of Technology for Machinery (RITM) in cooperation with the Vietnam Academy of Science and Technology, asbestos-free roofing tiles had been produced and a plant established (in the northern province of Hai Duong).5 In the initial phase, production is targeting domestic markets as (asbestos) roof tiles are widely used by poor communities particularly in the coastal areas; initial exports of 20,000 sheets had been contracted with South Korea too.
Calling the development of the asbestos-free technology in Vietnam a major breakthrough, Tolentino urged interministerial support for the National Action Plan on Asbestos developed by the Ministry of Health in collaboration with the ILO and WHO.
September 17, 2008
1 U.S.G.S. data as supplied by Robert Virta.
2 According to the Ministry of Health, in 2005-06, 270 people died in Vietnam of asbestos-related cancer.
Asbestos Endangers Roof Worker Health. August 25, 2008.
3 Much of the detailed information included in this report was supplied by Apolinar Tolentino, the BWI representative who attended this meeting.
4 In his presentation Nguyen Trinh Huong compared the production costs of one asbestos-cement roofing sheet with one asbestos-free sheet of the same dimensions; the costs were 17,089 dong vs. 22,051 dong;, with the asbestos-free sheet costing 30% more. Trinh Huong points out, however, that:
recent innovations have lowered the price differential to 15-20%;
the manufacture of the safer product does not rely on imported raw materials and does not give rise to occupational or environmental hazards.
5 Key materials in the new production process are polyvinyl alcohol (PVA) and cellulose fibers.