The Mayor, the Governor and the President
As the campaign Amianto Mata! (Asbestos Kills) by the Brazilian Asbestos Victims Group (ABREA) grabs the media spotlight, Brazil's politicians are adopting increasingly divergent positions on asbestos. On February 27, 2007, having observed the use of asbestos roofing material during a high-profile visit to a big construction project in São Paulo, the Mayor Gilbert Kassab shut the site down, saying the use of asbestos in São Paulo has been banned since 2001.1 The development is a large site where 140 apartments are being built in two buildings in the northern part of the city; the developers have been given 10 days to replace all the asbestos!2 One week later (March 6), the Governor of Rio de Janeiro announced that the use of asbestos is going to be banned in all public buildings and official automobiles; this action was taken despite litigation instigated by the asbestos industry's supporters which aims to overturn asbestos bans approved by three States: Rio de Janeiro, Rio Grande do Sul and Pernambuco.
During his campaign to become President, trade unionist Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva and his political party (the Workers Party) vigorously supported the need to ban asbestos in Brazil. Lula's pre-election commitment waved once the ballots were counted and he embarked on a policy of delay and stalemate using a ploy familiar to many politicians: Death by Committee. An Internministerial Commission on Asbestos was convened with delegates from 7 Ministries. They took evidence and deliberated; then they deliberated some more. After producing a 1,000 page document, the major decision taken was not to take a decision.3 An announcement was finally made on March 4, 2007 which surprised nobody. President Lula endorsed the current status quo and will not act to ban asbestos in Brazil, the world's 4th biggest producer of asbestos. This decision generated huge controversy with articles and interviews appearing in newspapers, journals, and on radio and TV. The plight of Ana Maria Celestiano who lost four family members to asbestos cancer was featured in the national newspaper O Globo on March 5, 2007.
ABREA's President Eliezer João de Souza is disappointed and angry that the Government has, once again, done industry's behest whilst ignoring the interests of Brazilian citizens:
There are thousands of Brazilians whose health has been ruined by exposure to asbestos at work, at home and in the environment. There is no 'controlled use' of asbestos in Brazil. This is a fantasy! Brazilian chrysotile asbestos is neither 'pure' nor 'harmless.' Asbestos is a public health problem on a colossal scale. Asbestos must be banned in Brazil. ABREA will continue with its efforts to educate the public about the risks they face when they choose to buy asbestos products. Amianto Mata (Asbestos Kills)!
March 8, 2007
1 There is no national ban on asbestos in Brazil and the bans implemented by two Brazilian States were successfully challenged in the courts within the last couple of years by asbestos stakeholders. Three other States and 17 municipalities in Brazil still retain bans on the use of asbestos.
3 In O governo vacila, a sociedade avana. Revista época. 363:50, 02/05/05.