Mexico's Asbestos Debate 

by Laurie Kazan-Allen



There is no way to predict what particular incident or issue will propel asbestos onto the national agenda. In the UK, it was the broadcast of a TV documentary entitled Alice – A Fight for Life. In Japan it was the announcement by the Kubota Corporation and other nationally-known companies of asbestos deaths amongst their workers. In Korea, it was the scandal over asbestos contamination of baby powder. Now, in Mexico it seems to be the situation in a district of Mexico City called Iztapalapa. For years, people who lived in Barrios de San Lucas, a working-class neighborhood, complained of noxious smells and yellow dust emanating from a local factory producing asbestos-containing brake linings. The facility is owned by the company American Roll which, despite its name, is Mexican owned. The existence of this stench was confirmed by a U.S. activist who tried to enter the premises in July 2010 and Mexican reporter Emilio Godoy who researched an article published in August 2010.1

Although asbestos has no smell, the hazardous cocktail polluting the neighborhood was believed to contain deadly asbestos fibers. The community blames pollution from the factory for ten cancer deaths including the death of Jaime Carbajal in May 2010. Mr. Carbajal did not work at the factory but was, it is believed, environmentally exposed to asbestos. Over forty companies in the capital work with raw asbestos. According to Government data, 17,000 tonnes of asbestos were used in Mexico in 2007; the latest data from the United States Geological Survey confirms that in 2009 asbestos consumption in Mexico was 17,144 tonnes.

Activists from Iztapalapa have been campaigning, with little success, to shut down the factory for years. During the last few months, newspaper articles2 and TV reports3 have raised the profile of their struggle. As a result, the situation was discussed in July, 2010 at a meeting in the Legislative Assembly, Mexico City. During a full day of talks, international and Mexican experts, civil servants and politicians joined representatives of the Iztapalapa community to consider Mexico's continuing use of asbestos. Dr. Guadalupe Aguilar, a government researcher specializing in asbestos-related disease, tabled a proposal to ban the import and use of asbestos.4

August 13, 2010


1 Godoy E. Asbestos, a Toxic Neighbour. August 3, 2010.

2 Quintero M. J. Vecinos de Iztapalapa culpan a una empresa por la muerte de 10 personas. May 14, 2010.
Exigen la clausura de empresa contaminante en Iztapalapa. May 17, 2010.

3 Special Investigation – Asbestos, The Quiet Killer

4 Aguilar-Madrid G, Robles-Perez E, et a. Case-Control Study of Pleural Mesothelioma in Workers with Social Security in Mexico. American Journal of Industrial Medicine. AJIM, vol 53 issue 3, March 2010.



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