Shrinking Asbestos World
After high-level asbestos meetings in Africa and Asia last month, government ministers confirmed their intentions to ban major uses of chrysotile asbestos in South Africa and Taiwan; these announcements left asbestos stakeholders facing impending disaster as the momentum to ban asbestos continues to spread throughout the globe.
On June 20-22, 2007, a meeting of the Chrysotile Joint Technical Task Force Team, composed of government and civilian asbestos stakeholders from South Africa and Zimbabwe met in Cape Town to review South Africa's plans to prohibit future use of chrysotile asbestos. The industry's reliance on the safe use mantra proved ineffectual as did its other attempts to dissuade their southern neighbors from proceeding with the ban in the very near future. A South African civil servant left no doubt that her government will fulfil its pledge to ban asbestos, pointing out that there was no doubt that all forms of asbestos cause cancer and that future debate about asbestos health impacts is futile. The South African ban asbestos legislation is being progressed by the Department of Environmental Affairs and Tourism which is expected to publish a draft document by the end of July 2007. Having conclusively lost the debate, the Zimbabwe delegation facilitated the publication of an article entitled: Zim gets nod to produce asbestos, published in the (Zimbabwe) Herald on June 26, 2007.1 Journalist Peter Matambanadzo wrote:
Zimbabwe has been given the green light to continue producing, using and exporting chrysotile asbestos products, as long as it is in accordance with the provisions of the International Labour Organization conventions.
This statement is deliberately misleading as the issue of Zimbabwe's asbestos production was not on the agenda of this meeting of the Task Force; in any case, the Task Force does not have the authority to shut down any industrial operations in Zimbabwe. In yet another fabrication, the journalist wrote:
Turnall managing director Mr John Jere welcomed the decision by SA to defer the ban, saying it allowed the Sadc region to contribute in (sic) the changeover process from asbestos to fibre technology.
The South African ban has not been deferred or delayed; it is following the usual legislative process whereby draft proposals become law in South Africa.
Still reeling from this set-back, asbestos pushers were rebuffed yet again when spokesmen for the Taiwan Environmental Protection Administration (EPA) reaffirmed their government's plans to ban the use of some chrysotile-containing products as of January 1, 2008.2 This decision was announced as part of a keynote presentation made at the Chrysotile International Scientific Workshop in Taipei, Taiwan, a meeting organized by the EPA and the Canadian Trade Office in Taipei, a body dedicated to promoting Canadian trade interests.3 Throughout the day, Canadian and other asbestos stakeholders put pressure on the Taiwanese delegates to change their stance on the impending ban; they failed. To make matters even worse for the industry lobbyists, a reliable source who was present at this event reports that the Taiwan EPA is also considering a ban on the use of chrysotile in building materials. All in all, June was a bad month for the global asbestos industry; with bans now in place on every continent but North America,4 they have many more bad months to come.
July 7, 2007
2 See: Canada's Asbestos Shame.
In 1991, the use of asbestos in new drinking water pipes and components in Taiwan was prohibited. On December 30, 2005, the EPA announced that the use of asbestos would be prohibited in the manufacture of asbestos board, asbestos panels, plates, pipes, asbestos cement and fiber reinforced cement plates as of January 1, 2008. At the same time, the EPA said it would review, in the near future, the use of asbestos in building products.
3According to its website, the mandate of the Canadian Trade Office in Taipei is to promote Canadian economic interests in the region. We do this by championing Canadian products, services and technologies to the Taiwanese business community, supporting the case for investment in Canada, and working to ensure fair access for Canadian products to the Taiwan market.