Colombia has a Ban Asbestos Law, in Name but not in Fact
After seven attempts in the Congress of the Republic of Colombia since 2007 to approve a law that would prohibit the use of asbestos, Law 1968 of 2019 was enacted; it was called the Ana Cecilia Niño Law in honour of one of the iconic victims in the fight against asbestos.
Strong lobbying in Congress, carried out by industrialists and businessmen supporting the use and commercialization of asbestos, had prevented Colombia from banning asbestos for many years. An action that disregarded both scientific and experimental evidence showing the detrimental effects that exposure to all types of asbestos had on health.
In this way, Colombia, belatedly, joined the 66 countries in the world that have already banned asbestos.
Main aspects regulated in the Law
With the Law, as of January 1, 2021, the exploitation, production, commercialization, use, import, distribution and / or export of any variety of asbestos and of all products made with asbestos was prohibited. Noncompliance was punishable by large financial penalties. With the recent Decree 402 of 2021 of the Ministry of Commerce, Industry and Tourism, this prohibition of the export and import of any variety of asbestos and products made with this material was regulated.2 The 2019 law also mandated that a public policy must be promulgated with measures to replace installed asbestos. The policy must be designed and put into operation by 2024.
Additionally, it was the responsibility of the Colombian authorities to take measures to identify at-risk workers in the asbestos production chain and generate a transition to a safer technology; a health monitoring plan must be established for former asbestos workers who had been exposed to asbestos for a period of 20 years or more. This is being progressed via a comprehensive care route for workers and citizens exposed to asbestos, by the Ministry of Health; unfortunately, it will be at least a year before it can be implemented.
The 2019 Law also stipulated the creation of a National Commission for the Substitution of Asbestos. The objective of the Commission was to ensure compliance with the phase-out according to established deadlines; the members of the Commission to come from various ministries, with a representative from academia and a citizen overseer. This Commission to date has not been set up, despite the fact that the Law specified it be operational from January 1, 2021.
Under the Law, the Government was tasked with developing outreach campaigns to inform the population about the proper management of installed asbestos and its treatment as a hazardous waste; no such asbestos awareness campaign has been launched.
Finally, it should be mentioned that the Law indicated that the competent environmental authority must carry out an air quality study to measure and monitor the concentration of asbestos fibres in the plants and processing areas, as well as in the territories where there is greater infrastructure with this material, another undertaking that to date has not started either.
Challenges from the Law
Although the Law was approved, social demands have not stopped. These demands have increased in number and in variety and can be categorized under the following subject headings:
Undoubtedly, there are still many challenges facing the anti-asbestos movement in Colombia; the campaigners, who are asbestos victims, family members and ban asbestos activists, will need to draw on all their resolve and skills to ensure that the Ana Cecilia Niño Law is fully implemented.
P.S. I thank my dear son Nicolás for the translation of the text, and also to Laurie Kazan-Allen for the review and adjustment of the text.
May 5, 2021
1 Associate Professor of the Department of Public Health, Member of the Environmental and Occupational Health Research Group, Ph.D. in Public Health, National University of Colombia.
2 Although Colombias ban asbestos law was signed in 2019, a conjunct of Decrees is needed to enact the provisions of the law.