Asbestos Profile: Brazil
Brazil has remained amongst the top five global producers of asbestos in recent years. Although the mining of chrysotile asbestos began in Brazil in 1939, significant amounts were not produced until the 1960s; national production peaked at 237,000 t (tonnes) in 1991 and remains around 200,000 t/year. Brazil is also one of the world's major asbestos consuming countries; the vast majority is used in the manufacture of asbestos-cement products [see: Hazards of Asbestos Cement] and friction materials such as brakes and clutches. While asbestos consumption in Canada equates to 500 g per person per year, in Brazil it averages 1,400 g [Asbestos in Brazil]. Thirty-five per cent (70,000 t) of annual production is exported; to countries including India, Thailand, Nigeria, Angola, Mexico, Iran and Indonesia [USGS Circular].
The government was slow to regulate the use of asbestos. Until the 1980s, there were no regulations on the use of or allowable exposures to asbestos. After the ending of the military dictatorship, social movements and some trade unions began to press for better controls with limited success. In 1991, the official threshold for occupational exposure to asbestos was 4 f/cc; this was 20 times the U.S. workplace exposure limit. Asbestos stakeholders vigorously contested attempts to regulate the asbestos trade and attacked campaigners who called for national reforms [Brazilian Justice?, The Asbestos Institute Attacks Brazilian Campaigner]. Despite his pre-election promises to ban asbestos, President Lula now endorses the status quo which includes asbestos mining and manufacture [The Mayor, the Governor and the President].
Even as the federal government remained unwilling to act on the national asbestos scandal, state governments took steps to ban asbestos. Unfortunately, judicial proceedings brought by asbestos stakeholders declared these bans unconstitutional (São Paulo's Asbestos Battle). At the beginning of June 2008, Brazil's Federal Supreme Court upheld the asbestos ban in São Paulo saying that citizens' rights to health and the dignity of labor are guaranteed under the country's constitution (History in the Making!). The judicial decision was a shock for Brazilian asbestos stakeholders who watched share prices plummet.
For over 50 years, the center of Brazil's highly profitable asbestos-cement industry was the town of Osasco, an industrial suburb of São Paulo [Asbestos Developments in Brazil]. In 1995, workers from the Eternit asbestos-cement factory established the Association of Brazilians Exposed to Asbestos (ABREA) to raise public awareness of the epidemic of asbestos disease which was affecting so many former colleagues [Global Asbestos Congress 2000, A Quiet Hero, A Gentle Man, Aldo Vincentin: One More Victim of Asbestos]. Since then, ABREA has gone from strength to strength and has become a vocal and highly visible pressure group [Update on Brazilian Asbestos Campaign]; ABREA has transformed the national asbestos debate and achieved substantial gains for the asbestos injured [Victory for Brazil's Asbestos Victims]. The Association works closely with its supporters to lobby for an asbestos ban. Although the federal government has not yet banned asbestos, as of September 2009 asbestos had been banned by the (Brazilian) Ministries of Environment and Health, four states and several Brazilian municipalities [Another Victory in Brazil!, Brazilian Minister Bans Asbestos!].
Updated October 2009