Thailand: Update on Ban Asbestos Campaign
Revised August 23, 2012
A conference to consider the decision by the Thai Government to ban asbestos was organized at the headquarters of the National Economic and Advisory Council (NESAC) in Bangkok on August 17, 2012. NESAC, an agency tasked with informing government policy, in 2010 proposed a national ban on asbestos be adopted. On April 20, 2011, the Government accepted this recommendation but since then no measures have been adopted to reduce the import or use of asbestos; in fact, during this time, the amount of asbestos imported to Thailand has increased.
Last week's asbestos meeting at NESAC provided the opportunity for a dialogue regarding current asbestos issues in Thailand amongst academics and representatives from consumer groups, workers' networks and companies producing asbestos-free alternative products. The objectives of the one-day session included stimulating public awareness regarding the need to ban asbestos and lobbying the Government for the immediate implementation of its 2011 pledge to ban asbestos. During the meeting, the NESAC Chair of Quality of Life, Public Health and Consumer Protection Committee, Dr. Supree Wongdeeprom questioned the representative of the Ministry of Industry about the reason for the delay in banning asbestos. No explanation was forthcoming.
Dr. Supree Wongdeeprom
Important issues raised during the presentations and discussion at this meeting included legal and other actions being taken to restrict hazardous human exposures to asbestos in Thailand. Delegates were told that in 2009 the Consumer Protection Board (CPB) ordered that items containing asbestos must be labelled; one year later, CPB rules were tightened when it mandated cancer warnings on these products. A legal complaint filed by asbestos roof tile manufactures, belonging to the same Thai asbestos conglomerate as Ulan Marketing, was dismissed by a Thai court earlier this month. Ulan Marketing has provided 56% of the private backing for a new underground asbestos mining operation in Quebec.
During her presentation, Dr Pitchaya Pukthongsuk, a specialist in Occupational Health and one of the founders of the Thailand Ban Asbestos Network, reported that the Faculty of Medicine of Songkhla University has unilaterally adopted regulations that forbid the use of asbestos material in the construction of new buildings on campus. The speaker pointed out that Ulan Marketing, the Thai company with a major investment in the new Quebec asbestos mine, has strenuously opposed government plans to ban asbestos in Thailand. In her talk, Dr. Pukthongsuk referenced the March 9-11, 2011 meeting in Thailand of the Asian Conference on Occupational Health (ACOH) which strongly recommended that the Thai government ban asbestos. It is of interest to note that several non-asbestos companies represented at the meeting said that they had phased out asbestos manufacture for the production of asbestos roofing, construction material and automotive parts. It was clear from the discussion that NESAC personnel remain convinced of the urgent need for the Government to overcome pressure being exerted by the Ministry of Industry to delay the asbestos ban. It was suggested that the regulations put in place by the Faculty of Medicine at Songkhla University could be regarded as a model for national regulations.
In tandem with the prohibitions required for the import, processing, use and sale of asbestos there is also an urgent need to address the hazardous exposures created by the demolition of buildings containing asbestos. Recommendations were made during the discussions regarding the establishment of national regulations to prevent asbestos exposures taking place during demolition or refurbishment work.
NESAC personnel have maintained a watching brief on the asbestos situation in Thailand for a number of years. Earlier this month (August 2012), NESAC personnel consulted with colleagues at the College of Public Health, National Taiwan University, who were categorical about the strong evidence-based hazard to human health posed by asbestos exposure.
The visit to Taiwan reconfirmed not only the importance of the Thai asbestos ban but also that the ban must be implemented as a matter of urgency. Taiwan will ban the sale and production of asbestos roof tiles from February, 2013; NESAC believes that this is a good example for Thailand to follow as in Thailand 80% of asbestos use is for the production of such materials.
August 23, 2012