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International Ban Asbestos Secretariat

International Ban Asbestos Secretariat

lka@btinternet.com

 

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May 29, 2015

Campaigners are increasingly challenging pro-asbestos propaganda distributed in Russia’s asbestos heartland. An online article published this week quotes statements by environmentalist Elena Vasilieva, head of the NGO Volgograd-Ecopress, detailing the human health hazard posed by asbestos exposure not only to factory workers but to members of the public who live or work in properties containing asbestos materials. See: Елена Васильева: «Экологи единодушны: производство асбеста опасно для здоровья» [Elena Vasilieva, “Environmentalists are unanimous: the production of asbestos is hazardous to health”].

May 29, 2015

After more than a decade of planning and fund-raising, a stainless steel memorial will be unveiled tomorrow (May 30, 2015) in memory of 500 hundred Scottish asbestos victims. The artwork entitled “The International Asbestos Memorial – The Known and Unknown” was designed by Glasgow artist Jephson Robb and funded by donations collected by the Clydebank Asbestos Group. Many of the group have lost loved ones to asbestos-related diseases from exposures at the shipyards and factories that provided employment on the Clyde. Clydebank was, at one time, known as Europe’s asbestos capital. See: Town’s tribute to the victims of asbestos.

May 28, 2015

An official at the Rwanda Housing Authority has reported that plans to safely remove 800,000 square meters of asbestos roofing, 60% of the 1,308,259 sq. meters of contaminated material, by 2016 are proceeding according to schedule. The pace of the work has increased by training extra technicians and increasing the number of disposal sites to 15. In 2009 the Cabinet gave instructions for the eradication of asbestos roofs. With limited funds and little expertise progress was slow. In 2013, it was estimated that there was still 1 million square meters of asbestos roofing to be cleared at a cost of Rwf23 billion. See: Asbestos deadline will be met - housing authority.

May 27, 2015

It has been reported that facilities used by the Metropolitan Police to train armed officers between 1980 and 2007 were contaminated with asbestos. As a precaution, all former and current firearms officers have been contacted. Chief Superintendent Mike Gallagher, from the Specialist Firearms Command, announced that the Met is “offering a full support package which provides detailed information, advice, guidance, links and contacts.” There are, said Scotland Yard, “robust protocols” for training sites and new guidance has been drafted highlighting the risk of hazardous materials. See: Every armed police officer in London may have been exposed to asbestos.

May 26, 2015

As a result of preliminary hearings in an asbestos case over the deaths of factory workers, a calendar for the trial of managers from Olivetti (and its successor Telecom) who stand accused of failing to protect workers’ health from the asbestos hazard has been set. The trial will commence on September 23 and finish on October 5, 2015. The standing of parties civiles [civil parties] has been validated; these include the city of Ivrea, the metropolitan area, the victims’ association (AFeVA) and trade unions. See: Amianto all’Olivetti, anche il Comune di Ivrea parte civile contro l’azienda [Olivettit asbestos case, even the city of Ivrea is a civil partie to this action].

May 23, 2015

The judge who is overseeing preliminary hearings in a new case (Eternit bis) against asbestos billionaire Stephan Schmidheiny has this week rejected requests from the defendant’s lawyers to transfer the trial from Turin to Ivrea and to exclude partie civiles (civil parties), including the government, region and province, from the proceedings. These decisions are good news for the 258 asbestos victims and their families (see: picture) on behalf of whom this case has been brought. It is hoped that by the end of June a ruling will be made by Judge Bompieri which will allow the case to proceed. See: Eternit bis, lo Stato Italiano è parte civile [Eternit bis, Italian State is a civil party].

May 22, 2015

The latest issue of the Occupational Safety and Health Rights Newsletter (Number 34), a quarterly publication on occupational Health and safety issues in Asia, has just been published. The bumper edition contains many stories about asbestos developments in Asia, including news of grassroots mobilization in India in the run-up to the May 2015 meeting of the Rotterdam Convention, an update on asbestos public outreach programs from Indonesia and a report of a memorial service for asbestos victims in Japan. Also featured are brief reports from key organizations collaborating in the campaign to halt the use of asbestos in Asia. See: Occupational Safety and Health Rights Newsletter.

May 21, 2015

The Australian building materials multinational James Hardie (JH) is significantly reducing contributions to an asbestos victims’ fund despite a 12% rise in profits. In 2014, the former asbestos giant paid Aus$119.9 million to the (Australian) Asbestos Injuries Compensation Fund (AICF); this year's payment will be worth US$ 62.8 million which, at current exchange rates, would be around Aus$80 million. In 2014, the AICF paid out Aus$154.3 million to victims. Actuarial predictions show a large rise in the total bill for asbestos-related claims; a record number of 412 mesothelioma claims were received in 2013-14, an 11% increase in one year. See: James Hardie's payment to asbestos fund set to fall even as claims keep rising.

May 20, 2015

In a judgment handed down today (May 20, 2015) by the UK Supreme Court in the case between Zurich Insurance PLC UK Branch and others, by a decision of 4 to 3, the Court favoured a solution which ensured the full recovery of compensation for mesothelioma victims. Lords Mance, Clarke, Carnwath and Hodge agreed that each insurer on risk for any period of tortious exposure must meet the liability in full. The Association of British Insurers and the Asbestos Victim Support Groups’ Forum UK were both interveners in this case. Their responses to this decision are expected in press releases on May 21. The Supreme Court’s ruling is contained in a 94-page judgment.

May 20, 2105

“Asbestos: the lungs of capitalism,” is the title of an art installation by the Colombian artist Guillermo Villamizar which is being exhibited in the town of Bucaramanga, as part of a series of actions taking place this month to highlight the country’s asbestos scandal. On May 19, a seminar on malignant mesothelioma was held, during which the artist and other speakers made presentations. In 2012 and 2013 Colombia imported 25,164 and 15,961 tons of asbestos, respectively. Available figures for 2014 show a decline in asbestos import levels; this could partially be explained by the restarting of asbestos mining operations in Yarumal (Antioquia), Colombia.

May 20, 2015

On April 30, 2015, the Legislative Assembly of the State of Amazonas enacted law 258/15 prohibiting the use of asbestos and asbestos-containing products. Asbestos use in Brazil is permitted under federal law although the states of São Paulo, Pernambuco, Rio de Janeiro, Rio Grande do Sul, Mato Grosso and Minas Gerais have taken unilateral action to ban asbestos. In 2013, Brazil produced 307,000 tonnes of chrysotile (white) asbestos and consumed 181,168 tonnes. At last week’s meeting of the UN’s Rotterdam Convention, the delegation from Brazil acknowledged the asbestos hazard. See: Uso do amianto é banido por lei no Estado do Amazonas [Asbestos use banned by law in Amazon State].

May 19, 2015

Nearly all the 14,000 UK schools built between 1945 and 1975 contain asbestos as do schools refurbished during that period. Decontamination work is being delayed, says the Local Government Association, because of conflicts over who is responsible for removal costs. As many of the schools are coming to the end of their useful life, the issue of asbestos can no longer be avoided – it is illegal to demolish a building without first removing the asbestos it contains. The Department for Education’s latest audit of the condition of school buildings excluded asbestos, an “oversight” which is indicative of the government’s failure to engage with the “asbestos timbebomb.” See: Schools are facing an asbestos timebomb

May 18, 2015

A recent issue of the World Health Organization Bulletin asks “What will it take to eradicate this [mesothelioma] highly preventable cancer?” The commentary contrasts health risks with assertions that asbestos can “improve quality of life.” The 2-page text details major gaps in the impact of scientific evidence on global disease prevention policy including: using doubt science to justify lack of action, casting aspersions on the safety of asbestos-free products and prioritizing economic development over public health. In some countries, “scientific knowledge of asbestos toxicity seems to have been lost in translation.” See: The asbestos paradox: global gaps in the translational science of disease prevention.

May 14, 2015

At the end of the today’s meetings of the Rotterdam Convention, the motion to include chrysotile asbestos on the Prior Informed Consent list was blocked by Russia, Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan and Zimbabwe. Activists present during the discussion spoke of open frustration by delegates and disappointment in the leadership of the Secretariat in failing yet again to make progress on this issue. The background to this decision is discussed in an article on this website. More information will be forthcoming on today’s events. See: Report from the Asbestos Frontline: Update from Geneva!

May 14, 2015

A press release issued today by the Occupational and Environmental Health Network of India (OEHNI) exposes the duplicitous position taken by the government of India during this week’s discussions at the Rotterdam Convention. India was one of a handful of parties to the Convention to block the listing of chrysotile (white) asbestos on the prior informed consent list using “bogus science” and advocating “controlled use.” The OEHNI spokesman urges the Prime Minister to reverse this position and support action needed to protect occupational and public health. See: OEHNI Press Release.

May 14, 2015

Articles in the Italian media this week covered the new legal proceedings against asbestos entrepreneur Stephen Schmidheiny. Turin public prosecutor Raffaele Guariniello is asking that charges for the murder or manslaughter of 258 Italian citizens be brought. The defense allege that as the accused already stood trial on similar charges, this case should be dismissed on the grounds of double jeopardy. Preliminary objections were heard today (May 14). There will be two hearings a week; the preliminary hearings should be completed by mid-July 2015. See: Eternit, “stavolta speriamo nella giustizia” [Eternit, “this time we hope for justice”].

May 27, 2015

More than two years of discussions will come to fruition on June 24, 2015, when the European Economic and Social Committee and the Committee of the Regions will host a hearing on asbestos issues in the European Parliament under the title of “Freeing Europe Safely from Asbestos.” Civil society groups representing asbestos victims, trade unions and campaigning bodies have today issued a press release welcoming this initiative and highlighting the subjects to be covered. With 15,000 lives being lost in Europe every year to asbestos-related diseases, urgent coordinated action is required not only in EU member States but in neighboring countries to prevent further deaths and contamination. [Read full article]

May 15, 2015

In this press release, issued by civil society groups at the end of the 2015 meeting of the Parties to the Rotterdam Convention, “grave alarm” is expressed over the hijacking of the UN process by asbestos industry vested interests. The fact that just four countries were able to override the wish of 150+ delegations which wanted to secure environmental and health protections from the known risk of exposure to chrysotile asbestos was a damning indictment not only of the commercial forces at work but also the Convention’s procedural flaws. [Read full article]

May 13, 2015

Too often at meetings of international organizations, the bureaucratic process takes over and the human impact of decisions taken or not taken is ignored. The presence in Geneva this week of an asbestosis sufferer from Bombay has introduced a much-needed element into the proceedings of the Conference of the Parties to the United Nations’ Rotterdam Convention. The activities of Sharad Vittnal Sawant including his participation in a trade union ban asbestos rally, intervention during a plenary session and presentation to an asbestos side event are considered within a discussion of developments on May 12-13, 2015. [Read full article]

May 12, 2015

The International Ban Asbestos Secretariat calls on delegates to the United Nations’ Rotterdam Convention (RC) to ignore spurious objections from vested interests and take action on chrysotile asbestos. National representatives are considering recommendations to list chrysotile asbestos on Annex III; inclusion of chrysotile would ensure that countries are given information about the asbestos hazard prior to importing fiber or products containing it. Failure to list chrysotile will not only endanger millions of people, but will do irreparable harm to the Rotterdam Convention. If the Convention is to fulfil its obligations, all Parties must support the listing of chrysotile. [Read full article]

May 10, 2015

Decades after the Wittenoom asbestos mine in Western Australian (WA) was shut, asbestos cancer continues to pose a threat not only to WA workers but also to members of the public. Efforts are being made to confront the State’s deadly legacy by representatives of Perth-based groups including the Asbestos Diseases Society of Australia (ADSA) and the National Centre of Asbestos Related Diseases (NCARD). An update has been compiled highlighting current and future initiatives after attending the ADSA’s annual general meeting and participating in discussions with ADSA and NCARD staff last month (April 2015). [Read full article]

May 6, 2015

As asbestos lobbyists arrive in Switzerland this week, they will be met by posters circulating around the city center on buses and trams with stark public health warnings about the deadly asbestos hazard! Considering that the purpose of their visit is to prevent delegates to next week’s meeting of the UN’s Rotterdam Convention from designating chrysotile asbestos as a hazardous substance, this powerful advertising campaign will almost certainly be an unpleasant surprise. Another omen which will no doubt provide consternation to industry spin doctors is a highly derogatory statement made today by UN Rapportuer Baskut Tuncak, that singled out the asbestos industry for criticism. Welcome to Geneva! [Read full article]

Apr 30, 2015

On April 24, 2015, the text of this paper was the basis for a presentation made by Laurie Kazan-Allen at a lunchtime seminar at The National Centre for Asbestos Related Diseases in Perth, Australia. Commenting on the widespread lack of knowledge regarding the incidence of mesothelioma, the speaker considered the likely ramifications of the increasing use of asbestos in India. During her talk, she premiered a film entitled: Victims of Chrysotile Asbestos – Voices from South East Asia and highlighted the work of grassroots activists to counter pro-asbestos propaganda promoted by vested commercial and government stakeholders. [Read full article]

Mar 26 2015

On March 30 and 31, 2015, asbestos lobbyists will be hosted in Geneva at the expense of European taxpayers. The European Union is underwriting the costs of bringing nineteen asbestos industry and government stakeholders to Europe to take part in yet another talking shop on chrysotile (white) asbestos under the umbrella of the Rotterdam Convention. Given the unproductive outcome of so many previous encounters, it belies belief that yet more money is being thrown at people who represent an industry which peddles death and pollution around the globe. The Secretariat of the Rotterdam Convention should be ashamed of its collusion with these asbestos deniers. [Read full article]

Mar 12, 2015

Throughout the 20th century, British multinationals invested in, operated and developed asbestos-producing and processing facilities in Southern Africa. When they walked away from their African asbestos liabilities, they abandoned asbestos-exposed workers and asbestos-contaminated communities to their fate; as a consequence of their actions, tens of thousands of individuals are even now being exposed to hazardous levels of asbestos on a daily basis. A communiqué sent last month (February 2015) by the British Parliamentary Group on Occupational Safety and Health to South Africa’s Minister of Labour expressed solidarity for those working to alleviate suffering caused by British asbestos corporations. [Read full article]

Mar 9, 2015

As the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats are on the brink of burying a long-awaited report on asbestos in UK schools, UKIP promises to “get rid of unnecessary (asbestos) regulations.” Unlike the politicians who wish to either hide or deny the asbestos hazard, the Labour Party has a specific program to address the challenges it poses. At the beginning of 2015, Shadow Minister of State for Employment Stephen Timms announced plans for a joined-up long-term national asbestos strategy which would support the injured and pursue the ultimate goal of decontaminating the national infrastructure and environment. [Read full article]

Mar 3, 2015

Cancer researchers have reaffirmed that the UK still has the world’s highest age-standardized mesothelioma incidence. The ubiquity of this asbestos cancer in Britain is not news; neither is the failure by successive governments to engage with this deadly industrial legacy. Under the Conservative–Liberal Democrat coalition, the rights of asbestos victims have been attacked by insurers, their lawyers and the Government. The Labour Party has plans for a long-term national asbestos strategy to support the injured and decontaminate our infrastructure and environment. With the General Election looming, the asbestos policies of prospective candidates should be carefully scrutinized. [Read full article]

Feb 23, 2015

Between May 12 and 15, 2015, members of the Rotterdam Convention (RC), gathered in Geneva at the 7th Conference of the Parties (COP7), will once again consider if chrysotile asbestos should be placed on a list of hazardous chemicals. A technical workshop on chrysotile will be held by the RC secretariat on March 30 and 31, 2015. Amongst the delegates listed are representatives of asbestos industry bodies from India, Ukraine and Zimbabwe. The presence of Vivek Chandra Rao Sripalle, Mr. Oleksandr Sierkin and Shame Chibvongodze will ensure that the concerns of the industry are heard. Once again, the voice of the victims will be missing from the conversation. [Read full article]

Feb 12, 2015

According to the asbestos section in the Mineral Commodity Summaries 2015 of the United States Geological Survey (USGS), which was published on January 30, 2015, 5% of the asbestos imported and used in the United States in 2014 was chrysotile (white) asbestos sourced from Australia, a country which banned the use of asbestos in 2003 and the export of asbestos and asbestos-containing products. “Imports from Australia were,” explained the USGS “either from stocks or transshipments because Australia no longer mines asbestos.” Attempting to clarify this mystery, enquiries have been initiated with the Australian authorities as well as the USGS. [Read full article]

Feb 11, 2015

A report commissioned by the New Zealand Government entitled “Inventory of New Zealand Imports and Exports of Asbestos-Containing Products” has been categorized this week as fatally flawed by Ban Asbestos Campaigner Mrs. Deidre VanGerven who has given stern warnings about the possible repercussions of her country’s lack of asbestos controls. Mrs. VanGerven has warned that Australia might even reconsider its policy on trade with New Zealand in light of the possibility that its products might contain asbestos. “It remains a mystery to me,” she says “how New Zealand politicians can downplay the threat asbestos poses when so many people continue to die every year from their exposures.” [Read full article]

Feb 2, 2015

When Colombia finally prohibits the use of asbestos, 2014 will be remembered as the year that marked the turning point in the perception of this dangerous mineral by industry, government and civil society stakeholders. Discussions, meetings, initiatives and media coverage progressed public and professional awareness of the asbestos hazard. The input of eminent international experts at high-level multilateral events in February and November was of great significance. A unique feature of this ban asbestos campaign is the involvement of artists who have taken asbestos issues as themes for their work. Colombian artists have also initiated asbestos projects with US, French and British colleagues. [Read full article]

Jan 21, 2015

The manufacture, marketing and use of asbestos were banned in Europe as of January 1, 2005. There was an exemption to the EU prohibitions which allowed the import of asbestos-containing diaphragms for existing electrolysis cells. A decade later, under pressure from Dow Chemical, the European Commission and the European Chemicals Agency, is considering the continuation of the exemption until and possibly after 2025. The International Ban Asbestos Secretariat is strongly opposed to the extension of this exemption and calls on the EU Commission and EU Member States to take action to end this sole use of asbestos in the EU. [Read full article]

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Demonstration in Woluwe Park, Brussels, 2006

Under cloudy skies, members of Belgian and French Asbestos Victims' Associations from Dunkirk and Bourgogne marched side-by-side in the third annual demonstration organized by ABEVA, the Belgian Association of Asbestos Victims. Erik Jonckheere, ABEVA's Co-chairman, condemned the government which still refuses to recognize the plight of the asbestos injured.

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Asbestos Trade Data (2013)

Top Five Producers (tonnes):
   Russia1,050,000
   China420,000
   Brazil307,000
   Kazakhstan242,000
   India240
 Top Five Users
(tonnes):
   China570,000
   Russia432,000
   India303,000
   Brazil181,000
   Indonesia156,000