125 Years and Counting 

by Laurie Kazan-Allen



This article is dedicated to the memory of Lucy Deane, an Inspector of Factories and Workshops, who was the first British official to warn of “the evil effects of asbestos dust… the sharp glass-like jagged nature of the particles, and where they are allowed to rise and to remain suspended in the air of the room in any quantity, the effects have been found to be injurious as might have been expected.”1

It is now 125 years, since Miss Deane warned the British Government about the hazard posed by occupational exposures to asbestos. One wonders what she would have made of the fact that so many decades later, asbestos cancers and diseases continue to wreak havoc amongst populations the world over.2

The good news: since the beginning of the 21st century, global asbestos consumption has fallen by 36% from 2,035,150 tonnes/t in 2000 to 1,300,000t in 2023.3 The bad news: over the same period, the amount of asbestos material contained within national infrastructures has grown exponentially.4 Other adverse developments over the last 20 years include a “staggering rise” in the number of extreme weather events caused by the climate crisis; the occurrence of uncontrolled asbestos incidents caused by floods, severe storms and wildfires is as predictable as it is incalculable.5

Despite the known hazards of asbestos production and use, vested interests still promote asbestos technology at gatherings of international agencies and regulatory bodies, in discussions with decision-makers and businessmen in importing countries, before juries and courts in various jurisdictions, via print and online media reports and in commissioned “scientific research.” The fact that they are fighting a losing battle is no deterrence; their hope is to gain a few more years before the asbestos cash cow is finally put out to pasture.

In the aftermath of the Covid pandemic, grassroots efforts to protect humanity from toxic exposures gather pace in many countries; acknowledgment of the social and environmental injustice and unsustainability of asbestos technology has become a focal point of high-level political discussions. Eradicating the asbestos hazard has been at the heart of recent initiatives in Asia, Europe, Africa, Latin and North America. Via trade deals, court actions, ministerial interventions, awareness campaigns, technological advances and cross-border collaborations, progress is being made.

Eradicating the Asbestos Hazard

Two months ago, 14 trading partners in Asia, Oceania & North America signed up to the Indo-Pacific Economic Framework for Prosperity (IPEF) – a multilateral economic initiative launched by the US in 2022. Article 2.12 of the agreement stated that:

“The Parties intend to cooperate to provide technical assistance and capacity building to prevent asbestos-related diseases and to promote transition from the use of asbestos to safer alternative products in IPEF supply chains.” 6

The best way to prevent asbestos-related diseases is, as the World Health Organization, the International Labor Organization and others agree, to ban asbestos. Of the 14 signatories to this agreement, the only ones to have done so are: Australia, Brunei, Japan, Korea and New Zeaand; of the other IPEF members, six – India, Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines, Thailand and Vietnam – used ~597,000 tonnes of asbestos in 2022, 45% of global consumption.7 It is highly significant that big asbestos consumers, in particular India and Indonesia, have declared their intention to cooperate with plans to phase asbestos out of IPEF supply chains. The transition to non-asbestos technologies achieved by Australia, Japan and Korea and the lessons learned during the process should prove of benefit to their IPEF partners as they move to embrace an asbestos-free future.

Just a few weeks after the IPEF was finalized, civil society campaigners in Indonesia lodged an application with the Supreme Court for the right to a judicial review over the government’s failure to mandate warning labels on asbestos products.8 The applicant was Yasa Nata Budi Foundation, a consumer advocacy body working with the Local Initiative for OSH Network (Lion Indonesia/LION).


Leo Yoga Pranata, Ajat Sudrajat and Pupun Supendi at the Supreme Court in Central Jakarta, Indonesia on December 29, 2023. Photo courtesy of LION.

According to the petitioners, although there have been asbestos safety regulations in Indonesia since 1985, there are no requirements that asbestos-containing material be labelled so that consumers could take appropriate precautions before handling or using them. Indonesia is one of the world’s largest consumers of asbestos; the majority of homes in Jakarta are roofed with asbestos-cement sheeting. There is no duty levied on the import of asbestos fiber or asbestos-containing goods.9

Explaining the reason for this landmark case, Leo Yoga Pranata said:

“Basically, we demand the right to good and correct information for every product containing asbestos that is circulated and sold in the market. We demand that each of these products includes a label that contains information identifying procedures to minimize toxic exposures to a material that could trigger cancer. The labels must be in the Indonesian language and must be of sufficient size so they can be easily read by consumers. We hope that the Supreme Court will grant this judicial review in order to protect Indonesians from exposures to deadly asbestos dust.”10

Supporting the Asbestos Injured

Former employees of asbestos conglomerates continue to die long after their employers have ceased to exist. This is the situation for people who worked for the Cape Asbestos Co. Ltd./Cape plc/Cape Intermediate Holdings (CIH), the UK’s second biggest asbestos group. Two years ago, the Asbestos Victims Support Group Forum UK (AVSGF) began a campaign calling on the current owner of Cape – Altrad, a French multinational – to: “donate £10 million to fund medical research to find a cure for mesothelioma [the signature cancer associated with exposure to asbestos].”11


July 10, 2023. Cape Must Pay campaigners in Barking, London. Picture courtesy of the Asbestos Victims Support Groups Forum UK (Enlarge image).

Supporters of the Forum’s campaign include not only the injured and their families, but also occupational health and safety activists, medical researchers and members of Parliament; in 2024, it emerged that the campaign was also backed by a retired Cape executive Peter Gartside. In his 238-page text: Asbestos and Cape, Gartside wrote:

“I found that nobody wanted me to write this book. Asbestos was a killer and Cape Asbestos was an accomplice…[Cape] set aside profits approaching £300 million to compensate those who suffered and continue to suffer from asbestos related disease…

The case put forward by the Asbestos Victims Forum (AVSGF) for securing further funding for mesothelioma research has merit... Mesothelioma is particularly associated with exposure to amosite (brown) asbestos and Cape was by far the largest importer and user of the fibre in the UK. A great deal of asbestos remains in the infrastructure of the UK, increasing the risk of further mesothelioma deaths over the next thirty years…

CIH [Cape Intermediate Holdings]/Altrad was left by Cape with substantial provisions to meet current and future claims…To those employees of Cape Industrial Services who generated the profits to provide for future disease liability it would be a fitting application of £10 million of the residual provision fund. They deserve the satisfaction of seeing that the fruit of their labours reach those who still remain as victims of Cape’s asbestos legacy.”12

The significance of the author’s engagement with the Forum’s campaign should not be underestimated. If anyone could be described as an asbestos industry insider it’s Gartside amongst whose qualifications were directorships for numerous Cape subsidiaries:

Peter Gartside Directorships at Cape & Associated Companies 1991-200813

Cape Industrial Services Group Ltd. (1997-2008)
Cape Overseas Ltd. (1997-2008)
Cape East (UK) Ltd. (2003-2008)
Cape East Ltd. (1992-2008)
Altrad Services Ltd. (1997-2008)
Cape Perlite Systems Ltd. (2000-2008)
Cape Industrial Services Europe Ltd. (2003-2008)
Cape Contracts International Ltd. (1991-1997)

The rights of asbestos victims have long been suppressed; using a variety of means including interminable delays, obfuscation, corporate reorganizations, government and commercial defendants have off-loaded asbestos liabilities to families, communities and taxpayers. On February 13, 2024, the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) issued a unanimous judgment condemning Switzerland’s failure to “ensure expeditious proceedings before the Federal Court” in a case involving the 2006 asbestos cancer death of Marcel Jann who had – from age 8 until 19 – lived in a house rented from Eternit (Schweiz) AG, the owner of a neighboring industrial complex where asbestos products were manufactured.14

In the ruling by a panel of judges from Andorra, the Netherlands, Bulgaria, Estonia, Greece, Switzerland and Iceland, the ECHR declared that:

  • “there is no scientifically recognized maximum latency period between exposure to asbestos and the onset of cancer…
  • the disease [pleural cancer] can develop 15 to 45 years after exposure to asbestos, or even longer. In the view of the European Court, that fact must be taken into account when calculating limitation periods…
  • the Swiss judiciary has attached greater importance to the legal certainty of those responsible for the damage than to the right of victims to bring the case before a court of law.”


The European Court of Human Rights, Strasbourg, France.

The sum of €34,000 (US$37,311) was awarded for moral injury, costs and expenses to the deceased’s widow and son: Regula Jann-Zwicker and Gregor Jann.

Decontaminating the Built and Natural Environment

In recent weeks, reports about work to address national legacies by quantifying the scale of contamination, allocating financial resources and implementing protocols for the safe removal and disposal of toxic material were highlighted in news stories from: Belgium, Brazil, Canada, France, India, Korea, Mauritius and Uganda.15 Other articles from Belgium, Brazil, India, and Russia detailed ongoing efforts by trade unions, government ministries and civil society groups to expose the endangerment of populations from asbestos products in situ.

Concluding Thoughts

The production processes and technologies developed by asbestos industrialists were ground-breaking. The right to reproduce successful applications – such as the manufacture of asbestos-cement material and the use of sprayed asbestos fireproofing – were franchised all over the world. The fact that a disregard for the duty towards employees, consumers, communities and governments seemed to go with the franchises has created a global catastrophe composed of ruined lives, contaminated infrastructures and toxic landscapes. One hundred and twenty-five years after Miss Deane rang the alarm bell, exposures continue to occur in countries with and without national asbestos bans.16 We really must do better.

February 16, 2024


1 Wikipedia. Lucy Deane Streathfeild. Accessed February 14, 2024.
Deane, Lucy (1899). "Report on the health of workers in asbestos and other dusty trades" in HM Chief Inspector of Factories and Workshops, 1899, Annual Report for 1898. HMSO London. pp. 171–2.

2 IARC. Global cancer burden growing, amidst mounting need for services. February 1, 2024.
Schüz, J. et al. Cancer mortality in chrysotile miners and millers, Russian Federation: main results (Asbest Chrysotile Cohort-Study). January 22, 2024.

3 United States Geological Survey. Asbestos Trade Data 2023. Uploaded January 2024.

4 The most popular use for asbestos during the 21st century has been for the manufacture of asbestos-cement building products. They usually contain 10-15% asbestos fiber.

5 Extreme Weather Events Have Increased Significantly in the Last 20 Years. October 13, 2020.

6 Indo-Pacific Economic Framework for Prosperity Agreement Relating to Supply Chain Resilience.
November 14, 2023.

7 International Ban Asbestos Secretariat. Current Asbestos Bans. Accessed February 12, 2024.

8 The text of the lawsuit is 38 pages; there are 4,500 pages in the appendices which include research, legal precedents, laws etc.

9 Wendy, W. Aktivis Bahan Berbahaya dan Beracun Serukan Indonesia Susul 67 Negara Larang Penggunaan Asbes [Hazardous and Toxic Materials Activists Call for Indonesia to Join 67 Countries in Banning Asbestos Use]. December 29, 2023.

10 Email received from Leo Yoga Pranata. February 12, 2024.
Also see: Suprihatno, E. Negara Harus Lindungi Masyarakat dari Debu Asbes [The State Must Protect the Community from Asbestos Dust]. December 29, 2023.

11 Kazan-Allen, L. Britain’s Summer of Asbestos Dissent. July 20, 2023.
Cape Holdings and asbestos research. EDM (Early Day Motion) 93: tabled on May 23, 2022. As of October 26, 2023, 47 MPS had signed the motion.https://edm.parliament.uk/early-day-motion/59797/cape-holdings-and-asbestos-research

12 Gartside, P. Asbestos and Cape. A Tale of Three Stakeholders. December 2023.
The Asbestos Victims Support Group Forum UK. Insider supports campaign for Cape/Altrad to pay for Mesothelioma Research. February 1, 2024.

13 Companies House. Appointments of Jeremy Peter GARTSIDE. Accessed February 14, 2024.

14 European Court of Human Rights. Judgment concerning Switzerland. February 13, 2024.

15 International Ban Asbestos Secretariat. News Items Archive. Accessed February 14, 2024.

16 Järvholm, B, Burdorf, A. Asbestos and disease – a public health success story? February 7, 2024.



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