Asbestos Protests in India, Canada and Korea  

by Laurie Kazan-Allen



A few days ago, Canada's chief asbestos cheerleader Clement Godbout said that “2010 was hell” for the industry.1 With recent demonstrations in India, Canada and Korea it looks unlikely that 2011 will be any better. On January 9, 2011, members of the Citizens' Forum Against Asbestos (Patna) mounted a demonstration at the proposed site of a new factory in the Muzaffarpur district of Bihar, a large state in Eastern India. Plans by Balmukund Cement & Roofing Ltd. to construct a factory producing asbestos-cement roofing materials in Marwan are strongly opposed by villagers from Bishnupur-Chainpur, local activists, journalists and political campaigners such as members of the Socialist Unity Centre of India.2


Dr. Satyajit Kumar Singh, convener of the Citizens' Forum Against Asbestos (Patna) addressing the protestors.


Prof Ishwari Prasad speaking to the crowd.

On January 10, a press conference was held.


Citizens' Forum Against Asbestos (Patna) press conference in Muzaffarpur.

The disputed project in Marwan is, however, just the tip of the iceberg according to one commentator; wide scale expansion by the Indian asbestos sector, as evidenced by plans for eight other asbestos factories in Bihar, has spurred civil society to formulize plans for coordinated action later this month.

A week after the action in Eastern India, a well-publicized action took place in front of the offices of the Quebec Premier Jean Charest.3 Members of the Raging Grannies, well-known for their colorful and theatrical demonstrations, congregated in downtown Quebec to express criticism of government funding for the asbestos industry. Joan Hadrill, a long-time member of the Raging Grannies, said:

“Quebec and Canada have basically banned asbestos for building, yet we think it's okay to ship it to other countries like India, where they don't have strict rules and don't really know how to use the stuff properly… We say that's really unethical and immoral to do that.”


Holding aloft placards in French and in English, the “Grannies” sang an asbestos-revised version of “I've been working on the railroad,” prior to taping an “asbestos manifesto” to the front door of the Sherbrooke Street office building. The manifesto called for an end to Canadian asbestos exports and the cessation of government funds for the Chrysotile Institute, the asbestos industry trade association.

The next morning (January 18), the Ban Asbestos Network of Korea (BANKO) held a demonstration in front of the Canadian Embassy in Seoul to protest the proposal for Quebec's new asbestos mine. The activity included a performance to symbolize the dire consequences of Asia's growing consumption of Canadian asbestos. Performers representing the populations of India, Sri Lanka, Indonesia, Thailand, Korea and Japan were dressed in costumes reminiscent of bags of Canadian asbestos. It was clear from the groans of the masked and costumed artists that their health had been affected by exposure to asbestos fibers represented by shredded paper.


Taking part in the event were BANKO co-chairs and members, including victims of asbestos-related diseases, all of whom are incensed by Quebec plans to boost asbestos production in order to increase exports to Asia. Speaking about this protest BANKO Co-Chair Domyung Peak, Dean of the School of Public Health of Seoul National University, said:

“Having seen the devastation caused by asbestos in Korea and Japan, BANKO believes it is an absolute priority to stop plans for the new mine going ahead. In order to visualize the tragic outcome for populations throughout the Asian region of increasing asbestos use, we developed a pictorial resource and a theatrical demonstration to raise this issue with the wider public.”


In the BANKO press release, Ye-Yong Choi, BANKO Executive Director, said: “we are demonstrating today to demand that the Quebec Government listen to the people of Quebec and not finance the export of death.” In December 2010, Mr. Choi was a member of the Asian Solidarity Delegation to Quebec, Canada which journeyed to three Canadian cities to appeal for public support in getting the mining proposal rejected.

It is clear from the activities described above that the asbestos industry lobby has not only lost the initiative in North America and Asia but that members of the ban asbestos network remain determined to increase momentum for a global ban. The activists certainly have their work cut out for them. Today, news was disseminated that the Russian Federation, the world's biggest producer of asbestos, has signed a decree of accession to the Rotterdam Convention (RC). Whereas previously Russian representatives were barred from some RC meetings and negotiations on the grounds that Russia was not a party to the Convention, at the next RC meeting (June 2011) there will be no restrictions on Russian participation in the discussions on listing chrysotile on Annex III. As all RC decisions must be made by unanimous agreement, the presence of delegates from the Russian Ministry of Health and Social Development could present a formidable roadblock to positive action.

January 19, 2011


1 Amiante: l'interdiction de la Turquie aura peu d'effet, dit l'Institut du chrysotile. (Asbestos: Asbestos Ban in Turkey will have little effect says Chrysotile Institute.) January 8, 2011.

2 Banerjee S. 'Killer dust' threat looms over Marwan despite protests. December 28, 2010.

3 Beaudin M. Raging Grannies protest against asbestos exports. January 17, 2011.



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