Asbestos Victims Seize the Initiative in Spring Offensives
In recent days, asbestos victims and campaigners have launched legal, social and political initiatives to address glaring asbestos injustices and improve conditions for the injured in Latin America, Europe and North America. On March 3, 2021 the Brazilian Association of the Asbestos-Exposed (ABREA) denounced the illegal shipment of asbestos cargo from the Sama Minerações Associadas (SAMA) chrysotile (white) asbestos mine in Minaçu to the São Paulo port of Santos saying that as per a 2007 São Paulo State Law and a 2017 Supreme Court decision the production, transport and export of asbestos had been banned. Following the departure of ten trucks carrying 340 tonnes of asbestos from the mine on March 2, ABREA alerted the: Santos Port Guard Superintendence, São Paulo Sanitary Surveillance Center, Public Ministry of Labor and Highway Police of the State of São Paulo of these activities.1 As can be seen from the shipping document below, this cargo was destined for Kondapalli, a town in the Krishna District of the Indian State of Andhrah Pradesh.
Commenting on this situation, ABREA spokeswoman Fernanda Giannasi former Labor Inspector and manager of the São Paulo State asbestos program of the now defunct Ministry of Labor and Employment said:
For more than a decade, the authorities in São Paulo State have been closely monitoring the situation with a view to forcing the mine to comply with laws to protect São Paulo citizens from toxic exposures. During that time, inspectors found torn packages of asbestos, asbestos spillages on the highway and other potentially hazardous irregularities. In June 2015, the Superior Labor Court condemned the Rápido transport company and prohibited it from transporting asbestos fiber or asbestos-containing products through the State of São Paulo. Appeals made by SAMA of this judgment were unsuccessful. In light of the danger these shipments posed to our citizens and their continued illegality, ABREA felt it was imperative to issue an alert to the Highway Police and the port authorities. We will keep a watching brief on this situation in order to protect from deadly exposures not only Brazilians but also people in countries to which the toxic cargo was due to be shipped.2
Despite ABREAs efforts, the cargo was released and loaded onboard a ship which departed the Port of Santos on March 4 under contentious legislation which grants exemptions for asbestos exports.
In France, asbestos victims belonging to the national umbrella group ANDEVA3 launched an online appeal on March 2, 2021 addressed to the Attorney General at the Court of Cassation (Supreme Court) François Molins demanding that a criminal asbestos trial finally take place in France as a matter of utmost urgency. The 30-year wait for justice had, ANDEVA said, turned the health scandal into a judicial scandal.4 The text of the petition began:
We are victims of asbestos. Many of us have serious illness or respiratory failure that makes our lives very difficult. Many of our friends, our co-workers died from it. We have lost a husband, a father, a mother and sometimes several members of our family. There are many of us in this situation. With 100,000 deaths estimated by epidemiologists, asbestos [use] represents the most important health disaster that France has known.5
The previous week (on February 28, 2021), another appeal had been made to the French Minister of Justice Éric Dupond-Moretti, who had at one time acted for asbestos victims in Paris and Dunkirk, to repair the denials of justice suffered by the victims of murderous factories whose files lie in the Paris Court of Appeal. A communique issued by a coalition of groups and individuals including Ban Asbestos France, the Henri Pézerat Association, trade unions and workers collectives, referenced a TV program broadcast on February 16, 2021 on France 5. In the 66-minute documentary entitled: Asbestos, a Hope for Justice, the Minister said: Asbestos [was], a case that the justice system did not know or did not want to see.6
Across the Channel, there was a House of Commons debate on March 2 to consider a proposed uplift in compensation pay-outs provided by a UK Mesothelioma Scheme. During the hour-long session, asbestos victims groups in Scotland and England were commended by Parliamentarians for their efforts to support the asbestos-injured.7 Comments made by Labour, Liberal Democrat, Scottish Nationalist Party and Democratic Unionist Party MPs highlighted ongoing inequalities some of which had been exacerbated by the pandemic including:
Next week (March 18) there will be a hearing in San Francisco before Judge Edward Chen in the latest phase of a lawsuit brought by public advocacy groups and campaigners, over the multiple failures of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) under the Trump Administration to adequately evaluate public and occupational health risks posed by asbestos exposures.8 The plaintiffs will be seeking a dismissal of an EPA motion to alter or amend Chens December 2020 36-page judgment that ordered the EPA to upgrade asbestos reporting by implementing measures to collect data on the import and use of asbestos and asbestos-containing products in the US.
In their 28-page submission, the plaintiffs argued that:
The Court should deny the motion because it impermissibly seeks to relitigate decided matters, is wrong as a matter of law, and would unacceptably defer, perhaps forever, the important remedy the Court has ordered.
One can only hope that now Trump and his appointees have departed, the EPA will respect evidence-based science, epidemiological data and medical findings and carry on where it left off when its asbestos ban was overturned. Considering that October 11, 2021 will mark the 40th anniversary of the bans demise, it seems like the time has most definitely come for the US to follow the lead of other countries prioritizing human rights over corporate profits and reinstate its asbestos prohibitions. The future is asbestos-free!
March 5, 2021
1 Lemes, C. ABREA denuncia: Sama afronta de novo o STF, tenta exportar 340 toneladas de amianto [ABREA denounces: Sama contravenes the STF again, tries to export 340 tons of asbestos]. March 3, 2021.
2 Email received March 4, 2021 from F. Giannasi.
3 ANDEVA: Asociation Nationale de Defense des Victimes de l'Amiante.
5 Justice pour les victimes de lamiante [Justice for asbestos victims]. March 2, 2021.
See also: Justice pour les victimes de lamiante [Justice for asbestos victims].
6 Amiante, un espoir de justice [Asbestos, a hope for justice]. February 16, 2021.
Also see: Éric Dupond-Moretti: sur l'amiante, «tout a été prétexte à perdre du temps» [Éric Dupond-Moretti: on asbestos, "everything was a pretext to waste time]. October 1, 2017.
Also see: Kazan-Allen, L. Interminable Wait for Asbestos Justice in France. February 2, 2021
7 Hansard. Parliamentary Debate on Mesothelioma Lump Sum Payments (Conditions and Amounts) (Amendment) Regulations 2021. March 2, 2021.
8 Case No. 19-CV-00871-EMC Plaintiffs Opposition to EPAS Motion to Alter or Amend the Judgment under Rule 59 or for Relief under Rule 60. February 26, 2021.