Roshi Chadha and the Red Cross
There are certain things you just know. One of them is that wherever a disaster strikes, the Red Cross (RC) is on hand to ease human suffering. In less dramatic situations, the Red Cross also strives to safeguard human life. One recent example is the RC’s work in Indonesia to help raise public awareness of the asbestos hazard (see December 7th entry: The Red Cross Rocks!) To criticize the Red Cross is like slagging off Santa Claus or saying the Easter Bunny promotes tooth decay on account of the chocolate treats he distributes.
What then are we to make of the news that a board member of the Canadian Red Cross has proven links with the global asbestos trade? Roshi Chadha, wife of Canada’s asbestos cheerleader Baljit Chadha, is simultaneously a Member of the Board of the Canadian Red Cross and an executive of a company that sells Canadian asbestos to India.
Mrs. Chadha seems reluctant to respond to enquiries over the possible conflict of interest posed by profiting from the sale of asbestos in her professional life and undertaking good works in her private life. On her behalf, a Balcorp spokesman said the furore over her RC affiliation is all stuff and nonsense: “a lot of noise and a lot of fuss.” Leah Nielson, whose dad died of asbestos cancer, does not agree. She has asked the RC to remove Roshi Chadha from its Board.
Mrs. Chadha’s position is untenable. To save this esteemed organization any more bad publicity, she should do the decent thing and resign. She should also resign her membership of the Board of Governors at McGill University and the Board of Directors at St. Mary’s Hospital.
There is another way: Mrs. Chadha could always turn her back on the asbestos industry. She might even convince her husband that his attempt to revive the Canadian asbestos industry is ill-conceived and immoral, as it most surely is.
The choice is hers.
Heroes of the Ban Asbestos Movement
One year ago today, the members of the Asian Solidarity Mission to Canada embarked on the last day of their quest to convince ordinary Canadians of the deadly price paid in Asia for the use of Quebec asbestos. To commemorate the success of their trip, a series of articles has been commissioned by IBAS which includes pieces by two of the Asian participants, Anup Srivastava and M. Darisman, and Canadian Kathleen Ruff, the delegation’s liaison officer.
Today, all of the members of the Asian delegation to Canada continue their efforts to combat the asbestos scourge nationally, regionally and internationally. Their presence at the 2011 meeting of the Asian Ban Asbestos Network in Rajasthan last month, reaffirmed their commitment to work towards a universal ban on asbestos. As in Canada, the emotional impact made by asbestos cancer sufferer Rachel (whose Korean name is Jeong-rim Lee) was immense. At a press conference on November 14 in Jaipur, Rachel told journalists that her cancer had now progressed and that she was in great pain. Nevertheless, she had made the trip to India to plead with the media and the government to ban asbestos. “I do not want there to be any more asbestos victims,” she said.
Many of the texts issued, events conducted and photographs taken during the delegation’s frantic days in Quebec City, Montreal and Ottawa are documented on this website; see:
Asian Solidarity Delegation to Quebec, Canada: Events in Canada
Asian Solidarity Delegation to Quebec, Canada: Briefings-Statements-Letters
Asian Solidarity Delegation to Quebec, Canada: Media
Asian Solidarity Delegation to Quebec, Canada: Global Demonstrations Asian Solidarity Delegation to Quebec, Canada: Mission Aftermath
Belgian Family vs. Asbestos Goliath
A French language TV documentary broadcast in Belgium on the RTL channel [http://www.rtl.be/rtltvi/video/373239.aspx] exploded the culture of silence which had long dominated the national dialogue on asbestos. The once invincible multinational Eternit has been brought to account by a family determined to obtain justice for their father, mother and two brothers, all of whom have died from exposure to Eternit asbestos [see: Justice for Francoise?].
The thirty-minute program provides interviews with Eric, Xavier and Benoit Jonckheere, the surviving sons of Pierre and Francois Jonckheere. Footage of medical tests undertaken by Eric and Benoit underline the continuing health risks the men face from the asbestos they inhaled as children living in Kapelle-op-den-Bos. Commenting on the wonderful childhood they had had roaming the countryside, playing in the woods and by the nearby canal, Xavier said that for children this town had been a paradise. Now, he added, it had become a hell. Walking through the area, Eric pointed out pieces of asbestos-contaminated cement pipes littering the ground.
Eternit’s culpability for the deadly diseases suffered by the Jonckheeres was confirmed last month by the trial judges in Brussels whose language, said the RTL reporter, left no doubt as to the company’s active participation in the asbestos scandal.
It is particularly relevant to view this film in the context of a press release issued today by the Alliance for Cancer Prevention (the Alliance) which highlights the fact that a huge proportion of cancers now occurring are not caused by lifestyle choices such as drinking, smoking and overeating but by hazardous exposures which take place at the workplace and environmentally. The text of the Alliance press release shows the relevance of the Jonckheeres’ experience not just for Belgians but for people all over the world whose lives have been sacrificed by greedy industrialists.
The Red Cross Rocks!
It is terrific to see tangible results from the work undertaken by Red Cross Indonesia (Palang Merah) and the International Federation of the Red Cross, in conjunction with grassroots groups and technical experts, to raise awareness of the hazard posed by the consumption of asbestos in Indonesia, the world’s 4th most populous country.
Two colourful Red Cross leaflets produced in Bahasa, the language of Indonesia, explain in words and images some of what people need to know about asbestos.
Apakah asbes ITU? (What is asbestos?) click here for enlarged image
Pembuangan Limbah Asbes (Disposal of asbestos material) click here for enlarged image
The text explains what asbestos is, where it is used, the dangers to human health, including links of asbestos exposure to three killer diseases, and suggests basic techniques to minimize hazardous exposures.
Considering the fact that Indonesia is the world’s fifth biggest market for asbestos, with annual consumption nearly tripling between 2006 and 2010, tackling the country’s asbestos challenge is no easy task. Nevertheless efforts are being made by groups such as the Indonesian Ban Asbestos Network (Ina-Ban) and others to quantify the problem and provide practical solutions to protect human health and the environment from deadly contamination.
Mesothelioma in the UK
It is not unknown but it is rare for an academic piece of work to have a direct impact on the lives of ordinary individuals. A UK doctoral dissertation entitled: The experience of mesothelioma in Northern England by Dr Helen Clayson is that rare bird. Dr Clayson’s work has dramatically impacted on the UK’s dialogue about the needs of mesothelioma sufferers and questions surrounding radical surgical procedures. Having researched the experience of pleural mesothelioma for patients, their families and the medical professionals who treat them, Dr Clayson pinpoints key oversights – in particular the lack of palliative care treatment. This thesis – which is now available online – is a MUST read for people who find themselves through misfortune or professional happenstance to be involved in this subject area. See: http://etheses.whiterose.ac.uk/1775/
Dr Clayson speaking about the role of palliative care in the treatment of asbestos patients at the November 2011 meeting of the Asian Ban Asbestos Network
What happens to those who Asbestos leaves behind?
The landscape of the mining towns in Quebec are dominated by huge mountains of asbestos waste. These tailings can contain up to 10% or more of raw asbestos fiber and constitute a potent threat to the health of townspeople. When the asbestos industry was flourishing, no one took responsibility for the waste; now that the industry is in dire straits it looks even less likely that the public health hazard represented by the waste will be addressed.
The plight of a once-thriving town in Swaziland provides little hope for Quebeckers from Thetford Mines and Asbestos. For decades, the Havelock chrysotile asbestos mine in Bulembu shipped asbestos fiber around the world. Heavy losses were followed by bankruptcy and the mine owners slunk off, as they traditionally do, leaving behind a landscape dominated by asbestos mountains, polluted water and contaminated air. Nowadays Bulembu is a ghost town – will Thetford Mines and Asbestos fare any better?
Views of Bulembu courtesy of Jock McCulloch
Australia & AsbestosAussies are known for taking a practical and hands-on approach to life. Having acknowledged the fact that their country was in the grip of an epidemic of asbestos-related diseases, in 2006 the federal government adopted a coordinated medical strategy to tackle the diseases caused by exposure to asbestos by setting up the National Centre for Asbestos-related Diseases.
Current developments in Australia indicate that asbestos-related issues remain a high priority on the country’s political agenda. In early November a parliamentary motion calling for the Australian Government “to use strong diplomatic efforts to convince the Canadian Government to cease both production of and trade in asbestos," was adopted by the Australian Senate. A short while later, Asbestos Awareness Week (November 21-27) was chosen as the time to launch a new federal body the Parliamentary Group on Asbestos Related Disease (PGARD) to address the multi-faceted challenges posed by massive asbestos consumption prior to the imposition of a national asbestos ban in 2003. And this weekend (December 2-4, 2011), Foreign Minister Kevin Rudd MP, from 2007-2010 Australia’s Prime Minister, will call on the Australian Government to take a leadership role in the global campaign to ban asbestos. “Australia must,” he wrote be at the forefront of global efforts to eliminate the scourge of asbestos.”
So far so good.
And yet, when Australia had the chance to showcase the global asbestos tragedy in front of the world’s media, it blew it. Despite attempts by ban asbestos campaigners to get asbestos timetabled on the agenda of the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (October 28-30, 2011) in Perth, asbestos remained the elephant in the room (or, in this case, the conference hall). No one wanted to acknowledge the unsavoury fact that Canada, a Commonwealth Member and a major force in the global asbestos lobby, has for decades been dumping asbestos on Commonwealth Member States such as India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Pakistan, Malaysia, Nigeria and Kenya. It seems a gross betrayal of the Commonwealth principles for one member to dump an acknowledged carcinogen on another.
Canada has also been the one country which has consistently blocked the listing of chrysotile asbestos on the prior informed consent list of the Rotterdam Convention. Indeed, we are currently waiting to hear whether the Government of Quebec will approve a $58 million loan guarantee so that work on a new asbestos underground mining facility can be completed. If the loan guarantee goes through and work on this project is completed, Canada hopes to ship millions of tonnes of asbestos to developing countries in the coming 25 years.
If Australian politicians are looking for a place to start their lobbying efforts, it seems that the Canadian High Commission in Canberra and the Consulate General of Canada in Sydney might be suitable targets.
Asbestos House Online: At the June 30, 2011 seminar Asbestos Still a Killer, which was held at the European Parliament, I was introduced to an innovative online project the Asbestos House which aims to raise awareness of the presence of asbestos within residential properties.
Unfortunately, while this resource was available in French, German and Italian, there was no English language version. Having drawn the attention of the administrators of the SUVA website to this omission during the Summer, I am now delighted to inform you that they have now made an English version of the Asbestos House available.
The situation regarding asbestos contamination of UK schools is a mess. Every year more teachers die from asbestos-related diseases contracted from workplace exposures. Adults, whose childhood exposures to asbestos took place at school, are also dying from avoidable asbestos cancers. And yet, a long awaited and very successful campaign to raise awareness of occupational asbestos hazards has been derailed by government cutbacks. In its place is an "e-campaign" and a promise of some free training by commercial organizations; hardly, a strategic approach to a serious problem.
This month, the Philippines Department of Education (DoE) announced plans to removal asbestos wire gauzes, used in laboratory work, from state schools; DoE officials are soon to issue a memo on the proper handling and disposal of these items. Furthermore, the DoE requires each school to annually report the status of its asbestos management plan, including any planned asbestos removal work, to the parent-teacher organization. Such transparency and openness is not encouraged by the UK's Health and Safety Executive, local authorities or school administrators where secrecy seems to rule the day.