Closing Brazils Asbestos Loopholes
Despite the fact that asbestos had been banned in Brazil by a 2017 Supreme Court order, in June 2021 the asbestos mining company Sama S.A. (Sama Minerações Associadas) reported an annual increase in sales of 246.1%.1 The chrysotile (white) asbestos fiber from Samas Minaçu mine Brazils only operational asbestos mine was destined for overseas markets as domestic sales were forbidden. The toxic cargo was transported by Sama from Goiás State (GO) which had enacted a law allowing asbestos mining for export purposes in contravention of the Supreme Court ban to the São Paulo State ports of Cubatão, Santos and Guarujá and from there to customers throughout Asia.
The fact that an asbestos mining company was reporting multimillion dollar profits in a country where its very existence had been deemed illegal by the highest court in the land might strike most people as an impossibility2 but not in Brazil where the war of the injunctions had ensured that production of the outlawed fiber would continue until the last card had been played by the asbestos producers and their legal henchmen.3
On June 9, 2021, it looked like Sama was close to losing its final battle when a São Paulo Court convicted the company, its parent company (Eternit SA) and the transport company: Transportes Scatuzzi Ltd. of breaking state and federal laws.4 On August 6, 2021, what could be the final nail in the coffin was struck when the Federal Court of Uruaçu (GO) granted emergency relief to a public civil action brought by the Federal Public Ministry and immediately suspended activities of extraction, exploration, processing, marketing, transport and export of chrysotile asbestos (a carcinogenic product) by the company Sama SA Minerações Associadas, a subsidiary of Eternit SA, headquartered in Minaçu (GO). 5
Judging by what has gone before, Sama is unlikely to accept the latest reversal in its fortunes without a fight. However, considering the fact that its parent company has disavowed asbestos and is, like other former asbestos conglomerates in Brazil, reinventing itself as a purveyor of green technologies, the number of supporters Sama can rely on is dwindling by the minute. Add to that the ever-increasing evidence about the toxic effects of Brazils asbestos legacy and the conclusion is unavoidable: Sama, and those who support it, will be left behind.6 The sooner the inevitable outcome is accepted, the sooner the company and the community it supports can begin to lobby state and federal governments for funding to transition to a post-asbestos life. The future is asbestos-free.
August 18, 2021
1 Proibido no Brasil, amianto tem recorde de exportação em Goiás [Banned in Brazil, asbestos has an export record in Goiás]. July 19, 2021.
2 Kazan-Allen, L. Confidence Tricksters and Asbestos Thugs from the Brazilian State of Goiás. March 24, 2021.
3 According to the National Mining Agency, in 2020 Sama exported 75,000 tons of chrysotile asbestos fiber and had a net revenue of BRL 133.6 million (US$25.4m) and a net profit of BRL 43 million (US$8.2m).
Sama volta a lucrar depois de retomar produção e vendas. [Sama returns to profit after resuming production and sales]. April 26, 2021.
4 Mineradora Sama e Eternit são proibidas de enviar cargas de amianto para municípios da Região [Mineradora Sama and Eternit are prohibited from shipping asbestos cargoes to municipalities in the Region] June 12, 2021.
5 Malheiros, T. Cancerígeno amianto: Justiça decide por suspensão imediata das atividades de extração, exploração, beneficiamento, comercialização, transporte e exportação, a pedido do Ministério Público Federal [Asbestos carcinogen: Court orders immediate suspension of extraction, exploration, processing, marketing, transport and export activities, at the request of the Federal Public Ministry]. August 16, 2021.
Also see: MPF consegue na Justiça a suspensão imediata da extração, exploração, beneficiamento, comercialização, transporte e exportação do amianto produzido em Minaçu (GO) [MPF obtains in court the immediate suspension of the extraction, exploration, processing, marketing, transport and export of asbestos produced in Minaçu (GO)]. August 16, 2021.
6 Fernandes, G.A., et al. Causes of death in former asbestos-cement workers in the state of São Paulo, Brazil. August 11, 2021.
Santana, V.S., et al. Underreporting of mesothelioma, asbestosis and pleural plaques in Brazil. July 22, 2021.