Confidence Tricksters and Asbestos Thugs from the Brazilian State of Goiás
Under the cover of the global pandemic which has already killed more than a quarter of a million Brazilians, asbestos industry stakeholders continue illegal efforts to maximize profits despite deadly human consequences. In contravention of a Supreme Court ruling (2017) and state laws which explicitly forbid them from doing so, executives from the Sama Minerações Associadas (SAMA) company are collaborating with municipal and state politicians all of whom have close ties with SAMA and have been in receipt of generous campaign contributions from the company to pursue multiple options to achieve their goal: the export of SAMA asbestos.
The story so far. On March 2, 2021 10 trucks carrying ~400 tonnes of asbestos left the SAMA asbestos mine in Minaçu, Goiás State for the port of Santos on the south coast of São Paulo State. On Friday, March 5, 2021 the shipment was seized by the Health Surveillance Authority at the port following a letter from Brazils Public Ministry of Labor (MPT) which had cited State law No. 12,684 (2007) prohibiting asbestos use in the State of São Paulo.1 The MPT then filed a Public Civil Action against the Santos warehouse (Dalastra) and an injunction to reinforce the interdiction of the cargo. SAMA filed an injunction to release the cargo. The MPT won and SAMA lost as a result of which the asbestos was returned to the mine. As the war of the injunctions, raged another shipment of 400 tonnes of SAMA asbestos slipped out of the port on the Xin Su Zhou, a Chinese container ship destined for Singapore.2
The return of the asbestos to Minaçu was, we were informed, the spark for a tirade of threats and insults against those held responsible including the Governor of São Paulo State. The asbestos pushers, however, had another scheme ready to go: they planned to exploit a confidence trick well known to flim-flam artists the world over. This particular ruse to relieve innocent bystanders marks of their money is alternatively called Three-card Monte or Find the Lady. The operator tempts the mark to bet money on the location of the playing card with the Queen on it; of course, dexterous and devious hand movements, make this an impossible task.
Likewise, SAMA is now sending shipments of asbestos to diverse ports and warehouses hoping to avoid the unwanted attention of the authorities. The MPT has already identified contentious shipments being transported by TSL Transport Scatuzzi Ltd., a company based in Santos, São Paulo and Sigma Transport & Logistics. Emergency actions have been lodged by the MPT with the authorities, including the Brazilian Finance Ministry and the Courts, and on March 23, 2021 injunctions against these companies were obtained.
One of the more bizarre aspects of this scandal is the fact that SAMA is a subsidiary of Brazils former asbestos giant: Eternit SA, a company which has reinvented itself in the post-ban era. Having strongly resisted calls from victims, workers and civil society campaigners to phase-out asbestos technology, once the Supreme Court acted in 2017 Eternit reorganized its finances, divested itself of non-profitable subsidiaries and repositioned itself as a champion of green technology. With its abandonment of asbestos, Eternit has seen its share value rise and its reputation begin to recover. It seems inexplicable that neither the public nor the media are questioning how the new lean, green Eternit could also be profiting from the sale of carcinogenic asbestos fiber produced by its subsidiary.
Clarification on the situation was sought from Dr. Marcia Cristinia Kamei Lopez Aliaga, manager of the Labor Public Ministrys former National Program to Ban Asbestos:
For well over a decade, the MPT has made banning asbestos a top priority. Before the Supreme Court acted we had lodged legal actions against multiple companies which were found to be negligently exposing their workers to asbestos. Money from the financial penalties ordered by the Courts was used for campaigns to support the asbestos-injured and raise asbestos awareness. Now, during this time of crisis when all Brazilians should be focused on defeating the coronavirus we are once again obliged to prevent illegal corporate behaviour and expose political collusion not only to protect Brazilian workers but also to protect people in countries to which SAMA wishes to send its asbestos. The company may have thought they could get away with its tricks, that the MPT was overwhelmed and suffering from the paralysis affecting many of our politicians and decision-makers at this time. They would be wrong to think that. We will seek out all the transport companies, storage facilities and shippers involved in SAMAs deadly export chain. We will find them and we will ask for their punishment according to the laws of the land.
March 24, 2021
1 The MPT had been alerted to the illegal shipping operation by the Brazilian Association of the Asbestos-Exposed (ABREA).
2 Xin Su Zhou. March 23, 2021.