Global Asbestos Panorama: 2018 Update
From the northeast of Brazil to the streets of West Java (Indonesia) via a community center in the Northern Cape Provence of South Africa, Autumn 2018 has seen a burgeoning of activities to: mobilize support for the asbestos-injured and demand the implementation of environmental decontamination programs and national asbestos prohibitions. Members of asbestos victims groups, ban asbestos activists, health and safety campaigners, trade unionists, legal practitioners and medical professionals have raised the asbestos profile at international conferences, strategy sessions, local meetings and outreach projects in Latin America, North America, Europe and Asia.
On September 13 and 14, 2018, 100+ delegates from Vietnam and 10 other Asia Pacific countries met at the second annual conference of the Southeast Asia Ban Asbestos Network (SEABAN) in Hanoi to progress plans for achieving regional asbestos prohibitions.1 One week later delegates from Taiwan, Korea and Japan gathered in Hong Kong to take part in the East Asia Asbestos Meeting to discuss issues related to the continuing use of asbestos in the region.
Delegates at a three-hour workshop held on Sunday, September 23, 2018 the first day of the International Association for the Study of Lung Cancer (IASLC) 19th World Conference on Lung Cancer in Toronto, Canada heard presentations from scientists leading research efforts into new treatments and possible cures for mesothelioma, the signature disease of asbestos exposure.2 The capacity crowd at that session and the fact that a presentation by Dr Giorgio Scagliotti on the LUME-Mesothelioma trial3 was featured on a plenary session were indications of a growing medical and scientific focus on this aggressive and almost invariably fatal asbestos cancer.
The Deadly Legacy of Asbestos.
A new information resource headed: The Deadly Legacy of Asbestos, developed by the Mesothelioma Applied Research Foundation (MARF) and the International Ban Asbestos Secretariat, which was prominently displayed at the conference ironically right next to a tobacco and lung cancer installation4 highlighted the causal relationship between asbestos exposure and the occurrence of mesothelioma and other asbestos-related diseases on two large display boards. Speaking about the motivation for this initiative Mary Hesdorffer MARFs Executive Director and nurse practitioner said:
The main risk factor for development of mesothelioma is exposure to asbestos, yet education about this dangerous fiber is virtually non-existent. We are grateful to IASLC for the visibility afforded to this important exhibit.
On Tuesday, September 25, 2018 a public hearing was held in the São Paulo city of Capivari to warn Brazilians about the human health risks posed by exposures to asbestos. The Public Labor Prosecutors Office (MPT) of Campinas, which convened the meeting, confirmed the occurrence of occupational exposures to asbestos at a tile and water tank factory in Capivari which was operated by the Brasilit company for 30 years; a thousand workers compensation lawsuits are pending.5 Two days later, an asbestos seminar was held in Vitória da Conquista, a city in the Brazilian State of Bahia, which was addressed by Brazilian and international experts including Dr. Marcia Lopez Aliaga, Engineer Fernanda Giannasi, asbestos victims leader Eliezer João de Souza, Professor Annie Thebaud-Mony (France) and Dr. Agata Mazzeo (Italy). The focus of the meeting was on the public health problems and environmental repercussions caused by the commercial exploitation of asbestos in the Bahia mining town of Bom Jesus da Serra between 1939 and 1967.
Fernanda Giannasi addressing the audience in Vitória da Conquista.
On Friday, September 26, 2018, the Asbestos Interest Group (AIG) from Kuruman, South Africa convened community members from the villages of Lokaleng, Slough and Galotolo at a local church hall to address the environmental legacy posed by asbestos mining waste throughout the area. AIG official Prudence Kotoloane provided practical advice for dealing with asbestos debris and urged attendees to make formal complaints to the department of education about asbestos in schools and to the department of environment about the urgent need for remediation of asbestos-containing dumps surrounding the village.6
On Sunday, September 30, 2018, car-free day in Bandung, Indonesia presented the opportunity for ban asbestos activists to distribute information to people in West Java about the danger posed by asbestos exposures. In a statement issued by the Coordinator of the Indonesian Ban Asbestos Network (INA-BAN), Coordinator Firman Budiawan confirmed that draft regulations to prohibit the use of asbestos in construction products were under discussion; Indonesian asbestos consumption was 114,000 tonnes in 2016, the most recent year for which provisional data was available. Taking part in the ban asbestos outreach work on September 30 by the Local Initiative for OHS Network (LION) were members of an Australian trade union delegation who were in Indonesia on an asbestos fact-finding trip.
Australian trade union delegation supporting ban asbestos activities on car-free day in Bandung City, Indonesia.
Marketing efforts made by the asbestos industry continue but the forcefulness with which their discredited propaganda is asserted seems greatly diminished. In September 2018, Andrei Kholzakov, chairperson of the Pro Chrysotile labor group admitted that should United Nations efforts under the Rotterdam Convention on the Prior Informed Consent Procedure for Certain Hazardous Chemicals and Pesticides in International Trade7 to include chrysotile (white) asbestos on a list of hazardous materials succeed, Russias asbestos industry will become uncompetitive and we will be forced out of the market.8 Nevertheless, on September 19 and 20, chrysotile industry representatives from post-Soviet States met in Astana, the capital city of Kazakhstan, to hear presentations extolling the virtues of the controlled use of chrysotile asbestos.9 Also in September, Evgeny Kuyvashev, the governor of the Sverdlovsk region the source of Russian asbestos seized the opportunity of a meeting with Ngo Phuong Ngi, the consul general of Vietnam, to remind him that Vietnam is a traditional consumer of the Urals chrysotile-asbestos, despite the Vietnam Governments commitment to banning asbestos use in construction materials.10
At about the same time in Sri Lanka, Anton Edema, the Coordinator of the Fibre Cement Products Manufacturers Association a group representing asbestos vested interests uploaded a letter of complaint on the Ceylon Daily News website alleging that his views on asbestos had been misrepresented in an article published the previous month.11 Edema complained that the August article:
was written based on a rushed and spontaneous interview which the writer had with myself and another colleague some time ago. And it has been written with the intention of proving a preordained viewpoint of the anti-asbestos factions both in Sri Lanka and overseas. Unfortunately, it has become a stereotypical trend to concoct material based on hearsay and assumed data, backed by unscientific and unproven concepts and theories to conceal the plain truth.12
Over the coming weeks there will be high-profile international asbestos meetings in Spain and Portugal; in November 2018, Australian asbestos victims groups, trade unionists and others will mark asbestos awareness month with a multitude of activities to raise public awareness of the asbestos hazard and raise funds to progress cutting-edge research being pioneered in research centres of excellence throughout the country. Judging by past years, it looks likely to be a busy time.13
That a diehard asbestophile like Andrei Kholzakov has publicly admitted that the asbestos industry is in terminal decline is confirmation of the unambiguous statement by the award-winning Brazilian journalist Eliane Brum writing about the upcoming outcome of the Supreme Courts asbestos litigation in 2017 that even the stones know that asbestos will end up being banned in Brazil.14 It is no longer a question of if but of when asbestos will finally be consigned to the history books; until this is accomplished, many more people will suffer from needless and potentially fatal exposures. An asbestos-free future is possible.
October 2, 2018
1 Kazan-Allen L. Southeast Asia Ban Asbestos Conference 2018 .
2 Reporting from IASLCs World Conference on Lung Cancer 2018 Mesothelioma Workshop.
September 23, 2018.
3 Results in LUME-Meso trial in malignant pleural mesothelioma presented at the 19th World Conference on Lung Cancer (WCLC2018). September 25, 2018.
5 MPT apura contaminação por amianto em operários de fábrica em Capivari: 'Cancerígeno', diz medico.
[MPT Seeks Asbestos Contamination in Factory Workers in Capivari: 'Carcinogenic' says doctor.] September 25, 2018.
6 Kotoloane P. Report: Environmental Health Awareness Event. October 1, 2018
8 Tulekbayeva A. Производители хризотила настаивают на его безопасности [Manufacturers of chrysotile insist on its safety]. September 19, 2018.
9 CIS chrysotile industry reps gather in Astana. September 19, 2018.
10 Куйвашев предложил Вьетнаму асбест и участие в строительстве Метро [Kuyvashev offered Vietnam asbestos and participation in the construction of the Metro].
11 Chatta S. Chrysotile Conundrum. August 7, 2018.
12Coordinator of Fibre Cement Products Manufacturers Association. Chrysotile Conundrum Clarified. September 30, 2018.
13 Kazan-Allen L. Australias Asbestos Awareness Month. December 12, 2014.
14 Brum, E. O Supremo e a farso do Amianto. [The Supreme (Court) and the Asbestos Scam]. August 7, 2017.