Mobilizing for Asbestos Justice 2023  

by Laurie Kazan-Allen



Whilst time-serving functionaries betrayed global populations in the antiseptic surroundings of a Swiss conference center earlier this month (May 2023),1 back in the real world, asbestos victims’ groups and campaigners in Asia, Latin America, Australia and Europe were getting on with business as usual.2 In the aftermath of the dynamic conference of the Asian Ban Asbestos Network (ABAN) 2023,3 ABAN partner Union Aid Abroad-APHEDA (Australia) exhibited a billboard outside the Australian Embassy in the capital of Laos highlighting the hazard posed by the country’s continuing use of asbestos.4 The main use of asbestos in Laos is for the manufacture of roofing in factories located in the Provinces of Luang Prabang, Champasak and Vientiane.


Billboard highlighting the dangers of asbestos in front of Australian Embassy in Vientiane, Laos; Dan Heldon, Deputy Head of Mission at the Australian Embassy, with embassy staff.

According to APHEDA:

“The standards for managing raw asbestos are often poor, including manual handling of the fibre and no safe storage or waste management, meaning workers and communities within a 2km radius of the factories are at risk of exposure.

Although APHEDA has been campaigning to increase awareness amongst workers, communities, students, and government officials about the risks of asbestos, there is still a lack of awareness of the need for safe storage or safe removal of old decaying asbestos, which is commonly broken up and reused for road maintenance, water storage tanks andanimal pens.”

Nearly 10,000 miles away, weeks of planning by the Brazilian Association of the Asbestos-Exposed (ABREA) came to fruition when outreach work was progressed in the Brazilian States of Rio de Janeiro and Bahia. On May 12, 2023, the first assembly was held for former employees of an asbestos factory owned by Brasilit, part of the French multinational Saint Gobain. Although the plant closed thirty years ago, historic workplace exposures to asbestos created a hotspot of asbestos-related diseases in the Senador Camará neighborhood in the west of Rio where many of the workers lived. The assembly was convened by the Rio de Janeiro branch of ABREA which is collaborating with the Brasilit/Saint-Gobain workers in the struggle for official recognition of their diseases, comprehensive medical care for the injured and recompense for the victims and family members.

Starting in June, 2023, ABREA will bring five groups, each composed of ten of the former Brasilit/Saint-Gobain workers, from Rio de Janeiro to São Paulo, a distance of 270 miles for medical check-ups. The order of screening of participants will be dependent on their age, length of asbestos exposure and severity of symptoms. The workers will be examined by a team operating under the leadership of pneumonologist Dr. Ubiratan de Paula Santos at a medical outpatient clinic for asbestos victims located at the Heart Institute of the University of São Paulo (InCor). Each of the ten patients will, on the same day and free of charge, undergo a series of tests including X-rays, pulmonary function tests and lung computed tomography (CT) scans. The medical reports will be completed in fifteen days.5

On May 17 & 18, 2023, ABREA pioneered a training scheme for thirty asbestos victims and/or family members in the city of Simões Filho in Bahia State; the workshop was sponsored by the Public Ministry of Labor of the 4th region and promoted by the Bahia Association of People Exposed to Asbestos (Associação Baiana dos Expostos ao Amianto/ABEA) and ABREA. The instruction which was provided was designed to empower participants to reach out to others in their communities who had received toxic exposures at work or at home. These volunteers will disseminate up-to-date information, provide access links and build relationships with people isolated by asbestos-related diseases. ABREA will replicate these workshops on the rights of workers and their families in the cities of Recife, Pernambuco State; Bom Jesus da Serra and Poções, Bahia State; Senador Camará and Guadalupe, Rio de Janeiro State, Osasco and São Caetano do Sul, São Paulo State, Londrina and São José dos Pinhais, Paraná State, and Porto Alegre, Rio Grande do Sul State.


May 18, 2023: ABREA officials, legal experts and new ABREA & ABEA ambassadors celebrate the culmination of the inaugural training program in Simões Filho City, Bahia.

Commenting on ABREA’s grassroots mobilization, ABREA Co-Founder Fernanda Giannasi said:

“The struggle for asbestos justice in Brazil has a constant need for new people to take up the battle. ABREA has developed programs to support the asbestos-injured in collaboration with the best medical and legal specialists in the country. Our new ambassadors will make sure that local people who had been misinformed by employers and marginalized by government agencies will finally be able to access the specialist help they need whether it is free medical care or compensation for workplace injuries and/or moral damages. The energy and the enthusiasm which our new recruits exhibited in Bahia confirmed that our capacity to fulfil so many unfilled needs will continue to grow.”

The remit of asbestos victims’ groups includes campaigning to improve the conditions of those affected by toxic exposures. On May 19, 2023, the ABREA officials who had travelled to Bahia for the training sessions met with Bahia State representatives to demand that action be taken against Dow Chemicals which continues to defy a Bahia state law and a 2017 Supreme Court verdict banning asbestos use at its production units, one of which is located in Bahia.6 During the discussions, ABREA called for the implementation of a mandatory medical follow-up program for asbestos-exposed workers throughout the state who had worked for several companies including those belonging to the Eternit asbestos conglomerate, both the fiber cement plant (nowadays asbestos-free) and the defunct asbestos mining subsidiary: S.A. Minerações Associadas (SAMA), formerly owned by Eternit’s main competitor, Saint-Gobain.

For decades the Asbestos Diseases Society of Australia (ADSA) has been campaigning to secure the rights of workers and family members who had been exposed to asbestos in the notorious asbestos mining town of Wittenoom.7 The David & Goliath battle pitted the Society against the mega forces of a major Australian corporation (Colonial Sugar Refinery/CSR), their subsidiary Australian Blue Asbestos, the Government of the State of Western Australia (WA) and its insurers. In its almost 45 years of existence, the ADSA won landmark lawsuits, changed laws and administrative procedures, pioneered asbestos outreach initiatives, administered victims’ support programs and raised public awareness throughout Australia of the country’s deadly asbestos legacy.


On May 9, 2023, the ADSA’s ePetition for establishing memorials in the Pilbara region and Perth to the 4,000 West Australians who had died as a result of Wittenoom asbestos exposures was presented by Peter Foster, member of the Western Australia Legislative Council who told the Upper House of the WA Parliament:

“The CSR Wittenoom Mine and Mill is the greatest example of workplace negligence in Australia, and second in the world to date. Wittenoom was a blue asbestos mining town in the Pilbara region of Western Australia… our members and friends from Wittenoom have requested a permanent memorial, not just for the workers but also for their children, families, visitors, and local Traditional Owners of the land, many of whom have since lost their lives to deadly asbestos diseases. Wittenoom has been taken off the map and cannot be accessed by road; for many this creates a situation where there is not a place of memorial to grieve lost loved ones. We therefore ask the Legislative Council to both enquire into and to support our efforts for the construction of a permanent memorial in Perth and the Pilbara in partnership with the State Government, the Shire of Ashburton, the Banjima, Yinhawangka and Niraparib traditional owners, and the Asbestos Diseases Society of Australia.”8

Eight time zones away, Italian asbestos victims – like their Australian counterparts – have been engaged in a titanic and prolonged battle for recognition and restitution. Long before epidemiologists and anthropologists deigned to study the repercussions of asbestos exposures, at-risk populations and communities were well aware of the price paid by ordinary Italians for the profits of the asbestos industry. A film to be shown in Bologna, Italy on May 24, 2023 entitled: Workshops of memory - OGR Museum: stories of work, asbestos and struggles for health is a visualization of the lived history of thousands of workers condemned to premature deaths as a result of working in Bologna’s railway engineering sector.9 The screening, which was arranged by the regional asbestos victims group AFeVA Emilia Romagna, will be part of an event addressed by the film-makers, AFeVA officials and academics.10


Poster for May 24, 2023 event at the Cinema Lumière in Bologna, Italy.

Around the world, asbestos victims’ groups and campaigners continue to raise the profile of the damage done by asbestos purveyors. Using a multiplicity of methods, which this month included billboards, medical outreach programs, training workshops, negotiations with government officials, petitions, documentaries and books, they ensure that a formerly invisible epidemic remains at the forefront of national asbestos dialogues. Recent news stories about asbestos contamination in the British Parliament (London), the Pompidou Center (Paris) and the Canadian Prime Minister’s residence (Ottawa) confirm the potency of the asbestos hazard. The same fibers which make these buildings too dangerous to use are in the lungs of anyone who has ever worked or lived with asbestos and/or asbestos-containing products. Pretty scary, isn’t it?

May 22, 2023


1 Российская дипломатия против еврочиновников получила поддержку многих стран [Russian diplomacy against European officials received the support of many countries]. May 18, 2023.

2 Kazan-Allen, L. UN Convention Defiled. May 15, 2023.

3 Kazan-Allen, L. A Tale of Two Cities 2023. May 18, 2023.

4 Union Aid Abroad – APHEDA. May 16, 2023 upload to Facebook.

5 Kazan-Allen, L. Brazilian Success: Pioneering Medical Program to Expand! October 21, 2020.

6 Dow Brazil. Accessed May 19, 2023.

7 Asbestos Diseases Society of Australia website.
ADSA interview with ABC TV. May 9, 2023.
ADSA's Wittenoom Community Education Online Campaign - November 2021.

8 Hansard. Asbestos Diseases Memorial. May 9, 2023 (Page 1806).$file/C41%20S1%2020230509%20All.pdf
Asbestos Diseases Memorial. May 9, 2023.

9 OGR stands for Officine Grandi Riparazioni; in English, Major Railway Workshops.
The full documentary film is two hours and 42 minutes long; the version to be screened on May 24, 2023 has been abridged to 50 minutes.
Officine della memoria – Museo OGR: storie di lavoro, amianto e lotte per la salute [Workshops of memory - OGR Museum: stories of work, asbestos and struggles for health].

10 OGR Le Officine della Memoria: Mercoledì 24 maggio Cinema Lumière Bologna – Presentazione Libro “TRENI D’AMIANTO, BINARI DI MEMORIA” e Proiezione Documentario OGR [OGR The Workshops of Memory: Wednesday 24 May Cinema Lumière Bologna – Presentation of the book “ASBESTOS TRAINS, MEMORY TRACKS” and OGR Documentary Screening].



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