More Asbestos Subterfuge in the Urals 

by Laurie Kazan-Allen



Last month was the grand opening of a factory in the Sverdlovsk region of Russia. The plant, which is owned by Uralasbest – Russia’s 2nd biggest asbestos mining conglomerate – is located conveniently near the group’s chrysotile asbestos mine in the Urals’ monotown of Asbest. Costing 104 million rubles (US~$1,107,550), the factory will produce up to 120 thousand square meters (5,000 tons) of building products – such as terrace and fence boards, façade panels, fences, logs and other types of moldings – per year.1 According to the company, there are plans to expand production capacity ten-fold to 30,000 tons/year. The initial production phase created 46 new jobs.

The official ceremony on March 13, 2024 was graced with the presence of local and state dignitaries including Dmitry Ionin, Deputy Governor of the Sverdlovsk Region, Yuri Pinaev, Director of the Governor's Programs Fund, and Natalia Tikhonova, Head of the Asbest Urban District, all of whom pledged full-scale support for this initiative to help move the asbestos mining town away from its “mono-dependence.” 2

Highlighting the strategic importance of the new Vestra factory, Sverdlovsk official Dmitry Ionin asserted that it was: “not just another enterprise, but a facility designed for the production of environmentally friendly products with outstanding physical and mechanical properties, which are in great demand not only in the Ural region, but also outside the Russian Federation.”

What was hidden within the hoopla and congratulations written about the day’s event was the fact that the substance at the heart of this new facility was “mineral dust… formed during the extraction of rock.” Whilst the precise nature of the “mineral dust” remained unspecified in the article published on March 26, a later article explained that the “mineral dust” consisted mainly of “serpentinite, which used to go to dumps, [that] has become the basis for the creation of products that builders of private houses are waiting for.”3

As chrysotile (white) asbestos is a member of the serpentine group of minerals and as Uralasbest is a chrysotile mining company, it is not unreasonable to conclude that the “minerals dust” being reclaimed from the mining waste contained chrysotile. The assurances that the output of the new production lines are “environmentally friendly” are, like other statements made by Russian asbestos vested interests, misleading and/or untrue. When the statements above are considered in light of comments made in 2021 by Uralasbest spokespersons regarding the need to “put to good use waste generated by its Number 2 asbestos processing plant,” it seems more likely than not that the “minerals dust” at the heart of this process is material reclaimed from chrysotile mining waste.4

Asbestos companies have form for hiding the truth from employees, consumers, members of the public and governments. In Australia, asbestos-cement building products were hugely popular from the mid-20th century until national prohibitions were introduced in 2003; asbestos-cement material was commonly known as “fibro,” with no mention of the “a” word. In the UK, innocuous brand names such as Limpet and Ferodo were adopted by Turner & Newall for asbestos-containing products and, in the US, Johns-Manville camouflaged its toxic products under trade names including: Marinite, Glasal, Fibrocel and Insulkote.

Amongst, the bigger public relations sleights of hand performed by asbestos lobbyists was the phasing out of the use of the word “asbestos” in favor of chrysotile – e.g. the Asbestos Institute (Canada) was rebranded as the Chrysotile Institute; the Asbestos International Association became the International Chrysotile Association. Others tricks to neutralize company names included adopting initials for companies which had become synonymous with asbestos – Turner & Newall became T&N – or dropping the word asbestos from the company name all together allowing the Cape Asbestos Co. Ltd. to morph into Cape Industries, plc and subsequently Cape, plc.

There is no question that sooner or later the toxic secret at the heart of the shiny new Vestra factory will be exposed; as always, the asbestos profiteers are playing a cat and mouse game hoping to forestall the day when they will be held to account for the damage they have done. One can but hope that this day comes sooner rather than later.

April 19, 2024


1 Урал обрел «вечные» доски [The Urals have found "eternal" boards]. March 26, 2024.

2 The existence of the town of Asbest is solely reliant on the operations of the chrysotile asbestos mining and processing units operated by Uralasbest.
В Асбесте открыли первый в Свердловской области завод минерально-полимерных композитов
[The first plant of mineral polymer composites in the Sverdlovsk region was opened in Asbest]. March 13, 2024.

3 Свое в доску [Yours on the board]. March 28, 2024.

4 Kazan-Allen, L. Behind the Asbestos Curtain: Uralasbest 2021. July 26, 2021



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