Taking the Ban Asbestos Fight to Brasilia 2023
Brazilians have learned to be patient. Have you ever been in a traffic jam on a rainy afternoon in São Paulo or filed a personal injury lawsuit in a Rio de Janeiro court? There is a predictable unpredictability which Paulistas and Cariocas have learned to tolerate as part of the price of living in these vibrant and overcrowded cities. Nevertheless, there comes a time when even their patience is exhausted.
For decades, asbestos victims, labor prosecutors, trade unionists, activists and others have been campaigning to rid Brazil of the scourge caused by the mining, processing and use of asbestos.1 In assembly halls, labor tribunals, law courts, local and national news outlets, they were confronted by ruthless lobbyists determined to preserve the status quo. Finally in 2017, the Supreme Court (STF) issued a historic ruling outlawing the asbestos industry. And yet, asbestos mining continues.
November 2023 Update from Brasilia
Last month (November 2023), the STF was scheduled to hand down its ruling over the unconstitutionality of the Goiás state law which allowed this contradiction to exist. The eagerly anticipated judgment never arrived. With no explanation or rescheduling, the disposition of this case remains in limbo. Reacting to this development, Eliezer João de Souza, President of the Brazilian Association of the Asbestos-Exposed (ABREA), said:
The question for the STF judges was simple. Having previously agreed that the asbestos industry should be shut down to protect the lives of Brazilian citizens, all they had to resolve was whether the ban would be effective immediately or in a years time. The postponement, which is a decision not to decide, is an unconscionable act. The STF is a revered institution which held firm in the face of insurrectionists supporting former President Bolsonaro. One has to wonder why the Courts bravery failed when confronting the asbestos lobby.2
It is, said ABREA Lawyer Leonardo Amarante most unusual for the Courts timetable to be altered at the last minute and without any explanation...The information vacuum which currently exists regarding this litigation is something I have never seen before.3
Grassroots Mobilization in Brasilia, November 27, 2023
At 11 a.m. on Monday November 27, 2023, dozens of ABREA members and supporters from all over Brazil gathered at Praça dos Três Poderes [Square of the Three Powers],4 Brasilia to demonstrate their discontent at the STFs failure to set an end date for production at the countrys sole remaining chrysotile (white) asbestos mine. The facility is owned by the Eternit subsidiary: Sama Mineração S/A (SAMA).
November 27, 2023. ABREA demonstration outside the Supreme Court. Photo courtesy of ABREA (Enlarge image).
That afternoon, ABREA personnel were welcomed by Federal Deputy Nilto Tatto member of the Commission of Environment and Sustainable Development and author of Bill 3684/23 which seeks to close loopholes that still exist allowing the commercial exploitation of asbestos in contravention of 2017 and 2023 STF rulings to the public hearing Asbestos risks to health and the environment at the Chamber of Deputies.5 Under the chairmanship of Deputy Tatto, representatives of the Public Ministry of Labor, Ministry of Health and Labor Ministry/Fundacentro, ABREA campaigners and others gave evidence to the Commission of Environment and Sustainable Development.6
Speakers detailed the multiplicity of challenges faced by Brazilians in the aftermath of nearly a century of asbestos mining and use. Highlights of the three-hour session, which was broadcast online and shown live on TV Câmara, included input from:
November 27, 2023. Carlos Aparício Clemente of the Metalworkers Union of Osasco. Photo courtesy of ABREA.
November 27, 2023. Asbestos hearing organized by the Commission of Environment and Sustainable Development at the Chamber of Deputies, Brasilia. Photo courtesy of ABREA.
Addressing Brazils Asbestos Legacy, November 28, 2023
On November 28, 2023, the Labor Prosecutors Office in Brasilia played host to scores of ABREA members and invited guests at the Anti-asbestos Leadership Meeting 2023. Updates were provided by regional campaigners as well as technical experts such as Dr. Marcia Kamei Lopez Aliaga, former manager of the Labor Prosecution Offices National Program to Ban Asbestos; Drs Jefferson Benedito Pires de Freitas and Vera Salerno from the Zerbini Foundation at the Heart Institute, São Paulo; lawyer Gustavo Teixeira Ramos, and ABREA President Eliezer João de Souza and advisor Engineer Fernanda Giannasi.
November 28, 2023. From left: Lawyer Gustavo Teixeira Ramos, Marcos Zanin (ABREA), Labor Prosecutors Cirlene Luiza Simmerman, Márcia Cristina Kamei López Aliaga, Daniela Elbert Pais de Melo and Aline Zerwes Bottari Brasil. Photo courtesy of ABREA (Enlarge image).
November 28, 2023. Fernanda Giannasi. Photo courtesy of ABREA.
During the meeting, a new 48-page booklet on the rights of asbestos victims and family members was officially launched. Commenting on this new resource, Ms. Giannasi said:
ABREA members need access to correct and updated information in order to obtain their full entitlement of benefits and services. For this reason, we have today published this new resource. It has been a collaboration with many individuals but I would like to acknowledge the support from the International Ban Asbestos Secretariat which has, for nearly 25 years, worked in partnership with the ABREA community in the fight for justice for the asbestos-injured.
November 28, 2023. ABREA members at the High Chamber of Deputies wearing tee-shirts saying Encontro das Lideranças antiamianto 2023 [Anti-asbestos leadership meeting 2023]. Photo courtesy of ABREA.
Brazil is a democracy with a constitution that provides guarantees for civil liberties. As we saw during the January 2023 insurrection by supporters of former President Jair Bolsonaro, the Supreme Court played a pivotal role in protecting democratic institutions in the face of mob rule. The failure by the STF to take the final step needed to shut down the asbestos industry is a cause of serious concern not only to Brazilians but to people in importing countries. 9 Decisive action by the STF is a matter of life and death.
December 5, 2023
2 Kazan-Allen, L. Whats Going on at Brazils Supreme Court? November 13, 2023.
3 Press Release. Asbestos Victims Worldwide Call for Action by Brazils Supreme Court. November 26, 2023.
4 This square is a public open space surrounded by the buildings which symbolize the executive, judicial and legislative branches of the Brazilian Government.
5 Riscos do amianto para a saúde e o meio ambiente - Comissão de Meio Ambiente - 27/11/2023 [Asbestos risks to health and the environment - Environment Commission - 11/27/2023].
6 Comissão realiza seminário para discutir brechas na produção de amianto [Commission holds seminar to discuss loopholes in asbestos production]. November 27, 2023.
7 Fundação Oswaldo Cruz (Fiocruz) is a Brazilian institution for biological research and development based in Rio de Janeiro State. It was established in 1900 and is considered to be the premier health science institution in Latin America.
8 Created in 1966, the Jorge Duprat Figueiredo Foundation, for Occupational Safety and Medicine (Fundacentro) is a public foundation based in São Paulo which carries out research on matters of safety, hygiene, environment, and occupational injuries and diseases.
9 Press Release. Asbestos Victims Worldwide Call for Action by Brazils Supreme Court. November 26, 2023.
Comunicado de imprensa. Vítimas do amianto em todo o mundo pedem urgência na Suprema Corte do Brasil. 26 de novembro de 2023.