The world is now waiting for Kazakhstani chrysotile
The headline above was the concluding sentence in a May 10, 2022 article on a Kazakhstani news portal.1 According to the text, Kostanay Minerals Kazakhstans only chrysotile (white) asbestos company2 had declared a moratorium on mining from May 1-10, 2022 because its warehouses were full. As the vast majority of Kazakh asbestos production is exported with one estimate stating that as much as 90% of annual output is sent abroad3 sanctions imposed on shipments from Russian ports as a result of the war on Ukraine have adversely impacted Kostanays operations. Whilst some asbestos had been transported via the ports of Poti and Batumi, Georgia, their infrastructure is not, the author noted designed to receive large cargoes. Due to the collapse in orders caused by the transport problems, the Kostanay management had introduced anti-crisis measures.
Whilst Kazakhstan is the worlds second biggest asbestos producer, asbestos mined in Russia accounts for more than two thirds of all global supplies.4 Since Russia invaded Ukraine, our efforts to gather feedback from countries which had traditionally imported Russian asbestos had proved inconclusive. A colleague in India for more than 20 years the worlds largest asbestos-importing nation said that according to data provided by the Indian government, imports of asbestos (HS Code 2524) in January 2022 were valued at nearly $20 million, an increase of 31% over January 2021. Feedback from asbestos-producing units in Kolkata and Coimbatore suggested that as recently as March 2022, production levels were either being maintained or increased. There was said Mohit Gupta, a member of India Ban Asbestos Network, a huge stockpile of raw asbestos fiber in Kolkata.5
Part of a shipment received in Indonesia in March 2022 of Uralasbest asbestos fiber from Russia.
In Indonesia, shipments of Russian asbestos fiber were being received as recently as March 18, 2022. The picture above was taken at the PT Siam-Indo factory which manufactures asbestos-cement building material.6
While the impact of Western sanctions may have taken some time to kick in, it is certain that in Russia, at least, the asbestos gravy train has well and truly ground to a halt.7 On April 22, 2022, shareholders of Uralasbest Russias second biggest asbestos producer approved the companys decision to retain this years dividends in light of the unsettled economic situation.8 Normally, Uralasbest exports more than 80% of its annual chrysotile asbestos fiber production to 35 countries around the world.9
Since the end of February, 2022 many international transport and logistics companies have ceased their operations in Russia:
including the world's largest container operator Maersk and the American logistics company UPS. In addition, some maritime operators [including the international shipping line Mediterranean Shipping Company S.A. (MSC), the international shipping and container transportation company Hapag-Lloyd AG and the Taiwanese container shipping company Yang Ming Marine Transport Corporation]10 have stopped booking ships bound for Russia, and dozens of countries have closed the skies to Russian aircraft, making it unable to fly to the European Union, the United States and Canada.11
On May 21, 2022, Russian Transport Minister Vitaly Savelyev admitted that: The sanctions imposed on Russia today have virtually broken all logistics in our country. And we are forced to look for new logistics corridors.12 The acknowledgment of the reality which now confronts all Russian exporters will be of little consolation to asbestos stakeholders. It may, however, provide some solace to activists who have been campaigning for decades to end the global asbestos pandemic.13 With an excess of 300,000+ people dying every year from a range of asbestos-related diseases and cancers, the cessation of asbestos exports from the worlds two biggest producers is welcomed news.
May 24, 2022
1 Как горнодобывающие предприятия, экспортирующие продукцию, пытаются удержаться на плаву [How mining companies that export products are trying to stay afloat]. May 10, 2022.
2 Kostanay Minerals Website. Accessed May 23, 2022.
3 Doszhanova, E. Overview of Chrysotile Asbestos in Kazakhstan. May 8, 2013.
4 In 2020, Russian asbestos exports were valued at $175M; the biggest importers were India ($67M), China ($38.5M), Indonesia ($22M), Sri Lanka ($9.4M), Vietnam ($9.4M), Uzbekistan ($7.8M), Thailand ($7.6M) and Bangladesh ($6.5M).
5 Email received from Mohit Gupta, April 5, 2022.
7 In 2021, Russia produced 700,000 tonnes/t of chrysotile asbestos and Kazakhstan 250,000t.
8 Акционеры "Ураласбеста" решили не распределять прибыль и не выплачивать дивиденды по итогам 2021г [Shareholders of Uralasbest decided not to distribute profits and not pay dividends for 2021]. April 25, 2022.
9 Необходимы специальные меры поддержки [Special support measures needed]. March 22, 2022.
10 В уряді росії визнали, що санкції «поламали всю логістику» в країні [The Russian government has acknowledged that sanctions have broken all logistics in the country]. May 22, 2022.
11 У рф санкції через війну в Україні «зламали всю логістику» [In Russia, sanctions over the war in Ukraine broke all logistics]. May 22, 2022.
12 У Росії визнали: санкції зруйнували всю російську логістику [Russia has acknowledged that sanctions have destroyed all Russian logistics]. May 22, 2022
13 In 2020, Russian asbestos exports were valued at $175M; the biggest importers were India ($67M), China ($38.5M), Indonesia ($22M), Sri Lanka ($9.4M), Vietnam ($9.4M), Uzbekistan ($7.8M), Thailand ($7.6M) and Bangladesh ($6.5M).