Vietnams Asbestos Frontline 2019
A recent 32-page letter by a broad-based coalition of Vietnamese social organizations and professional societies1 sent to members of the National Assembly [see: VN-BAN letter to Vietnam Government] addressed false statements and misinformation propagated at a pro-asbestos workshop held by the National Assemblys Committee on Science, Technology and Environment in collaboration with representatives of the asbestos lobby on November 3, 2018. In a country rapidly turning its back on deadly asbestos technology, domestic and foreign vested interests are desperate to exploit strategic loopholes and political connections to forestall the implementation of a Prime Ministerial Order banning the use of chrysotile asbestos roofing products by 2023.
As well as providing a background to Vietnams struggle to address the asbestos hazard via means such as the compilation of a National Asbestos Action Plan and Roadmap to Asbestos Eradication, the letter detailed years of lobbying by organizations such as the International Chrysotile Association, the Vietnam Roofing Association and others (the lobby) and accused them of: spreading untrue statements about chrysotile asbestos and false and incorrect information and data about the harmful effects of white asbestos; providing inaccurate and outdated information; and creating confusion and misunderstanding about the situation and the scientific basis for [banning] white asbestos.
It is unsurprising that the activities in Vietnam of the International Chrysotile Association (ICA) were highlighted in the letter. The ICA has for decades been the mouthpiece for global asbestos vested interests and, since the demise of the (Canadian) Chrysotile Institute, has orchestrated efforts to block moves by the United Nations (UN) to regulate the international trade in chrysotile asbestos.2 In the run-up to the 2019 meeting of the UNs Rotterdam Convention, the ICA which itself is much diminished in size and financial reserves from its glory years has been cultivating allies3 wherever it can and disseminating old arguments in glossy new publications in an attempt to confuse UN delegates about the need to protect populations from the asbestos hazard.4
Attacks on organizations and experts who backed plans to end asbestos consumption were itemized in the letter, including the lobbys disparagement of the Minister of Construction for his support of the 2023 ban asbestos deadline and his role in implementing the Asbestos Roadmap. Serious concerns were expressed about the motivation, purpose, honesty, [and] objectivity of Vietnamese delegations which visited the asbestos-producing countries of Brazil (2016) and Russia (2017) purportedly to learn about the safe use of chrysotile. Both of the delegations were led by Mr. Le Hong Tinh, the Vice Chairman of the National Assembly's Committee on Science, Technology and Environment.
The contentious 2018 meeting in Hanoi was discussed at some length, with questions raised about the bias of invited delegates and speakers and the lack of objectivity, fairness, accuracy and science. Industry appeared to be well represented at the meeting as evinced by the attendance of: Mr. Vo Quang Diem (Vietnam Roofing Association), Mr. Le Van Toi (Building Materials Association), Mr. Bach Dinh Thien (Institute of Tropical Environment), Ms. Le Thi Hang (Construction Hospital), Mr. Le Van Nghia (Dong Anh Roofing Company) who were invited to make the first presentations. Despite the existence of numerous pro-ban experts and campaigners, many of whom made formal requests to attend, only one was invited: Professor Nguyen Viet Bac, Vice Chairman of the Vietnam Chemical Association. The lack of objectivity and the inaccurate information conveyed by the presentations and the failure to provide any balance in the discussion on November 3 were heavily criticized in the letter.
The Vietnam ban will be yet another nail in the asbestos industrys coffin not only because of the loss of this once thriving asbestos market but also because of the signal it will send out to other countries throughout the region. With so much at stake, the asbestos sector is using every means to derail the prohibitions, including even challenging the Prime Ministers right to issue the order outlawing asbestos. Commenting on the situation, Tran Tuan, Member of the Steering Committee of the Vietnam Ban Asbestos Network, Chair of Vietnam Noncommunicable Diseases Prevention Alliance and Director of the Research and Training Center for Community Development said:
The Prime Ministerial Order was completely valid and a result of intensive and protracted discussions at the highest levels of government about the occupational and public health hazards posed by the use of asbestos in Vietnam. If the asbestos ban is overturned, the only ones who will benefit are the members of the Vietnam Roofing Association and the foreign companies which export raw asbestos to Vietnam. When our citizens become ill from toxic exposures to Russian or Kazakhstan asbestos, these entities will not provide the healthcare or feed their families. We remain committed to the full implementation of the Asbestos Eradication Roadmap and will continue to work with Ministers, civil servants and politicians to protect all of Vietnams citizens.
March 28, 2019
1 Amongst the signatories to this letter were the: Vietnam Chemical Association (CSV), Vietnam Association of Occupational Safety and Health (VOSHA), Hanoi Union of Science and Technology Associations (HUSTA), Information Center for Non-Governmental Organizations (NGO-IC), Center for Research, Training and Community Development (RTCCD) and Action Group for Justice, Environment and Health (JEH).
3 Eurasian Economic Commission Supports Chrysotile Asbestos. March 14, 2019.
4 Rotterdam Convention COP-9 MEETING 2019.