Latin American Asbestos Events 2006 

by Laurie Kazan-Allen



In the run-up to this year's International Workers' Memorial Day (April 28), key events were held in Latin America which highlighted the on-going struggle to protect workers and the public from deadly asbestos exposures. The following notes give an indication of the breadth of issues covered and the grass-roots support which these events attracted.

April 20-21, 2006: A meeting of Latin American trade unionists was held in São Caetano do Sul Brazil by the Building and Woodworkers International (BWI). BWI representatives from Guatemala, Brazil, Peru, Columbia, Argentina, Paraguay, Chile and Panama attended the sessions along with representatives from NGOs including: Fernanda Giannasi and members of ABREA, the Brazilian association representing asbestos victims, and Kyla Sentes from Ban Asbestos Canada. Speaking about this event, Fernanda Giannasi said: “The participation of different social partners at this important regional meeting of trade unionists illustrates the great strides which are being made in forging the global campaign to ban asbestos.”

April 24, 2006: A demonstration and rally were held in Osasco, Brazil1 by ABREA. ABREA members set up a stand in front of the city's most popular shopping mall from where they distributed information on the work of the association and the on-going asbestos risk in Brazil, a country which, despite promises by the President, has not banned asbestos. In 2000, the town of Osasco was one of the first Brazilian municipalities to ban asbestos; during the week of asbestos activities, the Mayor of Osasco displayed 50 banners about asbestos hazards throughout the city.

April 26, 2006: An asbestos meeting was held at the Osasco Council Chambers. Speakers included federal and municipal politicians, Eliezer Joao de Souza, President of ABREA, Fernanda Giannasi, Kyla Sentes and Laurie Kazan-Allen of the International Ban Asbestos Secretariat.

April 25-27: The delegates at the Asbestos Symposium for Latin American Countries, an event organized by Fundacentro and held at its Sao Paulo headquarters, included representatives from Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Cuba, Ecuador, Mexico, Nicaragua, Peru, Uruguay, and Venezuela. A declaration (see Appendix A) adopted unanimously by the delegates recommended that:

  • asbestos bans be adopted by governments which have not already done so; those which have, should begin the progressive elimination of asbestos from national infrastructures;

  • a National Asbestos Program should be promoted in every country to raise medical, professional, occupational and public awareness of asbestos hazards;

  • international bodies have an important part to play:

ILO 162 should be revised to eliminate the concept of the “safe use of


the WHO's Environmental Health Criteria 203: Chrysotile Asbestos should be widely disseminated;

until asbestos products can be removed, technical support on the safe management of asbestos products in-situ should be provided by the ILO and WHO; these organizations should also advocate and support national efforts to transfer to non-asbestos using technologies.

April 27: A commemorative event for all those who had lost loved ones to asbestos diseases was held at twilight in Aquilino A. dos Santos Square, Osasco; the name of this small square honors one of the first Osasco residents to die of an asbestos-related disease.

April 28: As delegates at the Workshop on Mineral Dusts and the Respiratory System heard presentations on a range of asbestos subjects, including medical developments, prevention of risks, global asbestos policy and the aggressive marketing campaign by the asbestos industry inside the conference hall, outside the building ABREA members from Osasco and São Caetano do Sul Brazil protested the Brazilian Government's failure to ban asbestos.

April 28: On April 28, a session on asbestos culminated three days of meetings on occupational health hosted by the National Ministry of Employment and Social Security (Argentina) in Buenos Aires. Fiona Murie, the BWI's Director of Health, Safety and the Environment, was the keynote speaker.2

September 4, 2006


1 For over fifty years, Osasco, an industrial suburb of São Paulo, was the center of the country's huge asbestos-cement industry. Former workers from the local Eternit factory founded the Brazilian Association of the Asbestos-Exposed (ABREA) in 1995. There are also branches of ABREA in Rio de Janeiro, São Caetano do Sul, Bahia and Recife.

2See: Regional Asbestos Conferences in Latin America.

Appendix A




The representatives (1) and governmental (2) and non-governmental participants (3) of ten countries of Latin America who were present at the Asbestos Symposium for Latin American Countries, organized by Fundacentro in São Paulo, Brazil from April 25 through 27 2006, agree to affirm the following Declaration:

Considering that:

All types of asbestos, including chrysotile, are recognized as being carcinogenic to humans,

Asbestos constitutes a problem not only for workers but also for the entire population that is directly or indirectly exposed and represents a problem of Public Health and Human Rights,

The global situation of production and consumption of asbestos has improved, as evidenced by: a decrease of more than 50% in global production in the past 30 years, a substantial reduction in the number of exposed workers in developed countries, and the gradual increase in the number of countries which have banned the use of asbestos (more than 40),

Countries that produce or manufacture asbestos practice policies of transferring risk to the developing countries of Latin America, Asia and Africa,

The persistence of asbestos as a harmful agent continues to constitute an indicator of inequality. The morbidity and mortality caused by asbestos has not decreased nor does it reflect the true impact of exposure to asbestos. The victims of asbestos-related diseases cannot rely on receiving the social and economic protection that is owed to them,

In spite of accumulated knowledge about the health problems associated with asbestos, feed-back about the situation in Latin American countries clearly demonstrates the ineffectiveness of the labor legislation and the control of the work environment where asbestos is utilized,

The amount of asbestos already in place represents a problem of high social, economic, and health costs which will continue for generations to come,

There exist adequate technologies for the substitution for asbestos, that is, production of materials less harmful to human health. Implementation of such substitutes, when adapted, has not produced adverse technological or economic consequences,

The objective of all discussion concerning asbestos should be to protect workers and the public by engaging with unions, responsible enterprises, and victims' organizations to ensure that effective controls and suitable legislation are adopted and enforced ,that justice is dispensed and that the community is informed and alerted to the asbestos hazard..


  1. To encourage those countries in the region which have not yet acted on the asbestos hazard to prohibit the use of asbestos in all forms and in all products.

  2. To strengthen and extend the prohibition of asbestos in those countries that have begun to curtail asbestos use, eliminating asbestos in a progressive manner including existing exceptions.

  3. To promote the implementation of a National Asbestos Program in every country, according to the needs, capacities and resources of each state, for the purposes of advising and proposing actions on: information, medical and epidemiological surveillance of the population exposed both directly and indirectly, and the permanent control of the sources of exposure until such sources are eliminated. To make the proposed actions effective, it is recommended that training of human resources specialized in asbestos continue, requesting international cooperation when required.

  4. We call on international organizations:

4.1 To encourage in the region the ratification and or application of the ILO 139 Agreement about carcinogenic substances;

4.2 To carry out the revisions of the ILO 162 eliminating the concept of the use of asbestos under safe conditions;

4.3 To elaborate and disseminate the WHO document concerning the carcinogenic nature of chrysotile;

4.4 To offer technical support for the management and substitution of asbestos by materials that are recognized as being less harmful to one's health and the environment in accordance with the safest available technology;

4.5 To disseminate throughout Latin America and the Caribbean the present recommendations and alternative solutions that were proposed during this Symposium.

To give continuity to the communication initiated between the participants of this Asbestos Symposium in São Paulo in order to further the interchange of information; to spread up-to-date knowledge; to promote participation in regional and existing international networks; and to establish collaborative plans within and among these countries which include regular meetings and action plans

To develop lines of communication on risks and information transfer within the community, paying particular attention to the right to know,

To establish and set into practice in all countries of the region, a clear strategy suitable for the elimination of installed asbestos, addressing its removal and final disposition, with priority given to public or private buildings with the highest vulnerability of users such as schools, hospitals, etc,

To demand the compliance of the international labeling protocol concerning asbestos in all of the products in which it is used in the industry or is made available to consumers until its production is ended, which will ensure that consumers of products containing asbestos and workers engaged in asbestos removal/disposal and/or demolition work are properly warned and protected from the asbestos hazard. Where countries have mandated the production of non-asbestos products, labels stating “without asbestos” should distinguish those products which are asbestos-free from those which have traditionally contained it.

To urge states to consider as essential the compensation of asbestos victims, and the creation of legal mechanisms that ensure that those responsible, such as industries which allowed hazardous asbestos exposures to occur, finance the victims' reparation,

To promote a demand by countries in the region that the Secretary of the Rotterdam Convention include chrysotile in Annex 3, which regulates the surveillance of high risk chemicals in international commerce,

To urge governments of asbestos-producing countries to mobilize the necessary efforts to prevent the export of asbestos and suspend the cross-border transport of hazardous products and waste.

(1) Argentina, Cuba, Brazil, México, Nicaragua, Uruguay, and Venezuela,

(2) Cuba, Venezuela

(3) Brazil, Chile, Ecuador, Nicaragua, Perú and Venezuela

In collaboration with the organization of the Symposium: 1) the international organizations, ILO and WHO, 2) research centers and non-governmental organizations: the Finnish Institute for Occupational Health (FIOH), FUNDACENTRO, International Commission for Occupational Health (ICOH), Mount Sinai School of Medicine and the Collegium Ramazzinni, with resources and panelists.

Also present were invited panelists representing the universities (West Virginia School of Medicine and Queens College, City University of New York, New York, USA).

November 20, 2006



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