Growth of Ban Asbestos Movement in Asia 

Report by Laurie Kazan-Allen and Sugio Furuya



Over the last year, pioneering work by Asian asbestos victims' groups, trade unions, academics, medical experts and activists has increased regional calls for a ban on future consumption of asbestos.


In recent months, citizens' groups from Japan, the first Asian country to pass ban asbestos legislation, have been working closely with colleagues in Korea to exchange information on the asbestos hazard, coordinate actions and raise public awareness of the human and environmental fallout from the widespread and unregulated use of asbestos. In May 2007, the first bilateral asbestos meeting took place in Seoul attended by Korean and Japanese delegates.

Demonstration at a government complex in Seoul

A few months later (November), an asbestos workshop was part of the proceedings of the annual meeting of the Korean Society of Occupational & Environmental Medicine in Busan (Korea); members of Ban Asbestos Network Japan and the (Japan) Association of Mesothelioma and Asbestos-Related Disease Victims and their Families attended both meetings. In December 2007, the inaugural meeting of the Busan Asbestos Victims Group was held; a follow-up meeting is scheduled in January 2008. Work is proceeding on setting up the NGO: Ban Asbestos Korea and an announcement about the formation of this group is imminent.


In November 2007, Professor Domyung Paek and his compatriot, Professor Dongmug Kang discussed The Prediction of Mesothelioma Incidence from Asbestos Consumption, a Comparative Study and The Relationship between Environmental Asbestos Exposure and Malignant Mesothelioma in Busan, Korea respectively at the “International Asbestos Conference” in Yokohoma, Japan.

Domyung Paek addressing the conference

Other delegates from Korea at this event included representatives of the Korean Federation of Environmental Movements and the Korean Confederation of Trade Unions.

Also in November, an asbestos workshop, organized by the Kanagawa branch of the National Railway Union, was held in Yokohoma. UK asbestos activist Laurie Kazan-Allen made a presentation entitled Asbestos and the UK Railway Unions; Dr. Barry Castleman provided technical input to the discussions.

In January 2008, three Japanese asbestos victims' activists returned to Seoul and Busan to discuss joint strategies with their Korean counterparts who had recently announced the formation of a new NGO: Ban Asbestos Korea.

Three Japanese asbestos victims visiting Korea

On January 24, they participated in a demonstration mounted by their Korean colleagues against the continuing presence of asbestos-containing products in the Seoul subway system

Subway demonstration in Seoul


In the Philippines, a Forum on Banning Asbestos was held on November 29, 2007 by the Associated Labour Unions (ALU), an affiliate of the Building and Woodworkers International. At this event, Florencia Cabatingan, Vice President of the ALU, said: “Philippine workers and their families are in danger as long as the use and importation of asbestos is not banned in the country.” During discussions at the forum the positions of various government departments were revealed. Aside from the Department of Health, which supported a ban, the other departments upheld the status quo which permits the continued use of asbestos; representatives of the Environment Department and the construction industry reassured forum delegates that as long as regulations are obeyed, asbestos can be used safely. The ALU made its position clear, stressing that the only safe use of asbestos was no use.


On December 1, 2007, an asbestos session was on the agenda of the two-day Collegium Ramazzini Satellite Workshop Occupational and Environmental Health In The Asia/Pacific Region in Bangkok, Thailand. Speakers from Japan, Thailand and the U.S. made presentations which:

  • showed the correlation between historic asbestos consumption and the incidence of pleural mesothelioma mortality;
  • stressed the urgency of introducing stringent regulations to minimize hazardous exposures to asbestos during demolition and refurbishment work;
  • discussed the social struggle by civil society to achieve national bans;
  • exhibited examples of the successful use of non-asbestos roofing materials in Thailand;
  • documented levels of asbestos imports to Thailand; with 2.5 kg/per capita of asbestos used annually, Thailand is one of the world's biggest asbestos consumers.


Presentations by international experts on medical and environmental asbestos issues were made during a series of meetings organized by Dr. T K Joshi, Director of the Centre for Occupational & Environmental Health, New Delhi at the end of 2007.

Arthur Frank addressing the meeting

After extensive dialogue between speakers and delegates at the Joint Labor-Management Safety meeting of the Indian Steel Industry, which was held in Visakhapatnam, Southern India in early December 2007, there was considerable support amongst the audience for a phasing out of asbestos use. Further activities to raise public and professional awareness of the asbestos hazard are being planned for Spring 2008.

The bad old days when the asbestos lobby enjoyed unfettered control of the national asbestos debate are long gone. Even in countries such as India where asbestos consumption is growing at an astronomical rate, protests are being registered against the unwarranted endangerment of workers and the public. With such phenomenal sums of money at its disposal to buy political influence and media coverage, the asbestos industry is a formidable opponent. Nevertheless, grass-roots movements in Asia are calling on governments to put safety before profits and human life before politics and to ban asbestos. The increasing international collaboration by asbestos victims' groups and NGOs is a positive development which will empower civil society in its demand for safe workplaces and healthy environments.

January 30, 2008



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