Regional Asbestos Conferences in Latin America 

by Susana Muhlmann and Laurie Kazan-Allen



The Building and Woodworkers International (BWI) has played a leading role in the trade union campaign to ban asbestos worldwide. As part of its ongoing activities, it took active roles in two regional asbestos conferences in Latin America in the run-up to International Workers Memorial Day (April 28). Trade unionists representing the construction sector in Brazil, Guatemala, Chile, Colombia, Peru, Paraguay, Uruguay and Argentina joined members of ABREA, the Brazilian Association of the Asbestos-Exposed, Ban Asbestos Canada and the International Ban Asbestos Network for two days of presentations and discussions hosted by the BWI in Sao Caetano do Sul, an industrial town near Sao Paulo. Speakers at the April 20-21, 2006 meeting included: leaders of Brazilian construction unions: FEITCOM, CONTICOM CUT and SOLIDARIDADE as well as representatives from the Ministry of Work, the Ministry of Health and the construction materials industry.

The following week, asbestos was also a principal theme of a three-day meeting hosted by the National Ministry of Employment and Social Security (Argentina) in Buenos Aires. Delegates from government departments, trade unions and NGOs joined international experts, engineers, lawyers, architects and students at plenary and roundtable sessions to compare national experiences of occupational disease. Amongst the speakers who addressed the 2,000 conference delegates were representatives from the International Labor Organization, the Governments of Argentina, Spain and Uruguay and medical experts such as Dr. Elena Matos and Dr. Marta Vilensky (Argentina), Dr. Carlos Alberto Gonzalez and Mr. Angel Rubio Ruiz (Spain), Dr. Soledad Duk Palacios (Chile), Dr. Laura Boujasson (France), Dr. Benedetto Terracini, Dr. Vincenzo Mungari and Dr. Giuseppe Cimaglia (Italy). The keynote speaker on April 28, International Workers Memorial Day, was Fiona Murie, the BWI's Director of Health, Safety and the Environment, whose presentation was entitled: Unionist Rights are Human Rights. Conference delegate Architect Susana Muhlmann reported that Ms. Murie:

“examined the worldwide asbestos epidemic, focusing her talk on those countries where the lack of asbestos prohibitions and preventative regulations result in hazardous exposures for workers. The incidence of occupational death from asbestos-related disease is higher than that from workplace falls. As all types of asbestos are acknowledged carcinogens, there is an urgent need for a global asbestos ban.

In her talk, Ms. Murie mentioned: asbestos bans in Argentina, Chile and Uruguay, Argentina's first official asbestos removal project which was carried out in 2003 at the former Caseros Prison by a project team working for the City of Buenos Aires, and the recently formed NGO: Argentinean Association for the Asbestos-Exposed (AS.AR.E.A).”


May 24, 2006



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