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|ISSN 1470-8108||Issue 52||Autumn 2003|
In September, 2003, the global campaign to ban asbestos achieved a unique feat by holding the first independent conference on asbestos in Canada, the country which leads the worldwide pro-chrysotile (white asbestos) lobby. Over the last hundred years, 61 million tonnes of asbestos were mined in Québec, Newfoundland, British Columbia and the Yukon earning the country billions of dollars in sales. The Canadian asbestos industry has enjoyed close, some would say intimate, links with the Governments of Canada and Québec, both of which have been more than generous with their financial and political support. With the backing of the Canadian establishment, the industry suppressed public debate on asbestos, ensured that thousands of Canadian asbestos victims remained unacknowledged and created mountains of asbestos tailings which remain, to this day, untreated and unsecured. Canadian asbestos stakeholders, used to getting their own way, were unable, however, to prevent this high-profile conference taking place in the heart of the country's capital. On September 12, 2003, one hundred delegates converged on Parliament Hill, Ottawa to explore the harmful repercussions of Canadian asbestos production at a three-day conference entitled Canadian Asbestos: A Global Concern. This was the first national event at which Canadian workers and asbestos victims were free to speak out about the damage done by the mining and use of Canadian chrysotile, the agendas and attendance at previous gatherings having been dictated by asbestos stakeholders.1 News of this event clearly unsettled the industry which responded in a variety of ways, including an orchestrated fax campaign aimed at Members of Parliament2, a fanfare of publicity for the release of yet another discredited report "exonerating chrysotile" and the mass transportation of protesting workers and residents from Thetford, one of Québec's asbestos communities, to Ottawa to "defend our product." Gaston Nadeau, of Thetford Mines, told reporter Elizabeth Thompson of The Gazette that this conference was "an attempt by foreign interests to cut off the lifeblood of their communities." While placard-carrying protesters expressed concern for their jobs outside the Canadian Parliament, inside the conference hall Canadian speakers revealed a national scandal long denied by both the Government and industry; representatives from India, Lebanon and Peru described the appalling human tragedies caused by the use of Canadian chrysotile in their countries.
Heightened police security inside and outside the House of Commons allowed the conference to proceed unhindered. Two days of plenary sessions were followed by a strategy session on Sunday for campaigners. An outstanding panel of international and Canadian scientists, academics, medical personnel, epidemiologists, trade unionists and public health experts exposed the ways in which industry has countered the increasing mass of evidence about the hazards of chrysotile; steps taken by the pro-chrysotile lobby include personal attacks on public health campaigners, pressure on international organizations such as the World Health Organization and the International Labor Organization by asbestos industry-linked "experts" and legal threats by industry representatives such as the Asbestos Cement Products Manufacturers' Association (India). Elizabeth May and Daniel Green from the Sierra Club of Canada, Mary Cook, Jim Brophy and Margaret Keith from the Occupational Health Clinics for Ontario Workers, Cathy Walker and Nick De Carlo from the Canadian Autoworkers Union, Joan Kuyek from Mining Watch, Canada, Dr. Louise De Guire from the National Institute of Public Health in Québec and several individuals whose lives have been devastated by asbestos-related deaths of husbands, fathers or children presented graphic and conclusive evidence of the damage done by occupational and environmental exposure to chrysotile in Canada. International speakers detailed an almost universal absence of health and safety regulations in developing countries which ensures that the current use of chrysotile in these countries constitutes a serious ongoing risk to public health. The launch of a Special Asbestos Issue of the International Journal of Occupational and Environmental Health (IJOEH) at this conference provided delegates with previously unpublished material about the global scale of the asbestos epidemic; for a review of this issue of the IJOEH see article 2.
The Ottawa conference marked a watershed in the history of the global movement to ban asbestos. For the first time, a cross-section of Canadians, including trade unionists, publicly disavowed the Canadian Government's pro-chrysotile position. The formation of Ban Asbestos Canada as a direct result of the conference brings a new voice to the national debate on asbestos. As the flow of independent information increases and channels of communication develop through which victims can tell their stories, industry's control of the Canadian asbestos agenda will end. Shackled by increasing opposition at home, Canadian coordinators of the pro-chrysotile lobby will become less able to operate in the global arena; this will expose remaining exporters to the growing hostility of consumers and governments opposed to the use of asbestos. Dr. Annie Thebaud-Mony, the Director of Research at the National Institute of Health and Medical Research at the University of Paris, France, a founding member of BAN Asbestos - FRANCE and the BAN Asbestos Global Network, summed up the feelings of many conference delegates when she said:
"The global campaign to ban asbestos has given a visibility to a problem long denied by industry. It has given strength and support to asbestos victims in many countries who have benefited from the information we have shared through our network. With this conference, we have contacted many asbestos victims in Canada and we now know that the Canadian position on asbestos is not reflected by the Government's aggressive and imperialistic stance. We extend the hand of welcome to all our Canadian brothers and sisters who have been injured by asbestos and welcome them to this virtual network of concerned citizens. Together we will bring to an end one hundred years of asbestos deaths."
Ever since the publication of Paul Brodeur's classic exposés of the American asbestos industry (Expendable Americans, 1974, and Outrageous Misconduct, 1985), there has been a steady stream of books on asbestos. The rate of publication has quickened recently and I can think of at least five monographs on the subject published in the last three years. Typically, the authors are historians or journalists, who have tackled a variety of themes, but mostly from a retrospective viewpoint. However, as I found after completing a book on British asbestos giant Turner & Newall, the asbestos crisis is still developing. Monographs can quickly become dated. The picture can change by the year – indeed by the month – and it is almost impossible to keep up to date. Moreover, asbestos problems are global. Getting a handle on events as they unfold on a worldwide canvas is difficult, even for experts in the subject. Conferences have brought together interested parties and have published useful proceedings (e.g. Annals of the Global Asbestos Congress, Brazil, CD-ROM, 2000), but these are not always easily available. The contemporary picture, for the moment, is best captured by the periodical press. In this context, the latest issue of the American-published International Journal of Occupational & Environmental Health (Vol. 9, No. 3, July/September 2003), is especially important. It is a Special Issue devoted to the "Asbestos War" and contains fifteen articles. In the lead article, "The Asbestos War," Laurie Kazan-Allen explains that the objective of the contributions is to provide a public forum in which asbestos victims and their representatives can detail the repercussions of asbestos misuse in their countries, publicize the work of victim support groups, report on the latest scientific research, and discuss the progress of ban-asbestos campaigners. The asbestos industry and their publicists are not represented in this issue of the IJOEH: however, their activities are frequently described and their views cited (the "war" metaphor, for example, is not a sensationalist ban-asbestos headline, but is taken from a Canadian industry document in 2002).
The articles are written by a range of authors (doctors, lawyers, historians, activists) and packed with information that is not always easy to summarize. However, as I read each one a number of common themes emerged. First and perhaps most significant is that asbestos use continues. Kazan-Allen sets the scene: the asbestos industry may have lost the battle for survival in the developed countries of America and Europe, but asbestos (i.e. chrysotile) use continues in the developing world. After hitting a peak of 5 million tonnes in 1975, world asbestos production is still 2 million tonnes. Asbestos has proved as resilient as ever. Several articles discuss asbestos in the developing world, where chrysotile use – far from being banned – is actually increasing in countries such as China, Indonesia, the Philippines, Thailand, and Vietnam.
A second theme is equally troubling: all countries that are or were asbestos users are facing a rising trend of morbidity and mortality from asbestos-related diseases (ARD). In many cases, the word "epidemic" is apt. For example, James Leigh and Tim Driscoll document the rise of malignant mesothelioma in Australia – a country with the highest rate of the disease in the world. So far 7,515 individuals have died (with 18,000 projected by 2020), the majority with documented asbestos exposure (to all fiber types). Like clockwork, the disease is appearing in other countries that were "late" or less intensive users of asbestos, or had poor data collection. In Korea, Domyung Paek shows that a major ARD problem has yet to appear, but mesothelioma cases are now being reported more frequently and lung cancer cases are rising fast (though few are accepted as occupational). Similarly in Japan, Sugio Furuya, Yuji Natori and Rie Ikeda document the rise in mesothelioma cases from about 500 in 1995 to nearly 800 in 2001.
A third theme that emerges strongly is the irresponsibility of the industry in allowing poor working conditions to flourish unchecked. The classic example is South Africa, the subject of an article by Jock McCulloch. Drawing upon his recent book, McCulloch shows how before the 1970s British companies (and the South African government) made few efforts to protect workers in the mines. The result was an epidemic of mesothelioma that was identified in the 1960s, but which continues today as the inhabitants of the old blue asbestos mining areas contend with environmental pollution unimaginable in the developed world. Abandoned chrysotile mines are a problem in the "blighted hills" around Jharkand in India, where Madhumita Dutta, Ramamurthi Sreedhar and Arin Basu highlight the environmental risks to the poor local community. Also in India, T.K. Joshi and R.K. Gupta, show that continued excessive exposures (often above the so-called safe threshold of 2 fibers/cc) give the lie to the industry's claim that chrysotile can be produced safely. Underlining the point is a comparative overview of the asbestos situation in ten Asian countries by K. Takahashi and A. Karjalainen. It attests to the unfavorable and dangerous working practices in most of the "ten," many of which are persisting in the use of asbestos. As Barry Castleman states in his commentary on these papers: "Really well controlled use of asbestos has never existed anywhere in the world, and it isn't being invented anywhere today."
A fourth theme is the influence of the industry's global strategies in enabling asbestos to survive. This is not a widely known story, partly because as Lundy Braun et al. show, the industry has been so successful at making ARD and its own activities "invisible." It has been able to do so partly because of the prevailing model of science, which is viewed by the public and of course by the medical community as value-free and untainted by the dirty business of politics and economics. In fact, with a few honorable exceptions, there is a long history of scientific experts allying themselves with the asbestos industry to the mutual benefit of both, but with a questionable dividend for victims. This situation has spun a web of industry-affiliated scientific and lobby organizations devoted to the continued use of the fiber. These are traced to the formation of the Asbestosis Research Council in the UK in 1957, which paved the way for the first international conference run by the industry in London in 1971. Canada is depicted as the main orchestrator of the industry's present strategy for survival. The Canadians have been adept at exploiting scientific debates about fiber potency (the "amphibole hypothesis") and genetic susceptibility.
However, the work of bodies such as the Asbestos International Association and the Canadian Asbestos Institute has provoked a reaction. If the story in the 1970s and 1980s was one of vigorous (and partly successful) defense by the industry, then the story thereafter has been one of "fight back" by victims (the fifth theme in these essays). In France, for example, Annie Thebaud-Mony highlights worker and trade unionist struggles in Clermont-Ferrand and shows how these were eventually translated into a larger victim support movement (ANDEVA). Kazan-Allen describes the emergence of victim support groups in the 1970s, beginning in the UK and then spreading to countries such as the USA and Australia. The developments culminated in 1991 in the formation of the Ban Asbestos Network and the International Ban Asbestos Secretariat in 1999. These organizations can now no longer be ignored by the asbestos industry or by governments, but the challenge is enormous.
This brings us to the final theme – the victims. Not only do they suffer from unspeakable illnesses, but this is compounded by non-existent or abysmal levels of compensation. According to Guadalupe Aguilar-Madrid et al, nearly 800 people had died from mesothelioma in Mexico by 2000, but not one of these cases was recognized as occupational for compensation purposes. The situation is worse in countries such as South Africa, where compensation hardly exists and workers have had to resort to foreign courts for redress. Lawyer Richard Meeran tells the inside story of how South African miners struggled to pierce the corporate veil and achieve justice against Cape Asbestos. After six years of litigation, in which the case "was bounced up and down the legal system of England and South Africa," a modest settlement was achieved. The case highlighted the huge disparities between the American and South African legal systems. But scandalous recompense is not confined to South Africa. Salvatore Nay shows that in Belgium (the home of Eternit) asbestosis was only recognized for compensation in 1953, mesothelioma in 1982, and lung cancer as late as 1999. Not that it seems to matter much: only salaried workers can claim, no claims are accepted beyond twenty years after exposure, and employers are not liable!
And who are these victims? Hein du Plessis shows us some of the faces behind the statistics in a photo-essay that he compiled when he visited workers and their families in the blue asbestos mining town of Prieska in the late 1990s. He ensures that some of the victims are visible and a brief text allows them to speak. Ragel Olyn, 66, an asbestosis sufferer, states: "We worked hard for Cape and now we hear the dust was poisoning us. The dust was everywhere, in our houses, in our clothes, and when you coughed the phlegm was full of dust. Now my health is poor. I cough and my chest pains. The dust has eaten holes in my lungs. Must I accept this?" The answer from this Special Issue is a resounding "No."
The IJOEH Asbestos Issue can be obtained in the UK at the cost of £25 from John Flanagan, of the Merseyside Asbestos Victims Support Group, and Adrian Budgen, of the June Hancock Mesothelioma Research Fund; all the monies raised will be donated to these charities. Contact: John and Adrian by email at: firstname.lastname@example.org and BudgenA@irwinmitchell.co.uk or by phone: 0151 236 1895 and 0114 276 7777. In Australia this issue may be obtained from the Asbestos Diseases Society of Australia; phone: 0893-444-077. Elsewhere, contact the US publishers at: www.ijoeh.com.
National Asbestos Inspection Day, October 15, 2003, seems an appropriate time to reflect on current asbestos developments. According to the inaugural issue of The June Hancock Mesothelioma Research Fund Newsletter, "someone dies every five hours from mesothelioma in the UK; there were 1,628 deaths from mesothelioma in 2000 in Britain... (and) there are 33% more deaths from mesothelioma than cervical cancer (in Britain)."3 Data on asbestos-related disease published by the Health and Safety Executive in October, 2003 revealed a 13% rise in the number of mesothelioma deaths (1848) in 2001. Groups at high-risk of contracting mesothelioma were identified as: metal plate workers (including shipyard workers), vehicle body builders, plumbers, gas fitters, carpenters and electricians. Occupational asbestos exposure experienced at the Harland and Wolfe Shipyard in Belfast put Robbie Brown in a high-risk category. When he was diagnosed with asbestos-related disease, Robbie was appalled at the information vacuum which existed in Northern Ireland. Determined to improve the plight of asbestos victims, he founded Justice for Asbestos Victims (JAV) in March, 2002 to provide a source of practical assistance for others like himself. Although he had not been well during the Summer, his death on Sunday October 12 was unexpected. Robbie passed away at home with his wife, June, beside him. A JAV spokesperson, Fiona Sterritt, said:
"June Brown, Robbie's wife, is determined to keep the group going in memory of Robbie. Committee members, many of whom have also lost loved ones, will continue to work together to ensure that asbestos victims in Northern Ireland have the support they need."
The existence of local asbestos groups provides a lifeline to sufferers and their families; no organization is held in higher esteem than the charity OEDA, the Occupational and Environmental Diseases Association, formerly SPAID. For over twenty years, financial support from London Boroughs, now administered by the Association of London Government (ALG), has enabled OEDA to assist the injured, conduct scientific research and make information freely available to the public, advice groups, trade unions, medical and legal professionals, journalists, civil servants and politicians of all parties. Reports by OEDA's Electron Microscope Unit are used to challenge defendants' "expert witnesses," coroners' pathologists and decisions by the Department of Work and Pensions' Special Medical Boards. Public meetings held throughout the year by the OEDA Fellowship at St. Barnabas Church, Bethnal Green provide a personal contact point for a population with more than its fair share of disease due to exposures in factories and London docks. OEDA's many outstanding achievements are the result of the dedication and thoroughness of Nancy Tait and the OEDA team. In September, 2003, the ALG rejected OEDA's current application for £52,596 ($87,000) of core funding, forcing the organization to issue a public appeal for donations. The repercussions of the ALG's decision is cause for serious concern amongst asbestos victims, public health campaigners, community groups and politicians. In an article published in The Guardian on September 20, the outspoken columnist Julie Burchill, whose father died of an asbestos-related disease, asked:
"why the Association of London Government, which has helped OEDA with a modest annual grant for several years, has decided to stop doing so, despite it meeting the ALG's business plan priorities, including 'providing pathways out of social exclusion' and 'promoting community/service users' rights and entitlements.'"
Returning to the subject of OEDA in her September 27th column, Burchill queried ALG's withdrawal of support for "the maverick workers' rights organisation that seeks justice and compensation from bosses who did nothing to stop their workers being harmed by fatal substances, such as asbestos." She speculated:
"the modern disease of demanding that everything be 'edgy' and 'sexy'... has now spread to the institution of public philanthropy. And that here, where matters of life and death are to be considered, rather than matters of style and substance, we could see how corrosive and destructive such judgments really are."
The situation will be discussed by MPs at meetings of the All Party Parliamentary Occupational Safety and Health Group (OSHG) and its Asbestos Sub-Committee in November. Michael Clapham MP and Chair of the OSHG says:
"OEDA provides an invaluable service for asbestos sufferers and their relatives; it is important that funding is made available so that its work can continue. On October 30, an Early Day Motion is being raised to alert politicians to the repercussions of ALG's decision. In the meantime, I will be working with my colleagues in the House of Commons to explore options with civil servants and the Minister of Health."
One of the excuses given by the ALG for its cancellation of OEDA's funding is that too much time is spent helping non-Londoners. Geography is no bar to contracting asbestos-related disease: London stevedores, lorry drivers, laggers and builders were exposed to the same asbestos as Nottingham factory workers, Doncaster railway workers and Plymouth dockyard workers. Obtaining compensation for asbestos injuries often entails accessing information from a range of sources; when you are dealing with asbestos, it is rare for there to be clear-cut demarcations. OEDA is a valuable resource that should be treasured not threatened; your opinion on these developments can be communicated to the ALG by email to: email@example.com or by post to: 591/2 [yes,591/2!] Southwark Street, London SE1 OAL. Donations and Gift Aid Declarations for OEDA can be sent to: OEDA, PO Box 26, Enfield EN1 2NT, England.
The commercial exploitation of asbestos during the 20th century generated massive profits for companies mining and processing the mineral. The targeted and skilful disbursement of industry funding for "scientific research" enabled corporate and governmental stakeholders to set the terms of the asbestos debate; the Machiavellian ways by which they did so have become a popular subject for academics. In the paper: Scientific Controversy and Asbestos: Making Disease Invisible, Dr. Lundy Braun and her co-authors write:
"The asbestos industry deployed a range of international strategies to control the production and dissemination of knowledge about asbestos. Such strategies include direct suppression of data from industry-sponsored research, selective publication of research findings, and the systematic use of scientific knowledge to create uncertainty. The industry was successful because all too many scientists, including editors of journals, were more than willing to ally themselves with industry and to use their professional status as scientific experts to support industry policies."4
Attempts by Canadian asbestos interests to influence Montreal-based scientists were the focus of a recent paper published by Dr. David Egilman. Evaluating studies funded by the Québec Asbestos Mining Association (QAMA) and conducted by McGill University researchers, Egilman concludes:
"The Canadian asbestos mining industry has a long history of manipulating scientific data to generate results that support claims that their product is 'innocuous'. Researchers complicit in this manipulation seem to be motivated by a variety of interests, including a desire to support an important national industry and a pre-existing ideological commitment to support corporate interests over worker or community interests. Conducting industry-friendly research can also anchor an academic career by guaranteeing the steady stream of funding necessary to stay afloat in the 'publish or perish' environment of the university."5
QAMA's strategies to "mislead the medical community about the carcinogenic effects of asbestos exposure" were best expressed, the author said, by the acronym ABC: "Anything But Chrysotile." As vindicating chrysotile was the holy grail, the ABC argument blamed organic and synthetic oil contamination, crocidolite and tremolite.
Further revelations about industry's use of science and scientists were made at the Ottawa conference: Canadian Asbestos: A Global Concern. In the presentation: The Chrysotile Debate on September 12, 2003, Dr. Jock McCulloch said:
"The industry had various tools with which to protect itself. They ranged from collusion with state and regularity authorities, generating favourable publicity about the safety of its products, and even espionage. Arguably its most potent weapon was the corruption of science from within to create a counter-discourse and thereby promote doubt about the toxicity of asbestos."
Where particular scientists posed a risk, the industry had ways to sequester them. McCulloch described the case of one, much lauded scientist, who had been in the secret pay of a US asbestos corporation for 16 years; beginning in 1986, Dr. X received monthly payments from a law firm in South Carolina which represented the manufacturer.6 The sums received varied from a few hundred dollars to $7,500; payments totalling $300,000 have been traced. McCulloch displayed a check from the law firm to this scientist and said that this sorry tale illustrates a wider truth – that the industry would stop at nothing to protect the bottom line. With the drying up of funding from academic and other sources, researchers are increasingly vulnerable to corporate influence.
Science is not the only academic discipline to benefit from industry's largesse. A deposition taken last month by US lawyer Mark Lanier detailed the dizzying sums of money which can be received by historians from industry clients. During a five-hour session on September 22, UK historian Dr. Peter Bartrip was questioned about his academic background, teaching positions and freelance research projects. As a Reader in History at University College, Northampton, Bartrip earns £38,000 a year ($57,000). Over the last ten years, three commissions from asbestos defendants' attorney Blake Perkins, dubbed Bartrip's "customer of the decade" by Lanier, earned the academic a great deal more; in a typical British understatement, Bartrip said: "well, I have boosted my income from doing this work, certainly." When asked how much he received from Turner & Newall "for researching the history of occupational health with particular reference to asbestos in the U.K.," he estimated the amount at somewhere between £100k and £500k. His guesstimate for the fee from an AC&S project was even vaguer; more than £50k, he ventured, and less than £500k. The research for AC&S, the sole US distributor of T&N's Sprayed Limpet Asbestos, was conducted over a period of 2-3 years and focused on "the history of occupational health and safety as it relates to asbestos in the United States." Although, Bartrip had, by the time of the deposition only received $68,250 for research on "Union Carbide's involvement in the asbestos industry," there was, he said, "money owing" for the Summer months. Using current exchange rates, Bartrip's income from asbestos research has been calculated as between £190,653 ($318,990) - £1,040,653 ($1,741,162). Readers wishing to learn more about Bartrip's opinions on historical research, depth of knowledge and proof-reading practices are advised to read the 211 page deposition which can be found on the website: www.egilman.com/bartrip.htm
The photograph on the cover of Andrea Peacock's new book: Libby, Montana: Asbestos & the Deadly Silence of an American Corporation depicts a Western idyll of clear skies, lush forests, meandering rivers and snow-topped mountains.7 The pristine image of nature at its best could not be farther from the reality of life in a town where the air, soil, water and buildings are polluted by asbestos, a substance which has killed hundreds of local people: welcome to Libby. The struggle by this small community to force US multinational W.R. Grace to accept responsibility for the damage done by its operations to mine asbestos-contaminated vermiculite is meticulously reported by Ms. Peacock who explains that Montana is "a state built on mining." "It is telling of Montana's attitude toward mining regulations," she writes "that a state engineer found it 'acceptable' for Grace to consistently overexpose its workers to asbestos." The author's knowledge of state history, politics and geography informs the narrative and gives the reader a contextual framework within which to place this gripping and tragic tale. As decontamination of the buildings and land proceeds, the people of Libby incubate the same deadly diseases which have killed loved ones and neighbors. Who will be next?
Vermiculite from Libby was shipped to over 40 US states for a variety of commercial and domestic purposes. Vermiculite grade 3 was used by Grace in its fireproofing product Monokote-3 which also included commercial chrysotile asbestos and gypsum. EPA toxicologist Chris Weis believes that Monokote-3 may have contained "5 to 15 percent tremolite asbestos." Monokote-4, marketed by Grace as a "non-asbestos-fireproofing product," replaced chrysotile with a cellulose-based fiber but still used grade 3 vermiculite which, Weis says, "probably had more tremolite asbestos than any of the Libby ore." Both varieties of Monokote were sprayed onto steel beams and trusses at the World Trade Center (WTC). While it is not known how much of the 5,000 tons of sprayed fireproofing on the twin towers was Monokote, "if the contractors used only Monokote, following Weis's calculations that adds up to somewhere between 250 and 750 tons of tremolite asbestos." Tests taken shortly after the attack on the WTC revealed that over 30% of the bulk dust and debris samples taken by the Environmental Protection Agency five to seven blocks from ground zero contained more than 1% asbestos. It is likely that some of it came from Libby. Should the incidence of asbestos-related disease increase in the aftermath of the WTC attack, New Yorkers "will find, as Libby's victims have, that there are few places to turn for justice. On April, 2, 2001, W.R. Grace became one of the last of the asbestos giants to file for bankruptcy."
With all that is known about the risks of asbestos exposure, it is hard to believe that markets for this toxic substance still exist. The editorial in a recent issue of The Science of the Total Environment entitled: Asbestos: Old Foe in 21st Century Developing Countries condemns the exporting of asbestos to countries with weak regulatory mechanisms such as Jamaica and India where it is used by ill-informed workers in hazardous conditions:
"Asbestos mining, processing and usage are increasing in developing countries, yet the health impact of these activities remains obscure. This obscurity enables the pro-asbestos businesses to mount poorly challenged promotions of asbestos use while weakening the case for regulating asbestos usage. Epidemiological studies seeking to establish reliably the health effects of asbestos mining, processing and usage in developing countries are needed... International agencies and philanthropies can help greatly to assist people working under difficult and sometimes risky conditions to get the essential epidemiological data and take the message of their findings to the people and galvanize them to take corrective action."8
Citing the maxim "prevention is better than cure" and the "polluter pays" principle, the authors criticize national governments which permit the continuation of dangerous working practices and asbestos multinationals which create public health hazards, concluding: "global free trade and investment ought to come with global responsibility!"
1 The event was organized and sponsored by a range of Canadian and international groups including: the New Democratic Party, the Canadian Union of Public Employees, the Sierra Club of Canada, the Canadian Autoworkers Union, the Occupational Health Clinics for Ontario Workers, Mining Watch Canada, the White Lung Association (USA), the Society of Occupational and Environmental Health (USA), the International Ban Asbestos Secretariat and the Global Ban Asbestos Movement. The Officers of the conference were: Joe Comartin (President); Elizabeth May and Anthony Pizzino (Vice-Presidents).
Compiled by Laurie Kazan-Allen