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Thursday, 18 April 2013

Thursday, 18 April 2013

US continues to resist asbestos legislation despite worldwide ban

Despite prohibition in over 50 countries, including the UK, the United States has continued importing asbestos.

To the dismay of health professionals and campaigners against the toxic material, the US Geological Survey recorded imports of asbestos from Brazil totalling 1,060 metric tons in 2012.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), annual deaths worldwide from asbestos-related diseases, among them the vicious pleural cancer mesothelioma, exceed 107,000.

However, a joint 2010 investigation between US campaigners and the BBC found that asbestos is still sold to developing nations, mainly by Russia (the world's largest producer), China and Brazil.

To create awareness of the problem faced by Americans, and as part of National Asbestos Awareness Week, a Washington press conference has been held by California's Asbestos Disease Awareness Organization (ADAO). The meeting threw a spotlight on American investors believed by ADAO to have stakeholdings in the Brazilian asbestos industry.

The group's president, Linda Reinstein, said she was "appalled and disgusted that the United States still allows the importation of asbestos to meet so-called manufacturing needs".

Ms Reinstein added that substitutes for asbestos, widely used in the UK for its insulation and fire retardant properties until its 1999 ban, have long been known to exist. "We’re facing a public health crisis where more than 30 Americans die every day from preventable, asbestos-caused diseases," Ms Reinstein said. "It's time we protect public health over the profits of these companies."

Although the use of asbestos in the US has fallen since 1973, successive American administrations have continued to resist a formal ban. In 1989 an attempt at prohibition was made by the Environmental Protection Agency, but this was successfully challenged by the industry in court.

The American Chemistry Council (ACC) have defended asbestos use in certain applications and insist that it is "strictly regulated".

"Diaphragms made of asbestos are a critical separation medium in the chlorine manufacturing process," the ACC stated. "Chlorine is essential for manufacturing life-saving medicines, producing solar cells, and providing safe drinking water."

The trade body added that producers of chlorine are careful to "manage the risks and potential adverse effects to human health and the environment", pointing out that strict working processes are observed and that employees are given protective equipment.

However, respected voices from science and education are certain that asbestos carries no safe degree of exposure. Prof Richard Lemen, a retired US Surgeon General and a noted academic, said: "Americans are still at risk of developing highly preventable asbestos-related disease."

Emma Costin of Simpson Millar comments: "The global asbestos industry remains a powerful one that over the years since the asbestos scandal first really emerged in the 1950's and 1960's has shown itself to be adept at lobbying governments even going to the lengths of sponsoring research to fit with its agenda. The overwhelming evidence indicates that there is no safe dose of any kind of asbestos."

"In these circumstances the continued US trade in asbestos - even if it is truly limited to the production of chlorine - will inevitably result in risk of serious injury or death from to those involved in the mining, processing and handling of the mineral from source to the end users. Surely a safer alternative can be identified that would avoid the continued risk of death from mesothelioma and other cancers that those involved in this trade will certainly run?"
Location: United Kingdom


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