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Asbestos Hazards

The export of hazardous industries

by Barry Castleman Environmental Health (2016) 15:8


“As the result of social movements around the world, asbestos is banned in over 50 countries. Yet most of the world’s people live in countries where asbestos is still used, often with few if any protective measures. No other industry has a comparable record of documented bad practices in occupational and environmental health. In the US, decades of litigation over asbestos injury compensation have pried loose a vast number of internal documents from the asbestos companies. These corporate documents reveal a veritable encyclopedia of menacing business practices.

This record includes :

  • the suppression of medical and experimental findings
  • manipulation of published reports
  • suppression of reference to asbestos hazards in the trade press
  • publication of statements and reports by trade associations that asbestos products are not toxic
  • withholding of information on asbestos disease from governmental authorities
  • prolonged violation after regulations required health warning labels on asbestos products
  • marketing of products without warning labels in some countries after starting to affix warnings on the same products in other countries
  • targeting of doctors raising public awareness about asbestos hazards
  • settlement of damage suits on condition that the lawyer representing the workers file no more such cases
  • non-disclosure to employees of asbestosis revealed in their medical examinations
  • firing workers and busting unions for protesting asbestos hazards
  • firing and replacing workers before they had time to develop asbestos diseases from their exposures
  • exporting banned asbestos products
  • labeling asbestos-containing products “asbestos-free”
  • removing the word “asbestos” in advertising asbestos products bearing no warnings
  • selling asbestos for use in children’s modeling compounds
  • sub-contracting of hazardous asbestos maintenance work
  • wanton disposal of wastes around asbestos factories
  • prolonged failure to take basic sanitary precautions to keep workers from taking asbestos dust home to their families on their clothes

Individual countries must overcome the influence of the asbestos-exporting countries and asbestos companies and stop building with asbestos, as recommended by WHO, ILO, and World Bank”.

Asbestos fibre imports – coming legally to Europe soon?

The manufacture, marketing and use of asbestos have been banned in Europe since the end of 2004*. But EU law allowed one exception for imported diaphragms incorporating chrysotile asbestos fibres for existing electrolysis cells. This highly specific let-out was included so that a German chlorine production plant and a Swedish hydrogen production plant could continue operating "until they reach the end of their service life, or until suitable asbestos-free substitutes become available, whichever is the sooner". 

Ten years on, under pressure from the multinational Dow Chemicals, the European Commission and the body in charge of REACH implementation, the European Chemicals Agency (ECHA), are thinking of extending the let-out up to 2025 or after. Furthermore, documents available on the ECHA website indicate that this derogation introduced in Annex XVII of REACH would be extended to allow not only diaphragms containing asbestos fibres, but also the asbestos fibres needed to maintain them to be imported into Europe. If these proposals go through, tonnes of asbestos could be legally imported into Europe each year. 

Asbestos victim support groups are taking action. In a recent letter to the European Commission, they protest that ECHA’s proposed changes to the existing derogation are flatly at odds with the EU’s demands for a worldwide ban on asbestos. They also argue that, in pure law, it flies in the face of European Court of Justice rulings that the derogations laid down in REACH’s Annex XVII should be interpreted very narrowly. They also point out that asbestos-free electrolysis methods of chlorine manufacture are available now, so there is no good reason for extending this production method. 

Both the Commission and ECHA are defending their decision by claiming that the risks to workers in European firms are fully controlled. 

ECHA is currently running a public consultation on the proposed amendments to Annex XVII of REACH. All interested parties are invited to submit their comments preferably before 29 May 2014 and no later than 19 September 2014.

* Directive 1999/77/EC of 26 July 1999 relating to restrictions on the marketing and use of certain dangerous substances and preparations.

Position Statement on Asbestos from the Joint Policy Committee of the Societies of Epidemiology (JPC-SE) June 4, 2012

The following literature contains regulations or statements from governmental or other official institutions as well as articles concerning the current discussion about the influence of the asbestos industry on the awareness of the hazards resulting from the exposure to asbestos. 

Research articles can be found in the Knowledge Center.

Ruff K. "Further evidence of asbestos impropriety at IARC, the World Health Organization’s cancer agency"

Kathleen Ruff,

Hearing on asbestos related occupational health threats and prospects for abolishing all existing asbestos. Committee on employment and social affairs of the European parliament, September 18th 2012, 17:00 - 18:30

Download preliminary agenda



Ongoing downplaying of the carcinogenicity of chrysotile asbestos by vested interests

By Xaver Baur and Arthur L. Frank

The persisting strong influence of vested asbestos-related interests in workers and public health issues including regulations and compensation necessitate ongoing alertness, corrections and appropriate reactions in scientific as well as public media and policy advisory bodies.

Industries that mine, manufacture and sell asbestos or asbestos-containing products have a long tradition of promoting the use of asbestos, while placing the burden of economic and health costs on workers and society. This has been successfully done in recent years and decades in spite of the overwhelming evidence that all asbestos types are carcinogenic and cause asbestosis. They continue to be extremely active by using slogans such as chrysotile can be used safely.

Another approach of the asbestos industry and of some of its insurance agencies is to broadly defeat liability claims of asbestos victims.

In doing so they systematically use inappropriate science produced by their own and/or by industry-affiliated researchers. Some of the latter were also engaged in producing defense material for other industries including the tobacco industry. Frequent examples of distributing such disinformation include questioning or denying established scientific knowledge about adverse health effects of asbestos. False evidence continues to be published in scientific journals and books
Chrysotil carcinogenicity