Articles Posted in International News

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Ever since Canada turned its Jeffrey Asbestos Mine into a virtual Mars, the question has been out there as to who will continue to export and promote the use of the potentially lethal mineral asbestos. Early last month, that question was answered when Russia, the world’s leading exporter, along with Kazakhstan, Ukraine, Kyrgyzstan, Zimbabwe, India and Vietnam blocked the move to list chrysotile asbestos (also known as white asbestos) under a UN convention that requires member countries to decide whether they wish to take the risk of importing the hazardous substances. At a meeting in Geneva, Switzerland, the opposition ignored the lives it may save and argued that it would increase shipping and insurance costs.

For years, the fight has been waged to include chrysotile asbestos in the Rotterdam Convention on Prior Informed Consent. Countries would have the right to be advised of the dangers of the product being imported. They would be required to give their consent, in writing, for the acceptance of both the asbestos or asbestos containing product and the risk that is being imported with it. Supporters of its inclusion say that this may save some of the nearly 110,000 people that the World Health Organization (WHO) estimate will die from an asbestos related disease each year. The opposition says the price is too high.

In 2011, Canada stood nearly alone (supported only by the Ukraine) in its efforts to keep chrysotile asbestos off “the list”. Now, in Canada’s absence, powerful industry has joined together and taken a seat at the table. Dollars rather than sense are what were served.
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Thumbnail image for illegal dumping_farm-debris_photoblog600.jpgThe act of illegally dumping asbestos has been taking place since the moment certain laws and regulations were enacted and implemented prohibiting the reckless endangerment of innocent bystanders to this potentially toxic and lethal substance.

The Ohio EPA continues to search for the individual or individuals who, in November of 2012, dumped a large amount of asbestos containing pipe insulation on a vacant residential property. The property sits just west of Nature Conservancy property. The piping was most likely part of an old heating system and the illegal dumpers were most likely ignorant thieves looking for scrap metal to sell.

In October of 2012, two New Jersey men dumped 60,000 pounds of asbestos containing debris on an upstate New York farm, a farm that also has wetlands and runs along a river. The owner of the unoccupied land ignored both state and federal laws when he dumped the rubbish that was put through an industrial shredding machine without the asbestos first being removed. When authorities arrived to inspect the site, the dump pile was topped by two children’s bicycles, evidence that the toxic waste was being used a playground. Moreover, it was the owner’s intentions to eventually develop this asbestos laden land into commercial riverfront property.

In mid-2012, an Illinois man was sentenced to ten years for the illegal removal, handling and disposal of asbestos from a Kankakee building. A jury determined that in order to put a few more dollars in his pocket, he completely disregarded the laws put in place to protect the general public from the hazards of asbestos. He stripped dry asbestos from pipes, shoved it in regular unlabeled garbage bags, then proceeded to hap-hazardly dump the over one hundred contaminated bags into an open field. Additionally, the man was also ordered to pay restitution of $47,086 to the EPA for the cleanup of the asbestos
On an international level, Sydney Australia can finally end its hunt for a truck driver that dumped nearly two tonnes of asbestos outside two children’s care centers (pre-schools). It required over $13,000 and three months of clean-up and investigation to locate Dib Hanna. Despite several years of illegal dumping including deadly asbestos, multiple fines and convictions, Hanna was only handed a three month suspended sentence. He was actually quoted as saying “You said last time, you send me to jail. I go home and I keep going my business,” This is hardly the deterrent to future Aussie asbestos dumpers one might have hoped for.

Asbestos is a group of naturally occurring fibrous minerals. They have been used commercially in a multitude of products for their heat resistant quality and inexpensive price tag. However, when the fibers become airborne and then inhaled they can be toxic and potentially lethal. Asbestos exposure has been known to cause both malignant and non-malignant disease. The above examples of human stupidity are demonstrative of one of the reasons why regulations and legislation are not sufficient to protect the public from the dangers of asbestos.
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MARS.jpgCanada’s Jeffery asbestos mine has found a second calling. Scientists from the CSA or Canadian Space Agency have determined that the defunct asbestos mine is an ideal location for a training ground for future Rover missions in the exploration of Mars. Methane gas is prevalent at the site and so practicing the gathering of such gas on the Red Planet is facilitated. Moreover, because methane and water are indicative of life, testing to see if life is feasible on Mars can be conducted. Although not nearly as lucrative as the asbestos producing mine, Ol’ Jeffrey earned a respectable three-quarters of a million dollars in its new-found profession.

Flag-CanadaFlag.jpgCanada was once one of the biggest suppliers of asbestos to the United States. Despite the significant health hazards associated with the use of asbestos, the U.S. continues to import asbestos and asbestos containing products. Now that Canada has turned its last surviving mine into a virtual Mars, who will pick up the slack? Canada’s asbestos export sales totaled about $100 million per year and was primarily to the United States.

flag russian_flag.jpgMaybe Russia: Russia is the number one producer and largest exporter of asbestos. The town of Asbest is home to an asbestos mine nearly half the size of Manhattan Island. Just weeks ago, certain Ukrainian and Russian institutes and academies held an “international scientific conference on chrysotile asbestos to examine all scientific data” in Kiev, Ukraine. The conference was meant specifically to oppose the listing of chrysotile asbestos under the Rotterdam Convention by claiming that the science has not been established to show that chrysotile asbestos is hazardous.

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imagesCAU7AC9C.jpgEPA OVERTURNED – October 18, 2012 is the very unhappy anniversary date of the overturn of the U.S. Asbestos Ban and Phase-out Rule (ABPR) which occurred on October 18, 1991. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) drafted the rule to control asbestos; a toxic substance. The ABPR laid out a ten year plan to introduce prohibitions on the import, processing, manufacture and distribution of asbestos-containing products. It became effective on August 25, 1989.

The asbestos industry, from the U.S. and Canada pulled out all the stops. Lobbyists, scientists and the masses were sent to the forefront to preserve this money making industry. Unfortunately, they succeeded. In a seminal decision, the Fifth Circuit court vacated the ban, finding that the EPA failed to present “substantial evidence” to justify the ban under Toxic Substance Control Act or TSCA. Despite its acknowledgment that “asbestos is a potential carcinogen at all levels of exposure,” the court attacked the EPA’s action on several fronts. The result was the overturn of the rule, the needless exposure and subsequent death of countless victims. After ten years of research and deliberation, millions of dollars poured into the regulation, and countless hours of work by environmental health officials, all attempts appeal the overturn of the asbestos ban was completely abandoned. The 1991 ruling left room for EPA to reconcile its research in accordance with the court’s reasoning, but no further action was pursued.

In spite of the rule being overturned, certain asbestos-containing products such as flooring felt; rollboard; corrugated, commercial, or specialty paper remain illegal. Many others, however, remain unregulated by the EPA. As a result, the death toll for mesothelioma victims remains between 2,500 and 3,000 per year. According to The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that more than 107,000 people die each year from asbestos-related lung cancer, mesothelioma and asbestosis resulting from occupational exposure.

21 years later, asbestos continues to be imported and used in the United States. Hopefully, Canada’s recent withdrawal of support of the use of asbestos will again begin to accomplish what the ABPR did not; to protect the people by regulating this toxic substance.
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out-of-business-window-sign_full_full.jpgTop Asbestos producing mines in Quebec are now OUT OF BUSINESS for good. Finally, Canada has ended the battle to keep their asbestos industry alive. Industry Minister Christian Paradis announced that the federal government will “no longer oppose global rules that restrict use and shipment of the substance”. Quebec’s new premier, Pauline Marois, promised late in her campaign that she would shut down the region’s asbestos mines for good. Moreover, the nearly $60 million dollars previously allocated to revitalize the mining industry will be put toward economic diversification in the area. Approximately 400 – 500 Asbestos miners will NOT be put back to work; however that pales in comparison to the number of lives this decision will save.

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In 2010 Canada produced 150,000 tonnes of asbestos. All of it mined in Quebec and ninety percent (90%) of it exported. Canada’s asbestos export sales were about $100 million a year, and the industry employed a few hundred people. Canada has received much criticism for its stance in support of the asbestos industry. It seems; however, with the new regime and shift in leadership has come a new perspective. Earlier this year, the Chrysotile Institute, a powerful industry lobbying group, closed after it stopped receiving government support. Although Prime Minister Stephen Harper remains a staunch supporter of the now defunct asbestos mines, he has been spending millions of dollars to remove the last traces of asbestos in the Parliament Buildings and his official residence at 24 Sussex Drive. A hypocrisy that has not gone unnoticed.

In a statement, Paul Lapierre, a spokesman with the Canadian Cancer Society (CCS), said. “We are very pleased to see that the government recognizes that all forms of asbestos, including chrysotile, cause cancer. It’s imperative that the health of people around the world be put ahead of the interests of the asbestos industry. We also welcome the government’s $50 million plan to support the affected community.”

The mining has come to a stop in Canada, but the United States continues to import asbestos. Imported under strict regulations perhaps, but imported in large quantities none-the-less; 1,100 tons in 2011. Russia, China Kazakhstan and Brazil are amongst the largest exporters of Asbestos in the world. May they, like Canada, also be encouraged to follow suit and end their asbestos production for good. Surely there is some bean-counter out there that has come to the obvious deduction that the cost or expense associated with asbestos removal and the monies paid for the medical treatment and research for he victims of asbestos exposure FAR out-way the benefits of this cheap fire retardant mineral. If everyone stops buying, there will be no need for mining and or production.
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ETU LOGO.jpgBechtel Corporation (Bechtel Group) was founded by Warren Bechtel in the early 1900s and is now the largest construction and engineering company in the United States, ranking as the 5th-largest privately owned company in the U.S. Bechtel was contracted to build several liquefied natural gas (LNG) plants on Curtis Island located north of Gladstone in Central Queensland, Australia. Bechtel is now being threatened with court action over an asbestos dispute at the massive project.bechtel.jpg

The ETU or Electrical Trades Union was created in 1902 and currently represents approximately 17,000 members working in the electrical and communications contracting industry, power, manufacturing, education, hospitality, aerospace, food and other industries. They pride themselves on winning large pay rises, ensuring safe workplaces and enhancing training and employment opportunities. A group of these members set down their tools and refused to continue working at the LNG plants.

Less than one week later, in a Media release dated July 31st 2012, the ETU claims that it has evidence that Bechtel used prefab buildings imported from Indonesia manufacturer Metito that contained the highly toxic, potentially deadly carcinogenic white asbestos. They further stated that as a result of Bechtel’s failure in its duty of care to advise, more than 200 ETU members of the existence of this illegal killer at two of the three Curtis Island operations, at least 90 members have been exposed to the asbestos and have been put at risk. Now the ETU is demanding an investigation into Bechtel for what they are calling a “serious breach of health and safety”.

Australian businesses are banned from importing the material. Customs has refused to comment on how the asbestos was allowed into the country, but now that it is there, 200 ETU members are concerned that they have breathed in the toxic airborne mineral, or they have taken it home on their clothes and exposed loved ones; putting them at risk as well.

The ETU’s demands include revealing the location and extent of Bechtel’s dealings with Metito, the company that supplied the asbestos containing products, and payment of wages that were withheld or docked as a result of the “sit out” or what Bechtel called “participation in unprotected industrial action”. The ETU wants a register of those who had contact with the asbestos. Bechtel says it has maintained a record of the employees working in the contaminated area. They deny knowing that the materials would contain asbestos, and state that it is unlikely to use Metito products in the future.
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exxon_valdez best.jpgMarch 24th 1989, the Exxon Valdez plowed; bow first, into the rocks of Alaska’s Prince William Sound. More than eleven million (11,000,000.00) gallons of crude oil polluted the water before the spill could be contained. Now the dismantling of the vessel threatens to pollute the air with toxic asbestos.

Since her original accident, the tanker was repaired and sent to Europe; underwent several subsequent name changes; became an ore carrier named Dong Fang Ocean that collided with a cargo ship; underwent additional repairs and another name change and finally, with the name Oriental Nicety, has been sold for scrap in India where she waits off the coast to be demolished by the ship breakers at the Alang Shipyard – perhaps re-purposed once again.

Like most ships built during the time of the ex-Exxon Valdez, the ship was constructed using asbestos. The average ship contained several tons of asbestos insulation in the engine room, along the miles of pipe aboard and in the walls and doors that required fireproofing. Generators, boilers and turbines required to power the vessel were all constructed and insulated with asbestos.

Although environmentalists acknowledge that it is likely no MORE toxic than so many other ships recycled at Alang, a petition has been filed with the High Court in the western state of Gujarat to block the entry of the ex-Exxon Valdez pending an onboard inspection for toxic chemicals including asbestos. Perhaps it is just timing or perhaps it is for the notorious reputation of the vessel and the catastrophic event with which it is associated, but many say that the Exxon Valdez is being used as a pawn in the fight for better, safer working conditions for the men working in these yards.

While in the United States we have regulations enforced by such companies as OSHA that specifically detail the required safety precautions for the demolition or salvage of structures, vessels, and vessel sections where asbestos is present; 1915.1001(a)(2), countries such as India have much more lax guidelines. Notwithstanding the minimal safety requirements of India, if the rulings are not favorable, or if the red tape of the legal system becomes intolerable, the ship may be diverted to Bangladesh or Pakistan. These countries also have similarly slack regulations for the shipyard industry, but when even these practically non-existent standards cannot be met, ships are often brought in illegally.

rupees.jpgThe Coastline is now adorned with about 175 yards that make up a large portion of this billion dollar ship-breaking industry. Alang shipyard has been in operation since 1983. It is the worlds largest ship breaking operation and has broken apart over 5,900 ships. A 2006 study commissioned by India’s Supreme Court found 16% of those ships contained asbestos. Workers typically come from very poor families, are given minimal training and even less safety gear and earn an average of 111 to 388 Indian Rupees per day which is about $2 to $7 US American dollars per day for the hazardous, sometimes lethal, work that they do. When asked why they take this risk, why they do this job, the men in the yards simply say – They need the money.
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prison bars.jpgStephan Schmidheiny, a billionaire Swiss industrialist and former owner of the Swiss fibre cement firm Eternit, and Jean Louis Marie Ghislain de Cartier de Marchienne, Belgian executive, were sentenced to 16 years in jail on Monday, February 13th 2012, by an Italian court and ordered to pay millions of euros in damages for negligence that led to more than 2,000 asbestos-related deaths. This is a verdict that could set a precedent for proceedings worldwide about safety in the workplace.

The two men were tried “in absentia”, which means to say that they never appeared in court during the trial that took two (2) years in this Turin, Italy courtroom to reach it’s conclusion. However, the lengthy trial ended with a roar. Relatives of the victims and hundreds of others filled three courtrooms within the courthouse, some crying, others applauding when the sentence was finally read. It took the presiding judge nearly three hours to present the verdict. Schmidheiny and de Cartier de Marchienne were found guilty of intentionally omitting to install measures to prevent health damage from asbestos at Eternit’s Italian plants, which closed in 1986. Health Minister Renato Balduzzi called the sentence “historic”, noting that asbestos was not only a local and national issue, but also an international one.

In addition to the Jail time, the defendants were ordered to pay damages to more than 6,000 people – including former employees and residents of the four towns where the plants were located. They were each awarded an average 30,000 euros ($40,000 USD). Compensation awarded by the court also included 25 million euros (Approximately 33.25 million USD) to Casale Monferrato, 20 million euros (Approximately 26.6 million USD) to the Piedmont region, and 100 million euros (Approximately 132.8 million USD) to the victims’ group AFEVA.

Stephan Schmidheiny issued a press release in response to the verdict. Cesare Zaccone, de Cartier de Marchienne’s lawyer said “We were not expecting this sentence,”. His client said in a statement he had “never been in charge of safety measures at Eternit SpA”. Both defendants deny any wrong-doing and have vowed to file appeals.
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