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CSD 18: “Asbestos – who pays the bill? WECF Lunch Event at UN Commission for Sustainable Development

Testimonies and Dialogue on Policy Recommendations” In the framework of the 18th session of the UN Commission for Sustainable Development (CSD) in New York, May 6, 2010

11.06.2010 |WECF Report

In the framework of the 18th session of the UN Commission for Sustainable Development (CSD) WECF had the possibility to conduct a side-event on asbestos  The side event aimed to evaluate the situation in two countries, Russia one of the highes producers and consumers of asbestos, and Indonesia.

The side event also showed the example and lessons learned from Germany, that already phased out the use and production of asbestos. A dialogue with international policy makers, agencies and civil society representatives, will address how policy options will deal with internalization of the economic and health cost of asbestos in developing and transition countries.

Yuyun Ismawati, Balifokus Indonesia, reported that Indonesia is using chrysotile asbestos since 1959 and yet no health risks or asbestos-related diseases are officially found, although a lot of lung cancer and mesothelioma cases are reported from hospitals. In Indonesia there are about 26 industries with 110.000 employees who finished products containing chrysotile asbestos. The asbestos is imported mainly from Brazil, Russia and Canada, and the import is increasing. So imported Indonesia in 2007 68.181 Mt and in 2008 103.000 Mt. Chrysotile asbestos is mainly used for roofing, although safer substitutes exist like cellulose fibre-cement or bamboo fibre-cement. But the costs for these safer products are about 12-30% higher than the asbestos ones. Beside the health costs related to asbestos there is a higher burden on the effected population, since Indonesia is an earthquake prone area and due to the fact that there only poor health insurance available.

Olga Speranskaya, Eco Accord Russia, presented the situation in Russia. Russia, as well as the whole EECCA region, is one of the biggest producers and consumers of asbestos. In Russia alone incorporates 41 mining and processing facilities that produce 30% of the world’s production. The annual export is 400.000 tons, of which 60% are exported to 35 countries. More than 3.000 different products containing chrysotile asbestos are on the Russian market. In Ukraine 95% of all roofs are covered by corrugated asbestos-cement sheets. Schools, hospitals, kindergartens, and other public buildings as well as most of the households contain asbestos building materials. There is a huge lack of information on matters of asbestos health impacts. No popular publications on safety measures are available. Broad public information activities are urgently needed. The real scale of asbestos-related diseases is unknown.
Key problems are: that trade unions in the EECCA countries support the asbestos industry, policy of asbestos safe management is promoted on the governmental level, inequality of income, and no health insurance system is in place.

Dr. Markus Mattenklott, BGIA – Institute for Occupational Safety and Health of the German Social Accident Insurance, reported about lessons learned from the German asbestos cases and presented figures of compensation for asbestos-related diseases. Germany had a total consumption of asbestos of 6 million tons from 1948 to 1993 (ban of asbestos). Due to the long latency of asbestos-related diseases the peak of lung cancer and mesothelioma cases is expected in 2010. The number of cases of asbestos related occupational diseases in Germany is up to 2008 60.000 and in total 120.000 (estimated). All costs for asbestos related occupational diseases in Germany in 2008 alone is 540.000.000 US$. Costs for the whole period from 1987-2008 is 5.840.000.000 US$. This sums up to estimated total costs for asbestos related occupational diseases in Germany of US$. About 1500 workers die per year due to former occupational contact with asbestos. In addition to the suffering and health costs of workers and their families other socio-economic costs occur like for abatement in public and private buildings, and uncontrolled current exposure due to inappropriate handling of still used asbestos products in residential homes and industrial applications.

Chrysotile asbestos mining and use is expanding in a number of developing countries, waste is uncontrolled, users are not informed about health risks, developing countries are not aware of imports and exports as long as asbestos has not been added to the list of prior informed consent of the Rotterdam Convention.
Over 45 mostly industrialized nations have banned chrysotile asbestos. The main cost in number of lives is still expected to arrive in most of these countries in the coming decade. The economic costs for clean up are astronomical. WHO and ILO resolutions state that the most effective way to eliminated asbestos related diseases is a ban of all types of asbestos.

The event was attended by more than 60 people representing countries and organisations. During the discussion many of them talked about lack of awareness and information about asbestos health effects and available alternatives. Practiclally none of them was aware about the results of the secondary exposure to asbestos. Presentation made by a lady from Sudan indicated the need to ban asbestos in Africa and other developing countries. She described the situation with the increase of cancer cases in Sudan due to the use of asbestos materials for roofing, water pipes and other needs. People didn't understand why they were dying of cancer unless information about asbestos health effects became available. 

It was suggested to include a paragraph on asbestos ban into CSD-18 Chair Report. Later in the interventions made my Women Major Group and NGO Major Group the following paragraph on asbestos was included: Asbestos continues to harm millions of people around the world. All types of asbestos cause cancer and there is no safe use of the material. Developing countries and countries with economies in transition are most vulnerable as many do not have liability and compensation systems or the proper environmental and health legislation that can protect workers and communities from the harms of asbestos.

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