Towards an International of Asbestos Victims

Towards an International of Asbestos Victims

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By Paco Puche

We are all victims of asbestos. Or at least we are all possible affected.

The history of the asbestos industry (from mining to final disposal in a landfill) is a metonymy of capitalism: a part of it that explains the whole. It is a hologram of neoliberalism: a fragment that contains the same logic and operating mode of the entire system: winning and more winning at the cost of whatever, in this case the health of millions of people.

It has been an enormously concentrated industry, which has given great benefits to the few tycoons who have controlled it; it has deceived people –workers and citizens- about its enormous danger, known since the middle of the last century; It has caused the greatest industrial tragedy in the history of mankind and, once all its companies are closed, it will continue to cause death and desolation for more than 40 years. And all in the midst of a conspiracy of silence and a complicity that continues to anesthetize us.

The globalization of asbestos (“uralita” in Spain) is not an exaggeration. The World Health Organization (WHO), which is not given to alarmism precisely, has been saying emphatically the following: “In the world there are about 125 million people exposed to asbestos in the workplace (…) and the exposure work causes more than 107,000 deaths annually from lung cancer related to asbestos, mesothelioma and asbestosis ”[1]. If we add to this exposure outside the workplace and consider that 30% of asbestos deaths are domestic or environmental, it can be said that each year some 150,000 people are going to die from this industry, and so on for more than 30 years. Spread around the world.

Although asbestos is already formally banned in 54 countries, more than two million tons per year are still being extracted from the world's mines, mainly going to China, India, Russia, Brazil and Kazakhstan. It is approximately half of what was extracted in the most productive times.

The last 130 years, in which this mineral has been exploited more intensively, have meant a transfer of asbestos / asbestos from rocks settled in the natural environment to humanized environments. It is estimated that around 250 million tons are among us, of which 80 million are installed in Europe and 2.6 million in Spain. And it is known that the risk of inhalation and ingestion of fibers is present in the entire process: extraction, preparation, transport, transformation, application, use, storage and waste management. As it is a type I carcinogen, this implies that there is no safe minimum dose, although there is a positive correlation between exposure time, type of mineral and the probability of contracting any of the serious characteristic diseases. There are approximate calculations that give a figure of about 10 million deaths until 2030.

Against this background, and convened by the French Association of Victims (ANDEVA), a meeting of 300 representatives of associations of victims and those affected by asbestos, scientists, politicians and people took place in Paris on October 12 and 13. activists, from about 20 countries on five continents. The meeting culminated in a demonstration of more than 3,000 people from many parts who, defying the bad weather, have expressed their indignation and anger at the scenario described.

Is Journée internationale des victimes de l’amiante It was held at the headquarters of the French Senate - the Luxembourg Palace - and has had the support of members of the Senate itself and the French Assembly. Eight epidemiologists and 36 representatives of organizations from the different attending countries participated. [2]

French Senator Annie David, who opened the event, called for "the complete global eradication of the use of asbestos," and asserted that "the reality of our social democracies is measured by how we treat the sick."

The most unique part of the day was the announcement by Canada, through Canadian deputy Pat Martín, suffering from pleural plaques, of the end of the extraction and export of asbestos in his country. And he said “I love my country, but I bow my head in shame when I say that Canada exported human misery all over the world. I call the asbestos industry evil and corrupt, "and claimed that government support for asbestos producers has meant" corporate welfare for serial killer companies. " One of the resolutions that came out of the conference was to send a letter to the Prime Minister of Quebec, Pauline Marois, congratulating her on the "courageous position taken by her government to withdraw the financial aid promised to the Jeffrey Asbestos Mine"

On behalf of Australia, Senator Lisa Sing recalled that her country is the one that has used the most asbestos per person in the world and that the government is proactive with a national asbestos plan to reduce the incidence of asbestos-related diseases in Australia. An estimated 25,000 Australians will die in the next 40 years from mesothelioma alone - twice as many from lung cancer and thousands more from other asbestos diseases.

To highlight the importance of asbestos, it was found that the H1N1 outbreak of swine flu in 2009, which caused 14,142 deaths worldwide, was declared a pandemic by the WHO, however the public health crisis due to asbestos, which represents more of 150,000 deaths each year, he has not had the same condition. Therefore, the asbestos tragedy was considered a pandemic from a health point of view and should be treated as such.

The Brazilian representative reported that the ban throughout her country is pending a resolution from the Supreme Court, so an appeal was sent to the Brazilian Supreme Court since the Conference “to accelerate the unconstitutionality trial of the federal law that allows the mining, use and export of asbestos ”. [3]

From Mexico, Guadalupe Aguilar reported the terrible situation in her country, where its use is not prohibited and they are the maquila of Canada and the US: they buy in the first country and sell products made in the US. There are also no victims' organizations. A disaster.

The representative from Belgium says that his father, who was responsible for Eternit, developed mesothelioma and before he died he began the fight against the company. His mother and two brothers later died. He believes that Eternit should pay for the decontamination of asbestos and that those responsible should go to jail because, he said, "I don't feel any pity for those people who have poisoned us."

Bruno Pesce, the Italian representative of the victims' associations, after the resounding victory in the Turin trial last February, with 16 years in prison for Stephan Schmidheiny and the male De Cartier, announced that the prosecutor Guarinelli is preparing an “Eternit 2 ”with Italians who worked in asbestos companies outside of Italy. He insisted on the need for more research to treat the terrible asbestos-specific cancer called mesothelioma.

From Spain, Juan Carlos Paul on behalf of the federation of victims' associations (eight in total federated and some 6,000 members) insisted on the need for a national compensation fund, as already exists in France, that allows victims to be cared for without that they have to resort to the courts, as they endure a lot of drama with their situation as affected. Likewise, the CCOO representatives expanded the requirements for Spain with rigorous monitoring of the Surveillance Program for workers exposed to asbestos.

The US representative, who saw her husband die of mesothelioma, without knowing anything about asbestos before the disease, reported that with the demolition of the Twin Towers 2,000 tons of asbestos were spread around the area, which was then inhaled by the workers of the cleared away.

From the room, among the 300 attendees, the voice of who was asking for criminal proceedings was raised because "there must be those responsible."

And so, the representatives of South Korea, Japan, France, Albania, Great Britain, South Africa, Holland, India, etc., were explaining their situation and demands.

In a climate of strong indignation and with the purpose and motto of achieving "a world without asbestos" or of "declaring asbestos out of law on planet Earth," the international day of reflection was closed with the following conclusions:

  • Call to fight for a global ban on asbestos.
  • The urgency of eliminating the double standard of the enriched countries: exporting ore and waste to the impoverished countries. Exporting the asbestos cancer epidemic.
  • Recognition of victims by standardizing a principle of prompt and fair compensation, following the example of France. And development of research to improve care for those affected by asbestos diseases.
  • Prevention against the risks of installed local asbestos.
  • Plan to eradicate installed asbestos and its controlled deposit, as is the case in Poland, which has proposed to do so in 20 years.
  • And to achieve a world without asbestos it is necessary to judge the poisoners without delay.

This meeting, along with previous ones from years spent in Turin and Belgium, is the beginning of an International of Victims and People Affected by Asbestos (VIA) as the global struggle has been demanding.

According to the American epidemiologist Richard Lemen, “we have been calm for a long time and now we are in areas of turbulence. It is the time to cultivate character. "

[1] WHO: “Elimination of asbestos-related diseases”. Descriptive Note 343, July 2010.

[2] At:

[3] Letter in English to the Supreme Court of Brazil: Lettre en français:

Video: Asbestosis - CRASH! Medical Review Series (June 2022).


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