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The U.S. Asbestos Ban That Wasn’t

asbestos banMy sister Laurie Kazan-Allen, a global anti-asbestos advocate based in London, just reminded me that July 12 marked the 25th anniversary of the asbestos ban that wasn’t. On that date in 1989, the EPA issued the Asbestos Ban and Phase Out Rule.

In 1981, the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) had requested information from American companies regarding the asbestos content of their products. The result was the Asbestos Ban and Phase Out Rule. This was a common sense response to a lethal hazard that endangered public health. All types of asbestos fibers are known to cause fatal illnesses in humans.

However, in 1991, thanks to the efforts of the asbestos industry lobby, this rule was vacated and remanded (no longer exists and sent back) by the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans. As a result, most of the original ban on the manufacture, importation, processing, or distribution in commerce for the majority of the asbestos-containing products originally covered in the 1989 final rule was overturned. The case was Corrosion Proof Fittings v. EPA, 947 F.2d 1201 (5th Cir. 1991). This ruling which overturned a sane and sensible law leaves many consumer products still legally allowed to contain trace amounts of asbestos.

As a direct consequence of the appellate decision, a further 250,000+ tons of asbestos was used in the U.S. just between 1991 and 2010, according to data from the United States Geological Survey reported by Laurie in the International Ban Asbestos Secretariat newsletter.

Wikipedia clearly states, “The United States remains one of the few developed countries that hasn’t yet fully banned asbestos.” Despite several attempts by members of Congress to ban asbestos through legislative means, no ban has been adopted.

Examples from the EPA’s own website of asbestos-containing products not banned:

  • Cement corrugated sheet
  • Cement flat sheet
  • Clothing
  • Pipeline wrap
  • Roofing felt
  • Vinyl floor tile
  • Cement shingle
  • Millboard
  • Cement pipe
  • Automatic transmission components
  • Clutch facings
  • Friction materials
  • Disk brake pads
  • Drum brake linings
  • Brake blocks
  • Gaskets
  • Non-roofing coatings
  • Roof coatings

For me, this is a sad anniversary as I think of my clients who have died as a direct result of asbestos exposure. My firm often achieves awards and settlements of huge sums of money for asbestos victims because money seems to be the only thing that the companies responsible care about. While money helps balance the scales of justice, it does not compensate for the loss of a human life. And these companies continue to place no value on that.

International Group Calls for Total Ban of Asbestos to End Asbestos-Related Deaths

asbestos-related deathsAsbestos-related deaths are preventable. That is part of why asbestos-related deaths are especially tragic and inspire the work we do at Kazan Law as asbestos attorneys. But asbestos-related deaths continue to occur because uncaring people place profits before human lives.  My unrelenting concern about this inspired my sister Laurie Kazan-Allen to also become involved in the fight against asbestos in Europe where she lives. I am proud of the fact that she heads the International Ban Asbestos Secretariat (IBAS).

Just recently she told me about a high level international asbestos conference in Finland. The International Conference on Monitoring and Surveillance of Asbestos-Related Diseases gave rise to a new call on the part of the global health leaders in attendance to end asbestos-related deaths. To achieve this they acknowledged the need for a complete global asbestos ban. They put their unanimous agreement into a formal document called The Helsinki Declaration.

Speaking on behalf of the Finnish Institute of Occupational Health, as reported by IBAS, the conference organizer, Dr. Panu Oksa said, “There is no safe use of asbestos.” Dr. Ken Takahashi, from Japan’s University of Occupational and Environmental Health, stated, “Asbestos-related deaths are preventable by banning the use of asbestos, as WHO recommends.” An increase in asbestos-related deaths is being observed in developing countries where knowledge is lacking about the hazards of exposure.

The conference consensus report Asbestos, Asbestosis and Cancer: Helsinki Criteria for Diagnosis and Attribution 2014 includes these facts:

  • 2 million tons of asbestos per year is exported for use in products such as cement and insulation
  • 125 million workers are exposed to asbestos every year
  • Asbestos even at low doses is a known human carcinogen
  • There are 107,000 asbestos-related deaths worldwide every year
  • 55 countries have banned the use of new asbestos
  • The financial impact of asbestos use is negative for companies and economies when health costs are considered
  • Asbestos in existing buildings in countries that have banned asbestos and the continued use of asbestos in countries that haven’t banned asbestos, means that asbestos-related deaths and illness will continue into the second half of the 21st century

It is significant that independent world experts and authorities have again reviewed all available evidence and concluded all types of asbestos are deadly, prevention of exposures is crucial, and the world needs a total ban on continued use, mining, manufacture, export/import and sale of raw asbestos and products made with it. Only the asbestos mining industry, concentrated in Russia and its paid supporters disagree.

Laurie Kazan-Allen Receives Award for Global Ban Asbestos Efforts

global asbestos banSaturday, December 21, 2013 marks the second anniversary of the death of Rachel Lee Jung-Lim.  Rachel was a mesothelioma patient who died because of her asbestos-caused illness at age 39.  But this young South Korean woman also became in the brief time left to her, a strong voice in the global ban asbestos fight.

Rachel was supported in her campaign against asbestos by a leading international veteran in the global asbestos contamination struggle, my sister Laurie Kazan-Allen. I’ve just learned that Laurie has been announced as this year’s recipient of the Rachel Lee Jung-Lim Award.

Laurie became interested in asbestos issues long ago. Because she was living in England, I asked her to serve legal papers for Kazan Law on asbestos companies based there who we were suing in the US.

She also did some research for me on cases involving clients who had worked in the UK.  That’s how she initially got to meet victims groups. But Laurie deserves full credit for where she took it from there and for the level of integrity, dedication and passion she has brought to this cause.

But I fear I am biased. So I will simply quote from the letter announcing Laurie’s award:

  • Laurie Kazan-Allen has devoted herself to the campaign of global asbestos ban over 14 years with the establishment of International Ban Asbestos Secretariat in 2000. In doing so, she was one of the first to raise the issue of increased asbestos consumption in developing countries, particularly in Asia, whilst most western societies have banned or reduced.
  • As an activist, her soul has rested always with victims and through recognizing, organizing, and supporting victims, she has contributed a lot to the launching and strengthening of civil movements in many developed and developing countries.
  • Without her, it would have been impossible to launch Ban Asbestos Network Korea in 2008, Asia Ban Asbestos network in 2009, and Indonesia Ban Asbestos Network in 2010.
  • Her life has been a role model to many activists as well as experts. We do hope her dream of a global asbestos ban comes true not far from now as Rachel Lee Jung-Lim wished too.

The award is jointly presented by the following groups:

Asian Citizen’s Center for Environment and Health
School of Public Health Seoul National University
Ban Asbestos Network Korea
Korean Association of Asbestos Victims and their Families
Asia Ban Asbestos Network
Ban Asbestos Network Japan
Asia Monitor Resource Center
RightOnCanada.ca

New Asbestos Report – Where It’s Mined, Where There’s Illness and What’s Being Done About It

12.16.13.KLWhen it comes to asbestos exposure and its dire consequences, sadly it’s a small world after all.  Asbestos is still mined in many countries, exported across borders and incorporated into products that get shipped around the globe. Malignant mesothelioma resulting from asbestos exposure spares no one based on nationality or ethnicity.

That’s why I am sharing with you news of a landmark new report about asbestos just published in Europe and brought to my attention by a prominent anti-asbestos activist in England – my sister Laurie Kazan-Allen.

The report “Asbestos-Related Occupational Diseases in Central and East European Countries” provides as thorough as possible an overview – some countries keep no records – of the status of asbestos and asbestos-related illness throughout Europe.  Easy to read and available online for free, the report is packed with interesting information.

Consider this for example:  World production of asbestos was estimated to be 1.98 million tons in 2012. According to the United States Geological Survey (USGS, 2013), Russia was the leading producer of asbestos, followed by China, Brazil, Argentina, Kazakhstan and Canada. These six countries accounted for 99% of world production in 2013.

Or this excellent historical synopsis:  Commercial exploitation (of asbestos), with little thought for environmental controls, increased over the 20th century, particularly in the period of strong economic growth after 1945. The unique technical properties led to a boom in consumption; asbestos was used in huge quantities in buildings or ships, and also for many smaller applications, such as cigarette filters. In the first substitution projects of the 1980s, alternatives for more than 3,000 technical applications had to be found.

Major topics covered include monitoring of asbestos-related diseases, recognition of occupational asbestos-related disease and the problem of underreporting.

This research report was commissioned and coordinated by the European Federation of Building and Woodworkers (EFBWW) and its project partners International Ban Asbestos Secretariat (IBAS) and the European Trade Union Confederation (ETUC), with the financial support of the European Commission

The report was prepared by the Kooperationsstelle Hamburg. This research institute provides national and international services and studies in the field of occupational safety, health and environmental protection.

Veteran Science Writer Defends Asbestos Victims’ Rights in the New York Times

asbestos industry rebuttalThe community of asbestos victims’ advocates although international in scope is a relatively small one.  Most asbestos victims’ advocates are family members of asbestos victims or those of us involved in meeting their legal or medical needs. As a result most of what is written about asbestos and asbestos victims appears in publications and/or websites that are offshoots of these groups.

That’s why it is worth noting when someone goes to bat for asbestos victims in an important major media outlet like the New York Times.  Especially when that someone is a national science writer on environmental health hazards who has focused on asbestos.

The New York Times recently published an important letter about asbestos written by Paul Brodeur, an investigative science writer and author.  It appeared both in the paper’s internet and print editions.

In the letter, Brodeur states, “An estimated 10,000 Americans are dying of asbestos disease each year; before the asbestos tragedy has run its course, an estimated 500,000 Americans will have died of the disease.”

Brodeur is a former staff writer for The New Yorker magazine where the zeal for fact-checking is legendary.  So it is reasonable to presume scientific accuracy in Brodeur’s work.  No friend of industries that risk people’s lives for profit, Brodeur  also exposed the dangers of household detergents, the depletion of the ozone layer and electromagnetic radiation from power lines when these issues emerged during the 1970s and 1980s.

But a major focus of his environmental hazard reporting has been on asbestos. Over a twenty-year period, he researched and wrote four books about asbestos:

  • Asbestos & Enzymes (1972)
  • Expendable Americans (1974)
  • The Asbestos Hazard (1980)
  • Outrageous Misconduct: The Asbestos Industry on Trial (1985)

So recently, when an asbestos industry supporter disparaged asbestos victims in a New York Times op ed, Brodeur felt compelled to write a rebuttal.

In his letter, he says the industry supporter “makes light of a claimant’s assertion that she was subjected to asbestos exposure because she lived in a house with relatives who worked with asbestos, but numerous studies link household exposure (often called “bystander exposure”) with asbestos disease.”

He further cites the investigation by Dr. Irving J. Selikoff, former director of the Mount Sinai School of Medicine’s Environmental Sciences Laboratory, and Dr. E. Cuyler Hammond, former vice president for epidemiology and statistics of the American Cancer Society, “… who showed that nonsmoking asbestos workers died of lung cancer seven times more often than people in the general population, and whose calculations suggested that asbestos workers who smoked had more than 90 times the risk of dying of lung cancer as men who neither worked with asbestos nor smoked.”

 

New Evidence Reveals That Scientists Were Paid by Chrysotile Industry to Write Pro-Asbestos Article

asbestos industryWhen is a grant not a grant?  When it is really a consulting fee, according to a group of angry asbestos activists, including several physicians. The asbestos activists recently wrote a scathing letter to the editor of a medical journal to protest an article it published that was favorable to asbestos. In their letter, which is posted on the Asian Ban Asbestos Network’s Facebook page, the asbestos activists cite new evidence that the scientists who authored the article received consulting fees – not an unrestricted grant – from the International Chrysotile Association (ICA), as stated in the article.

They further note that the medical journal’s editor Roger McClellan, to whom the letter is addressed, is a personal friend of the article’s lead author David Bernstein PhD. and that McClellan himself also at one time received payment to testify on behalf of an asbestos company.

“We believe the article violates ethical standards of disclosure that all scientists and scientific publications are expected to uphold,” the asbestos activists state in the letter protesting the article “Health Risks of Chrysotile Revisited,” published in the journal Critical Reviews in Toxicology.

Chrysotile, a white asbestos, is the most widely used form of asbestos, making up about 95% of the asbestos in the United States and a similar level in other countries.  It has been included along with other forms of asbestos as a carcinogen by the International Agency for Research on Cancer and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.  Epidemiologists and other scientists have published peer reviewed scientific papers establishing chrysotile as a leading cause of mesothelioma.

Chrysotile has been recommended for inclusion in the Rotterdam Convention on Prior Informed Consent, an international treaty restricting global trade in hazardous materials. If listed, exports of chrysotile would be allowed only to countries that explicitly consent to importing it. Canada, a major chrysotile producer, has been criticized by the Canadian Medical Association for opposing including chrysotile in the Convention.

The letter to McClellan is signed by Canadian asbestos activist Kathleen Ruff and four physicians, three Canadian and one Korean, who specialize in public health and preventive medicine.

The asbestos activists’ letter objects to the fact that undisclosed financial interests of scientists who claim to be impartial may have influenced them to conclude that chrysotile may not be so bad after all.  The article in question concludes, “The importance of the present and other similar reviews is that the studies they report show that low exposures to chrysotile do not present a detectable risk to health.”

The letter writers state that a key ICA official has confirmed that Bernstein invoiced ICA a total of $200,000 to write those words and that he has in the past been paid by asbestos producer Georgia Pacific to write similar articles.  “A New York court has ruled that such conduct by Dr. Bernstein constitutes potential crime-fraud,” the letter says.

Asbestos Activist Laurie Kazan-Allen Receives England’s Robert Tressell Award

Laurie Kazan-AllenHelping those exposed to asbestos achieve justice is what we do at Kazan Law. I take great pride in having founded this firm and in our victories in this area.  But I also take great pride in personally introducing a leading asbestos activist to the struggle against asbestos exposure which set her on a path to help protect people around the world from its fatal consequences. She happens to be my sister Laurie Kazan-Allen.

Lest you think that it is only familial pride that prompts me to talk about my sister, I am pleased to tell you that she has just received the United Kingdom’s Construction Safety Campaign’s distinguished Robert Tressell award for her work as an asbestos activist.

The Robert Tressell Award is given to an individual who has provided outstanding service and commitment to workers in the UK by campaigning for safe working environments and assisting those who have been harmed or are suffering from occupation-related diseases.

According to official sources, Laurie received her award for “her global campaign against asbestos, her editorship of the British Asbestos Newsletter and her galvanizing of campaigners globally to one day deliver an asbestos-free world for the future generations of mankind.” “I am,” she said “honored by this recognition from construction workers, a group with one of the highest rates of asbestos-related disease. The CSC and its members are fully aware of the ongoing risks posed by occupational asbestos exposure and have played a frontline role in the campaign for asbestos justice in the UK and abroad.”

In addition to publishing the British Asbestos Newsletter, a periodical widely acknowledged as the authoritative resource for the UK campaign for asbestos justice, Laurie has been involved as an asbestos activist for over 20 years on global anti-asbestos initiatives.

She leads The International Ban Asbestos Secretariat (IBAS), which helps coordinate international asbestos conferences and is actively involved in UK and international asbestos issues. The IBAS website reports on current asbestos developments as well as on IBAS initiatives and events. Laurie has also published several books and monographs on asbestos topics.

“It was a complete surprise,” Laurie said in an email telling me about her award, “But nevertheless, it is wonderful to be recognized by the trade unionists for the work I have done.”

Asbestos Activist is First Recipient of New International Award

Katheleen Ruff CR Award 2013

Dr. Barry Castleman with Kathleen Ruff

An asbestos activist has been chosen for the first ever activist award given by an international science group dedicated to helping to solve global occupational and environmental health problems.

The activist is Kathleen Ruff, a Canadian long-time asbestos industry critic and board member of Canada’s Rideau Institute, a non-profit public policy research organization.  Kathleen received the Canadian Public Health Association’s National Public Health Hero Award in 2011 for her advocacy to end Canada’s export of asbestos.

She has written extensively about Canada’s asbestos industry for GBAN, the e-newsletter of the Global Ban Asbestos Network. She also founded and coordinates a human rights news website called Right On Canada.  Her article “Exposé of the International Chrysotile Association” appeared in both publications.

“It is time for the immunity – enjoyed by the asbestos industry and its lobby groups for so many decades – to end,” she said.

We cited Kathleen’s high caliber investigative reporting recently when we told you here about an academic scientist accused of colluding with the asbestos industry to downplay health risks.

The controversy centered on the accuracy of the conclusions of research on asbestos miners by McGill University’s Prof. J.C. McDonald.  “Prof. McDonald’s research was reportedly financed with one million dollars by the Quebec Asbestos Mining Association (QAMA).” Kathleen boldly revealed.

Now at its annual meeting on October 25-26, the Collegium Ramazzini presented their first activist award to Kathleen for her relentless work in the global asbestos struggle.  American asbestos expert   Dr. Barry Castleman  gave the introductory remarks.

We at Kazan Law are pleased that an asbestos activist was the Collegium’s top priority for this new award and agree that Kathleen is a worthy recipient.  Her efforts in exposing both the dangers of asbestos and the corruption surrounding its continued permitted use both are in line with the Collegium’s mission.

The Collegium Ramazzini, headquartered in Italy, assesses present and future risks of injury and disease attributable to the workplace and the environment. It focuses especially on the identification of preventable risk factors.  Asbestos exposure certainly fits that bill.

Rotterdam Convention 2013 Summary

Laurie Kazan-Allen and some of the French activists from ANDEVA = Pour un monde sans amiante – for a world without asbestos

Laurie Kazan-Allen and some of the French activists from ANDEVA = Pour un monde sans amiante – for a world without asbestos

Over the past couple of weeks I have written about the scandal that was the Rotterdam Convention 2013 and the disturbing trend of countries advocating for the asbestos industry. My sister, Laurie Kazan-Allen, coordinator of the International Asbestos Secretariat was awarded observer status at this 6th Conference of the Parties and witnessed firsthand the developments of this important global meeting. I thank her for allowing me to use her frontline diary as the foundation for the summary report which follows.

Monday, May 6, 2013: Arrival / Registration/ Introductions

With the Convention covering a broad list of hazardous chemicals, the observers with a primary focus on the chrysotile asbestos issue included: Dr. Barry Castleman (U.S.), Kathleen Ruff (Canada), Laurie Kazan-Allen and Bill Lawrence (Britain), Alessandro Pugno (Italy), Sugio Furuya (Japan), and Fernanda Giannasi (Brazil).

Tuesday, May 7, 2013:

Delegations from Russia, Ukraine, Kazakhstan Zimbabwe, Kyrgyzstan, Vietnam and India stated their intention to block the listing of chrysotile asbestos, earning the title “Dirty 7”. It was apparent that this was a political campaign spearheaded by Russia.

Wednesday, May 8, 2013:

cop6_side_event_sugio_2013_822A letter from an Italian asbestos victim’s group that was signed by 28 asbestos victims’ support groups in 15 countries on five continents was presented. Later in the day several speakers described the humanitarian disasters caused by asbestos in their countries. Russian asbestos lobbyist Andrei Kholzakov made several attempts to intervene in the humanitarian session. At one point he stood up and waved a piece of asbestos propaganda headlined “People for Chrysotile.”

Thursday May 9, 2013:

With the rules of the Rotterdam Convention requiring a global unanimous consensus, in an atmosphere of frustration it was determined that the issue of adding chrysotile asbestos to the list of hazardous chemicals would be put on the agenda for the next Conference.

Friday May 10, 2013:

Achim Steiner, executive director of the U.N. Environment Program expressed the following comment:

“It’s very easy to say we’ve failed. But the fact of the matter is that asbestos essentially has no future… Do you really believe that after everything that has been discussed here [industry] will invest in this material in the future? No, and in that sense the convention has a direct and indirect value in signaling what are the substances that are not likely to be in the global marketplace in the near or middle term.”

To read the abridged positions and views expressed by delegates, scroll down to the appendix here.

 

The New Asbestos Industry Allies

asbestos lobbyAlthough civilization has used asbestos in manufacturing for centuries, the last seven decades of scientific research found an undeniable link between the mineral and deadly diseases such as malignant mesothelioma. Slowly but surely, responsible companies in industrialized nations have made it a priority to reduce their use of asbestos.

However, developing nations aren’t as fortunate. Their respective economies leave them with few alternatives to accepting exports from richer countries that mine and produce asbestos-containing materials, and that’s an outrageous injustice.

The international trade community had a chance to right this wrong at this year’s United Nation’s Rotterdam Convention. In the days leading up to the meeting, one activist noted a particularly disturbing trend: While one country that advocated for the asbestos industry has stepped down, two others have taken its place as asbestos industry allies.

Canada disappears from industry’s corner
The Rotterdam Convention is an international, U.N.-sponsored meeting in which international trade stakeholders come together and decide whether certain products for export are to be considered hazardous to human health, making them rightfully difficult to peddle.

During the last few assemblies of the Rotterdam Convention, Canada refused to cooperate with international efforts to list chrysotile asbestos as a hazardous substance. This is appalling, considering that the mineral is considered dangerous within the country’s own borders. Canada’s fight against the Rotterdam Convention on this matter was driven in large part by its once-thriving asbestos industry.

However, in 2011, officials from Quebec announced that they would stop subsidizing the asbestos industry. Kathleen Ruff, co-coordinator of the Rotterdam Convention Alliance, argued that this move is behind what she calls Canada’s new, cynically driven stance on no longer opposing adding chrysotile asbestos to the list of hazardous materials. That’s not to say that Canada will be vocally supporting the move, either, Ruff said.

Two countries fill Canada’s shoes
Ruff’s new concern is that there are two countries that will pick up where Canada left off on the chrysotile asbestos matter as asbestos industry allies: Russia and Zimbabwe.
Here’s how Ruff described the situation in an editorial for The Star in Canada:

“Russia will be attending for the first time as a party to the convention. It has indicated that it intends to use its new status to prevent chrysotile asbestos from being put on the hazardous substance list,” Ruff wrote. “In Russia, with a population of 141 million people, there is not a single scientist or a single scientific organization that opposes the government’s pro-asbestos policy. Or, at any rate, there is not a single scientist or scientific body that dares to do so publicly.”

Additionally, Zimbabwe has indicated interest in reopening its own asbestos mines. Between these two countries, many people will needlessly die from preventable asbestos-induced diseases, including asbestosis and lung cancer.

There are asbestos industry lobbyists who argue that the wealth of scientific information connecting the mineral to health problems has led to safety measures that are adequate enough to not require additional restrictions. However, experts point out that developing countries, some of which have to accept asbestos-tainted exports, don’t have the necessary regulatory bodies to adequately enforce these safety measures.

Let’s not forget how powerful the asbestos lobby is. In the U.S., the Environmental Protection Agency proposed a serious crackdown on asbestos use in 1989, but two years later, the industry successfully got most of the ban overturned in federal court. As a result, asbestos is still allowed in many manufacturing processes in the U.S.

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