Make 2019 the tipping point for killing the deadly asbestos industry

Nicholas McCallum

The year ahead could see the killer blow delivered to the deadly 'devil's dust' industry. 

The push for a global asbestos ban took a critical step in 2018 with Brazil and Canada making the right moves to end trading the material, leaving only a handful of countries around the world where it is mined and exported.

In 2019 Union Aid Abroad APHEDA, with the ETU and the Australian union movement’s backing, will help land a killer blow on what’s left of the deadly “devil’s dust” industry.  

Asbestos was banned in Australia 2004, but as long as it is being mined, manufactured and traded around our South East Asian neighbourhood, there will be vulnerabilities in our protective laws.

Australian union delegation with ALP MP Lisa Chesters (third from right).

From building materials, to train carriage brakes and children’s crayons, asbestos products continue to find their way into Australia. The best way to prevent asbestos coming into Australia is with a country-by-country process through Asia where asbestos is still widely used in many industries.

APHEDA is appealing for assistance to make year ahead “the tipping point for asbestos” and asking for donations in the lead up to Christmas so it can continue its fight.

“Momentum is building as more countries move towards a ban and as understanding of the dangers of asbestos grows,” the APHEDA appeal says.

The APHEDA delegation in Indonesia.

That momentum has carried APHEDA from one success to another throughout the year, with the battle focused on Australia’s neighbours in South East Asia where asbestos is widely used in building products and manufacturing.

A delegation of ETU officers joined APHEDA and other Australian union officials in September and October on a tour of Vietnam and Indonesia, to better understand the fight to ban asbestos in those countries and help stamp out its use.

ETU National Assistant Secretary Michael Wright was part of the delegation to learn about the on-going battles while sharing some of the experience Australia gained in its fight.

“From our experience in Australia, the use of asbestos is a triple tragedy,” he said.

“It’s a tragedy for people’s health – the cancers caused by exposure to asbestos are avoidable if countries stop using asbestos. It’s an environmental tragedy as old and degrading asbestos material is often disposed of in the environment where it can release fibres into the air when disturbed. It’s an economic tragedy as governments around the world have to bear the cost of this deadly industry’s clean up.”

ETU NSW Secretary Dave McKinley said he was “shocked to hear of the misinformation and bullying tactics still being used by the asbestos industry and exporting countries of chrysotile, to try to maintain their deadly trade”.

Those are the same lies that were told for decades to workers, their families and the world by the asbestos industry.

READ MORE: The battle to ban the devil’s dust in our neighbours’ backyards

Every year more than 4000 Australians continue to die from asbestos-related diseases. As we fight in Australia to educate people about the dangers, we need to help neighbouring nations in the battles against it.

Throughout 2018 there were positive signs that we and our union comrades throughout South East Asia are winning the war on asbestos.

In January, Vietnamese Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc instructed the Ministry of Construction to develop a plan to ban asbestos roof sheeting by 2023. This set the stage for a wind-down across the region.

In Cambodia, APHEDA was instrumental in working the government and trade unions to develop the first National Asbestos Profile, which involved 120 material samples being sent to Brisbane to check for asbestos – over half came back positive.

Laos was revealed this year to have the unfortunate title of highest user of asbestos per capita in the world, but the tiny nation is trying to change that.

Working with the World Health Organisation in Laos, APHEDA is supporting partners to develop the first National Action Plan which proposes an asbestos ban 2020.

Meanwhile, in Indonesia, victims of asbestos related diseases are organising for just compensation from the government.

Community organising has built a broad coalition to campaign for awareness on hazards and a ban at local and national levels.

The fight to ban asbestos continues, so if you can help in the battle, please visit APHEDA and make a donation so 2019 can be the year we celebrate the ban throughout our South East Asian neighbourhood.

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