Asbestos continues to be used in most Asian countries. The ABAN network is campaigning for an asbestos ban.
“I have asbestosis as a result of my work in a textile mill”, recounts Siti Kristina from West Java, who suffers from shortness of breath, coughing fits and weight loss. “Although I haven’t worked there for ten years, the fibres stick in my lungs and worsen my state of health from day to day.” Since her diagnosis Siti Kristina has been campaigning in the Asian Ban Asbestos Network (ABAN) for an asbestos ban in the countries of Asia.
First steps towards national asbestos bans
So far Nepal is the only counrty in the region to ban the import and use. But enforcement is lacking. Thus asbestos containing cement continues to be imported and brake pads containing asbestos are exempt from the ban. ABAN is also pressuring provincial and local governments. Thus in the Indian state Bihar no further asbestos factories may be built and in Kerala no school roofs made from asbestos sheets may be installed. After years of struggle, Siti Kristina from West Java has achieved recognition of her asbestosis as an occupational disease. In the Indonesian city of Bandung the use of asbestos containing materials is prohibited in all new buildings.
To achieve a national ban, governments need to be sensitised to the harmfulness of asbestos. In Cambodia representatives of victims are demanding the development of a national action plan. In Vietnam they have been advised about asbestos-related diseases and the labelling of asbestos containing products has been demanded. Further education of medical personnel and doctors on the diagnosis of asbestosrelated diseases is also important, as many asbestos victims receive the misdiagnosis of tuberculosis. But only when affected workers are identified as victims of asbestos can they demand their rights.
The lies of the asbestos lobby
The asbestos industry exerts pressure on the governments of Southeast Asia in order to prevent asbestos being banned. Thus NGOs and activists in Pakistan have been threatened by the government and by companies. The asbestos lobby spreads false information on the effects of asbestos and even finances studies to refute the findings of the ban-asbestos campaigns. It further claims that the use of asbestos-free materials increases costs. Hence the ABAN network stresses the importance of a costbenefit analysis and focuses on campaigns to label asbestos. ABAN is also trying to get financial institutions in the region to support an asbestos-free policy. Thus the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank pledged in its environmental and social provisions in 2021 to ban the use of asbestos in its financed projects. These are early successes of local activists who know what they are talking about. The victims must be heard all around the world.
“I have asbestosis as a result of my work in a textile mill.”