Asian Asbestos Conference 2009

Workshop 4: International Transfer of Asbestos Industry to Asian Locations

Moderator: Barry Castleman

For more than one hundred years, the asbestos industry has been conducted on a global scale. European and American asbestos manufacturers bought asbestos mines in Africa and Canada, operated cartels to fix prices and divided worldwide markets. Research discussed in the Case Report of the International Trade of the Asbestos Industry in Asia by Professor Takehiko Murayama indicated that Japanese asbestos companies also took a long-term pan-national strategic approach to asbestos manufacturing which encouraged overseas diversification, increasing contact with major foreign competitors83 and the transfer of hazardous technology to less developed countries84. Japanese investment in companies which were presumed to use asbestos in developing countries rose consistently between 1969 and 2001; even as mobilization of the ban asbestos movement was gathering pace in Japan, there was a record number of overseas asbestos investments85.

Recent visits by Korean and Japanese researchers to Korean-owned asbestos production units in Indonesia revealed that the dumping of hazardous production was continuing and that the same asbestos technology which had been used first in Japanese and then in Korean factories had been exported to Indonesia; people in Jakarta reported that machinery from Jeil Asbestos was being sent to China. Accompanying the transfer of asbestos production was the transfer of risks to workers and residents living in proximity to factories which had standards of occupational safety and health approximating Japan's in the 1960s and Korea's in the 1970s. A diagram illustrating the typical national process of going from asbestos use to asbestos ban was exhibited by the speaker, who urged governments to accept the responsibility of intervening in the time-consuming process and prevent the international transfer of the asbestos hazard by banning asbestos.

Dr. Dong-Mug Kang, Dr. Zulmiar Yanri and Yeyong Choi, members of the same research team as the previous speaker, provided more information on the findings. In the presentation Joint Case Study: Exposure Survey of Nichias86 Textile Factories in Japan, Korea and Indonesia, Dr. Kang, from the Korea Research Center for Asbestos- Related Diseases, School of Medicine, Pusan National University, detailed a field study carried out on August 26- 28, 2008 in Cibinong, Bogor, Indonesia to assess current occupational exposure levels and environmental exposures outside the premises of an asbestos factory which was consuming 612 kilograms/day of asbestos. Mean airborne asbestos levels associated with production processes were: 8.6 f/cc mixing, 7.3 f/cc carding, 7.5 f/cc spinning, 3.9 f/cc twisting, 3.1 f/cc weaving and 4.3 f/cc winding87, while average asbestos concentrations for personal and regional air monitoring were 5.7 f/cc and 2.4 f/cc, respectively. Asbestos was identified in soil samples within 100 meters of the factory while 5 meters from the factory the distribution of airborne asbestos varied from 0.154 f/cc to the south, 0.067 f/cc to the west, 0.016 f/cc to the east and 0.001 f/cc to the north88. These differences were explained by the prevalence of a northeast wind. As there was no legislation regulating hazardous asbestos exposures in Indonesia, the research findings showing substantial occupational and environmental exposure generated by this factory were grounds for concern.

Joint research team, Indonesia, August 2008

Dr. Zulmiar Yanri from the National Occupational Safety and Health Center, Indonesia discussed the results of lung function and chest X-rays taken from at-risk individuals in Cibinong89. Out of a total of 265 workers, 101 (38%) were tested; of the 50,000 people living within 500 meters of the factory, 95 were examined. The results were as follows:

To clarify these results, further research was needed.

Yeyong Choi of the Citizens' Institute for Environmental Studies and the Ban Asbestos Network Korea discussed the background to the project and its sociological findings in his paper: Dangerous Trades, Dangerous Neighborhood. The 21+ members of the project staff came from Indonesia, Japan and Korea and included 10 doctors (some of whom worked for the government), six academics, three journalists and two environmentalists. As well as conducting air monitoring, soil testing and medical examinations, research efforts in 2008 included interviews with key personnel including:

Asbestos textile production at PT Jeil Fajar factory

Having detailed the extensive efforts that had been made to track the spread of the asbestos industry throughout Asia, the speaker showed a photograph of an Indonesian worker holding a baby; the worker was wearing a blue work shirt with the PT Jeil Fajar logo. Not only was the child being exposed to his father's contaminated work clothes but he - like 50,000 other people - was being exposed to the high levels of asbestos permeating the neighborhood91. Within 500 meters of the PT Jeil Fajar asbestos factory were many schools: 12 kindergartens, 12 elementary schools, 7 middle schools and 7 high schools - a total of 10,000 students. It was not known how many more schools were within 2 kilometers. Schoolday exposures to Nichias asbestos experienced by Japanese children in the cities of Nara and Korean children in Busan had resulted in high levels of illness; in decades to come, Indonesian children in Cibinong would be similarly affected. Although international organizations, regional bodies and national governments had important roles to play in ending Asian asbestos trafficking, the results of this collaborative research project showed what could be achieved when asbestos victims, environmental activists and trade unionists worked together.

Inspecting an illegal asbestos shipment, Brazil

Considering the ubiquity of asbestos use throughout Asia and the fact that Brazil is one of the world's biggest producers, there could be little doubt that Brazilian exports would find their way to Asian countries. Data quantifying Schoolday this toxic trade were included in Engineer Fernanda Giannasi's presentation Brazilian Asbestos Exports to Asia92. Brazil was, the speaker confirmed, the world's 4th largest asbestos producer, a major exporter and a big consumer. The multinational companies that owned the asbestos business in Brazil for more than 50 years sold their interests to national businessmen who were engaged in a ruthless and aggressive campaign to silence opponents and protect domestic markets. Despite their best efforts, annual asbestos consumption in Brazil had been declining. In order to compensate for lost domestic sales, the Brazilian asbestos lobby had worked closely with other stakeholders to target markets in developing countries. Following the precedent set by Canada, Brazil was exporting increasing amounts of its annual production; 65-70% (~290,000 tons) of exports were being sold to Asian and Latin American countries, most of which had few, if any, health and safety regulations. According to government data, 74% of raw asbestos fiber exports went to Asia; shipments to Thailand, Brazil's biggest overseas customer, accounted for 25% of all sales, with other exports going to India (23%), Indonesia (17%), Iran (7%), Malaysia and Sri Lanka93. The fact that asbestos vested interests had defeated the categorization of chrysotile as a hazardous substance under the Rotterdam Convention meant that these exports were being sent without any prior informed consent notification.

Under Brazilian asbestos labor regulations, manufacturers must notify the government about asbestos use, trade, transport and production. An investigation by the Labor Ministry revealed that a company which had been registered as producing asbestos-cement flowerpots was involved in exporting raw fiber to Asia from a port in São Paulo State. The fact that there was now a statewide asbestos ban in São Paulo meant that the transit of this shipment through the state to the port as well as the export of this cargo were illegal; the export of this cargo was blocked. Other asbestos shipments awaiting dispatch at the port - one of which was destined for India - were discovered by port authority officials and customs agents; these shipments were also embargoed. A stalemate had been reached; 5,000 tons of asbestos at the docks could not be exported and the supplier - the SAMA chrysotile mine - did not want the asbestos back. The blacklisted shipments were currently taking up valuable space in the customs agents' yards. To return the asbestos to the mine would take 200 trucks 32 hours by road; an escort team would be required to see the convoy to the state border as asbestos was classified as a dangerous and prohibited material. Another option was to dump the embargoed material in landfills for dangerous waste, but these disposal sites were far away and expensive. For the time being, the impasse remained.

As was discussed by other speakers at the conference, multinational corporations have been responsible for negligent asbestos exposures not only in their home countries but also overseas. A recent test case has succeeded on behalf of an Australian resident employed by a New Zealand based company; exposure to asbestos was alleged by the employee during business trips to Europe and Asia. The defendant's application that Victoria was not the appropriate forum for such a claim was rejected. Australian Lawyer Maria McGarvie, said that despite the very unusual facts of the case, it might prove relevant to other non-Australian asbestos victims. In the presentation Asbestos Claims against an Australian Multinational - The James Hardie Experience, the speaker explained that the Puttick case would have limited application for Asian asbestos victims who worked for the Australian asbestos giant James Hardie at one of its Asian subsidiaries94.

Whilst employed by the Fletcher company (1981-1989), Mr. Puttick was sent to visit asbestos factories in Belgium and Malaysia95. In 2001, he and his family moved from New Zealand to Victoria, Australia where he later contracted mesothelioma. Upon his death in 2005, the case was continued on behalf of his wife and surviving children. The Supreme Court and the Victorian Court of Appeal found that Victoria was "a clearly inappropriate forum" and stayed the proceedings. On November 12, 2008, the High Court of Australia reversed this finding in a unanimous decision. The High Court decision had allowed the Plaintiff, the widow and children of the late Mr. Puttick, to proceed with their substantive case for damages. This case was now proceeding before the Supreme Court of Victoria and given the procedural and factual peculiarities of the case it might be some time before it reached its final conclusion. Considering the widespread use of asbestos in Asia and the etiology of asbestos-related diseases, there was little doubt that the incidence of these diseases would rise throughout the region. Potential claimants in Australia might now be able to successfully pursue claims in this jurisdiction against defendants responsible for negligent foreign exposures.

Notes

82. ARIAV provides regular home visits and facilitates the setting up of local self-help networks and groups. Coping strategies, rehabilitation exercises and counseling services are offered which recognize the psychological and physical needs of victims.
83. A chronology of Japanese trade with western countries shown by the speaker highlighted contact with U.S. companies, Johns Manville and U.S. Gypsum, and UK companies: Turner & Newall, Cape and Sprayed Insulation.
84. Professor Muryama is from Waseda University, Japan.
85. Throughout the twentieth century, Japanese companies were commercially active in Asia with ventures in Korea, Taiwan and China owned by Asano Slate, 20 plants in China, Korea, Taiwan, Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand, the Philippines, Vietnam and Indonesia owned by Nichias and factories in Malaysia run by Nozawa Asbestos. Nowadays, Japanese companies have investments in asbestos businesses in Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand, Singapore, Taiwan, China, India and the Philippines.
86. In 1970, the Japanese company Nichias Asbestos relocated its asbestos operations from the Tatsuta Nichias plant in Nara, Japan to Jeil Asbestos in Busan, Korea; from 1990 onwards, these operations were exported from Korea to PT Jeil Fajar and PT Trigraha in Indonesia; it has been reported that these manufacturing operations are now being relocated from Indonesia to Sandung Jibo, China.
87. The 2008 exposure levels of Indonesian workers were higher or similar to those which had been found in Korea and Japan.
88. Airborne asbestos concentrations decreased with distance from the factory.
89. There are no data on the incidence of asbestos-related disease or claims made for these diseases in Indonesia.
90. Other research conducted as part of this project established that material produced at this factory contained a high concentration of chrysotile asbestos.
91. Pictures shown of fiber-blocked ventilation outlets and the presence of deteriorating asbestos-cement roofing sheets at the factory were evidence of the pollution.
92. Ms. Giannasi is the Coordinator of the Virtual-Citizens' Network for the Ban of Asbestos in Latin America and a founding member of ABREA, the Brazilian Association of the Asbestos-Exposed.
93. A copy of a bill of lading for an asbestos shipment obtained by the speaker indicated that chrysotile asbestos, from the SAMA mine in Minašu, was being shipped on February 13, 2009 to BRI Ramco Lanka Limited in Makandura Industrial Park, Makandura, Sri Lanka.
94. From 1888 to the 1960s, James Hardie built up its Australian asbestos-cement operations; during the 1970s, the company expanded its interests and began asbestos operations in Malaysia, Indonesia and other developing countries.
95. Puttick v Tenon Limited (formerly called Fletcher Challenge Forests Limited) [2008] HCA 54 (12 November 2008).