The government of Thailand is considering banning the use of asbestos. The asbestos lobby is consequently using outrageous tactics, such as threats and outright lies to try to prevent this. The asbestos lobby, for example, distributed T-shirts with the World Health Organization (WHO) symbol, bearing a message claiming that the WHO supports use of asbestos. The position of the WHO is, of course, the exact opposite. In an effort to counter this cynical misinformation, the WHO found it necessary to call a press conference in Bangkok to let people know that, in reality, the WHO opposes the use of asbestos.
Below is a letter, sent to the Prime Minister of Thailand and other government officials, condemning the disreputable tactics of the asbestos lobby and calling on the government to ban any further use of asbestos, as over 50 countries have already done.
Kathleen Ruff, RightOnCanada.ca
May 29, 2012
Dear Prime Minister Shinawatra:
We attach a statement signed by scientists from around the world, condemning the actions of the Chrysotile Information Center of Thailand, who have threatened legal action against Prof. Vittaya Kulasomboon, if he and the Consumer Protection Health Plan at Chulalongkorn University do not cease communicating the irrefutable scientific evidence on the risk to health posed by chrysotile asbestos.
We wish to also draw to attention the fact that the information contained in the letter from the lawyers hired by the Chrysotile Information Center is scientifically erroneous.
It is totally incorrect, for example, to state that mesothelioma is not caused by exposure to asbestos, but is instead caused by smoking. As the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) has stated: “Malignant tumours arising in the pleural or peritoneal linings (diffuse malignant mesothelioma) have no association with tobacco smoking and are characterized by a different spectrum of molecular alterations.”
It is totally incorrect to state that England “still safely uses asbestos”. England banned the use of chrysotile asbestos in 1999. The British government’s Health and Safety Executive considers asbestos to be a continuing major health risk in England, which kills approximately 20 construction workers every week. For this reason, the government has launched a campaign to warn workers of the dangers: Asbestos the Hidden Killer.
It is extremely disturbing that workers in Thailand are being exposed to shockingly high levels of asbestos fibres, which place workers at great risk of harm. Tests conducted in eleven asbestos-processing industries in Thailand, reported in a paper by Chittima Veeradejkriengkrai from the National Institute for the Improvement of Working Conditions and Environment, showed that “the airborne asbestos concentrators ranged from 0.01 to 43.31 fibers/cc (average of 5.45 fibers/cc). Of these measurements, 39 samples (36.45%) exceeded the permissible exposure limit (5 fibers/cc) issued under Thai OSH laws.”
It is also totally reprehensible that asbestos industrialists in Thailand are deliberately giving the people of Thailand false information by claiming that the World Health Organization (WHO) supports the use of chrysotile asbestos, when the truth is that the WHO opposes the use of chrysotile asbestos and has called for an end to its use, particularly in roofing and other construction materials.
This shameful dissemination of false information brings the reputation of Thailand into disrepute. It is not worthy of a great nation.
It should be noted that the permitted exposure limit of 5 f/cc is 50 times higher than the exposure level of 0.1 f/cc, permitted in the European Union, the U.S. and other industrialized countries.
Based on experience recorded in the world medical literature and Thailand’s very high volume of asbestos use in recent years, one can only expect a catastrophic epidemic of asbestos disease to soon unfold in Thailand. It is now vital to protect the people from the preventable, deadly consequences of adding to the volume of asbestos materials in buildings and vehicles all over the country.
Asbestos industrialists in Thailand and in other countries, such as Russia, are trying by every means possible to prevent action by your government to protect the people of Thailand from an epidemic of asbestos-related suffering and disease, such as has been experienced in every country where asbestos has been used. The asbestos interests operate across borders, and the fiercest resistance to banning asbestos in Thailand comes from asbestos mining firms from other countries, such as Russia, working with the local asbestos companies to delay and prevent change.
The letter from the international law firm to Chulalongkorn University ends with a clearly implied threat to take legal action if the demands of the asbestos industry are not granted. This is a serious challenge to academic freedom as well as to public health, in that global asbestos interests have the effrontery to think they can pressure Thai institutions of higher learning to persecute independent health scientists for having the courage to speak the truth on a matter affecting the health of millions of Thais.
It is significant that in Italy a judge has found asbestos executive, Stephen Schmidheiny, guilty of criminal offenses in having suppressed information about the risks to health posed by asbestos and has sentenced Mr Schmidheiny to sixteen years in prison. This is a criminal industry.
Should the “Chrysotile Information Centre” follow through on its threat and institute legal proceedings in Thailand, we will raise financial donations in order to substantially assist Dr. Vithaya in defraying any legal costs required to procure the most qualified counsel for his defense against these scurrilous tactics of the asbestos industry.
We urge the government of Thailand to support the recommendation of the WHO and health experts around the world and to ban any further use of asbestos, as over 50 countries have already done.
DR KEN TAKAHASHI, MD, PhD, MPH, Professor of Environmental Epidemiology; Director of the International Center, UOEH; Japan President, Asian Association for Occupational Health; Acting Director of the WHO Collaborating Center for Occupational Health, IIES, University of Occupational and Environmental Health, Kitakyushu City, Japan
DR ARTHUR L. FRANK, MD, PhD, Professor of Public Health, Drexel University School of Public Health, Philadelphia, PA, USA
PROFESSOR COLIN L. SOSKOLNE, PhD, Professor (Epidemiology), School of Public Health, University of Alberta, Canada; Immediate Past-President, Canadian Society for Epidemiology and Biostatistics; Fellow, American College of Epidemiology; Fellow, Collegium Ramazzini
Minister of Industry, Chaiwut Bannawat
Minister of Health, Witthaya Buranasiri
Chair of the Consumer Protection Board, Worawat Au-apinyakul