March 30 – April 1 was the eighth annual Asbestos Disease Awareness Organization (ADAO) conference and Baron & Budd’s third time to attend as an event sponsor. Every conference has been eye-opening but we have to say this year’s event, themed “An International Public Health Crisis,” was the most informative to date.
So what did we learn?
Well, the words international and crisis are understatements for the rampant and unprotected use of asbestos in countries as diverse as Brazil, India and China. It is hard to believe that in 2012 anyone can, with a straight face, say that asbestos cement products are not friable (meaning they can’t break off and release asbestos fibers) or that “controlled use” of asbestos is safe. But those statements are only two of the many lies perpetrated by executives in companies that stand to make a buck from selling asbestos to unsuspecting buyers.
It probably won’t surprise anyone that China is now the world’s biggest miner and manufacturer of asbestos products. But their flagrant disregard for truth is shocking. Knowing that asbestos is a known carcinogen, the Chinese government opted to use alternative materials when constructing the iconic “bird’s nest” and other Olympic facilities. (They did not want to upset the athletes.) But after the Olympic building wound down, the Chinese immediately returned to the use of asbestos-laden products for practically everything…ensuring an epidemic of mesothelioma and other asbestos related diseases down the road.
The fact that these developing countries are creating city infrastructure out of a toxic substance that will be virtually impossible to eradicate is bad enough, but the conference also highlighted some things we’d like to pretend weren’t happening so close to home. The United States Geological Survey (USGS) reports that 1040 metric tons of asbestos were shipped to the U.S. last year but, insanely, there are no laws requiring records of its ultimate use and distribution routes. How can this be when we know so much about the destructive power of asbestos and the train routes from the asbestos mine in Libby, Montana to manufacturing sites show a higher incidence of asbestos disease in close proximity to the tracks?
And how is it that we even allow asbestos into the United States, a country that, God bless us, employs thousands to keep out Cuban cigars and Mexican plants?
The answer is that the voices of those who profit from asbestos have been too loud for too long.
That’s why the work of ADAO is so important – and why we are proud to join their fight to create not just a voice but a chorus of people who can and will fight to ban asbestos.