Editorial: Asbestos is the World’s Biggest Industrial Killer – Ban it Now!
The Kansas City Health Department has closed the Clarion Hotel KCI after discovering workers and guests had been exposed to asbestos during renovation. According to officials, the level of exposure for guests was probably “extremely low.” However, the exposure for workers who were handling the materials for hours was much higher. The hotel owners had a building permit to do the renovation, but not to remove asbestos. The workers also did not have training for asbestos removal and were not certified, as required by state law. In fact, many of the workers were employees of the hotel. The owners of the hotel did not think there was asbestos in the tiles, because the building had been constructed in the 1970s.
The Kansas City Star, March 21, 2006
This year, on International Workers Memorial Day, April 28, unions nationally and internationally are mobilizing to promote government action for a global ban on the production, import, export and use of all asbestos products, government support for a transition to safe and sustainable jobs, and justice for the global victims of the deadly fiber.
Asbestos is the world’s biggest industrial killer, claiming at least 100,000 lives annually. The ILO has calculated that asbestos-related diseases could eventually result in 10 million fatalities worldwide. The victims among the living suffer permanent disability.
IUF members in every sector are exposed to asbestos in a variety of situations – in agriculture, food processing, hotels, restaurants and catering enterprises, where asbestos and asbestos-containing materials were and are used as insulation and fire-retardants products, in wallboard, paint and other construction materials, pipe and furnace insulation materials, shingles, tiles, and machine installations.
There is no safe use and no safe level of exposure to asbestos – all forms of asbestos are highly carcinogenic. “Regulation” is no solution – asbestos use is in principle subject to legal regulation and oversight by public agencies in the United States, for example, but the country continues to use more than 30 million pounds of it each year, exposing over a million workers annually. Their names will only be known when they turn up in the cancer registry, unless action is taken now.
The hazards of asbestos have been known for decades, but the asbestos industry is alive and well, and still powerful and agile enough to keep asbestos off the UN list of highly dangerous substances that cannot be exported to developing countries without their knowledge and agreement (PIC). The IUF is pressing the ILO to adopt a clear, strong position in support of a global ban. We encourage all affiliates to contact their national trade union centers for information on how to contribute effectively to the campaign.