Asbestos ban long overdue
On October 18 the National Occupational Health and Safety Commission (OH&SC) will be considering a proposal for phasing out the use of chrysotile asbestos. The OH&SC has representatives from state governments, employer organisations and the ACTU. Unions are concerned that the governments will avoid, as in the past, the issue or delay any phase-out by calling for further reviews. There is no need for any more reviews. There can be no doubts about the deadly nature of asbestos. Australia has one of the world's highest rates of mesothelioma, asbestos caused cancer of the lining of the lung and abdomen. Worksafe Australia estimates 16,000 mesothelioma deaths and 40,000 lung cancer deaths between 1987 and 2010. The bulk of these deaths are related to past widespread use and mining of asbestos. Now another group is emerging who have worked in "well controlled" industries like the friction part manufacture and repair. Australia imports 1500 tonnes of raw asbestos and an estimated one million products containing asbestos annually. "The AMWU has strongly supported the phase out of the use of asbestos, our policy called for a phase out by 1995", said AMWU National Secretary Doug Cameron, in a letter to the State Ministers for Labour and Industry. "It is now time for the States and Commonwealth, through its customs powers, to introduce a phase-out of the importation of asbestos and asbestos containing products." A number of European countries have introduced bans: Iceland (1986), Sweden 1986, Austria 1990, Netherlands 1991, Finland 1992, Italy 1992, Germany 1993, France 1997, and the United Kingdom 1999. In July 2000 the World Trade Organisation, notorious for its neglect of environmental and health and safety, upheld France's ban on white asbestos imports. The European Union has issued a directive requiring the banning of asbestos by member states by January 2005, but Australia is still to take decisive action. The Australian governments and employers have no excuse to delay any longer.