The Politics of Asbestos: Banned in EU, But Not China, Russia, Brazil or US

Deadly Asbestos

DW (2019)

Film Review

This documentary is about the international asbestos industry and its aggressive penetration of developing countries following the EU’s decision to ban it in 1998. The first study linking asbestos to lung cancer and mesothelioma was published in 1964. Asbestos also causes a chronic (eventually fatal) lung condition known as asbestosis. Sadly, as with smoking and lead poisoning, it took decades of sustained organizing to get western governments to acknowledge the fatal health consequences of asbestos exposure. The US enacted a “partial ban” on asbestos in 1989.*

Because mesothelioma can result from a brief single exposure to asbestos fibers, EPA rules regarding asbestos removal from old buildings are far more stringent. In fact, an entire industry has evolved around asbestos removal.**

The filmmakers focus primarily on the Belgian asbestos manufacturer Etex-Eternit (aka Everest) and its expansion into India in the 1990s. India has been a primary industry target of the industry, owing to its lax regulation of asbestos manufacture, use and disposal.

Asbestos sheets are sold widely in India for use as walls and roofs in makeshift shacks. Over 100,000 Indians develop asbestosis annually.

India has more than 50 asbestos manufacturing plants. Filmmakers visit an asbestos factory Everest built in 1995 and sold to an Indian family in 2002. In addition to filming a 600,000 square meter asbestos waste dump, they also visit a makeshift clinic treating thousands of local residents for asbestos-related problems. They also talk with Indian lawyers and activists who are bringing a lawsuit against Everest in Belgium.

The film concludes by looking at World Health Organization efforts to institute a global ban on asbestos. Brazil, China, and Russia, which still mine asbestos, continue to vociferously block the ban.

Last year, the Trump EPA approved new rules that soften regulations against asbestos use in the US.  In response, one Russian asbestos manufacturer now proudly displays features Trump’s image on all their products.


* History of EPA asbestos regulation

  • 1989 Partial Ban on the manufacture, import, processing, and distribution of some asbestos-containing products. EPA also banned new uses of asbestos which prevent new asbestos products from entering the marketplace after August 25, 1989. These uses remain banned. The April 2019 final rule does not provide a way for these uses to return to the marketplace.
  • April 2019 Final Rule to ensure that asbestos products that are no longer on the market cannot return to commerce without the Agency evaluating them and putting in place any necessary restrictions or prohibiting use. The uses covered under this rule were not already prohibited under the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) and could have returned to the market at any time.
  • Risk evaluation of asbestos under TSCA. EPA is reviewing a handful of very limited, still ongoing uses of asbestos. The evaluation of the risks associated with ongoing uses of asbestos is required under TSCA section 6. If EPA finds unreasonable risk, the Agency will take prompt action to address those risks.

** See https://www.epa.gov/asbestos

 

 

 

How the World Health Organization Gave Up Its Scientific Independence

Trust WHO: The Business of Global Health

Al Jazeera (2018)

Film Review

This documentary concerns the capture of the UN World Health Organization (WHO) by pharmaceutical and other corporations. The problem originates, according to filmmakers, from the refusal global governments to fully fund the agency. As a result, WHO has come to rely on foundations and corporate sponsors to finance their programs. Forty percent of current WHO funding comes from non-government sources. The Gates Foundation, with their strong GMO and vaccine agenda, is its second largest funder after the US government.

Worse still, only 30% of the WHO budget is discretionary. Seventy-percent must be dedicated to programs specified by donors.

The film examines numerous instances in which WHO has pursued the interest of corporate sponsors to the clear detriment of world health. The most grievous example occurred in 2011, when they failed to recommend that Japanese children take potassium iodide to prevent them from radioactive iodine released from the Fukushima meltdowns. The recommendation for children to take prophylactic potassium iodide following nuclear accidents has been a standard WHO recommendation since 1999.

According to radiation health expert Dr Helen Caldicott (see Fukushima: An Ongoing Radiological Catastrophe, more than 200 Fukushima children had developed thyroid cancer by June 2018. Most, if not all of these cases could have been prevented by giving them potassium iodide. Thyroid cancer in the Japanese population is normally quite rare – it occurs in roughly one of every million individuals.

The film can’t be embedded but can be viewed at the Al Jazeera website:

Trust Who: The Business of Global Health

Poisoned Planet

poisoned planet

Poisoned Planet: How Constant Exposure to Man-Made Chemicals is Putting Your Life at Risk

By Julian Cribb
Allen and Unwin (2014)

Book Review

Poisoned Planet is an encyclopedia of environmental toxins and their effect on human health. At present, the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has approved 84,000 different manufactured chemicals. This doesn’t include unintentionally released chemicals, which number even higher. In 36 years, the EPA has only banned five chemicals. The US Centers for Disease Control (CDC) monitors 212. All human beings on the planet have a minimum of 150 toxic chemicals in their bloodstream, regardless of where they live.

The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that man made toxic chemicals cause 4.9 million deaths annually. According to Australian journalist Julian Cribb, the largest source of chemical toxicity is coal burning power plants, giving off mercury, cadmium, sulfur and volatile organic carcinogens. These toxins cause 170,000 deaths annually, mostly from mercury poisoning. Mercury enters the food chain via fish, rice and green vegetables. Public health officials have been warning pregnant women and small children not to eat tuna or shellfish for two decades.

While many toxic exposures are unavoidable, it’s really scary how many people are poisoning themselves and their children through indoor air pollution, food packaging, sunscreens, cosmetics and cleaning products containing toxic chemicals. See Obgyns Speak Out On Toxic Chemicals and Buyer Beware: Americans are Systematically Poisoning Themselves

Cribb is highly critical of doctors for failing to warn their patients about these risks. Sadly current medical training is totally drug-based and medical students receive minimal training in nutrition or toxicology.

In the developed world, indoor air pollution is caused by chemicals emitted by synthetic building materials; wall, floor and furniture coverings; bedding; paints; plastic; foam rubber and common pesticides.

The most worrying toxins in food packaging are phthalates and bisphenyl A (BPA). Both are linked to cancer, infertility, asthma, obesity, diabetes and endocrine and neurobehavioral disorders.

Toxins found in sunscreen and cosmetics include phthalates, triclosan and parabins, which have all been linked to cancer, infertility and obesity.

Epidemiologists estimate eighty percent of all cancers are linked to environmental factors, with cancer rates increasing by 1-3% a year. There is also growing evidence implicating environmental toxins to the growing epidemic of infertility and Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s disease.

Big Sugar, Inc

Big Sugar: Sweet, White and Deadly

Brian McKenna (2005)

Film Review

Big Sugar is about the sugar lobby and how they use their wealth and power to prevent the World Health Organization (WHO) and other regulatory agencies from dispensing accurate information about the link between high sugar intake and obesity, type 2 diabetes and heart disease.

This Canadian documentary is divided into two parts. Part I deals with the links between sugar and slavery and the modern sugar barons have replaced the slaveholders who effectively controlled British foreign and domestic policy for 200 years. Part II is about the global obesity epidemic and efforts by WHO in 2005 to issue guidelines limiting daily sugar intake to 10% of total calories. The powerful sugar lobby defeated this initiative by employing many of the same techniques as the tobacco industry (and the climate denial industry). After attacking the science linking high sugar intake and obesity, they attacked the scientists themselves as biased fanatics. They then got them fired, demoted, and/or transferred. Under pressure from Big Sugar, both Bush administrations threatened to withhold the funding they owed WHO, and the pesky nutritionists who sought to warn people about the dangers of sugar magically vanished.

The documentary focuses on two of the most prominent slave holding families, as well a Canadian woman of African descent whose ancestors were owned by the Church of England and worked on a plantation in Barbados. The filmmakers liken these historical paragons to a modern day Cuban exile family in Florida called the Fanjuls. The latter donate generously to both major parties to make sure the US government continues to subsidize sugar production. The Fanjuls and other Florida sugar barons reap $1.5 billion in subsidies for $3.1 million in campaign contributions.

In addition to exposing the ecological devastation sugar cultivation has caused in the Florida Everglades, the filmmakers also visit the Fanjuls’ sugar plantations in the Dominican Republic. Despite the official abolition of slavery, working conditions on Dominican sugar plantations remain virtually unchanged. The Fanjuls lure Haitian immigrants across the border with a promise of paying work. Once their passports are confiscated, they become virtual slaves. Workers, who are paid $2 for a twelve hour day, experience chronic hunger and malnutrition. Forbidden to grow their own vegetables, they’re forced to rely on a company store that charges them three times the normal price for food. They have no access to medical care, and child labor is rife.

Doctors Resist Changes to Reduce Medical Errors

Avoidable Errors Third Leading Cause of Death

Preventable medical errors remain the  third highest cause cause of death in the US – following heart disease and cancer. They claim the lives of 400,000 Americans every year. In the following TED talk, Boston surgeon and public health researcher Dr Atul Gawande talks about the World Health Organization (WHO) approaching him to research possible methods of reducing avoidable surgical deaths.

What Gawande discovered was that the role of doctors has failed to keep up with the increasing complexity of medical technology. Prior to the discovery of penicillin in 1945, most patients who were ill enough to be hospitalized died. Occasionally a courageous doctor would save a patient with heroic and/or revolutionary treatment. This caused doctors who were daring “cowboys” and “pioneers” to be sought out and rewarded.

In the new millennium, Gawande argues, amazing new technologies, rather than brilliant doctors, are saving patients. Although the increasing complexity of medical technology requires ever larger medical teams, the health system is still oriented around the skill and expertise of individual doctors. We’re still relying on the brilliance of individuals. What we really need is pit crews.

Gawande approached the challenge WHO gave him by looking at other high risk professions, such as skyscraper construction and aircraft manufacture. He wanted to see what they did to reduce the risk of avoidable errors.

He was inspired by the checklists Boeing uses at every stage of manufacturing – for key details that can get forgotten. He developed a similar series of surgical checklists, which he tested in a dozen different countries. The checklists reduced complication rates by 35% and death rates by 45%.

Gawande published his remarkable findings in the New Yorker in 2007 and in a 2009 book, The Checklist Manifesto.

Seven years later the majority of hospitals and surgical teams refuse to implement Gawande’s checklists –  for reasons he fails to specify. Apparently their responsibility in the deaths of hundreds of thousands of patients isn’t sufficient to inspire change. I must admit this mystifies me.

Also posted in Veterans Today