On October 12th, 2012, speakers and representatives from at least 15 countries and an audience of over 250 persons came for the momentous ANDEVA conference, held in the French Senate. I have tried to do an entire’s day conference justice by this article; however, many presentations will be published on www.andeva.fr, where you may see them for yourself. ~ Yvonne Waterman, Sc.D. LL.M., GBAN Charter Member, The Netherlands
On the morning of the 12th, the general mood was already joyous as the news spread that the Jeffrey mine would be closed and flooded permanently. Marc Hindry (ANDEVA), the Canadian MP Pat Martin and Lisa Singh, an Australian Senator, opened the conference by describing the great progress asbestos activists and advocates have made over the years and especially in recent times. They stressed the importance of global participation in the asbestos fight, the need for criminal prosecution and the desire for complete eradication of asbestos. To this, French parliamentarian Annie David added her voice, stressing that parliamentarians globally too have an important role to play here. Later that day, Pat Martin would move many close to tears and to great applause by apologising most sincerely and movingly for the suffering caused by Canadian asbestos.
Richard Lemen, the American Vice Surgeon-General, gave the keynote speech, concentrating on the American and English history, knowledge and epidemiology of asbestos. Lemen pointed out that it is epidemiologically correct to speak of an asbestos disease pandemic; and yet worldwide production and consumption are hardly decreasing. Enzo Merler (Italy) and Guadelupe Aguilar (Mexico) followed, who both spoke on the epidemiological suffering of their respective countries. Aguilar made the audience gasp when she told of an Eternit manager in Mexico who reportedly was known for saying that one can eat asbestos with bread and butter; and yet the area of that particular Eternit plant had the highest incidence of mesothelioma anywhere in Mexico; and no recognition of asbestos diseases as occupational diseases, no registry, no compensation, no fund for medical care, no victim organization, etc. Laurie Kazan-Allen’s (GB) maps showed how production and use of asbestos have changed globally over the years, with national asbestos bans increasingly in number – and yet too slowly.
News on the most recent medical research was presented too, by Pergiacomo Betta (Italy), and Marie Claude Jaurand, Arnaud Scherpereel and Jean Denis Combrexelles (all of France). Combrexelles, the director of the Ministry of Employment, pointed out that nearly all asbestos had come in through the French harbour of Dunkirk, causing ravage amongst the population. He had a firm message: “Social health should be defended by government at all costs. We need to find hope and make progress on this matter.”
Mohit Gupta (India), Hermano Castro (Brazil) and Kathleen Ruff (Canada) spoke of the ways asbestos impacts, devastates and invades their countries’ societies. Ruff explained how to fight the tactics and propaganda of the Quebec and Canadian governments and the asbestos industry; to frequent roars of applause. She also detailed how Canadian institutions – the Asbestos Institute/Chrysotile Institute in particular – backed by the government, have been at the heart of the global asbestos propaganda machine, making the asbestos industry appear bonafide and scientifically sound; thus preparing the way to new global asbestos markets, to the tune of 50 million Canadian tax dollars.
Yeyong Choi (South Korea) pointed out that in Asia, asbestos use is increasing, rather than declining. Fernand Turcotte, agreeing with Yeyong, stated: “We must free humanity from asbestos. It is a poisonous gift from my country to the rest of the future.”
Later in the afternoon, Tina da Cruz (South-Africa), Eric Jonckheere (Belgium) and Marie José Voisin (France) detailed the compensation methods of their respective countries. They showed that, mostly, compensation is only partially and often of little significance. They were followed by four speakers who detailed civil and criminal proceedings. Bruno Pesce (Italy) spoke of the famous Turin criminal trial against Eternit, Pat Martin on Canada. Linda Reinstein (USA) explained how, bizarrely, asbestos is still legal in the USA. Lisa Singh concluded on the deadly legacy of asbestos in Australia.
Ruff and Hindry summed up what had been learned and shared this day: that different perspectives and different experiences are necessary learning curves of the solution; that asbestos deaths are needless, that necessary knowledge has been denied to both public and governments, that such deception is fatal. The ‘Turin Effect’ could be felt, too: I have attended so many conferences – banning asbestos, preventing exposure and finding a cure against asbestos diseases have always been their main themes. However, this time, for the first time, there was a very clear sense that, additionally, criminal prosecution of the asbestos industry as objective of social justice is also required.
The general consensus, as voiced by Allain Bobbio (France), was that this huge international conference, the first of its kind in France, has brought asbestos once again to the forefront of the media, that international networks have been improved, important knowledge on asbestos has been shared and that, most of all, the resolve of all to ban asbestos has been strengthened and rejuvenated.
ANDEVA certainly had more up its sleeve for bringing asbestos to the forefront of the media: the next day, more than 5,000 activists participated in an ANDEVA demonstration against asbestos through the streets of Paris, ending at the Opera. More on that in the next article!
Yvonne Waterman, Sc.D. LL.M., GBAN Charter Member, The Netherlands