April 16th has been declared Chrysotile Protection Day by the Chrysotile Association in Russia who have launched a campaign for workers in the asbestos industry to show their “support for the safe use of asbestos”.

In a demonstration of continued resistance to world opinion ahead of the annual Rotterdam Convention, to be held April 28 – May 10 in Geneva, the chairman of the international alliance of trade unions aims to prevent the Russian export of chrysotile to be added to the Prior Informed Consent Procedure for Certain Hazardous Chemicals and Pesticides in International Trade (PIC).

On April 12th, a press conference was held by the Chrysotile Association to announce a motor rally involving five cars that will race across 1.5 thousand km from Russia to Kazakhstan to publicise their protest to the proposed call by the Rotterdam Convention to include Russian asbestos exports on the PIC register. According to Russian scientists, the “controlled use of chrysotile” should be allowed to be considered.

Lobby against white asbestos

Each year, white chrysotile asbestos has been strongly lobbied for inclusion in Prior Informed Consent at the Rotterdam Convention in a bid make it more difficult for countries to export the deadly material and permission granted to only those countries that explicitly consent to asbestos imports.

Throughout most of the twentieth century, industrial workers were constantly exposed to the deadly asbestos fibre dust in key manufacturing, construction, heavy engineering and ship building industries. From the 1980s and 90s the raising of asbestos awareness has led to all forms of asbestos to eventually be banned in 52 countries around the world.

However, Russia followed by China, Brazil, and Kazakhstan, is well known for continuing to mine and export white chrysotile asbestos to a number of developing nations, including India and Mexico. Worldwide production has actually risen by over 2.1 million tons to meet commercial demand by the building, aerospace and defence industries.

Largest asbestos exporter

The U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) report 2013, reveals that Russia employs more than 50,000 people in the asbestos industry and continues to be the largest asbestos producer in the world with an annual production of around 2 million tons of chrysotile, a quarter of global asbestos, and half of the extracted raw material is exported.

Worldwide production has been shown to have significantly increased by over 2.1 million tons by 2000 to meet commercial demand. As a consequence, it is predicted that asbestos-related disease, such as asbestosis and the incurable cancer, mesothelioma are set to rise in the coming decades.

Global mesothelioma rates

According to a World Health Organisation (WHO) estimate, around 107,000 workers now die each year from exposure to asbestos. Previously, WHO had reported that mesothelioma was responsible for causing 6,000 deaths each year between 1994 and 2008 worldwide, and a total of over 92,000 with two-thirds occurring after the year 2000. It is forecast that mesothelioma mortality rates could reach as high as 10 million or more within the next 20 years.

The long period of gestation from initial exposure and breathing in of the microscopic fibres mean that many thousands of victims would only see the asbestosis symptoms of the deadly incurable cancer, mesothelioma appear between 10 and 50 years later.