Since the late 19th century, evidence of the dangers of asbestos exposure has been building. In the 1960s, the truth about related diseases such as mesothelioma surfaced. A wave of lawsuits began pouring in to courts around the world. International governments began reacting by restricting and banning the use of asbestos because of its carcinogenic properties.
But, while concerned scientists and medical professionals were busy trying to reveal the dangers of the mineral, the asbestos industry was also busy formulating its counter attack in the form of lobbying groups. These large and often secretive organizations are usually funded by a variety of miners, exporters, importers and manufacturers.
Through deceptive tactics including intimidating scientists, suppressing research, controlling the local media and partnering with government, these groups push the money-making agenda of asbestos companies. Despite the condemning evidence against the mineral, modern-day production of asbestos continues to skyrocket.
According to the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, nearly $100 million in public and private money has been spent by these companies since the 1980s on asbestos propaganda. Most of these lobbying organizations are based in the countries that have economic ties to asbestos. Russia, India and Brazil have the largest pro-asbestos campaigns, though there are several other organizations around the world.
This Russian-based organization has gained a firm hold on the country’s government, securing unwavering support for companies like Uralasbest. Approximately $800 million a year is produced by the asbestos mines in the city of Asbest and its counterpart in Kazakhstan.
Because of the lobbying efforts, Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin “promised to support Russian producers of chrysotile, especially in situations where we find ourselves under political pressure at the international level.” The organization’s website even presents a comic featuring a super hero named Super Chrysotile who battles special interests that try to ban the use of the mineral.
ACPMA is a New Delhi-based organization funded by 12 asbestos companies. ACPMAs long-standing argument is that the dangers of asbestos are “not based on any scientific evidence in India or elsewhere, and is totally dictated by vested commercial interests.”
The company even took out an ad in The Times of India called “Blast Those Myths About Asbestos Cement.” The ad asserted that the soaring mesothelioma cancer rates in the West were a result of careless practices and the use of amphiboles (brown and blue asbestos). The ad claims that practices today make asbestos safer and that asbestos-containing materials are “strong, durable, economical, energy efficient and eco-friendly.”
India remains one of the largest consumers of asbestos materials, which are mainly used to make cheap housing for the country’s poor. ACPMA claimed that weathering of asbestos-containing materials wasn’t a problem in India because the weather was milder than in other countries.
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This Brazilian lobbying group based in the city of Go is (near Brazils asbestos mine) has taken millions of dollars since 2006 and enjoys a tax-exempt status. When several international health and labor organizations projected that nearly 100,000 asbestos-related deaths occurred every year, the organization claimed those figures were based on old data.
When accused by a state prosecutor of being a special interest group for asbestos companies, the organization claimed it “ensures the health and security of workers and users,” protects the environment and provides information regarding asbestos to the public.
In addition to these active lobbying groups, Canada’s Chrysotile Institute was also one of the industry’s strongest supporters. Canada has had a long history with asbestos, and the Chrysotile Institute has been involved every step of the way. Their approach has been to demonize brown and blue asbestos (known as amphiboles) and promote white asbestos (chrysotile) as non-cancerous.
Despite ample evidence that all forms of the mineral are dangerous, the institute claims chrysotile fibers do not accumulate in the lungs. Their message is that asbestos opponents are creating unfounded public hysteria in the name of serving only their economic or ideological interests. According to them, the dangers of asbestos are a thing of the past.
Even with the efforts of this powerful organization, however, Canadian citizens have spoken out against the practice of exporting a cancerous material. Because of growing public concern and protests, the institute closed its doors in April 2012.
While asbestos lobbying groups have been largely successful, asbestos opponents have been working hard to counteract the propaganda. As public awareness about the dangers of asbestos grows, these lobbying organizations will continue to try to obscure the truth about the dangers of the mineral.
Matt Mauney is an award-winning journalist with nearly a decade of professional writing experience. He joined Asbestos.com in 2016, and he spends much of his time reading, analyzing and reporting on mesothelioma research articles to ensure people in the mesothelioma community know the latest medical advancements. Prior to joining Asbestos.com, Matt was a reporter at the Orlando Sentinel. Matt also edits some of the pages on the website. He also holds a certificate in health writing from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
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