Thursday, July 22, 2010

Corporations that kill people: the sourge of asbestos

Perth, the city where I live is the asbestos cancer capital of the world, with the highest known incidence of asbestos related disease in the world.

The events that caused this situation constitute perhaps the greatest industrial and corporate crime in Australian history.

Asbestos is a deadly substance, a carcinogen that has taken millions of lives world wide, leading to it being banned or restricted in 52 countries. Global estimates are that between 5-10 million people may die as the result of exposure to asbestos and asbestos related products.

Despite the millions who have died and will die in the future as a result of exposure to asbestos, the asbestos industry continues to grow around the world. When it comes to asbestos, corporate power and industry greed for huge profits are insatiable.

Here in Western Australia, the human cost of exposure to asbestos is a legacy of the Wittenoom asbestos mine where asbestos was mined from the 1940's to the late 1960's, and the presence of many industries that processed, manufactured and used asbestos, for example in construction.

Groups such as the Perth based Asbestos Disease Society of Australia have been tireless in the pursuit of justice for the people affected by asbestos.

Perth based writer Miriam Miller's book Shattered Lives: The Human Face of the Asbestos Tragedy is a searing expose of the human consequences of the reckless and callous disregard shown by many corporations in WA, including CSR and James Hardie, and the industries that prospered on the use of asbestos, all of whom placed profit and greed ahead of human wellbeing.

Miriam Miller's fine book continues the tradition of Ben Hill's Blue Murder, his 1989 book on the history of the Wittenoom mine and of the men and women who worked in the mine or lived in the town, and Matt Peacock's Killer Company, a shocking expose of the evils perpetrated by James Hardie, the building products company that spent years covering up the dangers of its asbestos products.

A new report Dangers in the Dust: Inside the Global Asbestos Trade has found that asbestos industry lobby groups have spent some $100 million since the 1980's to preserve and grow the asbestos market in developing nations. They have been hugely successful. In India the asbestos market grows 25% each year, the result of a powerful, New Delhi-based trade group that spends millions on pro-asbestos ads, lobbying, and counteracting critical science on the mineral. China is now the largest exporter of asbestos in the world where demand for the substance is booming.

In countries like Russia and Brazil where asbestos is mined, powerful connections between the asbestos industry, corporations and sovereign governments exercise control over asbstos mining.

Western governments, such as Canada, continue to fund and support the mining and export of asbestos to Mexico, China and India. The Canadian Government is a staunch defender, supporter and funder of the asbestos industry (The Canadian Resources Minister is a former President of the Canadian Asbestos Chamber of Commerce).

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