Global Asbestos Awareness Week takes place between 1st and 7th April this year. It’s part of a long-standing campaign by the Asbestos Disease Awareness Organisation (ADAO) to rid the world of asbestos, and minimise its impact on our health.
As America’s largest independent non profit-making organisation, the long-term aim of ADAO is to bring about a total ban on asbestos across the world. The use of asbestos is still legal in America, however, and although there have been several attempts to introduce legislation, a final ban has failed to become law.
The Ban Asbestos in America Bill was passed by the Senate in 2007, but failed to pass through the House of Representatives. Control of asbestos is largely in the hands of individual US states, which has resulted in a fragmented approach to controlling its use.
Across the world, an estimated 300 workers will die from asbestos exposure every day
This equates to 107,000 people a year – an estimate provided by the World Health Organisation (WHO). These figures show the reality campaigners are facing, and the true impact of what was once a huge industry with all its power and influence to continue in business.
Most countries in the European Union have now banned asbestos, its deadly legacy also being acknowledged globally. There is still much work to do, however, and as mentioned earlier, hugely industrialised countries such as the US and Canada aren’t setting the best example.
Educating communities about the dangers of asbestos
The Asbestos Disease Awareness Organisation takes a three-pronged approach in their campaign to influence a global asbestos ban:
A huge library of educational resources exists on their website, and with the ability to share information in an instant thanks to social networking, spreading the word about asbestos has never been easier.
Education is at the heart of Global Awareness Week, and it’s hoped that by teaching communities about the devastating effects of exposure, ‘people power’ will be a huge influence.
In fact, a case in the Italian courts showed ‘people power’ at its strongest.
A “permanent health and environmental catastrophe”
The long-running case against ‘Eternit,’ a Swiss building materials firm with factories across Italy, resulted in two former executives receiving 18-year prison sentences and huge fines for the deaths of 3,000 people exposed to ‘blue’ asbestos.
The executives were found guilty of failing to protect worker health and safety, and the verdict was seen as a breakthrough in the battle to abolish asbestos use. Six thousand people reportedly joined a class action law suit against the company, and during the trial three separate rooms were needed for families and other members of the public to follow proceedings.
Unfortunately the landmark ruling was overturned by Italy’s high court in 2014, when the evidence used in the trial was deemed out-of-date due to the expiration of the statute of limitations.
The Mayor of Casale, where Eternit had established a factory as early as 1907, summed up feelings when she said:
“The Eternit conviction has been overturned because of prescription rules – not because the crime did not take place.”