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Asbestos — can the world beat the toxic time bomb?

17 Apr 2012

Paul Bastian explains how Australian trade unions are leading the call for a global ban on asbestos.

Asbestos is a word that strikes fear into the heart of many. Once only thought to cause illness and death to miners and builders, it’s now on its third wave — the general public. Paul Bastian, the acting National Secretary of the AMWU, tells 3Q of plans to clean up public and private buildings by 2030. But the bigger aim is to have the toxic substance banned worldwide.

Australia has some of the highest levels of exposure in the world. However, we lead the world in a positive sense, in that our courts recognise the direct link between exposure to asbestos and the development of mesothelioma. Other countries are only just coming to this conclusion.

A third of the world’s countries still use asbestos and Canada and Russia are still exporting it — even though its use is banned in their own countries. Countries like Vietnam and India are still using asbestos in construction – often without any protective gear. The AMWU is part of a network that is campaigning for a total ban on the use of asbestos worldwide.

Paul Bastian talks about the AMWU’s involvement in the campaign that delivered justice for victims of asbestos exposure by getting billions of dollars in compensation from James Hardie (despite attempts to restructure overseas so its assets were out of reach of victims). Bernie Banton, who became the personal face of mesothelioma sufferers, was a former AMWU member.

The AMWU is calling for the establishment of a National Asbestos Authority representing three tiers of government, asbestos support groups, experts, unions with powers to report on and instigate asbestos removal from private and public buildings, especially schools, by 2030.

Find out more:

This TV report details how India is sitting on a toxic time bomb through asbestos imported from Canada.

The 7.30 Report recently ran this report about the risks to home renovators.

Watch this 1959 clip from the US Bureau of Mines explaining the properties of the mineral fibre.