mortal danger and world scandal

An asbestos mine in Canada.


It is a tour of the world as instructive as it is terrifying. A journey that, from Quebec to old Europe via Bangladesh, Russia and Colombia, underlines, with supporting testimony, the devastation that continues to be caused by asbestos, a carcinogenic fiber banned in only sixty-seven countries in across the planet.

We have known it for nearly a century, however: these odorless fibers, sometimes five hundred times finer than a hair, can descend to the bottom of the lungs, remain there for a very long time, then cause death, ten, twenty, thirty, sometimes forty years after being breathed. Today, the WHO estimates that around one hundred and twenty thousand victims of this killer fiber per year.

With the discovery of large deposits in the 1950s, this flexible, cheap and very insulating fiber became a miracle product.

Even if asbestos was officially banned in Europe in 2005 (1997 in France, 1993 in Germany), even if, as early as 1930, scientists underlined its harmfulness and if fiber-related diseases exploded in the 1960s, some countries (Russia, Kazakhstan, China in the lead) continue to mass produce them.

With the discovery of large deposits in the 1950s, this flexible, inexpensive and highly insulating fiber became a miracle product. Hospitals, museums, schools, planes, ships, pipelines, houses, asbestos is everywhere. And more and more victims. To remove asbestos from France, it would take, it seems, a century. And billions of euros.

Contaminated waste

So, why expose thousands more workers and working poor to this danger that we know is deadly? In the largest asbestos mine in the world, 1,700 kilometers from Moscow, production supports thousands of workers and their families. Too bad if many will lose their health and sometimes their lives there.

In Chittagong (Bangladesh), dismantling of cargo ships and European supertankers containing thousands of tons of asbestos.

Some of our waste sent to developing countries for recycling is contaminated. Like those gigantic freighters stranded in Chittagong (Bangladesh) where destitute people, without any protection, dismantle deadly carcasses full of asbestos. Of the fifty thousand people who work on these sites, 33% suffer from asbestos-related cancer.

The market is juicy for a few multinationals which, through their YouTube channels, are developing disinformation campaigns

Cynically, some companies, established in countries where asbestos has been officially banned, continue to use killer fiber in countries with much more lax legislation. Like Eternit, a Franco-Belgian-Swiss company that produces asbestos-containing objects (such as pieces of fiber cement roofing) in South America.

The market is lucrative for a few multinationals which, through their YouTube channels, are developing disinformation campaigns. Main target? Asia, which consumes nearly 60% of world production. For each country (India, Pakistan, Vietnam for example), targeted advertisements are visible on the Web. Pending a global ban, three thousand products containing asbestos are circulating on the planet. And the deaths are piling up. A never ending story indeed...

Asbestos, the endless story, documentary by Thomas Dandois and Alexandre Spalaikovich (Fr., 2022, 93 min). Available on until November 18.

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