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The World Health Organisation [WHO] and the extraordinary story of their present asbestos policy.

February 17, 2012

The WHO’s most senior authority, the World Health Assembly [WHA ], decided in 2007 against the banning of chrysotile  (White Asbestos). To this day, and contrary to common perception, this resolution remains the official standing policy of both the WHA and the WHO.

This anomaly  is due to a significant number of WHO employees, notably within its Department of Public Health and Environment, who are systematically pursuing  what can only be described as a parallel agenda, to campaign for a total worldwide ban on Chrysotile  by passing off the working documents of their 2007 resolution as if a total BAN was the  official policy.

Their extraordinary interpretation of this unauthorised policy manifests itself in the form of presentations at seminars around the world that seem to be sponsored by vested interest, mainly American asbestos claims lawyers.  Amongst the revelations, they promote two main assertions:

Firstly, that 107,000 workers will die each year from asbestos related disease and, secondly, that the bulk of these deaths are from exposure to chrysotile and the products made with it.

The extraordinary dimension of this story is, that without any explanation or supporting science, this group of rogue employees have not only ignored the 2007 WHA’s and WHO’s official  resolution against a total ban on chrysotile but also the policy the WHO accepted from the UK Government in 1996 at their Geneva conference. This paper was the UK’s peer reviewed and definitive research into the toxicology of all types of asbestos fibre. It concluded that mesothelioma, the main asbestos killer that accounts for an estimated 95% of all asbestos related mortality and cancers, cannot have exposure to Chrysotile fibre as its causation. It also concluded that chrysotile cement products have NO measurable risk to health (Chrysotile cement makes up 90% of all asbestos containing products worldwide and in many countries it is 100%). This conclusion has been confirmed by many independent research papers published since 1996.  

Therefore, the two policy statements, supposedly from the WHO, that claim 107,000 workers are killed each year mainly from exposure to chrysotile fibres and chrysotile products are plainly nonsense.  The UK’s Health & Safety Executive’s own research confirms the real number of deaths from chrysotile as theoretically zero.

The most recent seminar run by this rogue branch of the  WHO and the lobby group of vested interests campaigning for a total chrysotile ban was in Sri Lanka on 5th September 2011 .

 A so called credible sounding NGO was the organiser of this seminar under the impressive title of “The National Consultation Forum on the Elimination of Asbestos Related Diseases in Sri Lanka”.

The three factories in Sri Lanka that produce only chrysotile products and have supplied them to 67% of all Sri Lankan commercial and domestic buildings were naturally concerned as they had been designated only 15 minutes in a full day of debate to put a defence of their industry to the conference.

A call was made by the factory owners  to the UK’s Asbestos Watchdog’s team of experts to come to Sri Lanka and address the conference on their behalf so as to at least present the accepted science of the subject of chrysotile and its perceived low risks to workers and the public.  

The WHO representative at the seminar was Dr Ivan Ivanov, describing himself in the lengthy title of  ‘Scientist for Occupational Health Interventions for Healthy Environments for the Department of Public Health and Environment at WHO HQ Geneva’.  His presentation was to provide so called ‘evidence’ to support a total ban on all chrysotile activity in Sri Lanka.
In the heated debate that followed Dr Ivanov was unable to provide any credible answers to the Asbestos Watchdog’s questions about the WHO apparently abandoning their 2007 resolution as well as  the 1996 published policy based on the UK’s science paper nor  was he able to provide any evidence that chrysotile killed  107,000 workers p.a. when credible  science gave the real figure as zero.

Dr Ivanov had to be rescued by the chairman of the conference when he was unable to answer the question as to why the WHO were using exactly the same presentation as the US claims lawyers’ campaign to get chrysotile banned Worldwide. During the debate the Asbestos Watchdog team were able to throw light on spurious articles in local newspapers claiming that ‘deadly’ chrysotile fibres were a major killer of Sri Lankan children etc.  It seems that the articles were actually paid adverts by an Australian paint company [one of the seminar’s sponsors] hoping to make a profit from painting the asbestos cement sheets. The company was unable to provide the conference with any evidence that chrysotile cement  was any risk to the home owners nor that their product could be effective in any way.   

The main point of this seminar was to eliminate asbestos disease by banning chrysotile in Sri Lanka.  However, what was exposed during the debate was that there was no record of any asbestos related mesothelioma in Sri Lanka.

The WHO and the asbestos claims lawyer’s emotional campaign claims to be saving the lives of, not only ignorant workers, but also their wives and children.  The truth is that NO lives will be saved from their policies but substantial sums are lost in spurious claims that should have gone to genuine victims exposed to blue and brown asbestos before the present regulations came into force. Another serious aspect is that grieving families have been in many cases led to incorrectly believe that the loss of their loved ones was due to exposure to white asbestos resulting in their hatred of innocent ex- employers whose companies have been targeted by this fraudulent group.
The WHA and the WHO are seen as credible and honest organisations and their refusal to answer the many verbal and written requests for them to provide any explanation for this extraordinary issue will certainly tarnish this reputation.

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