Make India Asbestos Free

Make India Asbestos Free
For Asbestos Free India

Journal of Ban Asbestos Network of India (BANI). Asbestos Free India campaign of BANI is inspired by trade union movement and right to health campaign. BANI has been working since 2000. It works with peoples movements, doctors, researchers and activists besides trade unions, human rights, environmental, consumer and public health groups. BANI demands criminal liability for companies and medico-legal remedy for victims.

Monday, October 3, 2011

PR agency used by tobacco firm hired by asbestos group

Anti-asbestos activists in Malaysia and Canada say a global asbestos lobby group has hired the Washington based APCO Worldwide public relations company to persuade the Malaysian government not to ban chrysotile asbestos.

APCO Worldwide was hired by the Philip Morris tobacco company in the early 1990s to set up a group called The Advancement of Sound Science Coalition, after the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency classified secondhand smoke as a known human carcinogen. The coalition's mission was to dismiss concern about second-hand smoke as "junk science," and to fight anti-smoking regulations.

Kathleen Ruff, an anti-asbestos activist and human rights adviser with the Ottawa-based Rideau Institute, sent a letter to APCO Worldwide president Margery Kraus on Thursday, demanding the company inform the government of Malaysia that it was hired by the International Chrysotile Association.

She said APCO brought Dr. David Bernstein, a Switzerland-based toxicologist who has produced studies on smoking funded by the tobacco industry as well as studies on chrysotile asbestos funded by the asbestos industry, to Malaysia to persuade the government the product can be used safely.

"The scientific consensus is clear - just as it is on tobacco - that all forms of asbestos, including chrysotile asbestos, cause mesothelioma, lung cancer, other cancers and asbestosis and that safe use is not possible," Ruff writes in her letter to Kraus.

"Only lobby organizations that have a financial interest in selling asbestos claim that asbestos can be safely used, just as the lobby organizations acting on behalf of the tobacco industry have denied the clear science on tobacco harm."

Krauss was unavailable for comment Thursday, an assistant at her Washington office said. Elizabeth Wolf, APCO's senior associate in corporate relations, declined to comment in an email message, saying: "APCO does not comment on client work as a matter of company policy."

A spokesperson for Baljit Chadha of Balcorp Ltd., the lead proponent of the Jeffrey Mine expansion, said the comparison to the tobacco lobby is unmerited.

"Frankly it is an unfair comparison because there is no socio-economic benefit to the tobacco industry, whereas asbestos sheets are used to build housing in the Third World," John Aylen said. "Both products (tobacco and asbestos) are carcinogens and everybody admits that, but safe handling of asbestos does not present a risk along the supply chain or to the end user."

Clément Godbout, who heads the Montreal-based Chrysotile Institute and is listed in Quebec's corporation registry as the first administrator of the International Chrysotile Association, said he sees nothing wrong with an industry lobby group, for tobacco or asbestos, making its case to a government considering a ban of its product.

"Of course we are concerned about the international campaign to ban chrysotile, especially in Quebec, and of course we have an association that is making efforts to convince governments not to embark on a ban," he said, adding he would "not be surprised" if the ICA had hired APCO to talk to the Malaysian government.

"We are not going to just let one side continue to present its arguments. We will take our turn to dissect the message to ensure they hear the whole story. Nobody is saying (asbestos) has no problems and you can put it in your coffee and drink it, but we say it can be used safely."

By MICHELLE LALONDE, Montreal Gazette, September 30, 2011


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