Brazilian Supreme Court Bans Asbestos Use
Last Wednesday, the Brazilian Supreme Federal Court voted to ban all production, commercialization/distribution, and use of asbestos in Brazil.
The court voted 7 to 2 to institute the ban, adding Brazil to the growing list of 60+ countries that have instituted a total ban on the toxic mineral.
The judges declared a current law, which regulates the exploration of minerals in that country and allows for the utilization of asbestos in a “controlled” fashion, to be unconstitutional, reported several Brazilian news outlets.
The new ban will be valid for the entire country, though the justices are currently analyzing a case in Rio de Janeiro that pertains to this law.
Those who voted against the use of asbestos declared in a statement that they believe there are no safe levels for the use of asbestos and, hence, it should be banned.
This is despite the fact that Brazil is the third-largest producer of chrysotile asbestos in the world.
The International Ban Asbestos Secretariat (IBAS) has declared that Brazil is the most populous country to ban the toxic mineral. Larger countries, like China and the United States, have not yet moved to ban asbestos and still use chrysotile in some applications.
Of course, the import of asbestos to the United States will be greatly impacted by the halt of production in Brazil. Last year, the U.S. got 95 percent of the 340 metric tons of raw chrysotile it imported from Brazil’s mines.
The small remainder came from Russia. China is also a major producer of chrysotile though the U.S. does not do business with that country’s asbestos industry.
So, why does the U.S. still need asbestos? Mostly, asbestos is still used by America’s chloralkali industry, which crafts fireproof asbestos-containing diaphragms for its chlorine manufacturing processes.
That industry is responsible for nearly all the imports to the U.S. Now, it is likely they will turn to Russia for larger amounts after the Brazilian ban goes into effect next calendar year.
Russia is the leader in asbestos mining, producing 1.1 million metric tons per year, reports an article in the New York Times. Some half-a-million Russians depend on asbestos for their livelihood, the same article notes.
That’s what makes Brazil’s vote even more amazing, proponents of the ban note. Because many Brazilians depend on asbestos for their weekly paycheck – just like those half-million Russians – a lot of the country’s workers will be impacted.
Yet, the move speaks loudly because it displays the fact that even a country that depends on asbestos for a big chunk of its economy recognizes the dangers of the toxic mineral.