Russia Punishes for Asbestos Ban
The government of Sri Lanka has agreed to relax the ban on the use of asbestos-containing roofing materials imported from Russia after that country retaliated by saying they would no longer accept imports of teas from Sri Lanka. What it amounts to, critics say, is blackmail by the Russian Federation.
“Russia imposed a temporary restriction on tea imports from Sri Lanka last Thursday saying a beetle was detected in a consignment of tea purchased from Sri Lanka,” reports several of the country’s news outlets. The message received from the Russian Federation read as follows:
The Russian Federal Service for Veterinary and Phytosanitary Surveillance has decided to impose restrictions on imports of all agricultural products from Sri Lanka, including tea, from Dec. 18 after one consignment of tea from Sri Lanka contained an invasive insect, known as the Khapra beetle.
However, those in the know believe that it is simply Russia’s reaction to the Sri Lanka government’s decision to ban the import of Russian roofing materials made with chrysotile asbestos, beginning on January 1, 2018, with a total ban of all kinds of asbestos products going into effect in 2020.
Russia is one of the leading miners of chrysotile – white – asbestos, which – they maintain – is not dangerous. Studies have shown otherwise.
The vote to suspend the ban was taken at the cabinet meeting headed by President Maithripala Sirisena, held Tuesday at the Presidential Secretariat.
Following the announcement as to the results of the vote, the president said he “will make a special request to the Russian President
Vladimir Putin to consider temporarily suspending the ban on Sri Lanka’s tea imports.”
Russia’s tit-for-tat move could greatly affect the Sri Lankan economy, so it’s no wonder the vote was made in favor of lifting the ban. Tea makes up almost 80 percent of Sri Lankan exports to Russia and Sri Lanka exported US$ 143 million worth of teas to Russia last year, reports show.
However, the legacy of asbestos diseases in Sri Lanka will continue as long as the use of asbestos of any type continues in that country.
Though Sri Lanka has a poor history of reporting occupational diseases, recent studies have shown that the asbestos industry has had a sizeable impact on the workers there, including those involved in construction, demolition workers, shipyard employees, automotive parts manufacturers, tsunami clean-up workers, and others.
Just a few years ago, the Sri Lankan newspaper – The Sunday Leader – penned an award-winning article called “Sri Lanka’s Silent Killer”, which profiled the country’s many asbestos products manufacturers and the toll that working in those factories was taking on the population.
One factory owner told The Sunday Leader, “As long as the employees here work safely with the sheeting, there is no problem – the asbestos we use is perfectly safe”.
However, fibers often escape from these factories and cover adjacent structures and create unsuspecting victims of asbestos diseases, including asbestosis and mesothelioma. And while many individuals around the world would sue for this kind of exposure, that doesn’t usually happen in Sri Lanka.
“Legal action is possible in Sri Lanka, however, many victims will not be able to afford the medical or legal costs involved in claiming compensation”, says Environmental lawyer Jagath Gunawardena. “As Sri Lankans remain ignorant of the damaging health risks associated with asbestos, potential victims will ultimately be left without adequate assistance.”