Institutions within the World Health Organization are engaged in the creation and distribution of biased, propaganda films that seek to directly discredit what the WHO deems “undesirable materials”, often in contravention of WHA policies.
Recently, journalists got access to a job advertisement posted on un.org in mid-2015. The message read: “Cameraman wanted to shoot a video about asbestos.” The vacancy contained a detailed technical specification for making a propaganda film with the express intention of discrediting chrysotile asbestos, notwithstanding what science says or the majority of safe-use policies around the world. At the time of writing, the job posting in question has been removed from the website, but the editorial team saved screenshots.
In particular, the very wording of the task says it all: “Creating and processing high-quality video images of actors and scenes associated with the use of asbestos in Vietnam, in order to gather evidence for supporting campaign activities to ban the use of chrysotile asbestos in Vietnam.” That is, an independent international body which is supposed to impartially assess the healthcare situation in a given country, has openly declared its intention to fund the making of a propaganda video to promote a ban. So much respecting a sovereign country’s right to make its own laws…
Any doubt about the end of supposed independence of the World Health Organisation was dispelled at the latest UN workshop on chrysotile.
Rather than the respected forum for careful consideration and scientific rigour of the past, the organisation’s apparatchiks have, sadly, succeeded in turning it into an international lobbying group who are now a law unto themselves.
Descending on Geneva at the end of March, the WHO, launched its latest, barely disguised, attempt to brow beat countries that use chrysotile into submission.
Launching an outright dismissal of the approach ordered by their political masters on the World Health Assembly (WHA) – to distinguish between chrysotile and other more dangerous forms of asbestos – the WHO introduced new – taxpayer funded -ways to call for a worldwide ban on the substance.
Maria Neira is an international civil servant. She is supposed to work for you and me.
As a leading figure at the World Health Organisation (WHO), her role is to implement decisions taken by international governments.
She is meant to be neutral and impartial and has even sworn an oath to “exercise in all loyalty, discretion, and conscience” in her duties and “regulate (her) conduct with the interests of the World Health Organisation only in view…”
And yet Dr Neira, head of the WHO’s public health and environment department, seems to think she knows better than the democratically elected officials.
On the issue of asbestos Dr Neira seems to believe she has the right to ignore carefully thought through policies thrashed out by health ministers from global governments at the World Health Assembly (WHA), which directs the WHO’s work.
Those elected officials, after much careful deliberation, decided that the best way to eliminate the terrible blight of asbestos related diseases was “a differentiated approach to regulating its various forms – in line with the relevant international legal instruments and the latest evidence for effective interventions”.
With much care, they acknowledged, that dealing with asbestos-related disease needed to reflect the different forms of asbestos; on the one hand, deadly blue and brown amphiboles, and on the other, white chrysotile, which is safely used in the majority of countries around the world.
But despite this careful reflection and well thought through orders, Dr Neira has decided she knows better – mirroring the clarion call of lobbyists and lawyers making millions from asbestos lawsuits – even going so far as to post her views on YouTube, she is backing a global ban on asbestos, including chysotile.
Spaniard Dr Neira, who earns more than US$100,000-a-year funded by taxpayers, said: “WHO considers that it will be feasible to go for the elimination of asbestos-related diseases, and obviously the most efficient way to do that will be to eliminate the cause of asbestos-related diseases, so stop the use of asbestos, all types of asbestos.”
Not differentiated forms of asbestos
But what about the WHA’s order to take a “differentiated approach”?
According to Dr Neira, “there is a sentence that says ‘with a differentiated approach’ but this is related to the legal instruments you want to use at country level, but it is certainly not referring to any differentiated forms of asbestos. For us, all forms of asbestos including obviously chrysotile are carcinogenic”.
Really? So what did the WHA – “the supreme body for our policy recommendations”, as she calls it – mean when it referred to “various forms”?
Apparently, she, like her friends in the asbestos ban lobby, has simply chosen to ignore what the WHA clearly acknowledged, that there are different sorts of asbestos and the risks associated with them are also different.
Dr Neira says: “We have a resolution where all member states request the WHO to develop a Global Plan of Action on Workers Health and part of that resolution asks us to go to for a global campaign on elimination of asbestos-related diseases. So we have a very solid basis for conducting our work, plus the fact that people have been suffering from asbestos-related diseases for years now and the evidence now is overwhelming.”
So she has evidence that chrysotile, as well as blue and brown asbestos, is responsible for the spread of disease?
Well, actually, no, as she says: “The evidence is there, I mean there is extremely solid evidence. It’s true that asbestos cancer, asbestos-induced cancer, will take 20 years to appear so it will be difficult to differentiate lung cancer caused by asbestos and by other causes like tobacco for example in countries where you don’t have these epidemiological studies linking exposure in the working environment to asbestos to a type of cancer. In developing countries, in many of them we don’t even have cancer registries. There are no reasons to think that in Africa it will not happen the same or in Asia. Therefore for us the evidence is there. We know that cancer is happening. And we don’t want to wait 20 years until we start to count the number of deaths and to look at the increase in the number of cancers.”
So what is going on? The participants at the WHA specifically inserted the language about a differentiated approach to reflect the fact there are different types of asbestos and different risks associated with them.
But Dr Neira, has unilaterally chosen to completely ignore this, directly contradicting the orders of the WHA, the “supreme body”, as she calls it.
Dr Neira has become a global anti-asbestos activist, repeatedly saying: “The most efficient way (to eliminate asbestos related diseases)…will be to stop the use of all forms of asbestos….”
How has this happened? How has a legitimate health issue, the very toxic affects of amphiboles, morphed into an ugly business filled with fraud and undue pressure on developing countries?
The WHO, led by Dr Neira, seems to have been completely taken in and is deliberately misinterpreting its mandate. It is ignoring its democratically elected leadership – and enacting a set of policies that are odds with formal and official policy.
Has the WHO gone rogue? Is it in the pocket of the powerful anti-asbestos lobby – fuelled and funded by those who make millions from lawsuits or by supplying substitutes? Dr Neira would appear to have many questions to answer.
“We know as well that there is an estimation of more than 100,000 deaths that can be attributable to exposure to asbestos, all types of asbestos,” says the WHO’s Dr Maria Neira.
“Each year around 107,000 people die from asbestos related cancers, mesothelioma and asbestosis (fibrosis of the lung) as a result of exposure to asbestos,” says leading anti-asbestos lobbyist Karen Kazan Allen.
“There are 107,000 asbestos-related deaths worldwide every year,” says attorney Steven Kazan, the brother of Karen Kazan Allen, who has earned millions of dollars from asbestos-related lawsuits.
The frightening death toll is cited as “evidence” of the need for a total ban on all forms of asbestos.
Chrysotile is a mineral that does not burn or decompose.
This naturally occurring fibrous material is highly flexible and strong and is resistant to most chemicals.
Chrysotile was first mined commercially in the Russian Urals, Italy and Canada in the 19th Century, but its unique properties were first harnessed by ancient civilizations more than two thousand years ago and used in cremation cloths and oil lamp wicks.
Today chrysotile is used for precision industrial products and is a key component in lightweight reinforced cement, high-temperature seals and gaskets and friction-resistant materials.
The tainted cavalry arrives
A self-appointed cavalry rode into Thailand recently.
Greeted by loyal local acolytes and feted by the media – the global champions of the international ban asbestos lobby camped out in a 4-star hotel in Bangkok.
People like Dr Barry Castleman who a senior US judge labeled “unreliable” and his evidence “inflammatory” and “hearsay”.
Dr Ken Takahashi who appears confused, and perhaps conflicted, on whether he is an anti-asbestos activist from the Global Ban Asbestos Network (GBAN) or a director at the supposedly independent World Health Organisation.
The pair have been racking up the air miles alongside fellow frequent fliers like Asian Ban Network “General” Sugio Furuya.
These modern crusaders descended on the Thai capital en masse to – they hoped – herald in the prohibition of chrysotile cement.
For 70 years chrysotile has provided Thailand with a cheap and durable material to build high quality, low cost housing – tried and tested products to protect homes and buildings from the country’s heat, humidity and heavy rains.
But this highly motivated lobby talks darkly about the danger posed by chrysotile, and is urging Thailand, its government and its people to act “before it is too late” – whatever the cost.
Chrysotile is asbestos, they say, and all forms of asbestos are carcinogenic and therefore must be banned (although so are wood shavings, salted fish and silica – but there are no calls for a prohibition on these!).
These scaremongers point to health crisis in other parts of the world, places where different, more dangerous, forms of asbestos were widely used without regulation, and claim that it is only a matter of time before Thais start dying.
But in Thailand, this same well-funded group cannot point to a single case of someone who has developed cancer or illness because they lived under a chrysotile roof, drank from a chrysotile water pipe or worked in a factory that uses chrysotile.
While people are dying in their thousands from diabetes, HIV-AIDS and smoking and alcohol-related diseases, this noisy, special-interest, international lobby accuses Thai doctors of being badly trained and simply not good enough to spot an epidemic of
asbestos deaths and that 70-years is too short a timeframe for the problem to surface.
They deliberately ignore the fact that the unarguably serious health problems elsewhere are caused by other forms of asbestos, amphiboles, like blue and brown asbestos, which are highly dangerous.
And fail to acknowledge that chrysotile is a vastly different material, which, when encased in cement, is proven to be safe, and that the Thai experience only goes to underline this.
With perfect timing, the ban lobbyists took up residence in Bangkok just as their wealthy friends at local conglomerate, The Siam Cement Group (SCG), turned the screw on their buddies in the government to back a ban on chrysotile.
Once one of leading chrysotile cement product suppliers in Thailand, SCG gambled on other more expensive and less effective alternatives — losing it money and market share.
Now, with the noisy lobby for company SCG hopes the new rulers will ban its competitors’ products – probably forcing them into bankruptcy — and simply hand the firm a countrywide monopoly.
People face little risk of developing cancer from working with chrysotile if they stick to international safety rules.
A series of scientific studies found no evidence of a link between exposure to the substance and the disease.
However, people working with other traditional forms of asbestos are five times more likely to contract lung cancer than the rest of the population – including chrysotile workers.
While workers in the UK, where blue and brown asbestos was historically used in construction projects, had an increase risk of lung cancer, the research said.
Most drinking waters contain some asbestos fibres whether or not it is distributed through asbestos cement pipes.
This is because asbestos is widely found in the environment as a consequence of natural dissolution of asbestos-containing minerals.
The use of asbestos cement pipes in distribution systems can give rise to an increase in the numbers of asbestos fibres in drinking water, particularly immediately after installation.
A series of international reviews about the possible health risks associated with asbestos cement drinking water pipes concluded that there appears to be no concern for health of consumers receiving water through such pipes.
Compounds surround us that, if handled incorrectly, can do us harm, even kill.
Wood dust, alcohol, diesel exhaust and even salted fish can, without the proper safety measures, cause cancer.
These, other household items, and furniture manufacture, shoe repair and steel and iron foundries, are all on the World Health Organisation (WHO) hazard list of Type 1 Carcinogens.
Chrysotile is on the warning list.
But the WHO does not suggest that these items should be banned, only that proper care should be taken in handling them.