TSCA Reform Casualties Likely Start with Asbestos

With the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) reform passed into law, environmental activists are developing lists of chemicals they want banned in short order. Asbestos are near the top of the list, as easy targets. After all, it seems logical to get rid of such obvious carcinogens, but it isn’t that simple. In fact, some bans could actually undermine public health and safety.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) attempted to ban all asbestos back in 1991, but a federal court overruled the agency’s proposal. That failure became a driving force for passing TSCA “reform.” Activist groups maintained that if the EPA couldn’t ban such dangerous chemicals, the law must be too weak.

Asbestos were once widely used because they have heat insulating and flame retarding effects and were beneficial in a host of building materials—including roofing, siding, insulation, and tiles—as well as machinery, from cars to spacecraft. Yet, many types have been phased out because of serious health risks. And in 1991 the EPA proposed a rule designed to ban the rest.

Read more

Thai producers seek to boost asbestos import from Russia

According to the head of Oranit, one of the largest companies in the industry, Uran Kleosakul, now imports from Russia range from 30,000 to 40,000 tonnes per year
Thai manufacturers of building materials containing chrysotile asbestos are interested in expanding the import of raw materials from Russia, the head of Oranit, one of the largest companies in the industry, Uran Kleosakul told TASS.

According to him, now imports from Russia range from 30,000 to 40,000 tonnes per year, but these volumes can be increased. «Thailand used to be one of the largest consumers of chrysotile asbestos in the world, so there is an opportunity to increase import to 200,000 tonnes per year,» he said. «In the future, 40,000 tonnes per year may not be enough.» At the same time, he added that about 3,000 people are already employed in the industry and «this number may grow to 5,000 in the future.»

Industry issues

The only serious obstacle to the implementation of these plans may be a proposal periodically submitted to the Thai government on banning the use of chrysotile-containing building materials. A number of public organizations, which are seeking restrictions on the use of chrysotile from local authorities, do not take into account the scientific studies conducted in the country on the safety of chrysotile at work and at home.

«Russia is the world’s largest producer of chrysotile asbestos and has more than 100 years of experience in this area. Russian scientific research confirms our data on the safe use of chrysotile,» Uran said. «Thailand has been using asbestos for over 80 years to produce cheap and highly sought-after building materials such as roof tiles, wall panels, ceiling and floor tiles, and pipes.» «All these materials are in great demand, especially in the farming sector, in housing construction, laying sewers and for irrigation,» he said. «The latter is very important for the country, since asbestos pipes are the cheapest alternative for delivering water.»

In addition, the businessman confirmed that there is currently no evidence of health hazards of chrysotile asbestos, for example, for people living in houses with roofs containing this natural mineral. The head of Oranit explained that asbestos is a very durable and strong mineral, which is extremely unprofitable for manufacturing companies working with other materials, the production costs of which are higher and consumer properties are lower.

As a result, market players advocating a ban on the use of asbestos are misleading consumers. «The problem is that some building product manufacturers have already switched to using alternative materials,» he continued. «As soon as they did it, they began to oppose the use of chrysotile asbestos, sometimes seeking the support of government agencies, including the Ministry of Health, to completely ban chrysotile in Thailand.»

Cooperation with Russia

«We want to continue importing Russian chrysotile as the supply of chrysotile is important to support trade relations and allows us to continue business in Asia, as Thailand exports some products to Cambodia and other countries of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN),» Uran said. He also agreed with the idea that Thailand could become a kind of regional hub for the production of chrysotile products in Southeast Asia. «Currently, we are exporting finished products from chrysotile to neighboring countries,» he added.

The businessman believes that the ban on the use of asbestos in Thailand will not only affect people employed in the industrial sector, who may lose their jobs, but will also lead to large expenses for the authorities, for example, to dismantle and dispose materials throughout the country. Independent estimates put the cost of replacing the existing chrysotile roof tiles at 365 billion baht ($9.98 billion). “If asbestos is banned in Thailand, then factories will be closed,” he explained. “Meanwhile, millions of ordinary people in our country will lose the opportunity to have affordable, reliable and durable housing, and prices for other materials will rise due to the lack of a competitive alternative.”

“For example, roofing materials containing chrysotile have the best value for money,” Uran noted. “The ban will affect many farms, and this will lead to additional costs for business owners and, as a result, to rising prices for their own products.”

Use of chrysotile in everyday life

The head of a Thai village, Prayong Liengyu, in an interview with a TASS correspondent, said that such a ban would negatively affect the well-being of residents of houses with roofs made of chrysotile-containing building materials, since most households use them. “Our family has been living here for about 50 years and during this time we have had no problems with the roof, which is made of such materials,” he noted. “About 150 out of 200 houses in our village are built using this technology, but some owners have decided to make a new roof, changing the materials, and now they have to occasionally repair or paint them.» He explained that chrysotile-containing roofs are not only cheaper than metal ones, but also much stronger and more durable, which is extremely important for low-income households.

«If the government decides to ban the use of chrysotile-containing building materials, this will affect the financial condition of our village’s inhabitants,» he continued. «About 80% of the roofs will have to be covered with other materials, which is a costly procedure for many.» He stressed that his village is part of an area that has about 1,000 houses, 80% of which may face the same problem, and there are thousands of such communities throughout the kingdom.

According to studies reviewed by the TASS correspondent, in 2010 there were more than 21.6 million private houses throughout the country. About 17.3 million buildings, or 80%, had roofs made of materials containing chrysotile. The cost of replacing them is estimated at 450.9 billion baht ($8.1 billion). For all buildings (private houses, pig farms, schools, hospitals) that use this material, the total damage from the chrysotile ban could exceed 464.1 billion baht ($12.69 billion).

Increasing trade with Russia

Russia’s Trade Representation in the Kingdom of Thailand confirmed interest in increasing the export of chrysotile asbestos. «This is an important article of our bilateral trade, especially now, when the leadership of Russia and Thailand has set the task of increasing mutual trade to $10 billion,» the source said. «At the same time, Russia is assisting the Thai partners in the safe use of chrysotile asbestos.» «It’s not the first year that a bilateral working group has been operating, where we exchange experience and provide necessary information materials,» he added.

Chrysotile asbestos is the basis for the production of more than 300 types of industrial products. Among them are roofing materials, facade slabs, pressure and non-pressure pipes for water supply, irrigation and sewage systems, brake linings, additives to strengthen the roadway and much more. Due to their reliability, durability and market availability, chrysotile fiber products are an important part of the growth of Thailand’s dynamic economy.

Such products make it possible to implement campaigns for the construction of affordable housing for the population, the provision of remote settlements with drinking water and sewerage, and the repair of the current housing stock. The average life of a chrysotile roof or plumbing is about 30 years. With proper operation, this life span can be extended by three times in any climate. Russia currently has the largest factories for the extraction and processing of fiber, as well as a developed system for its processing. This allows to build a prospect for a stable increase in the supply of chrysotile to Thailand in the near future.