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.

Ulterior motives

Sharp-tongued campaigner Laurie Kazan Allen clearly has no qualms about besmirching the good name of those who disagree with her.

Having expected the Thai government to simply roll over and approve a ban on chrysotile, she didn’t take kindly when a minister questioned whether the move made any sense.

The Thai Cabinet has rejected the proposed ban citing the lack of evidence of asbestos-related disease in Thailand.

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What is really happening in Thailand?

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.

Profit motive

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.

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