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Asbestos: a Dark Day for Brazil

3 October, 2011
Brazil’s Supreme Court denies São Paulo State the constitutional right to protect its citizens from asbestos. by Laurie Kazan-Allen
A decision on September 28, 2011 by the Brazilian Supreme Court confirms that the country is open for business…. at any cost. By a decision of 6 to 3, the Judges trounced the right of São Paulo State to protect its citizens by banning not only the use and sale of asbestos within its borders but also the transport of asbestos along its highways. As these roads lead to Brazil’s main port of Santos, vested asbestos interests have been put to considerable inconvenience by the ban.
Asbestos: a Dark Day for Brazil

Clearly, Brazil’s powerful and wealthy asbestos lobby was never going to take no for an answer and pursued the legal challenge to Sao Paulo’s sovereign rights as far as the country’s highest court.
In recent years, the use of asbestos within Brazil has been decreasing and four other states have, like São Paulo, banned its use. The fact that these states are also the more populous and industrialized had a big impact on national asbestos consumption. As a result of falls in domestic sales, exports to developing countries, most of which are in Asia, have been increasing. It was these shipments which were affected by the São Paulo ban.
It is quite a curious coincidence that even as the Supreme Court was reopening the São Paulo highways to asbestos transporters, a high-level meeting in New York of the General Assembly on the Prevention and Control of Non-communicable Diseases (NCDs) issued a resolution calling on governments, especially those in developing countries, to: recognize the threat posed by NCDs, which include asbestos-related cancers and respiratory diseases, accept their primary role in the prevention of these diseases, and “reaffirm the right of everyone to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health.”1 Comparing data reports from Brazil and India, it is clear that the Indian epidemic of NCDs will be worsened by Brazil’s asbestos exports. The numbers of NCD deaths, male and female respectively, in India are 6 and 5 times higher than in Brazil.2
The Brazil’s Supreme Court ruling is a disgrace. It denies São Paulo State the constitutional right to protect its own citizens and makes it complicit in the dumping of asbestos on vulnerable populations overseas. São Paulo is a proud State with people who have a history, a culture and a dignity which will not allow them to be complicit with this evil commercial enterprise. Whatever the Supreme Court has said, there is no doubt that the people of São Paulo will pursue alternative strategies so that their roads are not used for the trafficking of this most hazardous of substances. This is not over.

September 29, 2011

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