Join forces: unity is everything

by Yvonne Waterman, Ph.D. LL.M.[1]

No one organisation or person can assume leadership in the fight against asbestos; we must all be leaders united in purpose for a united global eradication campaign to be effective. Unity and the willingness to reach out to each other are essential: only arm in arm will we defeat the powerful asbestos industry. Any personal resentments, petty squabbles, perceptions of ‘owning’ the field and the like are detrimental to our purpose; we simply must be bigger than that.

Recently, a debate entitled ‘How Much Cancer Does Chrysotile Cause?’ was held at the global iMig[2] conference in Birmingham. Two medical specialists debated on the number of asbestos victims. The debate evolved into an international dispute on the strategic wisdom and (un)desirability of such a subject. As a result, everybody lost something precious: unity.

Why is any internal disagreement such a boon to the asbestos industry?

This recent debate is just an example, but it will suffice for an explanation. Firstly, debating the possibility that the death toll figures are exaggerated during an important global conference, provides the asbestos industry a platform which it should not ever be granted. Such a debate will provide the asbestos industry with the argument to say to developing countries: “See? They don’t even agree amongst themselves what they are talking about.”

Secondly, lawyers will instantly recognise the familiar method of casting doubt on recognised science. We have learned the hard way from the tobacco industry that this can lead to decades of delay in taking health measures to prevent unnecessary deaths. The asbestos industry knows how to wield this argument also, as we may see in a many a courtroom.

Thirdly, because the booming asbestos industry is patient and secure in its huge financial profits: nibbling away at scientific certainties, feeding on internal spats, rejoicing at cracks in the wall of international unity. It has time; we don’t. So let’s not make it so easy for them.

The need for unity: only by a unified stance will we defeat the asbestos industry

Too often, I see that persons think they own the debate, are even willing to stoop to scandalously low levels of morality to villify and slander others (even friends, imagine) in order to ‘protect’ their precious position in the international network. What is that all about? Aren’t we in this to save lives? Don’t we have mutual goals? It isn’t about any one person or organisation and it sure as hell shouldn’t be. Isn’t it obvious then that we should work together? Come on, be kinder to one another and pull together.

We need to get on with a global asbestos ban – and that is just the beginning

We should be discussing how to reach the global asbestos ban, rather than why – we were long ago agreed on that one already. It is getting late in the day, a global ban is a matter of urgency. The renowned Dr. Richard Lemen, retired US Assistant Surgeon General and retired Acting Director of NIOS, rightfully says: “We need to get on with a global ban on asbestos by following the principles of good public health by removing the source of disease, in this case all asbestos including chrysotile.”

Also, as we may see in the EU, an asbestos ban is just the beginning. For even so we still have a long and difficult fight ahead of us to remove asbestos from our homes, our industry and our environment. The sooner we get cracking, the better. Together, we can make it so.

[1]    Yvonne Waterman Ph.D. LL.M. founded the European Asbestos Forum (EAF) in 2014. It will provide an international conference in Amsterdam on 30 September 2016. In daily life she is the proprietor of Waterman Legal Consultancy.

[2]    iMig stands for International Mesothelioma Interest Group, a global organisation with a predominantly medical perspective on mesothelioma, a type of asbestos cancer.