ZIMBABWE has pledged to work with other world producers of chrysotile (white) asbestos to fend off the Western-backed campaign to ban white asbestos.
The European Union and the United States of America have hinted that they will ban asbestos products by the year 2005, which could have adverse effects on Zimbabwe’s major foreign currency earner.
The asbestos industry this year expects to generate more than US$40 million in foreign currency earnings at a time when the country is in desperate need of hard currency to pay international creditors for electricity and fuel supplies.
Zimbabwe exports asbestos fibre to more than 50 countries in the world.
The major export destination of Zimbabwe’s chrysotile asbestos fibre is South East Asia, the Far East, Middle East and Africa.
Shabani Mashava Mines (SMM), a subsidiary of Mutumwa Mawere’s Africa Resources Ltd group (ARL), is the country’s largest producer of white asbestos.
This week a high-powered delegation comprising the Minister of Labour and Social Welfare July Moyo, and senior ARL management attended a two-day asbestos conference in New Delhi, India.
The meeting was part of ongoing discussions scrutinising asbestos as the First World debates whether or not to ban the product.
Addressing the conference Moyo underscored the need to forge effective international partnerships between producers and users to ensure sustainable mining and use of chrysotile asbestos.
“We can achieve a great deal by working together using our collective skills, knowledge and strength to ensure that chrysotile asbestos fibre is used safely around the world,” he said.
Moyo told the conference attended by more than 250 delegates from the Far East, South East Asia, Middle East and Africa that there was no justification for banning asbestos because scientific evidence abound to prove that the product could be used safely.
“We have received no scientific evidence to support the ban of chrysotile asbestos or its substitution by other products,” he said. “Zimbabwe believes in the safe handling and use of chrysotile asbestos fibre to ensure the health and safety of workers and the public.”
The Canadian deputy high commissioner to India, Brian Dickson, buttressed Moyo’s point stressing that his country’s support for the continued use of chrysotile asbestos fibre was based on scientific facts.
The Indian Minister of Environment and Forestry, Shri T Baalu, told the conference that the First World agenda of promoting substitute fibres was incompatible with poverty alleviation strategies of developing countries.
The Zimbabwe delegation breathed a sigh of relief as it received support from prominent individuals who said the continued use of white asbestos was not a health hazard and should continue.
Clement Godbout, chairman of the Asbestos International Association, Dr Kevin Browne, former member of the British government medical board, Dr David Bernstein, a Swiss consultant in toxicology and Denis Hamel, the director of Asbestos Institute of Canada presented papers in support of the continued use of asbestos at the conference.
The Zimbabwe National Chrysotile Asbestos Taskforce (NCATF) which lobbies on behalf of the country recently held a workshop to thrash out burning issues of asbestos and the impending ban by the First World.
Government appointed the NCATF, a multi-stakeholder organisation, four years ago to campaign for the country’s asbestos industry.
It highlights that Zimbabwe mines only white chrysotile asbestos fibre, which has been scientifically proven not to be injurious to health if used responsibly.
The country does not have deposits of the banned carcinogenic blue and brown asbestos fibre whose commercial production has been stopped worldwide.
However, there are still some misconceptions in the market particularly in the EU about white asbestos fibre.
Moyo told the conference in India that chrysotile asbestos provided an eco-friendly and cost-effective roofing and piping solution for developing economies.
Turnall Ltd and General Beltings Ltd, ARL subsidiaries, produce roofing equipment and supply piping solutions and steel equipment to the local and international markets earning millions in foreign currency for the nation.
In Zimbabwe chrysotile asbestos is used extensively for low-cost housing and provision of water to most of the country’s 13 million inhabitants.
More than 6 000 people are directly employed in the Zimbabwean asbestos industry, while about 120 000 depend on the industry through downstream activities.