Despite irrefutable scientific evidence calling out the dangers of deadly asbestos, 2 million tons of the carcinogen are exported every year to the developing world, where it’s often handled with little to no regulation.
For this episode of VICE Reports, correspondent Milène Larsson traveled to the world’s largest asbestos mine in the eponymous town of Asbest, Russia, to meet workers whose livelihoods revolve entirely around the dangerous mineral. Surprisingly, the risks associated with asbestos mining didn’t seem to worry the inhabitants; in fact, asbestos is the city’s pride, celebrated with monuments, songs, and even its own museum.
Larsson then visits Libby, Montana, another mining town almost on the other side of the globe, where the effects of asbestos exposure are undeniable: 400 townspeople have died from asbestos-related diseases, and many more are slowly choking to death. Why is the deadly industry of mining and selling asbestos still alive and well?
An Aggressive Asbestos Industry
Despite that more than 50 countries has decided to restrict or ban the use of asbestos since the early 1970s, others continue to mine and consume the toxic mineral in alarming quantities. This has been sustained by aggressive industry campaigns, marketing asbestos in developing nations as an affordable component in building material. Mass-produced building materials are in high demand in developing nations, and they contain asbestos.
Lobby groups have spent hundreds of millon dollars in funds since the mid-1980s to keep the industry alive in Canada, Brazil and India. In Russia, there is no need for lobbying, since public health awareness or organized efforts to ban asbestos do not exist.
Production and consumption
An estimated 2 million metric tonnes are still produced and consumed each year:
(Images courtesy of Mesothelioma Cancer Alliance Blog)