Labor and Environmental Groups Push for a Stronger Anti-Asbestos Policy to Protect Human Health

There is an urgent need to modify and improve the Philippines' twenty-one year old asbestos policy regulation on the manufacture and use of asbestos and asbestos containing materials in the country, said a confederation of labor unions and a coalition of environmental organizations.   

According to the Trade Union Congress of the Philippines (TUCP) and the Ecowaste Coalition, the moribund Chemical Control Order (CCO) for Asbestos issued by the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) on January 6, 2000 needs serious improvement in its mandate to protect the public in the light of its passive enforcement, growing non-compliance to the regulation, and the unfettered importation into the country of raw asbestos and materials and products containing asbestos.

The groups noted that the World Health Organization (WHO) and the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) have long considered all types of asbestos, including the most common chrysotile or white asbestos, as carcinogens. Health experts have said “no safe level can be proposed for asbestos because a threshold is not known to exist.” The most common diseases caused by asbestos exposure are asbestosis, lung and ovary cancer, scarring of the lung lining, and mesothelioma.

While banning the use of amosite (brown) and crocidolite (blue) asbestos, the CCO allows, controls and regulates the use of chrysotile (white) asbestos on fire proof clothing, roofing felts, cement roofing and flat sheet, friction materials, gaskets, mechanical packing materials, high-grade electrical paper, battery separators, and other high-density products.  However, the CCO prohibits all forms of asbestos on toys, pipe and boiler lagging, low density jointing compounds, corrugated commercial paper, and untreated textiles. 

The CCO also requires importers and manufacturers to register with the Environmental Management Bureau, secure importation clearance, and submit annual reports, among other requirements.  It also mandates the labeling of asbestos and asbestos containing materials in structures, construction, demolition and disposal of asbestos, as well as in the packaging of asbestos and asbestos-containing products.

However, the groups are concerned with poor compliance to the CCO on the part of businesses and passive enforcement on the part of the government, including the environmental and customs authorities. 

"We no longer see labels on asbestos containing products. And we don't see warning signages that forewarn the people and keep communities from hazards of asbestos dust exposure in demolition and disposal of asbestos. The compliance to and enforcement of CCO are long gone. Our fear is that many workers and their families may have been exposed already and its effects will only manifest a few years later," said TUCP President Raymond Mendoza. 

Mendoza said there is also a need to revise the CCO for asbestos, including banning chrysotile asbestos, in the light of a proliferation in local markets of unlabelled asbestos containing products particularly wire gauzes used in private and public schools laboratories, the widespread use of a baby talc powder reportedly laced with asbestos and the widely sold household ironing sheets. 

"We can strengthen the CCO by expanding the ban to cover all forms of asbestos, phasing out asbestos-containing products, and by promoting the commercial use of safer alternatives to this carcinogenic material.  All stakeholders, including workers,  communities and local governments, need to be involved in raising citizens’ awareness on this public health issue and in the conduct of sustained monitoring and surveillance on asbestos exposure,” said Thony Dizon, Chemical Safety Campaigner, EcoWaste Coalition. 

The TUCP is the country's biggest federation of labor unions with members comprising both formal and informal workers in the private and public sectors.

The EcoWaste Coalition is a network of public interest groups advocating for a zero waste and toxics-free society where communities enjoy a healthy and safe environment.