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Anti-asbestos Campaign, Australia


Description:

People in Australia and the UK have experienced the highest deaths from asbestos-related diseases. Around 2500 Australians are currently diagnosed each year and 5000 have died. Estimates of fatalities from such causes, 1980-2050, range from 30,000-45,000.

The Asbestos Diseases Society of Australia has worked with the Slater and Gordon law firm to ban asbestos and claim compensation.

At the most infamous site of Wittenoom (Western Australia), the company CSR continuously ignored doctors' warnings and oversaw appalling conditions at both its mine of the lethal blue asbestos and the adjacent mill. The results of decades of activities at this site have been called the greatest industrial disaster in Australia comparable to Bhopal, Seveso and Minamata and exposed all visiting, as well as working and living (over 20,000) there, to blue asbestos levels a thousand times higher than occupationally regulated at the time (ADSA 2012). Workers included government-allocated migrants. As a result Western Australia has had the highest international per capita incidence of malignant mesothelioma. On 30 November 1989 Wittenoom settlements were finalised with $18.2 million payments. The town was phased down in 1978 and decommissioned by the government in 1977. Everyone is warned not to go near the site.

Basic Data

Name of conflict:Anti-asbestos Campaign, Australia
Country:Australia
State or province:Western Australia
Location of conflict:Wittenoom
Accuracy of locationHIGH (Local level)

Source of Conflict

Type of conflict: 1st level:Mineral Ores and Building Materials Extraction
Type of conflict: 2nd level :Landfills, toxic waste treatment, uncontrolled dump sites
Tailings from mines
Building materials extraction (quarries, sand, gravel)
Specific commodities:Asbestos

Project Details and Actors

Project details:

Between 1948 and 1966, the CSR mines at Wittenoom produced 161 000 tons of crocidolite fibre.

Type of populationRural
Start of the conflict:1980
Company names or state enterprises:CSR Wittenoom from Australia
Jamies Hardie - forced to establish a Medical Research and Compensation Foundation
Relevant government actors:Western Australian and Australian governments
Environmental justice organizations (and other supporters) and their websites, if available:Many environmental organisations supported the campaign which finally formed round the Asbestos Diseases Society of Australia (ASDA) see http://asbestosdiseases.org.au/asbestosinfo/medical_research.htm, The Slater and Gordon law firm partnered ADSA in court cases http://www.slatergordon.com.au/the-firm/our-history/

Conflict and Mobilization

IntensityHIGH (widespread, mass mobilization, violence, arrests, etc...)
Reaction stageMobilization for reparations once impacts have been felt
Groups mobilizing:Indigenous groups or traditional communities
Industrial workers
Local government/political parties
Neighbours/citizens/communities
Trade unions
Local scientists/professionals
Forms of mobilization:Development of a network/collective action
Involvement of national and international NGOs
Lawsuits, court cases, judicial activism
Media based activism/alternative media
Official complaint letters and petitions
Public campaigns
Shareholder/financial activism.
Street protest/marches
--

Impacts of the project

Environmental ImpactsVisible: Air pollution, Loss of landscape/aesthetic degradation, Soil contamination, Waste overflow, Mine tailing spills
Potential: Biodiversity loss (wildlife, agro-diversity), Genetic contamination, Surface water pollution / Decreasing water (physico-chemical, biological) quality, Groundwater pollution or depletion
Other Environmental impactsUse in building materials and other products means widespread contamination and exposure to humans and uncertain impacts on non-human nature.
Health ImpactsVisible: Exposure to unknown or uncertain complex risks (radiation, etc…), Mental problems including stress, depression and suicide, Occupational disease and accidents, Infectious diseases, Deaths
Other Health impactsAsbestos mining and milling was often conducted under unsafe and uncomfortable working conditions irrespective of the lethal nature of the material involved.
Socio-economical ImpactsVisible: Increase in Corruption/Co-optation of different actors, Displacement, Lack of work security, labour absenteeism, firings, unemployment, Loss of livelihood, Specific impacts on women, Violations of human rights, Land dispossession, Loss of landscape/sense of place
Potential: Increase in violence and crime
Other socio-economic impactsAll Australians have been and still are exposed to asbestos in the form of environmental dust from degrading building materials etc. It would be almost impossible to estimate the economic and social impacts of the widespread use of asbestos for so many decades after WWII.

Outcome

Project StatusStopped
Conflict outcome / response:Compensation
Deaths, Assassinations, Murders
Environmental improvements, rehabilitation/restoration of area
Court decision (victory for environmental justice)
Migration/displacement
New legislation
Application of existing regulations
0
Development of alternatives:Alternative building and brake-lining products have been developed to replace asbestos.
Do you consider this an environmental justice success? Was environmental justice served?:Not Sure
Briefly explain:People and those who care about them cannot be compensated with money for experiencing a serious illness and death as a result of asbestos exposure. It took decades of environmental campaigning and court cases to pressure James Hardie, a key Australian producer of asbestos building materials, to establish a Medical Research and Compensation Foundation. In 1985, the Slater and Gordon law firm won its first successful claim on behalf of Pilmer and the same firm continues to represent victims, working with the Asbestos Diseases Society of Australia (ADSA). Famous campaign leader Berbie Banton had worked for James Hardie and developed asbestosis and pleural disease, dying late 2007 (aged 61) from peritoneal mesothelioma, after being made a Member of the Order of Australia in 2005 for his ardent advocacy, awareness-raising and campaigning.

Sources and Materials

Related laws and legislations - Juridical texts related to the conflict

See the variety of legislation brought in summarised here:
http://www.asbestos.com/mesothelioma/australia/legislation.php

References to published books, academic articles, movies or published documentaries

NHMRC (2012)
http://www.nhmrc.gov.au/your-health/asbestos-related-diseases

Slater and Gordon (2012)
http://www.slatergordon.com.au/the-firm/our-history/

All sites accessed 10 July 2012

Hills, Ben (1989) Blue Murder: Two thousand doomed to die: the shocking truth about Wittenooms deadly dust. South Melbourne: Sun Books.

There are many more publications and documentaries.

Western Australian government
http://wa.gov.au/content/important-information-about-wittenoom

ADSA (2012) Asbestos Diseases Society of Australia
http://asbestosdiseases.org.au/asbestosinfo/medical_research.htm

Barry, Paul (1988) Blue Death 23 May 1988, ABC 4 Corners award winning doco
http://www.abc.net.au/4corners/stories/2011/08/08/3288499.htm

Links to general newspaper articles, blogs or other websites

http://asbestosdiseases.org.au/asbestosinfo/medical_research.htm

http://www.nhmrc.gov.au/your-health/asbestos-related-diseases

Related media links to videos, campaigns, social network

May 1988, ABC 4 Corners award winning doco
http://www.abc.net.au/4corners/stories/2011/08/08/3288499.htm

Other comments:0

Meta information

Contributor:Anitra Nelson — [email protected]
Last update10/10/2014