Campaigns and protests against the manufacture, export and use of asbestos by countries, such as Russia and Canada (before the 2012 closure of their last asbestos mine in Quebec), continues among a number of international organisations, such as the Rotterdam Convention comprising medical and other professional affiliations.

In Britain, asbestos awareness to the ever-present dangers of exposure and prevention of asbestosis disease and mesothelioma cancer are conducted by many community groups and organisations, such as Mesothelioma UK and Asbestos In Schools.

Voice of community residents

However, the voice of community residents can also be used to great effect when raised in concern over the discovery of large quantities of asbestos or the official inaction over the presence of the deadly material. Just last year a petition containing more than 4,400 Somerset and local area community signatures was presented to the Bath & North East Somerset Council in their continuing fight against the planned disposal of 645,000 tons of asbestos and other hazardous waste at Stowey Quarry in Chew Valley.

Also in 2012, a campaign was organised in Jersey to halt the first phase of excavations in the creation of an International Financial Centre at the Esplanade, St.Helier, which was being developed on reclaimed land known to contain several areas of asbestos landfill. It was also confirmed that no management surveys for asbestos had been undertaken.

Organised campaign of protest

The latest organised campaign of protest against the presence of asbestos took place in Paris in October 2013. Thousands of people from all over France lay down in the street outside Sorbonne University to draw attention to the 3,000 lives which are claimed every year in France by asbestos exposure and the authorities’ failure to remove the material from the workplace.

The protest, organised by The National Association of Victims of Asbestos (ANDEVA), began at the Tour Montparnasse buildings, where dangerous levels of asbestos dust have been constantly found. According to ANDEVA placards, there are “Ten deaths each day, with no one held responsible or found guilty.”

The ANDEVA, which was led by the widows and relatives of victims of asbestos exposure also issued a statement, saying that “It has been 17 years since we submitted the first complaints” and the protest aimed to “show the public and political officials that the victims of asbestos are still waiting for criminal proceedings.”

According to the ANDEVA, “The asbestos risk is not ancient history, it still exists today…the Tour Montparnasse should have been ridden of its asbestos years ago, but by allowing the work to be postponed, they are continuing to play with people’s lives.”

In June employees working in the building where around 5,000 people work were evacuated because of the danger of asbestos exposure, and in August, Paris police warned they would evacuate workers again from the building.

Plea of guilty

Back in Britain, a council involved in a regeneration project in Stockton-On-Tees recently entered a plea of guilt for having failed to carry out a risk assessment for the presence of asbestos prior to work commencing, an absence of exposure prevention measures and safe disposal procedures, and was fined a total of £25,555 inc. costs.

The so-called “hidden killer” is very much a visible agent in the twenty-first century, and the risk of exposure continues to be a real risk to health today rather than “consigned to history.”