New Internationalist

Double Standards

Issue 129

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DUMPING [image, unknown] Dangerous factories

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Double Standards
Barry Castelman, a US environmental consultant, has probably done more research than anyone else on the dumping of dangerous factories and industrial processes. Here are excerpts from his recent work*.

[image, unknown] GOVERNMENT INDIFFERENCE

Barry Newman of the Wall Street Journal has recently done an excellent investigation of industrial practices in Malaysia. Nippon Steel’s steel mill (‘which probably wouldn’t be allowed to operate in Japan’) was reputed to be the filthiest and most dangerous factory in Malaysia. A Diamond Shamrock (US) manager of an arsenical pesticide plant in Malaysia had never seen the US workplace standards for arsenic, but blithely commented, ‘Hell, if OSHA walked in (here), they’d probably close the place down.’

Malaysian government officials conceded that the overriding government policy was to attract investors. The first question asked by investors, according to one government doctor, is, ‘What regulations do you have and how well do you enforce them?’ Another government official rejected the idea that sick and injured Malaysian workers should have the right to sue employers: ‘We believe the employer needs a little protection.’

Ignorance of the health authorities was appalling. A government occupational health specialist had never heard of benzidine. Another found nothing wrong in a survey of an asbestos plant, and postulated that the ‘Asian body is immune’ to the dangers of the dust. Another government doctor lamented that some companies refused to divulge what chemicals they were using, under the claim that they were protecting trade secrets.


[image, unknown] DYE IMPORTS

In 1965, Imperial Chemical Industries closed a plant in England making the dye intermediate alpha-naphthylamine. ICI in effect conceded that bladder cancer from naphthylamine dye intermediates could not be avoided even in a dyes well-designed plant . When imports of the dye intermediate went up following the closure of the British factory, the immorality of the implicit double standard was sharply questioned by Dr. Robert Case - and the medical journal, Lancet. Great Britain banned the use of the dye intermediates including benzidine in 1967, but still imports benzidine-derived today.


DYE IMPORTS

Benzidine-based dyes imported into the US have recently been analysed for their content of residual, unreacted benzidine. Imported samples had four times the level of benzidine as domestically amnufactured dyes. This is indicative of poor industrial hygiene in manufacturing. One sample of Direct Black 38 dye from Egypt had an astounding 1,254 parts per million of residual benzidine. Most domestically produced samples had around 10 ppm. Egyptian health oficials have been notified, and information is being sought with respect to ownership and working conditions in the plant.


[image, unknown] WARNING LABELS

The double standard may exist in the area of warning and educating those at risk. Fundamental is the labelling of hazardous substances. The asbestos industry has rather detailed plans for applying warning labels only with the greatest reluctance in its world-wide markets... Courts in the United States have affirmed that the label should be comprehensible, prominently displayed, and not couched in misleadingly mild terms.

The international asbestos industry’s own view of its responsibility to label its products as potentially lethal was recently revealed by the disclosure of an internal memorandum of the Asbestos international Association dated July 7, 1978. The industry members generally agreed that it would be best to get by with as little warning labelling as their various markets would bear: ‘Most participants were in favour of an action in various stages, the switching over from one stage to a further less favourable one, depending on outside pressure.

The British asbestos industry’s approach to the labelling problem was regarded by many observers as worthy of imitation. This is because the British firms have been able to get their government off their backs with a warning label that reads. ‘Take care with asbestos.’ The memorandum goes on to note: ‘Many of the participants were of the opinion that it was advisable to adopt the U.K. label as such if the use of the label was unavoidable. Rediscussing the wording could bring along the risk of having to include the word ‘cancer’ in it. The fact that this label had be en found satisfactory to the U.K. authorities was also seen as a good argument for avoiding the EEC (European Economic Community) pressure for a less favourable one (such as the skull-and-crossbones used for toxic substances’)

The industry appeared unanimous, however, in the view that the best warning label is none at all: ‘In those countries where it was felt still too early to start voluntary labelling, in fear of a negative influence on sales, steps should be taken to prepare commercial people for the idea, making clear that in the absence of an industry’s initiative we could run the risk of being imposed the ‘skull-and-crossbones ‘symbol for our products. It should also be pointed out to them that the fact to agree on a kind of label did not imply the agreement of starting to use it.


[image, unknown] WASTE POLLUTION

At a conference on the international traffic in industrial hazards. Mexican researchers described the chromate pollution from a Bayer (West Germany) affiliate near Mexico City, The wastes from the factory were piled in the yard beside it and pellets of chrome waste were used to fill potholes in the streets. Children in the neighbourhood developed painful sores from the contamination of the neighbourhood which also penetrated to drinking water sources. Inside the plant 46 per cent of the workers suffered perforated nasal septa, in addition to other skin reactions from chromate poisoning.

Bayer was a major owner of the plant throughout the 1970s, until it was closed by Mexican health authorities. It is unlikely that the neighbours of the plant or its former employees will obtain compensation for their damages, which will no doubt include lung cancer in some cases.


[image, unknown] ASBESTOS MANUFACTURE

In Dortmund, West Germany, the United Asbestos Workers brought a suit against the firm Techno-Einkauf for importing brake pads from South Korea. it was apparently not disputed that the products were manufactured under unsafe and substandard working conditions compared to the safety measures required by law in West Germany. The Union sought so at least publicize the immorality of importing disc brakes tainted with the blood of Korean workers. The import of asbestos products into West Germany has more than doubled since 1973, during which time the domestic industry was declining; most of the Imports came from countries where safety standards for workers are virtually nonexistent. The Federal Court ruled that there was nothing wrong with importing the asbestos products. Here we see that even if the Dortmund company had no other affiliation than its role as a customer for the Korean plants products, it nonetheless profited substantially by the disparity in standards in the two countries. in India the affiliates of major British and American asbestos companies operate facilities that are 50 years behind the standard of practice these firms observe at home today. At Hindustan Ferodo owned 74 per cent by Turner and Newall, Ltd., the dust is thick and workers are not told of the findings in their periodic medical examinations. Johns-Manville’s affiliate in Ahmedebad dumps its asbestos-cement wastes all along the roads and surrounding lots, and children play on the waste dumps lust as in earlier years in Manville, New Jersey. There are no warnings on the plants products that are sold in India or marketed by Johns-Manville in Africa and the Middle East.

*The export of Hazardous Factories to Developing Nations and Impending Proliferation of Asbestos (in conjunction with M.J. Vera) both papers incl. In Health and Work under Capitalism, eds. V. Navarro & D.M. Berman Baywood Publishing Company, Inc.


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