Business Believes Minister Care about Consumers, Says Asbestos Ban to Cause Steep Roofing, Housing & Pork Price Hikes

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14 Feb 2011

Prakit, Ularn and Wichian spoke out to protect consumer interest, by pointing out that no chrysotile-related case has been reported in Thailand and that any chrysotile ban would cause 50% of roofing products to disappear from the market and drive asbestos-free roofing products prices even higher. The chairman of Diamond Building Products believed the Minister will obtain information from all sides before making a decision and noted such ban “is not as easy as changing a light bulb” and, therefore, alternative measures should first be applied. Ularn cited the Indian Supreme Court’s recent ruling against asbestos ban, urging the government to wait for the result of a comparative study on asbestos-containing and asbestos-free roofing products in terms of health safety and quality and stressing the impacts on housing and agricultural product prices. Wichian said the poor people would be the most affected as they would have to pay at least THB2bn more annually.

In response to speculations that the Industry Ministry is going to propose a chrysotile ban to the Cabinet within one month, Mr Prakit Pradipasen, chairman of Diamond Building Products PCL, said there is no scientific or medical evidence of any patient of or death related to chrysotile, despite Thailand’s adoption of the mineral for industrial applications for over 50 years. He added that chrysotile has become widely recognised as the best material that offers tensile strength, durability and heat resistance to roofing, brake lining and water pipe products.

“I believe that the Industry Minister has a good understanding about this issue. I also believe that before making a decision the Industry Ministry and the Cabinet will consider reliable information from all sectors to ensure fairness for all parties. A ban on asbestos-containing products would definitely affect the consumers, as 50% of roofing products would disappear from the market and inadequate supply would drive the prices of asbestos-free products even higher”, he said.

He added that asbestos has been a contentious issue in Thailand for already two or three decades and the air quality tests and physical examinations of asbestos-exposed workers as conducted in the country show no alarming result. Therefore, he argued, it would be awkward for the government to now impose an abrupt ban without talking about alternative control or regulatory measures.

“To change from asbestos-containing products to asbestos-free ones is not as easy as changing a light bulb. It involves a long list of actions and processes. Merely material rearrangement could consume already one year, not to mention machinery-related actions. It took five years in Japan to implement such change”, he noted.

Mr Uran Kriewsakul, marketing manager of Oran Vanich Roof Tiles Co., Ltd., reiterated that over the past 30 years of industrial application of asbestos in Thailand there has been no reliable report of asbestos-linked patients. On the contrary, he said, specialists (particularly Prof. Dr. Somchai Bovornkitti M.D. and Prof. Dr. Attasit Vejjajiva M.D.) co-wrote an article in which they questioned the credibility of a report about a death allegedly caused by asbestos exposure as the subject had been a longterm heavy smoker and no asbestos body was detected on the examined tissue. According to them, the conclusion that the subject died of asbestos-induced cancer is invalid and the death was rather caused by longterm heavy smoking (Refer to the article entitled “Occupational Malignant Mesothelioma in Thailand” in the Public Health System Journal/Third Year/Second Issue/April-June 2009).

“We have never found that chrysotile posed health risks. This is because asbestos represents only 6-8% of and attach tightly to each item of roofing tile products. It does not form dust in the air. Chrysotile inhaled in small quantities and not continuously for a long time will be automatically discharged from human bodies. So, why should we hurt the consumers, especially the low-income earners who prefer price-reasonable but good-quality products? An asbestos-free product is not only expensive, but also less durable and for outdoor use requires a replacement every three years, compared to 10-20 years in the case of asbestos-containing product,” said he.

He added that chrysotile substitutes are ten times more costly and their adoption would require additional loss of trading balance by as much as THB3bn annually and lead to an immediate increase by 30%, and future increases, of the asbestos-free roofing products. A resulting disappearance from the market of 50% of asbestos-containing roofing products would inevitably prompt the housing costs of low-income earners to jump dramatically.

Thai swine farms would also be affected by a chrysotile ban, as it is proven that chrysotile-containing roofs are the most suitable for swine farming. Use of steel roofs would reduce swine’s growth rates and, thus, increase the costs of raising them. And use of asbestos-free roofs would require frequent changes due to acidity and humidity caused by swine excrements and would, hence, lead to much higher pork prices.

He added that, due to absence of report in Thailand about diseases caused by asbestos-containing products, a team of academics have expressed their interest in pursuing a comparative study on asbestos-containing and asbestos-free roofing tile products. He viewed it more appropriate for the government to withhold its decision pending the study’s release, because any wrong decision would lead to irreparable damage. Other countries, he said, also take a long time in dealing with this matter. He cited an Indian supreme court’s ruling made in late January 2011, rejecting an NGO’s request for an asbestos ban, ordering the country’s federal and state governments to put in place a body to regulate asbestos use and asbestos-related manufacturing and asking the state governments to follow a 1995 ruling of the court.

Mr Wichian Phuphat, advisory chairman of Thai Roofing Tiles Co., Ltd. said his company is an SME and lacks knowhow about how to produce products using asbestos substitutes and such production requires a huge investment. He lamented that a change of all machineries to allow production of asbestos-free products would need at least THB1-2bn and a change of the manufacturing process would take three to four years. Therefore, if the proposed ban is imposed, he will have no way but close down his business.

“The most affected would be the low-income earners, who would have to bear at least THB2bn more buying and repair costs about their housing each year for nothing,” he noted. 

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