The Multinational Monitor


E X P O R T   O F   H A Z A R D S

The Double Standard in Industrial Hazards

by Barry I Castleman

The "double-standard" in control of industrial hazards was born with the enactment of regulations and compensation statutes to protect workers, communities, and the general environment. In 1931, a committee was set up to evaluate dust control regulations being developed in Great Britain. The committee included two representatives from the Factory Inspectorate and one representative each from Britain's three largest asbestos companies. Asbestos, a grayish mineral, was being mined by the companies for sale as fireproofing material. The committee's report expressed the concern that the imposition of regulations in Britain would adversely affect the competitive position of the asbestos industry, if other countries were unwilling to work toward the development of "uniform international requirements."

Dr. Wilhelm Hueper of the National Cancer Institute in the United States wrote an encyclopedic monograph on envronnmental cancer in 1948. He was concerned about the emergence of disparate control requirements for industrial use of carcinogenic agents. With postwar industrialization in developing countries, where there were no standards and little expertise in cancer prevention, Hueper feared that: "The bad record, carcinogenically speaking, which resulted form the hurried development of large-scale chemical industries during and following World War I, may be repeated."

At a conference of the New York Academy of Sciences, Dr. Gerrit Schepers presented an eyewitness account of atrocious conditions of black children employed in an asbestos mill in South Africa. Dr. Schepers, a South African, pointed out that the mill was owned by a foreign company (Cape Asbestos of England, now called Cape Industries). He saw these conditions in 1949, 17 years after the passage of regulations in Britain. His account constitutes the most horrifying passage in the entire medical literature on asbestos:

"During 1949 1 made the first official governmental radiological and clinical survey of the asbestos industry in the North Eastern Transvaal. At that time, industrial hygience in one of these mines and asbestos works was simply deplorable. Exposures were crude and unchecked. I found young black children, completely included within large shipping bags, trampling down fluffy amosite asbestos, which all day long came cascading down over their heads. They were kept stepping lively by a burly supervisor with a hefty whip. I believe these children to have had the ultimate of asbestos dust exposure. X-rays revealed several to have radiologic asbestosis with corpulmonale before the age of 12. Why Dr. Sluis-Cremer did not see them in his survey 10 years later is fairly evident. There was probably not one of them alive. . ."

Nor did Dr. Sluis-Cremer say how many of the young children, who were strapped on their mothers' backs, while their mothers worked along the sorting belts, developed asbestosis. However, he did furnish the statistic that the average duration of exposure before asbestosis is recognized is between five and six years. This is ghastly in comparison with what is currently regarded as a reasonable prospect for an asbestos worker in an enlightened industry. In the North Eastern Transvaal some of the alleged nonindustrial persons who were found to have asbestosis may be children who had formerly been exposed in an unregulated manner within the industry."

In 1965, Imperial Chemical Industries (ICI) of England, closed a plant making the dye intermediate alpha-naphthylamine. ICI in effect conceded that bladder cancer from naphthylamine dye intermediates could not be avoided even in a 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 an editorial in the medical journal Lancet. Great Britain banned the use of dye intermediates including benzidine in 1967, but still imports benzidinederived dyes today.

These are some examples of the increasing number of "hazard export" cases. These cases are hazardous industrial processes set up in one country to serve markets in another country where those processes would not be allowed to function. In such cases, the export of the uncontrolled or poorly controlled hazardous process nets enough savings (in fixed costs, operating costs, and liabilities) to more than offset increased shipping costs. Examples are Amatex's Mexican border asbestos textile plants and Givaudan's (Hoffman-LaRoche) trichlorophenol plant in Seveso, Italy. An integral part of the hazard export cycle is an international double standard in industrial hygiene and pollution control.

Historically, the strong chemical and mineral industries of industrial nations have served worldwide markets. With the toxic substance controls being imposed in these countries, the stage is now set for shifting production to developing countries to serve markets in developing countries. A likely industry for such a shift in production is pesticides.

The double standard is by no means limited to newly constructed facilities. An evolving literature on the chronic hazards in industry is the forerunner of regulation and liability in industrial nations. When multinational enterprises discover and take steps to control health hazards (as from vinyl chloride and acrylonitrile) in only some of their far-flung operations around the world, the double standard arises.

Asbestos in the United States

International double standards are widespread in the asbestos industry today. As the first century of the modem asbestos industry drew to a close, the "magic mineral" was proclaimed the largest single cause of occupational cancer by the Secretary of the U.S. Department of Health, Education and Welfare. Leading authorities now estimate that there will be more than one death from cancer per hour for the next 20 years as a result of historic occupational exposure to asbestos in the United States; that comes to 8,000 to 10,000 deaths annually.

Despite the best efforts of health experts to predict the toll, there is still uncertainty about these figures. Both high-concentration exposure for brief periods (hours or days) and far lower exposure for long periods are associated with some as yet undetermined cancer risk. Asbestos dust inhalation has been linked to increased risk of cancer of the lungs, esophagus, stomach colon, rectum, kidneys, pieura, and peritoneum. It has been the otherwise-rare occurrence of mesothelioma of the pluera and peritoneum that has revealed the extent of the danger.

The widespread public recognition of the threat of asbestos in the United States has had a number of favorable results. Workers and their unions have insisted that employers adhere to the workplace regulations, pay premium rates for this hazardous work, and stop using asbestos. Insurance carriers have raised their worker's compensation insurance rates for employers who continue to use asbestos and have all but ceased to insure U.S. manufacturers of asbestos products for product liability suits brought by injured consumers. And the U.S. government has been stimulated to continue efforts to reduce consumer and environmental exposure to asbestos.

In U.S. courts over 20,000 victims of asbestosis and cancer have so far sued the industry for knowingly marketing deadly products while making no effort to inform product users of the time-bomb danger of breathing asbestos dust. These lawsuits, which grow more numerous each day, will eventually cost the Johns Manville Corporation, Owens-Corning, Armstrong and dozens of other manufacturers and insurers billions of dollars in damages. The litigation has uncovered proof that many members of the industry were not only well aware of the developing medical literature on asbestos, but also that leading firms were actively tampering with "scientific reports" of studies sponsored in 1930 and later, even completely suppressing publication of findings in some cases. In 1982, Manville filed for protection in bankruptcy court, where its share of the liability in 20,000 pending cases is being negotiated in the range of $700 million.

Of all the asbestos products ever used, none can rival the toll of death and disease from thermal insulation reinforced with asbestos and used on pipes and boilers. In 1973, Manville stopped manufacturing asbestos-reinforced heat insulation in the U.S. However, as late as 1976, Johns-Manville not only continued to make these products in Brazil, but was only beginning to consider attaching warning labels to them. These products were still made with asbestos by Johns-Manville in Brazil until 1980 or 1981.

Due to increasing public concern, objections by workers, government regulations, and mounting liabilities, the use of asbestos in industrial nations has declined precipitously. Asbestos consumption in Britain has dropped by 52% between 1975 and 1982. In the United States, there was a 60% drop in asbestos consumption from 1978 to 1982, to 246,000 metric tons. Sweden has virtually eliminated the use of asbestos, the result of a trade union campaign started in 1975. Overall consumption of asbestos-cement in Europe declined 31 percent from 1978 to 1982.

Asbestos Around the World

The only asbestos products whose use is still expanding around the world are asbestos-cement construction materials. Hazardous exposures to asbestos commonly occur in the manufacture and fabrication of asbestoscement sheet and pipe. Asbestos air and water pollution frequently result from the use, maintenance, and disposal of asbestos-cement products.

Puerto Rico and India -- There was a major controversy over these materials in Puerto Rico in the late 1970s. Houses built for low-income families from asbestos-cement materials were the focus of a class action lawsuit brought by Servicies Legales de Puerto Rico. As a result, nearly 1,400 families were relocated in other publicly financed housing, and the asbestoscement houses were taken down.

In Ahmedabad, India, Shree Digvijay Cement Company produces 50,000 tons of asbestos-cement pipe and sheet per year. Its foreign collaborator is Johns-Manville Corporation, until recent months the largest asbestos company in America. Shree Digvijay has been a steady customer for asbestos fiber mined by Johns-Manville Canada. The raw material is processed in a plant designed and built under supervision of Manville in the early 1960s. Manville owned a minority share of stock in Shree Digvijay and was the exclusive seller of products made by the Indian company for sale in Africa and the Middle East.

Investigations starting in 1980 have revealed a longstanding pattern of uncontrolled, severe workplace and environmental hazards at Shree Digvijay. Johns-Manville industrial hygiene engineers visited the plant in 1977, and in an internal memorandum said the operation was "just indescribably poor." The memo described workers shoveling asbestos fiber into bags and "fiber floating all over" several areas of the plant. There were no dust collectors for the machines used to cut sections- of asbestoscement pipe. Four years later, in 1981, nothing had changed. By then, Manville senior executives were alarmed by international publicity featuring pictures of children playing in asbestos-laden wastes dumped all around the plant. The lack of warning labels on the products and worker education about the lethal dangers of asbestos completed the picture. Attorneys of the Consumer Education and Research Centre in Ahmedabad have now taken up this issue with the plant management which continues to resist even efforts to impose the requirements of Indian health statutes.

Manville's wholly owned foreign subsidiaries were less numerous than its joint ventures and other forms of investment. In 1972, Manville operated 10 plants and two mines "overseas," but it also had programs in licensing, technical assistance, and minority investment involving 88 plants operated by 63 companies in 28 countries. Besides India, Johns--Manville asbestos was then shipped to plants in 57 companies. Within a year of filing for protection from liability suits in bankruptcy court, Manville sold most of its asbestos mining and manufacturing interests. These businesses continue to operate, often managed by former Manville executives who purchased them.

In Bombay, India, Hindustan Ferode makes asbestos textiles and brake linings. This company is 74% owned by Turner and Newall, the dominant British asbestos company. Here, investigations in 1980-81 showed that workers were not told about the insidious danger of asbestos dust, which was present in densely visible concentrations in some operations. The workers were also not informed by management when their chest x-rays revealed asbestosis. After management asserted that "the factory has a good medical record," The Times of India reported that the company had fired employees with asbestosis. "At least 35% of those still on their jobs are afflicted and yet are neither discharged nor duly compensated" reported the The Times. This plant is incapable of operating in compliance with current British asbestos standards, much less with newly issued rules scheduled to take effect this year. The manufacture of both heat-resistant textiles and brake linings from asbestos is being abandoned in the U.S. and Europe in favor of safer materials.

West Germany -- In Dortmund, West Germany, the United Asbestos Workers brought suit against the firm Techno-Einkauf for importing brake pads from South Korea. The union sought to at least publicize the immorality of importing disc brakes "tainted with the blood of Korean workers." The import of asbestos products into West Germany more than doubled from 1973 to 1979, during which time the domestic industry was declining. Most of the imports came from countries where safety standards for workers are virtually nonexistent. A 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 plant's products, it nonetheless profited substantially from the disparity in standards in the two countries.

Meanwhile, the asbestos textile factory of Deutsche Kap-Asbestwerke was dismantled and shipped to Cape Town, South Africa. Apparently the shipping and reconstruction costs will be more than offset by other factors. The move was attributed to "the restricting influence of trade unions and less expensive imports from Spain, Yugoslavia, and South Korea." The German investors whose plants makes asbestos textiles in South Africa don't have a trade union to contend with. It is up to management to decide how much is spent to protect the health of the employees.

Deutsche Kap-Asbestwerke's Hamburg factory was almost 80 years old at the time it was dismantled. But with recent investments in ventilation and dust control, it complied with German workplace asbestos standards. Dust controls also accounted for one-third of the plant's entire electricity consumption. Even then, the workers had pressed for the replacement of asbestos, and more stringent regulations for the use of asbestos were inevitable.

South Africa -- In South Africa, Kapasit Asbestos faces no regulations governing the concentrations of asbestos that workers can be exposed to in factories. Similarly, there appear to be no regulations governing the release of asbestos into the environment. Lung cancer from asbestos has been a compensable occupational disease in Germany since 1943. But today, in South Africa, where lung cancer is a compensable disease for a few asbestos miners a year, it is not a compensable disease for non-mine asbestos workers. In fact, cancer of the lung is not listed on the schedule of occupational disease in the Workman's Compensation Act at all. Lung cancer from other substances like chromates and arsenic is therefore also not compensable for industrial workers in South Africa.

The vast majority of workers exposed to asbestos in South Africa are black. They are required to live away from their families in compounds next to their places of employment, because it is forbidden for most black people to reside in the parts of the country where they work. They are virtually all non-unionized. When employees of Everite, an asbestoscement manufacturer in South Africa, tried in 1980 to organize the Port Elizabeth plant, dozens of long-term employees were dismissed and production was shifted to other Everite plants. It is doubtful that most of those affilicted with asbestosis and occupational cancers now and in the future years will receive workers' compensation from Everite. Over 90% of black workers disabled with asbestosis and asbestos cancer in South Africa do not even receive the paltry amounts of compensation supposedly available to members of their race under the workers' compensation laws. Small wonder that a South African newspaper announced the Manville bankruptcy filing this way:

"While asbestos producers in the United States and Great Britain are going to bankruptcy courts for protection against lawsuits involving millions of rands brought by asbestos workers and their families, South African producers face a rosy future."

Quebec and Ireland -- In Quebec, Judge Rene Beaudry conducted an investigation into conditions in the asbestos mines. He was shocked to discover that one company, Asbestos Corporation Ltd., was meeting strict regulations in its West Germany plant while running a far dustier facility in Canada.

In Cork, Ireland, the U.S. firm, RaybestosManhattap, constructed a brake pad plant with full approval of the government but little notice to the communities near the plant and its prospective dump site. Citizen opposition was so intense that, even after the company installed "state-of-the-art" controls in the plant, the venture finally had to be abandoned. The people in Cork were no doubt irked by the apparent exception of non-U.S. operations to the company's stated policy of asbestos substitution in automobile brakes by 1982. Contributing factors to the plant closing were the softness of the U.S. automobile market and the loss of contracts in Europe because of delays


The careless and uninformed use of pesticides accounts for an enormous toll of preventable death and disease in developing countries. In the state of Sao Paulo, Brazil, an estimated 4,000 people die each year from pesticide poisoning.

David Bull of Oxfam, who has written extensively on the subject, believes that 30 percent of the pesticides exported to the Third World are either banned or severely restricted in industrial nations. The U.K. accounts for nearly 15% of world pesticide exports, including 11 pesticides banned by British legislation or by European Economic Community Directives. Many of these substances are prohibited because of their chronic health effects (e.g. cancer and reproductive hazards), their long persistence in the environment, and the threat that their environmental persistence poses through the poisoning of fish and animals (many of which are consumed as food) and the polluting of surface streams and groundwater.

Other pesticides are used under controlled conditions in industrial nations despite their recognized acute toxicity. When these products are used casually in tropical areas the results can be devastating. In Trinidad, Dr. Rahid Rahaman reports almost one fatal case of paraquat poisoning each week. This herbicide causes severe, untreatable damage to the lungs when significant amounts are absorbed through the skin. Yet Imperial Chemical Industries promotes the use of paraquat showing a barefoot worker spraying paraquat on a rice paddy-and on his legs. The U.S. government has tried to get other countries to apply paraquat by aerial spraying in areas where marijuana is grown.

The issue of liability of U.S.-based firms for harm caused by their products elsewhere in the world is now being raised in U.S. courts. The legal theory of product liability may apply to sales originating in the U.S. even if the harm occurs in another country. More than 30 banana farm workers in Costa Rica who were sterilized from applying the nematocide dibromochloropropane (DBCP) are suing manufacturers Dow Chemical and Shell Oil. Community ground water contamination by DBCP is also suspected, as heavy rainfall helps the DBCP to percolate down through the earth.

Hazardous Wastes

In some cases, the wastes from hazardous industries are exported, but the industries are not. With the sudden concern in the U.S. about chemical wastes, there is a shortage of suitable disposal sites and incineration facilities for hazardous wastes. One result is illegal surreptitious disposal, but another is export. Publicity about pending chemical waste export deals has led to enraged public reactions in West Africa, Mexico, Haiti, and the Dominican Republic. Yet, the export of toxic wastes is increasing.

In Europe, an estimated 3 million tons each year of hazardous chemical wastes cross national borders every year. As of 1983, Belgium, Italy, Greece, and Ireland had no hazardous waste disposal laws at all. After the shocking discovery of dioxin-contaminated wastes from Seveso, Italy, left unattended in an abandoned slaughterhouse outside Paris, French officials led the call for international controls. Other dioxin-contaminated wastes from Chemie Linz in Austria were discovered by angry Belgian authorities after being sent to Belgium from Austria via Eastern European countries.

In response, the European Parliament endorsed proposals in 1983 that: (1) international transfer of toxic wastes be carried out only with full knowledge and agreement of all countries concerned; (2) special transportation routes and border crossings be designated; and (3) heavy prison sentences be imposed on the producers or transporters who ignore the rules.

To effect these controls, complementary legislation must now be enacted in each of the 10 countries of the European Economic Community. It can only be hoped that the Europeans will apply a similar concern for toxic wastes they export to Morroco and other Third World countries.

Other Industries

The double standard arises when one country bans a hazard and other countries do not. When Denmark banned epoxy spraying in its shipyards, the International Metalworkers Federation immediately broadcast the warning that this cancer-suspect, eczema producing work was being diverted to shipyards in countries where there were no serious restrictions on epoxy spraying.

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 neighborhood developed painful sores from the contamination of the neighborhood. Contamination also penetrated drinking water sources. Deaths were also attributed to the pollution from this plant. Inside the plant, 46% 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.

In Lecheria, the industrial suburb where Cromatos de Mexico operated, there are a number of chemical plants, almost all bearing the names of U.S.-based companies. Raw chemical wastes run untreated in ditches. The day I visited Lecheria in 1979, foamy wastes flowed through a trench where a dead pig lay with its feet sticking up.

In partnership with the Somoza family, the U. S.-based Pennwalt Corporation has operated a mercury cell chlor-alkali plant in Nicaragua since 1967. In January 1980, environmental health officials found that one-third of the workers at Pennwalt's Managua plant were suffering form mercury. poisoning. The investigators found gross contamination, with puddles of mercury on the floor. In addition, the plant had released an estimated 40 tons of mercury into Lake Managua, a major source of drinking water and fish for the nation's capital. Pennwalt officers would agree to take corrective engineering measures only, if the Nicaraguan national banks provided the necessary funds.


Double standards in industrial hazards are pervasive in the world today, involving numerous industries, companies, and countries. The associated burden of preventable diseases and injuries is growing rapidly with the industrial development of Third World countries.

The medical literature is largely based on the experiences of chemical and mineral companies that have been in existence for many years. These firms are now multinational corporations, and they are dominant in technology and marketing, worldwide. Governments are not only dwarfed by some of these companies economically, but also in terms of technical know-how. If anyone knows about health hazards and their control, it is the companies that have long been dominant in these fields. It is inexcusable that their far-flung affiliates and subsidiaries are allowed to operate as though the medical literature had not yet been written.

Developing countries that do not want to be dumping and testing grounds for hazardous technologies would. be well advised to foster the development of expertise in government and trade unions in order to confront this threat. As we have seen in the United States, the havoc wrought by uncontrolled asbestos, dye, and pesticide industries, for example, is far greater, even reduced to economic terms, than the total value of these industries. C

Barry I. Castleman is a Public Health Consultant and Chemical Engineer based in Baltimore, Maryland.

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