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ENVIRONMENTAL AFFAIRS AND TOURISM PORTFOLIO COMMITTEE
24 June 2003
ASBESTOS: BRIEFING; SADC PROTOCOL ON FISHERIES: ADOPTION
Chairperson: Mr J Arendse (ANC)
Documents Handed In:
Asbestos Association of South Africa (AASA) Presentation
SADC Protocol on Fisheries
Asbestos Association of South Africa presented an overview of the Association in respect of use and monitoring of asbestos in industry and production. The briefing canvassed issues such as the actual fibres used in asbestos to the monitoring of dust in the production of asbestos products to an overview of actual workings of a textile plant which used asbestos in its fibre production.
The Committee proceeded to adopt the SADC Protocol on Fisheries and move that it be presented to the House for ratification.
The Asbestos Association of South Africa (AASA) was represented by Mr Vall, Dr Frost, Ms Mhlahle, Mr Goosen, Mr Banda and Mr Nkumalo.
Please refer to attached presentation made by Mr Banda and Mr Goosen of AACA..
Mr Banda stated that he did not believe that the AASA could be blamed for the past irresponsible use of asbestos. He saw the task of the AASA as one that could assist government in an adversarial role in respect of issues relating to asbestos. He acknowledged that the problem was that there was uncertainty as to whether or not asbestos was actually banned or not. Legislation in respect of asbestos was at most sketchy and that there were too many arms of government involved which meant that any information obtained from government was scattered and broad.
Mr Goosen, in his presentation, stated that asbestos as used in insulation textiles was not believed to be a timebomb which was about to explode and that asbestos used in such products was usually treated with a dust suppressant agent or encased in rubber.
Mr Goosen also re-iterated that the sins of the past had essentially been perpetuated by the mining industry and not the industry as a whole. He did not believe that it would be beneficial to advocate a total ban of asbestos in that suffering would be prolonged and many jobs lost.
Proper consideration should be given to controlling asbestos so that there was no health risk. Alternatives to asbestos do pose a health risk in themselves. Any alternative product would involved importing such products which would be costly mainly due to the fact that the industry was controlled by large European and US multinational corporations.
Mr Goosen believed that the industry had adhered to safety standards and that there was no better fibre that is used for safe heat conduction.
Dr Frost requested provided some background on his plant and how asbestos was actually used. His plant had been in business since 1980 and was mainly involved in textile products to produce yarns. Dr Frost did note that there was a lack of understanding of what exactly was done in the industry and there was little information about the process involved. The main problem was dust and that his plant did its best to minimise the dust. The minimisation of dust was a legislative requirement and his plant has exceedingly low dust levels.
Dr Frost stated that his factory had made a special loom for the US market (R1.6 million) which could be used in the oil industry. It had transpired that South Africa has made a more effective product than, for example, the UK. He noted further by saying that textile products were only hazardous when they were abused and not used correctly. Use in the textile industry was now more responsible than previously.
Dr Frost stated that alternative products such as glass, silica and ceramic were all imported and not as effective as asbestos. Since 1985, together with the University of Cape Town, a project had been run whereby the health of all employees in his company was monitored. He believed that there was a lack of discussion as to what exactly was happening in the industry.
The Chair briefly referred to some of the Committee's own investigations into the whole issue of asbestos. He stated that there was ongoing research as to the feasibility of the phasing out of asbestos use and the Committee held public hearings on the issue in January 2003 where recommendations which were put forward including: reconsideration of the policy on asbestos; introduction of legislation to speed up the rehabilitation of mines. He stated that there was possibly a draft law banning asbestos but there was no law as yet.
Prof. Mbadi (ANC) asked the question that if South Africa was not interested in mining asbestos, did it then mean that the material was imported, produced only to be exported again? If this was the case, how safe was the handling of these products? He expressed concern that people were still suffering and not compensated for this suffering. He posed the question that if one were to import products instead of that which is locally produced, does this not deprive people of job opportunities? How many jobs would be created in such a situation?
Mr Banda stated that the asbestos industry was one of a chain reaction and that there was a certain amount of importing that does occur.
Rev. Goosen (ANC) asked whether or not asbestos was still used in the building of houses.
The Chair said that as far as he was aware there was a policy of phasing out of asbestos in the building of houses.
Rev. Goosen asked to what state did the material arrive in South Africa. He also enquired as to how many people were employed in this industry. In respect of the issue of the examination of dust - were there any outside bodies that were responsible for the examination of such dust counts. The final question posed was in respect of the alternatives - who exactly was working on such alternatives to asbestos?
Mr Goosen stated that the product arrived in a raw or semi-milled form which was shrink-wrapped.
Mr Goosen answered the question relating to the issue of dust and stated that the issue was governed by legislation passed in 2001. Reports were conducted by those outside of the specific industry and then submitted to the Department of Labour.
As far as alternatives to asbestos was concerned, Mr Goosen stated that alternative fibres were generally created by large international companies and must be imported into South Africa which in turn is exceedingly costly. This was not the most effective situation in that whereas Zimbabwe (where asbestos was imported from) charges in Rands, the international companies would charge in either Dollars or Euros.
Dr Frost regarding the use of alternative fibres stated that if one used non-asbestos products this must be motivated. He had formed a separate company to compete against his asbestos-producing company in order to get non-asbestos products into the market. He noted that asbestos was a product that could be used in many other products, which was not necessarily the case with non-asbestos products. Seventy five percent of production in his plant was asbestos products and the remainder thereof was non-asbestos products. There had been contact with an international company to purchase their asbestos products but this proved very expensive.
Ms Chalmers (ANC) also enquired as to the number of employees in the industry. She expressed concern as to small industries that use asbestos as being more 'maverick' in their use of the product. How was this managed?
Mr Goosen said the number of employees employed in the industry to be in the region of 2000, however, this figure would have to be verified. He stated that no more jobs would be created in the industry.
Dr Frost stated that his plant had started with 29 employees and was now at 85.
Mr Goosen said that small industries using asbestos and stated that this was in the minority as most of those industries specifically involved were part of the AASA and that the AASA had been in contact with all those who purchase from or supply any form of asbestos.
Dr Frost stated that small industries must be monitored and industries do receive material data safety sheets and information. As a point of interest, it was stated that ceramic was found to be more dangerous than asbestos in that it more easily went to a person's lungs than asbestos would .
Ms Chalmers asked if all asbestos was imported. She enquired further as to the industry as it stood now and whether or not workers are at risk at present.
Mr Goosen pointed out that there was a differentiation between products processed out of asbestos and the use of asbestos-containing products. Any product could be dangerous and that in respect of asbestos, the risks were very small.
Ms Chalmers enquired how much of the product that was produced actually involved asbestos - was it a major part of the product? She enquired as to whether or not the US actually had their own asbestos or whether they import South African asbestos products because it was cheaper and better.
Dr Frost stated asbestos could not be produced in the US although it was not a banned product. The design as emanating from South Africa did prove to be a winner. In addition, the US could not use their locally produced asbestos as the fibres as required were too short.
Ms Ndzanga (ANC) enquired as to the process of manufacture and whether or not workers were actually protected. The question was whether or not fibres could still get into the atmosphere and in turn affect those in the area.
Mr Goosen said that asbestos did escape into the atmosphere as it was a free-fibre, but that the quantities thereof were extremely small.
Dr Frost also wished to respond to the issue of dust by stating at his plant there were large extraction processes and facilities that minimised dust - to such an extent that the electricity account was in excess of R45 000.00 per month!
Another question posed by Ms Ndzanga was whether or not there had been any consideration of the miners in that she believed that miners were at the greatest risk in this environment. How safe would these miners be even if they were not miners from South Africa?
This question seemed not to be answered.
Mr Fred Gona (National Union of Mineworkers) stated that he thought that the debate about whether or not asbestos was safe or not had already been addressed in other forums. In respect of the use of white asbestos, Mr Gona stated that as far as he was aware, this form of asbestos was equally dangerous as other forms of asbestos. Where a person becomes infected with asbestosis, there was no medication and the cause and effect was similar to that of cancer. Usually a person died quickly.
As to the question of whether or not there was a safe level of exposure, Mr Gona was of the opinion that there was no safe level of exposure even with protective clothing.
He stated that he believed that the industry was not doing anything to assist and referred to the Rotterdam Convention where all fibres of asbestos were considered as being dangerous.The urgency that needed to be determined was what to do with asbestos that was already around us.
Prof. Mbadi requested from the AASA whether or not it would be possible for the Committee to see any of the plants.
Dr Frost extended an invitation to members to visit his plant.
Mr Banda stated that clear government supervision was required in this area in that the AASA did not want to essentially police themselves as this was not the duty of the Association. As far as unions were concerned, Mr Banda stated that there is a wish to work with the unions whereby unions would be able to give recommendations about safe and responsible practices. 'The business is the union - without people there is no business.' Accordingly, he felt that unions must be part of the decision-making body.
Mr Banda requested that the Committee obtain a copy of the Minutes of the meeting held in connection with Business Africa.
SADC Protocol on Fisheries
Mr Buthelezi (Chief Director : Resource Management Marine) proceeded to give a presentation of the SADC Protocol on Fisheries.
The Committee raised no objections and the Chair stated that it was now a question of requesting the House to approve the Protocol which would be done in the near future.
The meeting was adjourned.
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