Asbestos pollution: briefing


08 September 1999
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Meeting report

8 September 1999


Documents handed out
Report on the implementation of the recommendations
Asbestos: Background briefing


Ms Miriam Dube, the Director of Pollution Control in the Department of Environmental affairs and Tourism, gave the committee background information on asbestos mining in South Africa. A National Asbestos summit had been held in 1998, and recommendations from the summit had been presented in a report. An interdepartmental team to deal with the recommendations had made some progress in implementing the recommendations, and would meet in the near future to finalise further action.


Ms Miriam Dube, the Director of Pollution Control in the Department of Environmental Affairs and Tourism, gave the committee background on asbestos mining in South Africa. Mining started in Northern Province and Mpumalanga in 1893 and, spread to the rest of South Africa. The danger implications of asbestos were first noticed in a United Kingdom factory in 1920. In South Africa insufficient protection was provided to workers of the industry. The current asbestos problem was a result of a legacy of neglect. Asbestos causes health and the environmental problems. These problems are caused by mine dumps, asbestos fibres and a lack of information and education with respect to the dangers of asbestos.

In 1996 the National government became aware of the extent and the severity of the asbestos-related problems. The portfolio committee on Environmental Affairs and Tourism agreed that a National Asbestos Summit should be convened. The Summit established four commissions, namely,

(a) Community Development and Rehabilitation

(b) Health remediation and Compensation

(c) The Regulatory System

(d) The Asbestos Industry and Future Application

In April 1999 a steering committee was established and it was tasked by the parliament to take the work forward. The first meeting of the steering committee was on 28 April and the meeting was not successful because government was insufficiently represented. After this meeting, a inter-departmental meeting was convened, to which various government departments were invited. Not all the government departments responded to the invitation. Therefore, on the 18 August a second inter-departmental meeting was called. a third inter-departmental meeting is scheduled for the 14 September 1999 to finalise the programme of action.

In the previous two inter-departmental meeting some progress had been made:

Progress in the area of Community Development and Rehabilitation

The department had been involved in the annual budget of the department. The department had done a bulk of rehabilitation work and she gave the figures of the money spent on the rehabilitation and the money that was still needed to finish the work.

The Health Remediation and Compensation

This commission broadens accessibility to information and it determines unknown burden of the disease. It further provides asbestos awareness programme in schools. The department of Health and the department of Labour are involved in the compensation process. There should be review of the legislation regulating asbestos at the work place. The government should sue the foreign companies responsible for human suffering, environment degradation and seek the repayment of the government millions spent on rehabilitation, remediation and health services provision. She pointed out the case which is handled by the legal firm Leigh Day and Co in United Kingdom where the firm instituted legal action on behalf of five person with the asbestos-related disease. In January 1999 further 2000 claims commenced in United Kingdom. She said that the burden of compensation should be shifted to these companies. The environmental principles applicable should be enforced.

In conclusion she pointed out that the two DEAT law reform processes must be accelerated to deal with the commission's 3 recommendations relating to environment justice issues, better coordination and integration. The fact that the budget remains inadequate, and the need for the total government involvement in clearing up asbestos sites, was a problem.

The questions put to Ms Dube by the Portfolio Committee were not monitored.

Appendix 1:

Portfolio Committee on Environment and Tourism

Parliamentary Meeting 8/9/99:

Asbestos: Background briefing

Prepared by the Asbestos Working Group


In l996, the Portfolio Committee on Environment and Tourism in the National Parliament became aware of the extent and severity of asbestos-related problems affecting communities in the Northern Province. During 1997, Members of Parliament visited various communities who were affected by asbestos. The Parliamentary portfolio committee then forced an asbestos subcommittee chaired by Hon. Jerry Ndou.

Based on their experience, committee members felt it was important to obtain adequate information about asbestos, its uses and its effects on the health of people. To this end it was agreed that a National Asbestos Summit should be convened to contribute to this process.




· To provide an opportunity for information about asbestos and its effects on the people of South Africa to be shared by all interested and affected patties including:

- ex-mining communities

- trade unions

- scientists

- government officials

- industrialists.


· To set out and prioritise the main areas of current concern and explore possible strategies for addressing them.


· To encourage government and other key role-players to commit themselves to specific action-oriented strategies following the Summit.



The Asbestos subcommittee, appointed an asbestos working group drawn from different stakeholders affected by asbestos to assist the parliamentary committee with its tasks.

The asbestos working group members are:

Fred Gona - labour from CAWU:

Brian Gibson - industry from Asbestos Industry' User Group

Sophia Kisting - health NGO from IHRG

Peter Willis - environmental NGO from EMG

Gopalong Sekobe - Dept of Health

Hendrik Naude - Dept of Mineral and Energy

Liz McDaid (convenor)

In October 1998, as part of the preparations for the summit, workshops were held in 6 provinces where local communities, academics, health workers and government officials had an opportunity to raise their concerns and to elect representatives to attend the summit. A booklet was produced to contribute to an open and transparent process whereby people could be adequately informed about the asbestos issue and find acceptable solutions.

At the Summit 24-26th November 1998, an opportunity was given for various provinces to share their experiences of asbestos and how it had impacted on their communities. Both South African and international specialists offered their insights into the asbestos issue. Participants then worked towards solutions to the various asbestos issues in 4 commissions:

1 Community Development and Rehabilitation

2 Health Remediation and Compensation

3The Regulatory System

4The Asbestos Industry and Future Applications of Asbestos


.All the participants of the summit adopted a declaration which summarised the outcomes of the summit. Further details of the outcomes can be found in the proceedings. Below is an extract from the National Asbestos Summit Declaration:

We the delegates to the national asbestos summit hereby note:

. That this summit has been an important step in the process of addressing and redressing the issues relating to asbestos

. That the summit has drawn together a wide spectrum of stakeholders who have discussed the issues constructively and seeking a common way forward.

. That within the summit we have addressed the full complexity of the asbestos problem in South Africa.

We declare our commitment to ensure that the conclusions of the four commissions are transparently implemented within reasonable time.

These include:

. Review of the compensation and other remedial systems

.Strengthen the establishment of a comprehensive health care system including Presidential Asbestos Fund and Parliamentary Commission of Inquiry

.Intensify the inclusive processes of rehabilitation and sustainable development

.Establish research towards phasing out chrysotile and replacing it with alternatives

.In the interim strengthen the regulatory system of the controlled use of all chrysotile asbestos-containing materials

.Ensure an enabling integrated legislative framework, including a ban on non-chrysotile asbestos-containing materials


After the summit, the proceedings were produced by the working group and distributed by the DEAT to all participants at the summit.

In March 1999, the parliamentary portfolio committee handed the report over to the

custodianship of the DEAT.


Appendix 2:




Rehabilitation should involve transparent partnerships between Government, communities and contractors

. Involvement in the annual budgeting

Before the commencement of a financial year and after the amount of funds available for the rehabilitation of derelict/ownerless asbestos mine dumps are known, the Department of Minerals and Energy (DME) in close collaboration with the Institute for Ecological Rehabilitation (EKO REHAB), which has been appointed with State Tender Board's approval as DME's consultant and contractor for the execution of the rehabilitation plans, convene meetings with the relevant Provincial Government Departments, local authorities, land owners and local community structures to discuss, inter alia, the following issues relating to the annual budget:

. Funds available for rehabilitation (specific mine dumps).

. Allocation of funds for:

#Survey and planning (EKO REHAB).

#Earthworks (earthmoving sub-contractor).

#Job creation (building of erosion control measures, vegetation, fencing, etc.)

Continuous liaison with local community structures takes place on issues such as minimum wages, protective clothing, working conditions, etc.

Skills transfer involving DME and EKO REHAB

In view of the need to create work opportunities and to alleviate poverty, DME has already gone out of its way to assist local communities with jobs wherever possible. Labourers are employed through the local community structures and, in some cases, in consultation with the local chief. Labourers acquire skills pertaining to the construction of various erosion control measures, the propagation and planting of vegetation and erection of fencing.




A number of pilot projects should be initiated:

- Maintenance of rehabilitation dumps including controlled grazing.

DME has already spent approximately R44,1 million of taxpayer's money on the rehabilitation of derelict and ownerless asbestos mine dumps. The success of the methodology applied in rehabilitating these dumps is based on the principle that the encapsulated dump should not be disturbed by either humans or animals.

The annual rainfall in the areas where the asbestos dumps are rehabilitated, is furthermore very low. Vegetated dumps can consequently not offer any resistance to grazing as compared to the natural flora in the immediate surroundings. It is also a known fact that livestock, especially cattle, prefer walking the same route causing trails which are susceptible to erosion. For this reason, rehabilitated dumps are fenced off and vegetated with inedible flora to prevent grazing and erosion of the surface, thus exposing the asbestos fibres again.

DME, through its Regional offices, together with the Provincial Departments of Health and of Environmental Affairs and Tourism, has already embarked on the education of local communities on the protection and maintenance of these dumps, and feedback in this regard has already shown that the idea of "controlled grazing" would not be an acceptable option as the communities are now more informed of the dangers associated with exposed asbestos fibres and prefer to keep the rehabilitated dumps intact.

DME is considering a requirement for the endorsement of the title deeds of the land involved to the effect that any rehabilitated area must be left undisturbed. It would be the responsibility of future surface owners (in many cases the community) to protect and maintain these rehabilitated areas. For reasons mentioned above, DME does not support a pilot project in this regard.

- Evaluation of different rehabilitation technology/products

It is DME's experience that spray-on techniques currently internationally available are not practically suitable for the encapsulation of asbestos fibres in a residue dump. The reason for this is that it offer no resistance to livestock crossing it. Secondly, exposure to the elements causes the material to become brittle. The DME is of opinion that certain spray-on materials can find practical application in buildings contaminated with asbestos fibres.



Government should set up a national database including locations of asbestos (dumps, industrial locations, transport, etc) and develop a programme to raise public awareness.

DME has, in the above regard compiled a comprehensive database on the location of asbestos mining areas and dumps and the information and programme will be made available to Government Departments or other instances on request. Asbestos pollution occurring at industrial locations and along transport routes (asbestos spilled along railway lines) is not the responsibility of DME.




A standard protocol and guidelines for asbestos rehabilitation in a variety of settings must be developed in consultation with stakeholders.

The existing guidelines on the rehabilitation of mining areas and dumps will be extended to include inter alia, the following and will be made available as soon as possible:

Funding (Polluter should pay wherever possible)

Asbestos Prioritization Database

Responsibility of consultant

Appointment of sub-contractors

Job creation

Rehabilitation methodology applied

Safety and health of labourers employed

Personal protective clothing






A National task group to be set up, supported by Provincial task groups, to raise funds for asbestos rehabilitation and compensation.

Funds are currently available on the budgets of DME and DEAT for the rehabilitation of derelict and/or ownerless asbestos mine dumps. As a first exercise, the National task group should ascertain where there is a critical shortage of funds and identify possible additional sources of funding.


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