Research Following Asbestos Summit Recommendations: report-back


12 October 2001
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Meeting Summary

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Meeting report


This Report is a Contact Natural Resource Information Service
Taking Parliament to People, and People to Parliament


The aim of this report is to summarise the main events at the meeting and identify the key role players. This report is not a verbatim transcript of proceedings.

12 October 2001

Mr M. Kalako

Documents handed out:
Asbestos–Related Diseases in South Africa: Opportunities and Challenges Remaining Since the 1998 Parliamentary Asbestos Summit (Dr S. Kisting)

A research group composed of students and faculty from American and South African universities presented a report on the current state of the asbestos challenge in the country. The purpose of the report was to raise the awareness of the necessity of creating better rehabilitation, compensation and, especially, prevention strategies for former mining communities, cities, and other areas affected by asbestos and asbestos-related diseases (ARDs). Mr S. Kotoloane, a community representative from Kuruman, and Mr C. Kadalie, an employee of the City of Cape Town Electric Department suffering from asbestosis, also attended to share their stories. Following the presentation and questions, the Committee agreed to look through the report and make it available to other relevant committees so that they could collectively deliberate on it and hopefully find better solutions.

The Chairperson welcomed the presenters and said that each would be allotted twenty minutes to present without interruption, and the Committee would be given time at the end to raise points of clarity and ask questions. He then introduced Dr S. Kisting from UCT who oversaw the project conducted mainly by student researchers in communities predominantly located in the Northern Cape and Northwest Provinces.

Dr Kisting allowed the two student researchers and the community representative, Mr Kotoloane, to introduce themselves. Ms K. Motseme was a recent graduate of Peninsula Technikon. Mr M. Motsipa, a student at Peninsula Technikon, would begin the power point presentation and discussion of the report.

Presentation on the Report
Mr Motsipa thanked the Committee for the opportunity to present the report and acknowledged those who had assisted the group and the five communities they had been involved with throughout the research. He explained that the group used semi-structured interviews and maps to show the links between these communities and the problems presented by the presence of asbestos. The researchers discussed quality of life with ARDs with community members and were told that many of these people felt condemned and wanted compensation for the entire communities dealing with it. The researchers mainly focused on the issue of communities living with asbestos dumps. Mr Motsipa stated that South Africa had 134 asbestos dump complexes, and total rehabilitation of all dumps could cost over R360 million. 75 dumps were still only partially rehabilitated or not at all. Most of these dumps were located in the Northern Cape and Northwest Provinces.

Mr Motsipa discussed the need for community involvement, and the report called for outreach and education, job creation, and the support and encouragement of community groups in order to achieve this. The word they often received from communities was that they were not informed even when rehabilitation projects were occurring. Concerning job creation within the rehabilitation process, the work was too dangerous until the final stages for communities to be involved, and, even then, the jobs were not permanent, so locals could not depend on them for support.

Another major problem Mr Motsipa brought up was that of secondary pollution. The problems would often be much more dangerous outside the dumps than inside because locals could not avoid asbestos in the air, in their yards, and in their water. The recommendations the report offered on this issue were to increase efforts to fully involve the community in all stages of the rehabilitation process and to evaluate the current dump rehabilitation methodology critically. The strength of health and safety measures was in need of rehabilitation.

Next Mr Motsipa discussed the compensation system. Barriers to compensation included confusion and lack of information, poor access to health services and diagnosis, corruption, difficulties and fees involved in tracking down labour history, and inefficiency in the system. Legal deficiencies also caused a problem. One would only be eligible for compensation if one worked in a mine, so environmental exposure would not be compensated at all, according to current law. Responsibility for ARDs was also fragmented among several departments. Statutes on compensation were often seen as discriminatory as some would be offensive to certain cultural practices. Additionally, compensation would be calculated according to a worker’s wage rather than damages done, thus necessarily furthering racial discrimination. Mr Motsipa claimed that government should create a new legal framework for compensation in order to relieve communities devastated by the legacy of asbestos mining. Specific recommendations included allowing oral evidence for labour history, investigating fraud and corruption, and extending the statute of limitations for filing an appeal. Compensation should be based on severity of medical issues and pain rather than wages, and trust funds should be set up to compensate whole communities, support development efforts, and motivate community organisations.

Ms Motseme then took over the presentation to discuss health service provisions. Barriers to health services included transportation to the nearest facilities, lack of medical equipment, insufficient training of medical providers, cost, and a distrust of government and hospital personnel. Recommendations were disseminating information to locals about the diseases and services and coordinating health systems with compensation. Also, it would be necessary to increase the funds available for providing ARD treatment. Ms Motseme continued with discussion of education and community promotion. The researchers believed that the availability of ARD education programmes needed to be improved in order to increase awareness among those affected about rights to compensation and a healthy environment. Preventative environmental awareness and occupational health and safety awareness programmes also needed to be part of school curriculum.
Ms Motseme also discussed the necessity of amending current asbestos regulations in order to reduce fragmentation in responsibility. Such amendments should include the coverage of more workplaces in compensation, lowering action levels (level of exposure) deemed a risk, and requiring better medical surveillance of workers and former employees. Inadequate enforcement and user non-compliance with health policies was also brought up in reference to the ban of chrysotile.

Dr Kisting then added that the Department of Labour had been working on amending the asbestos regulations for some time. South Africa no longer mined the substance, but grave problems still remained with people living amongst dumps and breathing asbestos everyday. The major question was how to prevent further exposure. She stated that asbestos was the number one cancer-causing agent in the world, and this report was aimed at bringing this serious problem to the attention of the Committee so that something would be done.

The Chairperson asked if Mr Kotoloane had anything to add from the communities’ perspective.

Mr Kotoloane said that it was a pleasure to have the opportunity to represent his community while the research group presented the case to the Committee. He said that his people were concerned about certain issues including why the hospital that served their community, formerly St. Michaels, did not serve anyone of other races. They wondered if others were provided better service and care at a different hospital. Additionally, they could not afford the R25 fee for obtaining a working report necessary for compensation. Mr Kotoloane said that often health files were lost, and compensation for those who had died, even when it was obtained, ended once the children were over the age of eighteen. His community was also upset about the limitations of compensation to include only those working for specific companies. Others affected by asbestos in the environment had no chance at compensation at all. He said that the Committee had to understand that the diseases caused by asbestos were a death sentence just as AIDS was a death sentence, and these were the questions that it was his duty, as a community representative, to bring to the attention of the Committee.

Mr Kadalie then spoke of his experience as a victim of asbestosis. He explained that he had worked in a power station for the city of Cape Town for years, but the City became aware of the dangers of asbestos very late. Many workers had been complaining of chest pains and lung pains when the realisation was made. In 1990, Cape Town began its medical surveillance program that tested employees yearly. Three weeks after his exam in 1997, he was examined by private doctors who discovered he had asbestosis, and this gave him the incentive to become active in the cause. He told the Committee that the slow and difficult nature of the compensation process was demoralising for those who had contracted ARDs. Because he is also a Minister part time, Mr Kadalie also became involved in counseling others in his position. Though he managed to get alternative work placement once, he decided he should work in a less risky environment. However, many of his friends and colleagues, some also ill from asbestos exposure, could not get out of hazardous work environments. Given his own experience of struggling for compensation and living with the disease, Mr Kadalie decided that it was his position to represent those who were voiceless and intimidated by their position and the process.

Mr Kadalie told the Committee about his experience with first obtaining compensation. He said that, after sending in x-rays and applications for compensation to no avail, he finally went to the Medical Bureau of Occupational Disease (MBOD) in Johannesburg to sort it out. A month later, he was given compensation. He told the Committee that, at the offices of the MBOD, files lined the hallways, and this was likely the cause, or at least a contributor, in the delay in granting compensation. His fear was that many people would not be as direct or have the capacity to attack the problem as he did, and these were the people that would continue to suffer if the process was not reworked.

Dr L. Ndelu, Director of the MBOD, responded that the MBOD only dealt with ex-miners, and, in 1998 when Mr Kadalie visited the offices, they were in the middle of computerising all their files, and that was likely the reason that files lined the halls during his visit. Before 1998, she explained, the bureau worked primarily with white miners, but this was in the process of changing. The change was a major contribution to the delay as it immediately produced a major backlog in their work. The MBOD only reviewed medical records, and decisions were made by a committee of doctors. The decision could be appealed, but many applications were refused simply because of poor x-rays, and these would not be reviewed until the x-rays were of good quality. She told the Committee that it did not matter what facility the x-rays came from so long as the practitioner was qualified and they were of decent quality. It was important for people to realise that changing hospitals would not give them better chances for compensation as only the quality of the x-rays were significant. She also reminded them that the Department of Labour was currently looking into bringing compensation for ARDs under one Act as it was currently split between two.

Mr Kadalie argued that there were signs of asbestosis in his lungs for years and nothing was said. He tried to sue for negligence, but no one was allowed to sue an employer while receiving workers compensation according to the Workers Compensation Act.

The Chairperson asked members of the Committee if they had any questions for clarity or discussion.

Mr J. Le Roux (NNP) asked if there was any hope of a cure for ARDs if it was diagnosed early.

The Chairperson asked the presenters to take note of all questions before responding to those they felt fit to answer.

Prof C. Mbadi (UDM) congratulated the students and Dr Kisting. He said that he had asked the student researchers when they approached the Committee originally to look into Zimbabwe’s response to the asbestos problem, and he wondered if they had done so. He wanted to know why South Africa continued to use and ship asbestos from other countries even though we had banned such practice for ourselves.

Mr J. Arendse (ANC) asked about how many people in areas near asbestos dumps and mines had actually been affected and how many had not, since it appeared that nothing in these areas would not be at risk. He asked how long these communities had existed and whether they had not been created as mining towns. If so, had employers moved people there, and was there the option of moving them back to their original locations? To Mr Kadalie, he asked what was being done in the power station to prevent further exposure of the employees who remained there since, even if some could leave the jobs, others would merely replace them and also be at risk.

Dr Cacahlia (ANC) stated that prevention of exposure was key, and he would take it up with the Health Committee since he was a member there as well. He saw it as an obvious deficiency in the health system.

The Chair then told the presenters to proceed with answers and relevant discussion.

Mr Motsipa began by reiterating that most asbestos dumps had not been rehabilitated, but they did not know for certain how many people lived in these areas. Concerning relocation of communities, he said that people in these communities did not want to leave their homes and did not see it as their responsibility since they had a peaceful environment before the disturbing entrance of the mines. They did not know how they would survive if they were taken away from their family ties and histories as well as their employment. In response to the questions about Zimbabwe, he apologised to Prof Mbadi because he had not obtained much information on the subject.

Ms Motseme said that most people did not have knowledge of how dangerous asbestos was. She believed that people might consider relocation as an option if they had full understanding of the situation.

Mr Kotoloane told the Committee that there would not be peace within a community if it had to leave its original place. Though his community as filled with asbestos, leaving it brought worry of who would be responsible for providing them with everything they needed for life elsewhere.

Dr Kisting urged everyone to read the report because much detail was included in it that they were unable to cover in the presentation. She said they had encountered much goodwill among the Departments during their research, but responsibility was still fragmented. Witnessing the communities would make it easier to understand how much more still needed to be done. Concerning the question of early diagnosis, she responded that ARDs did not manifest themselves immediately, and often the link was not properly drawn back to an employer or origination. Early diagnosis could help with lifestyle changes that prevented the worst aspects of the diseases from setting in. However, even compensation could not provide much comfort, and the diseases were still deadly, so the real issue was prevention. Concerning the Zimbabwe issue, it was a matter of economics. The asbestos industry claimed that white asbestos, the asbestos mined in Zimbabwe, was safe, but Dr Kisting claimed that, as a medical person, she could safely say that it caused the same diseases as other kinds of asbestos.

A representative from the Department of Environmental Affairs and Tourism then stated that his Department believed that the Department of Trade and Industry had the expertise in these fields, so they should have the leading role in the process of coming up with answers.

Mr Kadalie mentioned at this point that the power station he worked for was a standby power station for the city of Cape Town, and much of the equipment was outdated and some of it condemned. It was also understaffed. Though some of the asbestos had been removed, it would not be possible to get rid of all of it. For these reasons, and because so many people working there were at risk, he believed the answer for this particular location was to close it down as its existence was unnecessary.

The Chairperson said that the Committee would go through the report and make it available to other committees that should be involved. They would deliberate on the report collectively. Many questions had to do with enforcing current legislation as well as amending and tightening up on the problem in other ways. He said they might need to call on the presenters again in the future. They would also try to involve the affected provinces. He thanked the presenters and the representative from the Department, and the meeting was adjourned.

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