Russia, a major exporter of Chrysotile fibre, has appealed to the Sri Lankan Government to reconsider its proposed asbestos ban and work with stakeholders to find a mutually acceptable solution to address health issues, which it believes are overblown.
At the recently held Annual General Meeting of the Sri Lanka-Russia Business Council, Russian Ambassador Alexander A. Karchava appealed to the council to intervene in the Government’s decision to ban the use of Chrysotile fibre in Sri Lanka, stating that such a move could strain relations between the two countries.
Sri Lanka currently imports Chrysotile fibre from Russia, one of the world’s major mining countries, for the production of roofing materials which are used island-wide in construction.
The statements came after Cabinet approved a proposal to control the import and use of asbestos from January 2018 and to completely ban the use of asbestos in Sri Lanka from January 2024.
The Russian Ambassador stated that he had taken up this matter with the President and Prime Minister, who had handed the matter over to the Minister of Law and Public Order Sagala Ratnayake.
The Ambassador added that he had handed over his proposals to soften the country’s stance on this issue without dropping it completely, thus helping both sides come to a mutually acceptable agreement. He even stated that he was willing to bring in a group of experts to Sri Lanka to educate the country on the safe use of Chrysotile fibre.
The same sentiments were echoed by the Fibre Cement Products Manufacturers’ Association (FCPMA), the sole authority representing leading roofing sheet manufacturers in Sri Lanka, which also voiced its concerns at a news conference organised about a month prior to this statement by the Russian Ambassador.
The FCPMA reiterated that Sri Lanka, which does not mine any asbestos fibres, including white asbestos (scientifically known as Chrysotile), is at no risk of developing any type of carcinogenic disease relating to mining activities. Chrysotile fibre, which is the only type of asbestos imported to the country, is brought in sealed packaging and is not exposed to any person during the transportation or production process of the roofing sheets.
Further, the roofing sheets do not pose a risk or health hazard to any consumer due to their stringent conformity with local and global quality standards, they insisted. With the development of technology, the industry has taken measures to ensure the direct workforce of over 4,000 employees complies with all safety standards required in any high density industry.
Chrysotile fibre roofing sheets are distributed across 80% of the island, and provide direct employment to over 4,400 Sri Lankans with another 17,500 dependents. It is currently the only roofing sheet produced in the world which is accredited for its durability and economic value. As proven by many research institutes globally, all alternative products available in the market are expected to be higher in price and likely to decay within less than 30 years of usage, the FCPMA contends.
Roofing sheet manufacturers also stressed that Sri Lanka had not reported any asbestos-related cancer deaths over the past 60 years, and have appealed to President Maithripala Sirisena, the Sri Lankan Government, all relevant Ministries, the Central Environmental Authority, media institutions and the general public to review the facts before implementing a ban.