"Brazil is ready to promote the substitution of asbestos for synthetic fibers"
Atualizado: 12/11/2009 - 16:10 hs
João Carlos Duarte Paes
Brazil's national association of fiber cement producers Abifibro has been working to promote the use of synthetic fibers made of polypropylene, polyvinyl alcohol and polyacrylonitrile instead of asbestos in fiber cement manufacturing processes.
While several countries have banned the use of asbestos for health reasons, Brazil lacks proper legislation on mineral production and handling.
BNamericas spoke to Abifibro's president, João Carlos Duarte Paes, to learn about the issues surrounding the use of asbestos and the potential for the use of synthetic fibers in fiber cement production.
BNamericas: Can you tell us a little about Abifibro?
Paes: The association's purpose is to promote the use of fiber cement in Brazil, as well as the use of proper raw materials in the production process. The inputs must be safe for people, from production and transport to final consumption. Therefore, we promote the use of fiber cement without asbestos.
BNamericas: What is Brazil's regulation on the use of asbestos today?
Paes: Currently, there are state regulations in place in São Paulo, Pernambuco, Rio Grande do Sul and Rio de Janeiro. However, only São Paulo's law, which has been valid since 2007, is being adhered to. In the other three states there are temporary injunctions in force allowing the use of asbestos in civil construction.
Brazil's supreme court ruled against a similar injunction in São Paulo and we expect the same to happen in the other states, for which decisions are still pending.
São Paulo's law prohibits the production, transport and handling of asbestos. However, a bill has been proposed by a São Paulo state legislator to allow the use of asbestos in certain cases, but we know the intention is to perpetuate the use of asbestos in the country, thus Abifibro is opposed to the bill.
BNamericas: What are the main problems related to asbestos?
Paes: The use of asbestos has been prohibited in several countries because of the harm to human health. Mesothelioma, for example, is a type of cancer that has no known cure and is caused exclusively by the inhalation of asbestos. The number of cases of mesothelioma has increased significantly since the 1970s in Brazil, but we estimate that the actual number is about 10 times higher than reported.
BNamericas: What materials can safely substitute asbestos in the manufacture of fiber cement?
Paes: Brazil has developed pioneering technologies, supported by the ministry of health, to replace asbestos. Synthetic fibers that are in accordance with government recommendations are polypropylene [PP] and polyvinyl alcohol [PVA].
There is another material, which can be equally used as a fiber cement composite, called PAN fiber, or polyacrylonitrile fiber. This material performs in the same way as PP and PVA and its use is being evaluated by the ministry as well.
BNamericas: Is demand for synthetic fibers used in fiber cement production supplied domestically? And would the replacement of asbestos help boost local demand for PP, PVA and PAN fibers?
Paes: The domestic industry would definitely be able to supply local demand for the PP and PAN synthetic fibers used in fiber cement. PVA, on the other hand, is only produced in Japan and China, but manufacturers in China have stated they are able to fully supply the Brazilian market.
BNamericas: Is it more expensive to use synthetic fibers than asbestos in fiber cement?
Paes: Yes, it increases the final product price by 10-12%, but it is still competitive as Brazil has a large production capacity, especially in PP. However, what needs to be considered in this case is the health of workers and users of fiber cement.
BNamericas: Do you think the use of those fibers is going to increase progressively in Brazil?
Paes: Yes, the outlook is good for the use of synthetic fibers in fiber cement. There are 52 countries that have prohibited the use of asbestos. In South America, there ban is in place in Argentina, Chile and Uruguay, for example.
As Brazil's supreme court ruled in favor of the prohibition in São Paulo, it is expected that the same will happen for the other states.
In addition, Brazil's fiber cement industry is ready to use synthetic fibers in their production processes and there are plenty of raw materials. Even with the PVA, which is not made locally and, therefore, could further increase the product prices, there is still the option to use the PP produced here. Brazil has all the necessary conditions and is ready to promote the substitution of asbestos for synthetic fibers immediately.
BNamericas: Are there any proposals to create a national law banning the use of asbestos?
Paes: There was in the past. There were four ministries, which were health, labor, environment and social security, in favor of the prohibition, while the ministries of mines and energy and industry and development were against. As there was no consensus, the proposal was discontinued. What exists today are committees working on proposals to ban asbestos on a nationwide scale.
By Fernanda de Biagio