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India imports hazardous asbestos from China, Brazil amidst 'declining' Russian supply

Orenburg Minerals, Russian giant specialising in asbestos mining
By Laurie Kazan-Allen 
The release in August 2023 of updated asbestos trade data provided food for thought. While much seems to have changed since I first began studying the industry over 30 years ago – including the dwindling number of countries producing and consuming asbestos – the fact that 1,330,000 tonnes (t) are still being used every year, despite all that is known about the asbestos hazard, is appalling.
In my analysis of the latest data, I zeroed in on the figures from India, the world’s largest asbestos importer and consumer. According to the information collected by the United States Geological Survey (USGS), in 2021 and 2022 India used 408,000t and 424,000t; data from the Indian government show that in the same years, 436,119t and 403,292t were imported.
What is of particular interest when you compare the USGS information with that from the Indian government is the sharp decline in asbestos imports from Russia between 2021 (228,078t) and 2022 (96,306t), a fall of almost 58%. Of course, there may have been errors in the data collection or some other explanation but it is also possible that Western sanctions imposed over Russia’s invasion of Ukraine – which began on February 24, 2022 – might have impeded the transport of asbestos shipments from Russia.
Researchers on this subject unearthed an article from August 2023, which revealed that Orenburg Minerals, Russia’s biggest asbestos producer, lost “almost a billion rubles in 2022”:
“The company had never encountered such a situation before. Even during the crisis of 2008, Orenburg Minerals JSC was able to achieve an insignificant, but still positive, profit. Most likely, the unprofitability of the enterprise is associated with sanctions imposed by foreign countries against Russia.”
One billion rubles was worth US$17,200,000 on September 27, 2022 and US$10,335,932 on September 27, 2023.
Perhaps to compensate for the shortage of Russian asbestos, imports from Brazil and China, both asbestos-producing countries, increased in 2022; it is also noteworthy that in 2022 42,525t and 49,923t of asbestos were imported by India from (respectively) Georgia and Turkey, neither of which is a producing country.
According to data from the Indian government in 2021 asbestos imports from Brazil and China were 150,848t and 67t, respectively; the figures for 2022 were 175,995t and 783t.
These shipments might have originated in Russia and been sent via those countries to evade the sanctions. At this point, it’s not possible to be sure one way or the other.
A colleague in India reported that, according to Indian government statistics, before September 2022 there had been no asbestos imports to India from Turkey, Georgia or Lithuania. Imports in 2022 from these countries were: 49,923t, 42,525t and 2,719t, respectively.
Other points of interest in the new USGS data included:
  • five countries accounted for 85% of all asbestos consumed worldwide: India, China, Russia, Uzbekistan and Indonesia;
  • global production increased in 2022 from 1.28 million tonnes in 2021 to 1.33 million tonnes, with Russia still the biggest producer;
  • consumption in Russia jumped by nearly 60% from 2021 to 2022 – it is not known whether this asbestos was actually used or warehoused due to difficulties with export shipments as a result of Western sanctions over Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
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