Make India Asbestos Free

Make India Asbestos Free
For Asbestos Free India

Ban-Asbestos-India

Ban Asbestos Network of India (BANI) works for Asbestos Free India since 2002. Occupational Health India and ToxicsWatch Alliance are its members that includes occupational health doctors, researchers and activists. BANI demands criminal liability for companies and medico-legal remedy for victims. It works with trade unions, human rights, environmental and public health groups. For Details:krishna1715@gmail.com, oshindia@yahoo.in, toxicswatchallaince@gmail.com

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

Make India’s capital free of harmful asbestos based products


To

Chairman
National Human Rights Commission (NHRC)
New Delhi

Subject: Make India’s capital free of harmful asbestos based products

Sir,

This is to draw your immediate intervention to make India’s capital free of harmful asbestos based products in view of the statement of Shri Anil Madhav Dave, Union Minister of Environment, Forest & Climate Change Government of India interview with  The  Times  of  India said “Since the use of asbestos is affecting human health, its use should gradually be minimised and eventually end. As far as I know, its use is declining. But it must end…”[1] 
This is in keeping with the 19 page long Vision Statement on Environment and Human Health of your ministry which states ‘4.3.1 Environmental epidemiological studies are required to be carried out near to industrial estates and hazardous waste disposal sites to estimate the extent of health risks including from asbestos. Alternatives to asbestos may be used to the extent possible and use of asbestos may be phased out’.” The relevant URL of Vision Statement on Environment and Human Health is available at www.envfor.nic.in/sites/default/files/visenvhealth.pdf
We submit that our country is consuming 15 % of the total world asbestos production, as per US Geological Survey estimates. As per 2014 data, India used 379,000 tonnes of asbestos, out of which only 270 tonnes were mined in mines whose leases have not yet expired. It has technically banned asbestos mining but it continues to procure it from countries like Russia, Brazil, Kazakhstan and China. The minister’s statement reveals that NHRC is right in its direction which reads: “Replace the asbestos sheets roofing with roofing made up of some other material that would not be harmful to inmates.”[2] NHRC has already decided that asbestos harmful to human health.  It is evident that the NHRC considers asbestos sheets as harmful. It is noteworthy that asbestos fibers used for making asbestos based products like asbestos cement roofs etc is a ticking time bomb for lungs which causes preventable but incurable diseases and deaths.
We submit that Delhi has three factories engaged in handling asbestos namely, Makino Auto Industries (P) Ltd in Shahdara, Brakes International in Udyog Vihar and Minocha Metals (P) Ltd in Patparganj Industrial Area.
We submit that these companies should be asked to switch non-asbestos materials in the light of the fact that some 48 countries have banned white asbestos mineral fibers that causes incurable lung cancer according to World Health Organisation (WHO). This will go a long way in combating fatal diseases caused corporate crimes and in making national capital the first region in the country to adopt zero-tolerance policy towards the killer asbestos fibers.
We submit that so far some 48 countries have banned asbestos as of November 2016. These countries are : Germany, Chile, Argentina, South Africa, France, Australia, Norway, Spain, Belgium, United Kingdom, Israel, Turkey, Mauritius, Denmark, Ireland, Mozambique, Seychelles, Egypt, Netherlands, Slovakia, Italy, Japan, New Zealand, Bahrain and Jordan, Gabon, South Korea, New Caledonia, Slovenia, Austria, Finland, Sweden, Brunei, Oman, Kuwait, Poland, Switzerland, Bulgaria, Gibraltar, Latvia, Portugal, Greece, Estonia, Lithuania, Qatar, Croatia, Honduras, Luxembourg, Romania, Uruguay, Cyprus, Hungary, Malta, Saudi Arabia, Czech Republic, Iceland, Serbia and Algeria.
We submit that National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) passed an order in Case No: 693/30/97-98 recommending that the asbestos sheets roofing be replaced with roofing made up of some other material that would not be harmful.
We submit that Government should be asked to ensure decontamination of asbestos from the old schools and ensure that no asbestos roofs or any asbestos material is used in any school or public or private building in Delhi.
We submit that Delhi’s Govt should be asked to take steps to ensure that only non-asbestos building material and water supply pipes etc are procured. A register of asbestos laden buildings and victims of asbestos related diseases should be created. A compensation fund for the victims of primary and secondary exposure must be established.
We submit that substitutes for asbestos based products are not limited to products that simply replace asbestos with another material (e.g., PVA and cellulose in fiber-cement roofing sheet).  There are also a number of wholly different products that can replace the asbestos products. It is noteworthy that asbestos of all kinds including white chrysotile asbestos is banned in some 50 countries.

We submit that while asbestos mining is technically banned in the country, in a shocking case of inconsistency India continues to import asbestos from asbestos producing countries like Russia, Brazil Kazakhstan and China. Trade in asbestos waste (dust and fiber) is also banned.
We submit that by letter dated 9th July, 1986  from Union Ministry of Steel, Mines & Coal, Government of India with reference no. 7/23/84-AM-III/AM-VI there is a stay on grant of new mining lease for asbestos mineral and renewal of the leases. Reiterating the same in June 1993, central government stopped the renewal of existing mining leases of asbestos. The mining activity was banned by Union Ministry of Mines.
As a result at present no permission is being given for new mining lease of asbestos mineral and no lease is being renewed. At present no lease of asbestos mineral is approved/or in force in the country.

It is strange that while mining of asbestos is banned in the country due to adverse health impact, the same is being imported from Russia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Zimbabwe. It high time government stopped practicing such untenable policies displaying manifest double standards.

In a bizarre act while Government of India has technically banned asbestos mining, it continues to allow import and export of asbestos. "In view of the deleterious effect of asbestos mining on health of the  workers, the government has ordered the State governments in 1986 not to grant any new mining lease for asbestos (including Chrysotile variety) in the country" as per Government of India’s letter. Government must be made make India asbestos free by rectifying the irrationality of banning mining of asbestos but continuing its trade.

We submit that following vibrant struggle in villages of Muzaffarpur and Vaishali in Bihar and Bargarh in Odisha stopped the establishment of asbestos based plants.  There are struggles going in Bhojpur, Bihar against such heavily polluting factories. 

In view of the same, if the Commission can recommend ban on procurement of asbestos based products by government agencies it will send a clear signal that it is sensitive towards the health of present and future citizens of national capital.
We will be happy to share relevant information in this regard.

Gopal Krishna


[1] Will look for alternatives to carcinogenic asbestos: Environment Minister. August 15, 2016. http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/india/Will-look-for-alternatives-to-carcinogenic-asbestos- Mantri/articleshow/53703528.cms
[2] NHRC order in Case No.693/30/97-98

Thursday, November 24, 2016

NHRC disregards its own order against asbestos roofs, gets persuaded by a conflict of interest ridden study


Briefing Statement

NHRC disregards its own order against asbestos roofs, gets persuaded by a conflict of interest ridden study

Ignoring Supreme Court’s directions and medical evidence, following ACPMA’s impleadment, NHRC refrains from banning killer fibers of asbestos

India has banned asbestos mining and trade in asbestos waste but continues to import asbestos from Russia, Brazil, Kazakhstan and China

NHRC reveals “India may not support the inclusion of Chrysotile in Annexure-III at the next COP Meeting” of Rotterdam Convention disregarding domestic law that makes asbestos a hazardous substance

Ignoring gnawing public health hazard and its order about the harmful effect of asbestos, "NHRC has refrained from prohibiting use of killer mineral fibers of white asbestos.  The order in Case No.2951/30/0/2011 filed by ToxicsWatch Alliance (TWA) is available on NHRC’s website.

The Commission appears to have committed a grave error by merely reproducing the submission of one Assistant Industrial Advisor, Ministry of Chemicals & Fertilizers, Department of Chemicals and Petrochemicals as part of its “Directions”.

NHRC has ignored its own order in Case No.693/30/97-98. The order is available on NHRC’s website. In this case NHRC’s direction reads: “Replace the asbestos sheets roofing with roofing made up of some other material that would not be harmful to inmates.”NHRC has already decided that asbestos harmful to human health.  It is evident that the NHRC considers asbestos sheets as harmful.   It is noteworthy that asbestos fibers used for making asbestos based products like asbestos cement roofs etc is a ticking time bomb for lungs which causes preventable but incurable diseases and deaths.

NHRC has ignored its own statement dated June 5th, 2012, NHRC wrote, “The Commission had asked them (the central and state authorities) to share with it the information on the action taken by them with regard to the Supreme Court judgment dated the 21st January, 2011 in Writ Petition (Civil) No. 260 of 2004 on exposure to asbestos.” It further wrote, “The Commission, while seeking their responses, had particularly drawn their attention the Supreme Court directions with regard to Para 16 of the Writ Petition, which are as follows: a) Ministry of Labour in the Union of India and Department of Industries and Labour in all the State Government shall ensure that the directions contained in the judgment of this Court in the case of Consumer Education and Research Centre (supra) are strictly adhered to; b) In terms of the above judgment of this Court as well as reasons stated in this judgment, we hereby direct the Union of India and the States to review safeguards in relation to primary as well as secondary exposure to asbestos keeping in mind the information supplied by the respective States in furtherance to the earlier judgment as well as fresh resolution passed by the ILO.” NHRC’s statement is available at: http://nhrc.nic.in/disparchive.asp?fno=2576

NHRC has ignored the decision of Kerala Human Rights Commission dated January 31, 2009 with the following recommendations: a) The State Government will replace asbestos roofs of all school buildings under its control with country tiles in a phased manner. b) The Government will take steps to see that the schools run under the private management also replace the asbestos roofs with country tiles by fixing a time frame. c) The Government should see that in future no new school is allowed to commence its functions with asbestos roofs.

It is noteworthy that “Asbestos poisoning” was highlighted in a meeting of the Core Group of NGOs that discussed Right to Environment which was held in the Commission on September 12, 2007, under the chairmanship of Justice Shri Y. Bhaskar Rao, Member NHRC.

NHRC has ignored Supreme Court's order dated January 27, 1995 and recommendation of World Health Organisation (WHO)'s outline for the Development of National Programmes for elimination of asbestos related diseases' make a case for stopping all asbestos based products to prevent the imminent public health crisis as a consequence of which more than 55 countries have banned all forms of asbestos. The Hon'ble Court's order is available at https://indiankanoon.org/doc/1657323/. This order has been reiterated in 2011 by the Hon'ble Court. The relevant WHO document is available at: http://www.who.int/occupational_health/publications/asbestosrelateddiseases.pdf

NHRC has ignored, Vision Statement on Environment and Human Health (Para 4.3.1) of Union Ministry of Environment, Forests & Climate Change that reads: “Alternatives to asbestos may be used to the extent possible and use of asbestos may be phased out”. (Reference:http://moef.nic.in/divisions/cpoll/envhealth/visenvhealth.pdf)

NHRC has ignored that so far some 48 countries have banned asbestos as of November 2016. These countries are : Germany, Chile, Argentina, South Africa, France, Australia, Norway, Spain, Belgium, United Kingdom, Israel, Turkey, Mauritius, Denmark, Ireland, Mozambique, Seychelles, Egypt, Netherlands, Slovakia, Italy, Japan, New Zealand, Bahrain and Jordan, Gabon, South Korea, New Caledonia, Slovenia, Austria, Finland, Sweden, Brunei, Oman, Kuwait, Poland, Switzerland, Bulgaria, Gibraltar, Latvia, Portugal, Greece, Estonia, Lithuania, Qatar, Croatia, Honduras, Luxembourg, Romania, Uruguay, Cyprus, Hungary, Malta, Saudi Arabia, Czech Republic, Iceland, Serbia and Algeria.

NHRC has ignored that Dow Chemicals Company has set aside $2.2 billion in compensation fund to address future asbestos-related liabilities arising out of acquisition of Union Carbide Corporation and its Indian investments in 1999. Many manufacturers of asbestos-containing products have gone bankrupt in USA as a result of asbestos litigation.

NHRC has ignored the reply to NHRC dated May 29, 2012, Joint Secretary, Government of Uttarakhand in Case No.2951/30/0/2011, has submitted to the NHRC a document Medline Plus Trusted Health Information for You, U.S. National Library of Medicine and the prescription of National Institutes of Health (NIH) highlighting the Treatment stating: “There is no cure. Stopping exposure to asbestos is essential.”

NHRC has ignored the submission of Secretary, Medical Education & Research, Chandigarh Administration which has categorically informed National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) that “a. White Asbestos (Chrysotile Asbestos) is implicated in so many studies with the following diseases:-Mesothelioma (Cancer of Pleura), Lung Cancer, Peritoneal Cancer, Asbestosis, And also consider as cause of following cancers:- Ovarian Cancer, Laryngeal Cancer, Other Cancer b. Diseases are produced in the person involved in Asbestos Industry.”

It states that “No. of cancer deaths due to asbestos requires further large scale study from India”. It informs, “It is definitely harmful material, causing cancer and other related diseases.”

It quotes from Pulmonary Medicine journal saying, “Asbestos is a set of six naturally occurring silicate minerals exploited commercially for their desirable physical properties. However, it has been proved beyond doubt that Asbestos is hazardous to humans. White asbestos has been found to have causal relationship with various diseases like pulmonary asbestosis, lung cancer and mesothelioma leading to deaths of thousands of people every year.” Considering the risk, its use has been banned more than 50 countries including Japan, European Union and Australia and efforts are being made for its prohibition in many countries.

The reply of Chandigarh Administration concludes saying, “Hence, use of white asbestos should be completely banned in India also and the same may be replaced by some safe alternative material.” Chandigarh Administration has realized the public health consequences of exposure to fibers of asbestos.

In a separate reply to NHRC, Assistant Labour Commissioner, Union Territory, Chandigarh has referred to para 16 of the judgment of Hon’ble Supreme Court dated January 21, 2011 passed in Writ Petition (Civil) No.260 of 2004 wherein directions of January 27, 1995 in the Writ Petition (Civil) No. 206 of 1986 is required to be strictly adhered to.  It further states, “In terms of the above judgement of this Court as well as reasons stated in this judgement, we hereby direct the Union of India and States to review safeguards in relation to primary as well as secondary exposure to asbestos keeping in mind the information supplied by the respective States in furtherance to the earlier judgement as well as fresh resolution passed by the ILO. Upon such review, further directions, consistent with law, shall be issued within a period of six months from the date of passing of this order.”  As to ‘fresh resolution passed by the ILO’, it is noteworthy that “A Resolution concerning asbestos was adopted by the International Labour Conference at its 95th Session in 2006. Noting that all forms of asbestos, including chrysotile, are classified as human carcinogens by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), and expressing its concern that workers continue to face serious risks from asbestos exposure, particularly in asbestos removal, demolition, building maintenance, ship breaking and waste handling activities, it calls for: – the elimination of the future use of asbestos and the identification and proper management of asbestos currently in place as the most effective means to protect workers from asbestos exposure and to prevent future asbestos-related diseases and deaths.”  NHRC has ignored it as well.

 Having ignored such glaring and indisputable scientific, medical and judicial findings, Mr. Justice H.L. Dattu headed Commission has issued the following Direction:

“Pursuant to the directions of the Commission, Dr.Rohit Misra, Assistant Industrial Advisor, Ministry of Chemicals & Fertilizers, Deptt. of Chemicals and Petrochemicals, Govt. of India vide letter dated 4th July, 2016 has informed the Commission that in order to take an appropriate and scientific stand in the International Forum on the issue related to health hazards posed by Chrysotile variety of Asbestos, Department of Chemicals and Petrochemicals had entrusted National Institute of Occupational Health (NIOH) to carry out a study on Health Hazards/Environmental Hazards resulting from the use of Chrysotile variety of Asbestos in the country. Later, with the approval of MoS (Ind. Charge) Chemicals & Fertilizers, it was decided to set up an Inter-Ministerial Committee for considering the issue of continuance or otherwise of the use of Chrysotile variety of asbestos in India, taking into account of NIOH report and other related issues. On 27.8.2014, a meeting was held under the Chairmanship of Minister (Chemicals & Fertilizer) to consider the NIOH report. It was decided in the meeting that the NIOH report does not indicate any significant health/environment hazards resulting from the use of Chrysotile asbestos under proper conditions, coupled with the fact that asbestos products are quite cost effective for use by the masses, India may not support the inclusion of Chrysotile in Annexure-III at the COP Meeting in 2015. In the light of the above report, no further action by the Commission is called for. The case is closed.” The Commission concluded on 8th August, 2016.

It is quite bizarre that views of Secretary, Medical Education & Research & Assistant Labour Commissioner, Chandigarh Administration and Joint Secretary, Uttarakhand Government have been disregarded and NHRC allowed itself to be persuaded by views of Assistant Industrial Advisor, Ministry of Chemicals & Fertilizers. It is the same ministry which is dealing with public health disaster caused due to industrial disaster of Bhopal. This ministry’s callousness towards public health concerns due to hazardous chemicals and pesticides is well known. It does not even have the inventory all the chemicals used in the country and a register of its ill effects on human health and environment.

It is indeed quite strange that NHRC has ignored Union Ministry of Labour’s concept paper that declares, "The Government of India is considering the ban on use of chrysotile asbestos in India to protect the workers and the general population against primary and secondary exposure to Chrysotile form of Asbestos. The Concept paper of the Central Government notes, "Asbestosis is yet another occupational disease of the Lungs which is on an increase under similar circumstances warranting concerted efforts of all stake holders to evolve strategies to curb this menace". (Reference: http://www.labour.nic.in/lc/Background%20note.pdf)

As to NIOH study, while one disagrees with the findings of the conflict of interest ridden study conducted by the National Institute of Occupational Health, (NIOH), it is evident that even this study does not state that chrysotile asbestos is not a hazardous chemical.  Had NIOH study concluded that Chrysotile Asbestos is not a hazardous chemical it may have become relevant. But even then it would have been legally unsustainable because under Indian laws chrysotile asbestos is a hazardous chemical.

NHRC ignored the fact that Union Minister of State for Environment and Forests had informed the Rajya Sabha in a written reply that the study of the health status of the workers and the residents in the vicinity of the asbestos industry by NIOH, Ahmedabad was co-sponsored by the Asbestos Cement Products Manufactures Association (ACPMA). Out of a total of Rs. 59.66 lacs allocated for the study by Ministry of Chemicals and Fertilizers, the Asbestos Cement Products Manufactures Association has contributed Rs. 16 lacs. Reference: http://pib.nic.in/newsite/erelcontent.aspx?relid=36794

NHRC has ignored that fact that every Environment Impact Assessment (EIA) Report of every asbestos based factory itself admits that asbestos is a hazardous substance.  The EIA report is prepared under EIA Notification notified under Environment Protection Act, 1986.  

ToxicsWatch Alliance (TWA), the complainant before the NHRC got a reply based on Department of Chemicals and Petrochemicals (DCPC)’s note dated June 18, 2013 from Union Ministry of Environment & Forests (MoEF) on the issue of Government of Indias position on hazardous substance chrysotile asbestos at the Sixth Conference of Parties of (CoP-6) of the Rotterdam Convention on the Prior Informed Consent Procedure for Certain Hazardous Chemicals and Pesticides in International Trade held during April 28-May 10, 2013 in Switzerland.

As to NIOH’s role, a perusal of the 7 page long note of the Department of Chemicals and Petrochemicals (DCPC), Union Ministry of Chemicals and Fertilizers on the subject of Chrysotile Asbestos titled “Department of Chemicals and Petrochemicals View on the use of Chrysotile Asbestos” in the country along with MoEF ‘s letter reveals that the contention of MoEF based DCPC’s note stating that “On the basis of the said note, the listing of Chrysotile Asbestos under Annex -A of Rotterdam Convention at CoP-6 during April 28th -May 10th 2013 at Geneva could not be supported”  was/is misplaced. The note of the “line department”, i.e. Department of Chemicals and Petrochemicals (DCPC), Union Ministry of Chemicals and Fertilizers on the subject chrysotile asbestos illustrates that it has failed to understand the purpose of the Rotterdam Convention and ignorance about the objective of the Convention.

NHRC has ignored the objective of Article 1 of the Rotterdam Convention which reads: “The objective of this Convention is to promote shared responsibility and cooperative efforts among Parties in the international trade of certain hazardous chemicals in order to protect human health and the environment from potential harm and to contribute to their environmentally sound use, by facilitating information exchange about their characteristics, by providing for a national decision-making process on their import and export and by disseminating these decisions to Parties.”

NHRC has been kept in dark about the  concluding sentence of the DCPC’s note which reads: “In view of the above, India may take a stand in the next CoP meeting of Rotterdam Convention for not inclusion of chrysotile asbestos in Annexure-III of Convention.”

NHRC has ignored the fact that the note is irrelevant from the point of view of the objective of the Convention for which it was prepared.

NHRC has ignored that the NIOH study which has been mentioned was admittedly tainted because of proven conflict of interest and thus its inference was questionable. This was admitted in the Parliament by the Labour Minister and the Environment Minister. The Press Information Bureau (PIB) release with regard to the same is available on its website.

It is submitted that the flawed conclusion of the DCPC’s note titled “Department of Chemicals and Petrochemicals’ View on the use of Chrysotile Asbestos in the country” is based on manifestly flawed reasoning.

NHRC has ignored the fact that at the first meeting, the Chemical Review Committee (CRC) under the Rotterdam Convention on the Prior Informed Consent (PIC) Procedure for Certain Hazardous Chemicals and Pesticides in International Trade, the committee agreed to recommend to the Conference of the Parties that Chrysotile Asbestos should be listed in Annex III of the Rotterdam Convention. The CRC is a group of government designated experts established in line with Article 18 of the Convention that evaluates candidate chemicals for possible inclusion in the Convention. Chrysotile (serpentine forms of asbestos) is included in the PIC procedure as an industrial chemical.

NHRC has failed to appreciate that what is poisonous and hazardous within India cannot be deemed non-poisonous and non-hazardous under the unscientific influence of DCPC and Asbestos Cement Products Manufacturers Association (ACPMA) at the conference of Parties of Rotterdam Convention. DCPC’s untenable position is ridiculous.

NHRC has ignored the fact that the Union Ministry of Finance has announcement that asbestos related diseases will be covered under Rashtriya Swasthya Bima Yojana (National Health Insurance Scheme) is an acknowledgement of the fact that asbestos is a health hazard although this is hardly sufficient in the absence of environmental and occupational infrastructure.

NHRC has not been able to get the report of the 13 member- Advisory Committee of Union Ministry of Labour which has been set up to implement Supreme Court’s order. This Advisory Committee is supposed to incorporate the ILO resolution of 2006 in the matter of asbestos as per Supreme Court’s order of 1995 and 2011 under the Chairmanship of Joint Secretary, Union Ministry of Labour but as of November 20, 2016, the Advisory Committee has not submitted its report despite the fact that more than 4 years have passed since it was entrusted the task on January 23, 2012. The ministry is supposed to incorporate specific directions of the Court with regard to fresh ILO Resolution of June 14, 2006 introducing a ban on all mining, manufacture, recycling and use of all forms of asbestos besides WHO‟s resolution of 2005 seeking elimination of future use of asbestos.

NHRC has ignored the approval and the recommendations of the Chemical Review Committee under Rotterdam Convention that has endorsed listing of chrysotile asbestos in the PIC list of hazardous substances.

NHRC has ignored the fact that Government of India’s Environmental Impact Assessment, Guidance Manual for Asbestos Based Industries. The Manual refers to WHO’s “Environmental Health Criteria 203; Chrysotile Asbestos (http://www.who.int/en/)” but fails to incorporate the criteria. Although requirements underlined in the Manual has neither been complied with in the past nor are they being adhered to at the present and it is quite unlikely that it will be done in future, NHRC has failed to apply it mind to such grave situation.

NHRC ignores that the official Inventory of Hazardous Chemicals Import in India lists “Asbestos” at serial no. 26 as one of the 180 hazardous chemicals in international trade which is imported in India. This inventory has been prepared by Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB), under Union Ministry of Environment & Forests, Govt. of India.”

NHRC ignores that Schedule I of Hazardous Wastes (Management, Handling and Transboundary Movement) Rules, 2008 under the Environment (Protection) Act, 1986 provides the List of Processes Generating Hazardous Wastes. The list has 36 processes generating hazardous wastes. It may be noted that Production of Asbestos or Asbestos containing materials which generates Asbestos-containing residues, Discarded Asbestos, Dust/particulates from exhaust gas treatment is at the serial no. 15 in the list.

NHRC has ignored that Schedule VI of Hazardous Wastes (Management, Handling and Transboundary Movement) Rules, 2008 under the Environment (Protection) Act, 1986 that provides List of Hazardous Wastes Prohibited for Import and Export. The list had 30 such hazardous wastes which are also covered under UN‟s Basel Convention on Transboundary Movement of Hazardous Wastes and Their Disposal. The list mentions Waste Asbestos (Dust and Fibers) at serial no. 16 with its Basel No. A2050.

NHRC has ignored that even under Factories Act, 1948, the List of 29 industries involving hazardous processes is given under Section 2 (cb), Schedule First, asbestos is mentioned at serial no. 24. The Act defines "hazardous process" as “any process or activity in relation to an industry specified in the First Schedule where, unless special care is taken, raw materials used therein or the intermediate or finished products, bye-products, wastes or effluents thereof would--(i) cause material impairment to the health of the persons engaged in or connected therewith, or (ii) result in the pollution of the general environment”. This leaves no doubt that asbestos is a hazardous substance. The Act is available at:

http://labour.nic.in/upload/uploadfiles/files/ActsandRules/Service_and_Employment/The%20Factories%20Act,%201948.pdf

NHRC has ignored the findings of Supreme Court constituted High Powered Committee (HPC) headed by Prof. MGK. Menon (by order dated October 13, 1997) for examination of all matters relating to hazardous wastes. The HPC had dealt with issues of asbestos based industries and their wastes. Based on it the Court has passed the landmark order of October 14, 2003 seeking prior decontamination of ships in the country of export before it is allowed in Indian waters. In compliance of this order which established Basel Convention as part of right to life, the end-of-life ships need to be decontaminated of asbestos and asbestos wastes before they are allowed entry in Indian waters.

NHRC has ignored the findings of Supreme Court constituted Technical Experts Committee on Hazardous Wastes relating to Ship-breaking in 2006-7 that had asked National Institute of Occupational Health, (NIOH) to undertake an epidemiological study was planned to find out the magnitude of asbestos related health problems and other disorders among ship breaking workers. The study observed that 15 (16 %) of 94 workers occupationally exposed to asbestos showed linear shadows on chest X-rays, and 26 workers (39%) showed restrictive impairment. But despite Supreme Court’s order dated January 27, 1995 fixing Rs 1 lakh for victims of asbestos related diseases these workers have  not been compensated.

NHRC has ignored the fact that the United Nations Committee of Experts on the Transportation of Dangerous Goods classifies Chrysotile Asbestos in Hazard Class and Packing Group, UN number 2590, Class 9 – Miscellaneous dangerous goods and articles. Its International Maritime Dangerous Goods (IMDG) Code is UN No: 2590: Class or division 9.

NHRC has ignored the fact that on June 22, 2011 Indian delegation led by Ms. Mira Mehrishi, Additional Secretary, had supported the listing of Chrysotile asbestos as a hazardous chemical substance at the fifth meeting on Rotterdam Convention amidst standing ovation.

NHRC ignored the Working Group of a Planning Commission on Occupational Safety and Health for the Xth Five Year Plan at the workplace in its 159 page report dated September 2001, the Working Group which noted that “The workers are also exposed to a host of hazardous substances, which have a potential to cause serious occupational diseases such as asbestosis…” It has recorded that various studies conducted by the Central Labour Institute have revealed substantial prevalence of occupational health disorders amongst the workers such as Asbestosis. The prevalence rate for Asbestosis was reported to be 7.25%.”

In its report dated August 01, 2011, NHRC provided details of its interventions including Banning use of white asbestos (Case No.2951/30/0/2011), wherein it claimed “The Commission took cognizance of a complaint that about fifty thousand people die every year in the country from asbestos-related cancer. The complainant requested the Commission's intervention to ban chrysotile asbestos (white asbestos), which is used on walls and roofs claiming that it caused various incurable diseases, and that the Government illogically had technically banned the mining of asbestos but allowed its import from countries which do not let it be used domestically.  The Commission issued notices to the Secretaries of the Union Ministries of Chemical & Fertilizers, Environment & Forest, Health & Family Welfare, Industry & Commerce, and Labour and to the Chief Secretaries of all States and Union Territories, calling for reports on the issues raised in the complaint.”

NHRC issued a Press Release dated 6th July, 2011 wherein it observed, “Citing contradictory position of the Government on the issue the complainant Gopal Krishna of Toxics Watch Alliance has alleged that though the mining of Asbestos has been technically banned by the government, but it allows its import and that too from the countries which do not prefer its domestic use.” NHRC release reads: “It is also alleged that white Asbestos is considered a hazardous chemical substance for environment by a number of countries in the world. However, it is being used in a number of industries in India affecting the workers employed their in. The complainant has also requested for grant of a compensation package for present and future victims of Asbestos diseases.” NHRC has failed to appreciate that Russia, the world’s biggest asbestos producer remains India’s biggest supplier of raw asbestos given the fact that India has banned asbestos mining because of its deleterious impact on health. India remains the world’s biggest asbestos importer. India is consuming 15 % of the total world asbestos production, as per US Geological Survey estimates.

It is germane to recall that Asbestos Cement Products Manufacturers Association (ACPMA) had filed a case against TWA and NHRC in Delhi High Court through W.P. (C) 2682/2012 and C.M. No. 5765/2012 “seeking impleadment before the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) is not being actioned while the NHRC is seeking to proceed with its enquiry in respect of allegations which would in fact affects the petitioner and its members.” Following ACPMA’s impleadment, this case was disposed off on 14th May, 2013 after 11 hearings in the High Court.  Justice Rajiv Shakdher May 14, 2013 two page order reads: "The Registrar, NHRC is present in court.After a detailed hearing, counsels for the parties submit that the controversy in this case can be cut short with the petitioner making a request for inspection. It is further agreed that, in case the petitioner requires copies of specific material filed before the Commission, the same would be supplied unless it is already available in public domain. It is ordered accordingly. In so far as the application for impleadment is concerned, I am informed by the learned counsel for the Commission and the learned Registrar that the petitioner has already been given a right to appear before the Commission so as to enable the petitioner to present its case. This is reflected in the Commission’s order dated 15.10.2012. It is, in fact, the grievance of the counsel for respondent no. 1 that the petitioner has not made a representation; though it is contended by Mr Virmani, that the same was not done because the relevant material was not made available to the petitioner. In view of the aforesaid statements of parties, time for making a representation is extended by another six weeks. I am also informed by the counsel for the Commission that the next date of hearing in the matter is fixed on 15.07.2013. Needless to say, as indicated above in terms of the Commission’s order dated 15.10.2012, the petitioner will have the liberty to appear and present its case before the Commission. The writ petition is not pressed any further by the learned counsel for the petitioner. The writ petition is, accordingly, disposed of with the aforesaid statements of the parties on record.” Mr Rajeev K. Virmani was the Senior Advocate who appeared on behalf of ACPMA which claims to be a non-profit organization.

Prior to this ACPMA had filed an RTI application with NHRC seeking copy of the complaint made before NHRC by TWA. TWA had objected to its disclosure prior to Commission’s verdict but CIC arrived at a decision saying ACPMA “has the right to have a copy of the complaint made by Shri Gopal Krishna of Toxics Watch Alliance against the appellant’s Association more so in view of the fact that they have been directed to appear before the Commission on 31.12.2012 to present their case” although this was contrary to decision of the NHRC adopted in the meeting pertaining to Administrative Business held on 15.12.2009 held:  “that copies of reports on specific complaints submitted by the investigation team of the Commission or by Commission’s authorized representatives or received from the Government or other authorities may be supplied under the RTI only after final order is passed in the case”.

In February 2016, Justice Dattu began serving as the chairperson of the NHRC. Prior to him Justice K G Balakrishnan and Justice Cyriac Joseph headed the Commission that looked in to the issue of banning use of White Asbestos. It appears that concerned institutions got intimidated by the influence of asbestos industry through its non profit NGO, ACPMA. The “Direction” of NHRC is a setback to public health amidst epidemic of asbestos related diseases.


For Details: Gopal Krishna, Ban Asbestos Network of India (BANI)/ToxicsWatch Alliance (TWA), Mb: 09818089660, 08227816731, Email: 1715krishna@gmail.com, Web: http://www.asbestosfreeindia.org, www.toxicswatch.org

Monday, September 26, 2016

Preventable asbestos related diseases and deaths must be prevented, regulators and manufacturers held criminally liable


Preventable asbestos related diseases and deaths must be prevented, regulators and manufacturers held criminally liable 

National Labour Institute journal publishes paper seeks “elimination of use of all kinds of asbestos as per the recommendations of the Court, ILO and WHO”

“If preventable diseases and deaths are not prevented, the regulators and manufacturers of asbestos based products must face criminal liability”, said Dr Gopal Krishna, Editor, ToxicsWatch and convener, Ban Asbestos Network of India (BANI) while delivering a speech at the 3rd International Conference on Occupational and Environmental Health (ICOEH 2016) in at National Institute of Health & Family Welfare (NIHFW), Ministry of Health & Family Welfare, Govt. of India, New Delhi. Drawing lessons from the ongoing industrial disaster of Bhopal caused by Union Carbide Corporation, he argued that the public health disaster being caused by asbestos based industries shows that no lessons have been learnt from the industrial disaster which happened 32 years ago and which continues to be an ongoing disaster. Like hazardous chemicals, asbestos is a threat to life throughout its life cycle. 

He was speaking at the Scientific Session III “Elimination of Asbestos Related Diseases in India” which was chaired by Dr. U Datta, Dean, NIHFW.

The abstract of Krishna’s paper titled “Status of enviro-occupational  health of workers in hazardous industries: An inquiry into asbestos industry” has been published in the Souvenir of the ICOEH.

“This paper examines the hazards which workers face in the in the asbestos based industries. The paper examines the implications of routine admission by the industry that asbestos fibers which are used in their plants as a raw material is hazardous in nature and the “industry will give information to the workers on hazards associated with asbestos" given the fact that asbestos factory's "Construction site has a potential hazardous environment." The paper will evaluate the regulatory mechanisms in place to deal with the deleterious effect of exposure to asbestos fibers and the role of the asbestos products manufacturers. The paper reviews the submission to National Human Rights Commission by Maharashtra government and inconsistencies that get revealed from the documents of state’s Directorate of Industrial Safety & Health (DISH) in the matter of death and diseases of workers who worked in asbestos based factories and on plots of ship breakers.”

“It examines the studies conducted by National Institute of Occupational Health, Ahmedabad on health hazards resulting from asbestos industry and shipbreaking industry.”

“The paper examines the status of asbestos factories in Bhojpur, Bihar. The occupational health status of 78 workers currently working in the asbestos based factrory in Bihiya, Bhojpur is dealt with reference to the death of a worker in the factory. The paper documents the reaction of the government and the company to the death of the worker in question. It reviews the role of State Government, Patna High Court, Bihar State Assembly, Bihar Human Rights Commission, Bihar State Pollution Control Board, Central Pollution Control Board and National Human Rights Commission in the matter of asbestos based factories in the state. The paper reviews the decision of the Government of India to stop “grant any new mining lease for asbestos (including Chrysotile variety) in the country" keeping in mind the ‘deleterious effect of asbestos mining on health of the workers’. It examines its rationale of promoting trade, manufacturing and use of asbestos fibers in India.” 

“The paper draws on lessons from the industrial disaster of 1984. This disaster demonstrated that what happens to workers happens to communities and environment. The life cycle assessment of hazardous industries and products has unequivocally established the adverse health impact on workers and consumers. Workers and the communities in the vicinity are a community of fate.  The link between occupational exposures and non-exposures isn’t quite distant. The paper underlines how lack of documentation and lack of occupational health infrastructure does not mean lack of victims of asbestos related diseases.”

“It infers that there is a need for adopting measures consistent with global scientific and medical findings to safeguard workers from asbestos related incurable diseases caused due to occupational exposures and non-occupational exposures of their families. It builds a case for intervention aimed at saving workers’ health and life from dirty, degrading and dangerous working and living conditions.”  The abstract of the paper is available at page no, 74 of the Souvenir published by ICOEH. ICOEH was co-organised by Department of Community Medicine, Vardhaman Mahavir Mdical College & Safdarjung Hospital, New Delhi, National Institute of Health and Family Welfare (NIHFW), New Delhi in partnership with Occupational Health and Safety Management Consultancy Services (OHS-MC) and in collaboration with Indian Public Health Association, St. Stephen's Hospital, Delhi, Hamdard Institute of Medical Sciences & Research (HIMSR), New Delhi, Indian Association of Preventive and Social Medicine, Community Medicine Department, PDU Govt. Medical College, Rajkot Gujarat, Indian Association for Adolescent Health, Dept of Community Medicine, Maulana Azad Medical College, New Delhi, Advanced Research Publications, Ghaziabad, Uttar Pradesh and Center for Inquiry, Washington, DC, USA.         

The Souvenir was released by Dr. Jagdish Prasad, Director General of Health Services, Government of India along with Dr Barry Kistnasamy, Occupational Health/Compensation Commissioner, South Africa, Dr. Jugal Kishore Chairman, Scientific Committee, ICOEH, Prof Dr J K Das and Dr Ashish Mittal.    

Speaking at the conference, it was argued that there is a logical compulsion for Union of India to support inclusion of white chrysotile asbestos in the UN list of hazardous chemicals under UN’s Rotterdam Convention.

In a related development, an academic paper “Status of occupational health of workers in hazardous industries: An inquiry into asbestos and ship breaking industry”published in Labour & Development journal by V. V. Giri National Labour Institute, the Ministry of Labour & Employment, Government India concludes. “Given incontrovertible evidence, the government ought to consider recommendations to take preventive steps by ensure elimination of use of all kinds of asbestos as per the recommendations of the Court, ILO and WHO.  The continued use of white chrysotile asbestos is a legacy of the Soviet era. There are established substitutes of these killer fibers of asbestos which need to be adopted to prevent incurable diseases but preventable deaths. In view of the ongoing environmental exposures, emergence of the epidemic of asbestos related diseases and diseases due to exposure to other hazardous substances there is an immediate need to create a register of these workers and their health records as per Court's decision and to undertake an audit of the current status of the victims of asbestos related diseases from the government hospital records in the country and make it mandatory for medical colleges to provide training for doctors. This is required so that they can diagnose diseases caused by occupational, non-occupational and environmental exposures to killer fibers and substances.”    

This paper “reveals that the relationship between the employer and the employee in asbestos industry is deeply exploitative. The latter suffers the fate of dehumanization. They have become the most vulnerable workforce in the world. Their condition is admittedly worse than the workforce in the worst industrial sector-the mining industry. This dehumanization linked to the externalization of human cost by global and national companies. The workers of the hazardous industries constitute part of the community of fate to which all wretched of the earth belong with no remedy from occupational health crisis in sight.”

Drawing on Central Government’s Draft National Health Policy, 2015 which mentions “industrial and occupational safety” as part of multiple determinants of health, it concludes that “So far “existing knowledge” has failed to inspire institutional action to safeguard the health of even the most vulnerable working class. It is apparent that there has been a policy bias against them since inception. If this policy can facilitate preventive structural measures with regard to preventable but incurable diseases “that are more prevalent in certain occupational groups” it can pave the way for occupational health justice for the workers. 

For Details: Gopal Krishna, BANI/ToxicsWatch Alliance (TWA), Mb: 09818089660, 08227816731, Email: 1715krishna@gmail.com, Web: http://www.asbestosfreeindia.org, www.toxicswatch.org




Tuesday, April 5, 2016

Bihar Government yet to submit comments in Asbestos case to NHRC

In spite of reminders, the Chief Secretary, Government of Bihar has not furnished his comments on the comments of the Toxics Watch Alliance dated 1.3.2015. Hence, the Chief Secretary, Govt. of Bihar may be reminded to furnish his comments as sought for by the National Human Rights Commission within four weeks. 

This is the status of the asbestos in the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) as of April 6, 2016. 

NHRC Vide proceedings dated 22.12.2014, notice was issued to the Secretary, Ministry of Labour, Government of India requiring him to report whether any steps had been taken pursuant to the proposal to ban the use of Chrysotile Asbestos in India to protect the workers and the general population against primary and secondary exposure of Chrysotile form of Asbestos.


 Though the notice dated 29.1.2015 was sent to the Secretary, Ministry of Labour, Government of India for submitting report by 20.3.2015, no report has been received so far. Hence, a reminder may be issued to the Secretary, Ministry of Labour, Govt. of India to submit a report in the matter within four weeks. Vide proceedings dated 22.12.2014, the Government of Bihar was directed to file a report within six weeks regarding the question whether the directions contained in the judgment of the Supreme Court in W.P. (C ) No.206 of 1986 are being followed by the manufacturers of asbestos in the State of Bihar including M/s Ramco Industries Ltd., District Bhojpur. However, no response has been received from the Government of Bihar despite the communication dated 29.1.2015 sent by the Commission. Hence, the Secretary, Labour Department, Government of Bihar may be reminded to submit the required report within four weeks, failing which the Commission will be constrained to take action u/s 13 of the Protection of Human Rights Act, 1993.


Pursuant to the proceedings dated 20.3.2015, a copy of the comments of the Toxics Watch Alliance dated 1.3.2015 was sent to the Chief Secretary, Government of Bihar for his comments within a period of eight weeks. But the Chief Secretary, Govt. of Bihar has not furnished his comments so far. Hence, the Chief Secretary, Government of Bihar may be directed to submit within four weeks his comments in respect of the comments dated 1.3.2015 of Toxics Watch Alliance, which had been sent to him by the Commission. The report received from the Tata Memorial Centre, Mumbai regarding the hazardous effect of asbestos was considered by the Commission on 30.3.2015 and it was directed to give a copy of the report to the representatives of the Asbestos Cement Products Manufacturers' Association seeking their comments.


Accordingly, the report was forwarded to Ms. Rashmi Virmani, Advocate vide Commission letter dated 1.5.2015. Ms. Rashmi Virmani, Advocate has submitted the comments of the Association through communication dated 29.6.2015. As Asbestos Cement Products Manufacturers' Association has requested to ignore the report submitted by the Tata Memorial Centre, Mumbai for the reasons stated in their comments. The comments of the Association may be forwarded to the Tata Memorial Centre (TMC), Mumbai requesting for their response to the criticism made by the Asbestos Cement Products Manufacturers' Association.


The Director, Tata Memorial Centre, Mumbai may be requested to sent a response within four weeks. From a report submitted by the State of Tamil Nadu pursuant to the notice issued by the Commission, it is seen that the Ministry of Labour & Employment, Govt. of India had constituted an Advisory Committee on asbestos and the first meeting of the Committee was held on 19.4.2012. It is also seen that the Directorate General, Factory Advice Service & Labour Institutes (DGFASLI) has modified the existing Schedule on Asbestos in line with ILO Convention No.162 on the direction s of the Hon'ble Supreme Court of India. It is also seen that the revised model rules were yet to be approved by the Ministry of Labour & Employment, Govt. of India. In the above circumstances, the Secretary, Ministry of Labour & Employment, Govt. of India is requested to inform the Commission within four weeks whether the revised model rules have been approved by the Government of India. 


Earlier, NHRC took cognizance of a complaint alleging that about fifty thousand people die every year in the country due to Asbestos related cancer. The complainant has sought Commission's intervention for a ban on the use of Chrysotile Asbestos (White Asbestos), which is hazardous for the health of people and causes various incurable diseases. The white Asbestos is a fibrous material used for building roofs and walls and various in other forms.


Citing contradictory position of the Government on the issue the complainant Toxics Watch Alliance has alleged that though the mining of Asbestos has been technically banned by the government, but it allows its import and that too from the countries which do not prefer its domestic use.

It is also alleged that white Asbestos is considered a hazardous chemical substance for environment by a number of countries in the world. However, it is being used in a number of industries in India affecting the workers employed their in.

The complainant has also requested for grant of a compensation package for present and future victims of Asbestos diseases.


The Commission had issued notices to the Secretaries of Ministries of Chemical Fertilizers, Environment and Forest, Health and Family Welfare, Industry and Commerce, Labour and Chief Secretaries of all the States/Union Territories calling for status reports within four weeks on the issues raised in the complaint. Almost all these agencies have filed their replies in the Commission. The case is at its penultimate stage.  


The Chief Administrative Officer, TMC, Mumbai has also not submitted his response on the communication dated 29.6.2015 submitted by Ms. Rashmi Virmani, Advocate which contained the objections of the Asbestos Cement Products Manufacturers' Assocition. The Chief Administrative Officer, TMC, Mumbai may be reminded to submit the required response within four weeks.

For Details: Gopal Krishna, Ban Asbestos Network of India-ToxicsWatch Alliance (TWA), Mb: 08227816731, 09818089660, E-mail-1715krishna@gmail.comWeb: www.asbestosfreeindia.orgwww.toxicswatch.org



Friday, May 15, 2015

Govt must Make India Asbestos Free by rectifying irrationality of banning mining of asbestos but continuing its trade

Inclusion of White Chrysotile Asbestos in the UN List of hazardous substances postponed, to be considered again at Rotterdam Convention’s COP 8

Govt must Make India Asbestos Free by rectifying irrationality of banning mining of asbestos but continuing its trade

INDIA’S INVENTORY OF HAZARDOUS CHEMICALS IMPORT INCLUDES “ASBESTOS”, LIST OF BANNED HAZARDOUS WASTES INCLUDES WASTE ASBESTOS (DUST AND FIBERS)

Documents on hazardous substances like White Chrysotile Asbestos and incurable diseases must be made available in Indian languages

May 15, 2015: Following opposition by Russia, Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan and Zimbabwe to the listing of White Chrysotile Asbestos in the UN list of hazardous substances, UN Rotterdam Convention’s Seventh Conference of Parties (COP7) agreed to postpone the issue of its inclusion for consideration by COP8. Unlike these countries, Inventory of Hazardous Chemicals Import in India prepared by Union Ministry of Environment & Forests, Government of India lists 'Asbestos' at serial no. 26 as one of the 180 hazardous chemicals imported in India.

In a bizarre act while Government of India has technically banned asbestos mining, it continues to allow import and export of asbestos. "In view of the deleterious effect of asbestos mining on health of the workers, the government has ordered the State governments in 1986 not to grant any new mining lease for asbestos (including Chrysotile variety) in the country" as per Government of India’s letter with reference no. 7/23/84-AM-III/AM-VI dated 09.07.1986, Government must make India asbestos free by rectifying the irrationality of banning mining of asbestos but continuing its trade.

Incidentally, United Nations Committee of Experts on the Transportation of Dangerous Goods classifies Chrysotile Asbestos in Hazard Class and Packing Group, UN number 2590, Class 9 – Miscellaneous dangerous goods and articles. Its International Maritime Dangerous Goods (IMDG) Code is UN No: 2590: Class or division 9.
Notably, all the forms of asbestos including Actinolite asbestos, Anthophyllite, Amosite asbestos, Crocidolite and Tremolite are already in the PIC list except White Chrysotile Asbestos. While there is a genral prohibition on production, importation, commercialization and use of Asbestos fibres Amphiboles forms (Crocidolites, Amosite, Actinolite, Tremolite, Anthophyllite) and products formulated on its basis but India gives "Consent to import only subject to specified conditions" for Anthophyllite. Ban Asbestos Network of India (BANI) has been struggling to ensure its inclusion of all kinds of asbestos in the Convention’s hazardous substances list.

The inclusion of Chrysotile Asbestos in Annex III to the Rotterdam Convention on the Prior Informed Consent (PIC) Procedure for Certain Hazardous Chemicals and Pesticides in International Trade was on the agenda of its CoP 7. It was part of matters related to the implementation of the Convention through consideration of chemicals for inclusion in Annex III to the Convention through UN document no. UNEP/FAO/RC/COP.7/11. The chemicals in the PIC list are clearly divided into two groups: industrial chemicals and pesticides. Parties make import responses for each chemical and the responses are published in the PIC Circular. The criteria for listing a chemical in Annex III are contained in Annex II of the Convention.

In accordance with articles 5 and 7 of the Convention, the Chemical Review Committee (CRC) at its second meeting recommended the listing of chrysotile asbestos in Annex III to the Convention, approved the text of a draft decision guidance document on chrysotile asbestos (UNEP/FAO/RC/COP.7/11/Add.1, annex) and decided to forward the recommendation and the draft decision guidance document to the Conference of the Parties for consideration.

At its third meeting, the Conference of the Parties deliberated on the inclusion of chrysotile asbestos in Annex III to the Convention and, by paragraph 2 of decision RC-3/3, decided that the requirements set out in article 5, including the criteria set out in Annex II to the Convention as referenced in paragraph 6 of article 5 of the Convention, the requirements set out in paragraph 1 of article 7 of the Convention and the requirements set out in the first sentence of paragraph 2 of Article 7 of the Convention on the process for listing in Annex III to the Convention, had been met. The Conference of the Parties, however, did not reach consensus on whether to list chrysotile asbestos and, by paragraph 1 of decision RC-3/3, decided to further consider the amendment of Annex III to the Rotterdam Convention to include chrysotile asbestos at its fourth meeting.

At its fourth and fifth meetings, the Conference of the Parties deliberated on the inclusion of chrysotile asbestos in Annex III to the Rotterdam Convention, but was not able to reach consensus. At the fifth meeting of the Conference of the Parties, the contact group on candidate chemicals prepared a draft decision on follow-up action by the Chemical Review Committee on the listing of chrysotile asbestos. As the chemical was not listed, the Conference of the Parties agreed to annex the draft decision to the report of the Conference on the work of its fifth meeting for possible consideration at a future meeting (UNEP/FAO/RC/COP.5/26, annex IV).

Following discussions at its sixth meeting, the Conference of the Parties decided, given the lack of consensus, to include further consideration of the listing of chrysotile asbestos in Annex III to the Convention on the agenda of its seventh meeting (UNEP/FAO/RC/COP.6/20, para.79).

At CoP 7, the proposed action included parties to satisfy themselves that all the requirements for listing in Annex III have been met after considering the recommendation of the CRC to make chrysotile asbestos subject to the prior informed consent procedure and accordingly to list the chemical in Annex III to the Convention. Following which they were supposed to decide to amend Annex III to the Convention to list Chrysotile Asbestos, the industrial chemical. It was also supposed to decide that this amendment to enter into force for all parties on 15th September 2015 after approving the draft decision guidance document on chrysotile asbestos. But the proceedings did not proceed as proposed.  

On 14th May, 2015, COP7 considered the inclusion of chrysotile asbestos in Annex III of the Convention (UNEP/FAO/RC/COP.7/11) but owing to opposition from interested parties like the Russia, Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan and Zimbabwe, the issue of listing of chrysotile asbestos has been deferred yet again for consideration by CoP8.

The obligations of the Convention on responsible trade fall on those exporting countries that are Parties to the Convention. The Convention requires countries to strengthen their own chemicals management infrastructures and enforcement mechanisms. The Convention includes final regulatory actions (bans or severe restrictions) where the action was taken for the purposes of human health OR environmental reasons but mere listing does not lead to ban. The inclusion of chemicals in Annex III is not an invitation for Parties to ban their use. The purpose of the prior informed consent procedure is to allow countries to make their own informed decisions on future imports of the chemical depending on their own needs, circumstances and uses of the chemical. However, if a Party decides not to allow any future import of a PIC chemical, then they must also ensure that any domestic manufacture and use of the chemical is banned. Imports of the chemical from non-Parties to the Convention should also not be allowed.

As at 31 October 2014, there were 154 parties to the Convention. During the reporting period (June 2013 to December 2014), four States- Afghanistan, Cambodia, Sao Tome and Principe and Indonesia acceded to or ratified the Convention.

The substances listed in the Annex III include Alachlor, Aldicarb, Aldrin, Azinphos-methyl, Binapacryl, Captafol, Chlordane, Chlordimeform, Chlorobenzilate, DDT, Dieldrin, Dinitro-ortho-cresol (DNOC) and its salts (such as ammonium salt, potassium salt and sodium salt),  Dinoseb and its salts and esters, EDB (1,2-dibromoethane), Endosulfan, Ethylene dichloride, Ethylene oxide, Fluoroacetamide, HCH (mixed isomers), Heptachlor, Hexachlorobenzene, Lindane (gamma-HCH), Mercury compounds, including inorganic mercury compounds, alkyl mercury compounds and alkyloxyalkyl and aryl mercury compounds, Monocrotophos, Parathion, Pentachlorophenol and its salts and esters, Toxaphene (Camphechlor), Tributyl tin compounds, Dustable powder formulations containing a combination of benomyl at or above 7%, carbofuran at or above 10% and thiram at or above 15%, Methamidophos (Soluble liquid formulations of the substance that exceed 600 g active ingredient/l), Methyl-parathion (Emulsifiable concentrates (EC) at or above 19.5% active ingredient and dusts at or above 1.5% active ingredient), Phosphamidon (Soluble liquid formulations of the substance that exceed 1000 g active ingredient/l), Actinolite asbestos, Anthophyllite, Amosite asbestos, Crocidolite, Tremolite, Commercial octabromodiphenyl ether (including Hexabromodiphenyl ether and Heptabromodiphenyl ether), Commercial pentabromodiphenyl ether (including tetrabromodiphenyl ether and pentabromodiphenyl ether), Perfluorooctane sulfonic acid, perfluorooctane sulfonates, perfluorooctane sulfonamides and perfluorooctane sulfonyls, Polybrominated Biphenyls (PBBs), Polychlorinated Biphenyls (PCBs), Polychlorinated Terphenyls (PCTs), Tetraethyl lead, Tetramethyl lead and Tris (2,3 dibromopropyl) phosphate.

The seventh meeting of the Conference of the Parties to the Rotterdam Convention (RC COP-7) was held from 4th to 15th May, 2015 simultaneously with the twelfth meeting of the Conference of the Parties to the Basel Convention (BC COP-12) and the seventh meeting of the Conference of the Parties to the Stockholm Convention (SC COP-7). The meetings included joint sessions among two or three of the conferences of the parties on joint issues. The theme for the meetings of the conferences of the parties to the Basel, Rotterdam and Stockholm conventions was ‘From science to action, working for a safer tomorrow’.

In many countries, there are general provisions that do not allow the use or importation of any chemical that is not registered or approved. India should adopt such provisions and consider applying them to white chrysotile asbestos.  

As usual the working language for the UN conference was Arabic, Chinese, English, French, Russian and Spanish. BANI demands that documents related to hazardous substances, whose exposure entails matters of life and death must be made available in Indian languages as well for greater public awareness, participation and action.

Ban Asbestos Network of India (BANI) is a collective of researchers and social workers working for environmental and occupational health justice in general and for elimination of asbestos of all kinds from trade and use. It is struggling for just compensation for victims of primary and secondary exposure, decontamination of asbestos laden buildings and products and advocating adoption of non-hazardous alternatives to killer fibers of asbestos. It isn’t structurally associated with the transnational alliances working for asbestos free world. It is involved in struggling for a safe working and living conditions for workers in the asbestos based industries, ship breaking industry, construction industry, defence industry and other businesses. BANI’s work is independent public interest research and advocacy work with grass root organizations for safeguarding health of present and future generations.

BANI demands strict implementation of occupational health surveillance scheme through pre employment health examination and periodic health examination in industries where is possibility of exposure to airborne asbestos. Such scheme for health surveillance must include exposure data at each pertinent work place, periodical examination of workers, X-ray examination for radiological changes, lung function test for restrictive disorder and clinical examination for early detection of signs of asbestosis. These tests must be recorded for pre-employment, periodic surveillance and at cessation of employment. Occupational health surveillance must be carried out by occupational physician or chest physician trained in occupational medicine. The occupational health surveillance program must be drawn for all the employees potentially exposed to asbestos dust and it is to be provided free of cost.

BANI demands maintenance and storage of medical records for period of 15 years following the termination of employment or for 40 years after first day of employment, whichever is later by employers, government agencies and workers organizations. The medical records must be maintained covering the details of pre-employment examination, the periodical medical examinations, medical examination done at other times, if any and the medical examinations conducted at cessation of employment and further follow-up examinations, where done.

BANI demands that individual employees’ occupational exposure profile to asbestos, specific work practices, and preventive measures including plan for management of asbestos related diseases prescribed must be recorded.

BANI will continue to work for the inclusion of white chrysotile asbestos in the UN list. Its efforts have led to inclusion of asbestos in the Inventory of Hazardous Chemicals Import in India and inclusion of Waste Asbestos (Dust and Fibers) in the list of Hazardous Wastes Prohibited for Import and Export under Schedule VI of Hazardous Wastes (Management, Handling and Transboundary Movement) Rules, 2008 under the Environment (Protection) Act, 1986. Its efforts led to the finding that 16 % workers in the shipbreaking industry occupationally exposed to asbestos.

Notably, “Buying asbestos is buying akin to buying cancer. I will get asbestos removed from my residence. The ache of asbestos hazards is worse than the ache of unemployment” said Awadesh Narain Singh, Chairman, Bihar Legislative Council, in a speech available on www.youtube.com
The Report of Working Group on Occupational Safety and Health, Xth Five Year Plan, Planning Commission observed that the workers are also exposed to a host of hazardous substances, which have a potential to cause serious occupational diseases such as asbestosis. It revealed substantial prevalence of occupational health disorders amongst the workers such as Asbestosis. The prevalence rate for Asbestosis was reported to be 7.25%.
The Vision Statement of Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change recommends phase out of chrysotile asbestos saying, "Alternatives to asbestos may be used to the extent possible and use of asbestos may be phased out."

The Concept Paper of Union Ministry of Labour presented at Fifth India-EU Seminar states, “The Government of India is considering the ban the mining and use of chrysotile asbestos in India to protect the workers and the general population against primary and secondary exposure to Chrysotile form of Asbestos.”

Under Indian Factories Act, 1948, the List of 29 industries involving hazardous processes is given under Section 2 (cb), Schedule First, asbestos is mentioned at serial no. 24. The Act defines "hazardous process" as "any process or activity in relation to an industry specified in the First Schedule where, unless special care is taken, raw materials used therein or the intermediate or finished products, bye-products, wastes or effluents thereof would--(i) cause material impairment to the health of the persons engaged in or connected therewith, or (ii) result in the pollution of the general environment". This leaves no doubt that asbestos is a hazardous substance.

Irrespective of the outcome of the CoP 7 given the fact that domestic laws are intact, it is high time Prime Minister intervened to ensure that Union Ministry of Chemicals and Fertilizers and Union Ministry of Commerce and Industry are not overwhelmed by Asbestos Cement Products Manufacturers Association, a so-called not for profit organization, involved in persuading government representatives to give priority to the profit of the indefensible asbestos industry and to undermine public health concerns of present and future generations.


For Details: Gopal Krishna, Ban Asbestos Network of India (BANI)-ToxicsWatch Alliance (TWA), Mb: 08227816731, 09818089660, E-mail-1715krishna@gmail.com, Blog:banasbestosindia.blogspot.in Web: www.toxicswatch.org

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