Make India Asbestos Free

Make India Asbestos Free
For Asbestos Free India

Ban-Asbestos-India

Journal of Ban Asbestos Network of India (BANI). Asbestos Free India campaign of BANI is inspired by trade union movement and right to health campaign. BANI has been working since 2000. It works with peoples movements, doctors, researchers and activists besides trade unions, human rights, environmental, consumer and public health groups. BANI demands criminal liability for companies and medico-legal remedy for victims. For Details: krishnagreen@gmail.com

Tuesday, June 9, 2020

Letter to Chief Minister, West Bengal seeking stoppage of carcinogenic asbestos cement roofs for shelter amidst Amphan, Covid-19 pandemic


To

Hon'ble Chief Minister
Government of West Bengal
Kolkata

June 4, 2020

Subject- Request for stoppage of use of carcinogenic asbestos cement roofs for shelter amidst Amphan and Covid-19 pandemic 

Madam,

With reference to the disturbing news about doubling of prices of hazardous asbestos cement roofs for rebuilding houses, we wish to draw your attention towards the fact that as per World Health Organisation (WHO),all kinds of  asbestos are a health hazard. It is banned in some 70 countries, Unmindful of this, it continues to be manufactured and used amidst Amphan and  Covid-19 pandemic. The report states “Each 8×3 asbestos sheet cost Rs 530 earlier but is selling for Rs 650". The use asbestos sheets is an invitation to incurable deadly diseases because “All types of asbestos cause lung cancer, mesothelioma, cancer of the larynx and ovary, and asbestosis (fibrosis of the lungs). Exposure to asbestos occurs through inhalation of fibres in air in the working environment, ambient air in the vicinity of point sources such as factories handling asbestos, or indoor air in housing and buildings containing friable (crumbly) asbestos materials.”

(Reference: WHO, https://www.who.int/ipcs/assessment/public_health/asbestos/en/,

Covid, cyclone, lockdown: All lines blur in Sundarbans, Indian Express, Kakdwip, Namkhana, West Bengal, May 31, 2020, https://indianexpress.com/article/india/cyclone-amphan-sunderbans-west-bengal-6435093/).

In this regard WHO's Outline for the Development of National Programmes for Elimination of Asbestos Related Diseases merits your attention because it makes a case for stopping all asbestos based products to prevent the imminent public health crisis. It states "Exposure to asbestos causes a range of diseases, such as lung cancer, mesothelioma, and asbestosis (fibrosis of the lungs), as well as pleural plaques, thickening and effusions. There is also evidence that it causes laryngeal and possibly some other cancers.." (Reference: https://www.who.int/occupational_health/publications/elim_asbestos_doc_en.pdf?ua=1) The Vision Statement on Environment and Human Health (Para 4.3.1) of Union Ministry of Environment, Forests & Climate Change is also relevant. It reads: “Alternatives to asbestos may be used to the extent possible and use of asbestos may be phased out”.

(Reference: http://moef.gov.in/wp-content/uploads/2017/08/visenvhealth.pdf)

We submit that there are fibre substitutes that have been evaluated by WHO are listed in the Summary Consensus Report of WHO Workshop on Mechanisms of Fibre Carcinogenesis and Assessment of Chrysotile Asbestos Substitutes.

(Reference: http://www.who.int/ipcs/publications/new_issues/summary_report.pdf)

In Ashis Mitra - Versus - The State of West Bengal & Others Calcutta High Court, 2017 Order in Writ Petition (Civil). No. 14729 (W) of 2016, Hon’ble Calcutta High Court has recorded that “there is sufficient study material indicating that asbestos sheets used for roofing could cause cancer” and “various documents, issued by the World Health Organization (WHO), and other materials obtained from the Internet, that the exposure to asbestos including chrysotile causes lung cancer, mesothelioma and asbestosis.” It was contended by the petitioner that “the High Court should not continue to use these materials for roofing, especially after legislation in different parts of the world has been enacted on recognizing the potential health risk of asbestos to the citizens at large. Even in India several Acts recognized the fact that asbestos is a health-hazard.” The order dated  July 21, 2017 is attached.

Hon’ble Calcutta High Court’s order on carcinogenic-asbestos that has been used for roofing in the Hon’ble Court’s main building, this is to draw your kind attention towards a serious unprecedented environmental and occupational health crisis with regard to the unnoticed epidemic of asbestos related diseases in West Bengal in particular and in our country in general.

We submit that in Writ Petition (Civil). No. 14729 (W) of 2016, the Division Bench of Acting Chief Justice Nishita Mhatre and Justice Tapabrata Chakraborty has passed the verdict observing, “The High Court main building is undergoing repairs with the assistance of the Public Works Department (PWD) of the Government of West Bengal and other Authorities. When the entire renovation is undertaken, it is expected that the High Court and the PWD or, any other body entrusted with the renovation will ensure that the asbestos-sheets, which have been used for roofing, would be replaced by any other materials which are non-carcinogenic.”

We submit that prior to this when you were the Hon’ble Union Railway Minister the ministry had ordered removal of asbestos roofs from all railway buildings. It is noteworthy that the ministry has invited offers for “Procurement of Non-Asbestos “K” Type Composition Brake Blocks”. The offer has been issued by Director, Railway Stores (W) or and on behalf of Hon’ble President of India.

In a related development, in January 2020, the Kerala State Commission for Protection of Child Rights has said that no building, including madrasas, religious schools, and tutorials, in which children study should have an asbestos roof. In case any such building has an asbestos roof, the Local Self-government Department should not issue licence or building number to them, and should initiate action against them under the Kerala Panchayat Raj Act and the Kerala Municipalities Act. The commission order said asbestos was not conductive to the children’s health or comfortable environment in which they could study.It should not be used for school buildings and should be replaced urgently. (Reference: No asbestos roof for places where children study: panel, The Hindu, Thiruvanathapuram, January 04, 2020 https://www.thehindu.com/news/cities/Thiruvananthapuram/no-asbestos-roof-for-places-where-children-study-panel/article30473820.ece)

It is germane to take note of the recommendations of Kerala Human Rights Commission dated January 31, 2009. It made 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.

We wish to draw your attention towards the recommendations of National Human Rights Commission in Case No: 693/30/97-98. Case No.693/30/97-98). The Commission recommended steps to "Replace the asbestos sheets roofing with roofing made up of some other material that would not be harmful to inmates."

We submit that in a reply dated July 5, 2012 Deputy Secretary, Labour Department, Government of West Bengal has enclosed the reply dated May 30, 2012 of R C Dutta, Director/Chief Inspector of Factories, Government of West Bengal wherein he status of asbestos factories its adverse impact in the State has been submitted.  In the submission it is reported that there are 4 units in the district of Paschim Medinipur (1) UAL Bengal (Prop. Utakal Asbestos) Village. Tungadhowa, Guptamani-Kultikiri Road (2) Ramco Industries Ltd., Village. Dewanmaro Ayma, P.O. Hariatara, (3) Neelachal Natural Resources Pvt Ltd., P.O. Manickpara and (4) Visaka Industries Vill., Chang sole, P.O. Saiyadpur. It reveals that “Six persons of UAL Bengal (Prop. Utakal Asbestos) having some respiratory ailments, diagnosed as suffering from Pulmonary Koch’s were treated and subsequently fit to join work in the non-dust area.” He discloses that in the Everest Industries Ltd., 1, Taratala Road, P.O. Garden Reach in the District of Kolkata “One person having some abnormality in X-Ray Chest, diagnosed as fibrotic lung disease (?) were made unfit and alternate placement facilities were provided.”  It has reported in the submission that the operation of Unit Sarbamangala Industries, 34 B, B.T. Road, Kolkata-700002 is closed for last two years. Its management has been asked to maintain the health records of the workers. It is reported that Mahendra Tubes Ltd. NH-31, Birpara Gairkata Road, Vill. P.O. Sakuajhara, Dist. Jalpaiguri is in irregular operation and the workers are not fixed and permanent. Its management has been asked to maintain the health records of the workers. With reference to J.D Jones Ltd. Howrah, it has been reported that at present it is having no process/work involved in asbestos handing. Its management has been asked to maintain the health records of the workers. The reply submits that “No case of compensation has been reported in the above units though alternate facility has been recommended for few workers in some units on medical ground”. We submit that this reply appears to constitute a blatant case of adoption of Ostrich policy the State Government in 2012. It is refusing to admit to emergence of asbestos related diseases in these factory units of the State.

We submit that the government agencies like Directorate General, Factory Advice Service and Labour Institutes (DGFASLI) took note of Prevalence of Asbestosis and Related Disorders in a Asbestos Fiber Processing Unit in West Bengal as early as in 1996. Reference: Prevalence of Asbestosis and Related Disorders in a Asbestos Fiber Processing Unit in West Bengal, http://www.dgfasli.nic.in/newsletter/jan_march_96.pdf

We submit that it has been estimated that one person dies from mesothelioma for every 170 tons of asbestos consumed. WHO estimates we have107,000 deaths worldwide per year from occupational exposure to asbestos.If non occupational exposure is added it reaches a figure of about 120,000deaths. Average world consumption/year 30-60 years ago was -- looks like3/2 of what it is now (2 million metric tons/year). Give India its share of that based on its share of global consumption. At 300,000 tons in 2013, that's about 18,000 deaths (15% of 120,000).  Asbestos diseases have a very long incubation period. So if you are exposed today to an asbestos fibre, you are likely to get the disease in next 10-35 years. Asbestos is like a time bomb to the lungs and Indians will suffer the most. If it is banned today that does not mean people will not suffer. Because of past usage people will continue to suffer from these diseases.

We submit that there is hardly any building in West Bengal which is asbestos free. It is high time efforts are initiated to decontaminate asbestos laden public and private buildings.

We submit that taking lessons from the industrial disaster of Bhopal, asbestos industry in Bengal should be made to pay heed to the way asbestos companies have gone bankrupt in the Western countries. They should be persuaded to join hands and create a compensation fund for victims. Dow Chemicals Company which refuses to own the liability for Bhopal disaster caused by Union Carbide Corporation (UCC) in India has owned the UCC’s asbestos related liabilities and announced a compensation fund of 2.2 billion dollars for the victims. In Europe, tycoons and ministers are facing criminal charges and imprisonment for their act of knowing subjecting unsuspecting people to killer fibers of asbestos. The future is no different for Indian culprits.

We submit that while India has technically banned mining of asbestos due deleterious impact on health, it is quite ironical that Union Government allows import of white chrysotile asbestos from countries like Russia, Brazil, Zimbabwe, Kazakhstan and others. Government should not allow itself to be misled by asbestos producers like Russia in this regard now that Canada has rightly stopped mining of white chrysotile asbestos almost like India due its “deleterious” impact on health. Meanwhile, on 24 August, 2017, Constitutional Supreme Court of Brazil decided that the use of all kinds of asbestos is unconstitutional. The President of the Brazilian Supreme Court observed, “In concern of the environment, if any doubts, it must be prohibited so that the rights for us today and tomorrow won’t be lost for the ones that come after us”. It is significant because Brazil is one of the key suppliers of asbestos besides Russia, Kazakhstan and China.

We also wish to draw your attention towards the verdict of five judges of Japan’s Supreme Court of February 17, 2015 that has upheld a ruling that found asbestos used at a plant of Kubota Corporation caused fatal mesothelioma in a man who lived near the plant and ordered the company to pay ¥31.9 million in damages to his relatives. The petitioners were relatives of Kojiro Yamauchi, who died at age 80 after working for two decades about 200 meters from the Kubota plant in Amagasaki, Hyogo Prefecture. His relatives and those of Ayako Yasui, who died at age 85 having lived about 1 km from the plant, sought damages from both Kubota and the government. In October, 2014 the Supreme Court ruled that the government was responsible for failing to protect workers from exposure at asbestos factories in Sennan, Osaka Prefecture. (Reference:http://www.japantimes.co.jp/news/2015/02/19/national/crime-legal/top-court-upholds-kubotas-liability-in-asbestos-death-case/#.VO3inSw8RkQ) It is noteworthy that unlike India, Russia, Kazakhstan and China, Japan has banned asbestos of all kinds of asbestos including white chrysotile asbestos. Nepal has become the first country in South Asia which has banned asbestos. Sri Lanka too had banned it but because of blackmail by Russia, it had to rescind its ban. It is relevant to recall that Indian Navy officials had rightly objected to presence of asbestos in Russian aircraft carrier Admiral Gorshkov which was inducted into the Indian Navy as INS Vikramaditya after asbestos decontamination.

During Emergency, the ruling party and its acolytes had proposed to put opposition leaders in jails which had asbestos roofs. It is recorded in the report of Judicial Inquiry Commission headed by Justice J. C. Shah. We submit that Union of India’s Budget 2011-12 had made reference to asbestos related diseases by including it under the Rashtriya Swasthya Bima Yojana to cover ‘unorganized sector workers in hazardous mining and associated industries like asbestos etc”.

We submit that the industry must be persuaded to phase out in two phases in West Bengal. In the first phase the goal must be to eliminate use of chrysotile asbestos and record the number of exposed workers and consumers in the country. In the second phase, the goal must be to create incentives for the use of safer materials, ensure, create a registry of asbestos laden buildings and victims of asbestos-related diseases and ensure decontamination of the former and compensation for the latter. There is an immediate need to conduct 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 so that they can diagnose diseases caused by occupational, non-occupational and environmental exposures to killer fibers and substances.

We submit that some typical asbestos-based materials include sound insulation infill, thermal insulation lagging, tape, rope, felts, blankets, mattresses, asbestos boards, gaskets and washers, drive belts/ conveyor belts, roofing sheets and slates, drain and flue pipes, rainwater goods, fascia boards, bath panels, ceiling tiles, toilet seats, cisterns, bitumen damp proof course, lining to walls, lab bench tops, extraction hoods and fume cupboards, brakes and clutches, cooling tower elements and others.

In such a context, we appeal to you to take note of:

·         Hon’ble Calcutta High Court’s order;

·        Resolutions of WHO and ILO (2005 and 2006 seeking elimination of future use of asbestos including chrysotile asbestos worldwide;

·      Need to announce the compensation package for present and future victims of asbestos diseases as it has done in the case of Silicosis and make the asbestos companies criminally liable for knowingly exposing citizens and consumers of asbestos products;

·       The fact that every international health agency of repute including the World Health Organization, the International Labor Organization, International Agency for Research on Cancer, Occupational Safety and Health Administration, National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, and the American Cancer Society agree there is no safe level of asbestos exposure. Most recently, the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) reconfirmed that all commercial asbestos fibers - including chrysotile, the most commercially used form of asbestos - cause lung cancer and mesothelioma. In addition, IARC newly confirmed that there is sufficient evidence that asbestos causes ovarian cancer and reconfirmed asbestos causes laryngeal cancer;

·         The WHO estimates that asbestos already claims 107,000 lives a year. Even that conservative estimate means every five minutes around the clock a person dies of asbestos related disease. The ongoing use of the asbestos fibre kills at least 300 people every day;
·         World Bank's Asbestos Good Practice Guidelines. These Guidelines, as well as its earlier Environmental, Health & Safety General Guidelines, require that the use of asbestos must be avoided in new construction in projects funded by the World Bank around the world. The Guidelines also provide information on available safer alternatives to asbestos;
·         Human biology is same everywhere if the asbestos is deemed hazardous in the developed countries; it must be deemed so in West Bengal too;

In view of the incontrovertible adverse health effects asbestos based plants and products should be phased out to protect the lives of present and future generations.

We take this opportunity to draw your immediate attention towards the fact that asbestos related diseases are also incurable despite this environmental clearances are still being given by the central environment ministry but health being a state subject, your government can act to safeguard the life of present and future generations by stopping it. All the groups working on human rights, labour rights, health rights and environmental justice will appreciate if you can intervene urgently in the matter of chrysotile asbestos as Kerala government acted in the case of Endosufan. Health is a state subject. In such a backdrop, government must stop manufacturing, procurement and use of all forms of asbestos including white asbestos.

In view of the above, we request you ensure that use of asbestos-cement roofs and other asbestos based products are prohibited to prevent preventable diseases and deaths.  It is your solemn duty to protect the residents of West Bengal from the exposure of fibers of chrysotile asbestos.

We will be happy to share reference documents and more information in this regard.

Thanking You

Yours faithfully
Gopal Krishna
ToxicsWatch Alliance (TWA)
Occupational Health India (OHI)
E-mail:krishnaruhani@gmail.com
Web:www.toxicswatch.org



Tuesday, May 26, 2020

Doublespeak & Double Standards of Johnson & Johnson endangers life of Indians



To

Chairman
National Human Rights Commission
Manav Adhikar Bhawan
Block-C, GPO Complex, INA,
New Delhi – 110023

Date: May 26, 2020

Subject- Doublespeak and Double Standards of Johnson & Johnson causeo f ongoing exposure of Indians to hazardous asbestos mineral fibers
contaminated Talcum Powder

Sir,

This is to draw your immediate attention towards the announcement
dated May 19, 2020 by Johnson & Johnson, a multinational company
headquartered in New Brunswick, New Jersey, USA stating that it will
discontinue sale of its Talcum Powder products in North America. This
announcement is aimed at safeguarding the health and human rights ofr esidents and citizens of North America but not the residents andc itizens of India. Such doublespeak and double standard in matters ofp ublic health in general and children’s health in particular merits urgent intervention of the Commission. (Reference: Statement of
Johnson & Johnson, May 19, 2020,
https://www.jnj.com/our-company/johnson-johnson-consumer-health-announces-discontinuation-of-talc-based-johnsons-baby-powder-in-u-s-and-canada)

We wish to point out that “the Company will wind down the
commercialization of talc-based Johnson’s Baby Powder in the U.S. anda Canada in the coming months. Existing inventory will continue to be
sold through retailers until it runs out.” The news report titled
Johnson & Johnson to End Talc-Based Baby Powder Sales in North America
published in The New York Times merits attention as well. (Reference:
Tiffany Hsu and Roni Caryn Rabin, May 19, 2020,
https://www.nytimes.com/2020/05/19/business/johnson-baby-powder-sales-stopped.html).

We submit that Word Health Organisation (WHO)’s International Agency for Cancer Research (IARC) has recognized presence of asbestos int alcum powder. IARC Monograph on the Evaluation of Carcinogenic Risks to Humans on Carbon Black, Titanium Dioxide, and Talc (2010) refers to the presence of asbestos in talcum powder. It also refers to "Use of talc for feminine hygiene". The use of body powder for feminine
hygiene can be estimated from the prevalence reported for controls in
case–control studies that investigated the association between the use
of cosmetic talc for feminine hygiene and the risk for ovarian cancer.
It refers to exposure to respirable dust during the use of talcum
powders on the face, body and babies. Talc is used as a surface
lubricant on the majority of condoms manufactured; contact with
condoms may also represent a direct means of exposure of the female
genital tract to talc. Exposure to talc can also occur during surgical
procedures when using powdered gloves. Talc particles were observed in the navels of small children, in the testes, on the vocal cords, in
the urinary bladder tract and after removal of varicous veins. Besides
this the Food Chemical Codex (2003) provides specifications for
food-grade talc, including the statement that “talc derived from
deposits that are known to contain associated asbestos is not food
grade.” Under the voluntary guidelines initiated in 1976, the
Cosmetic, Toiletry, and Fragrances Association stated that all
cosmetic talc should contain at least 90% platy talc (hydrated
magnesium silicate) that is free from detectable amounts of fibrous,
asbestos minerals. Meanwhile, some 67 countries have banned all kinds
of asbestos. World Health Organisation (WHO)’s recommendations have
established the infectious nature of Covid-19, the same WHO has
underlined that “All types of asbestos cause lung cancer,
mesothelioma, cancer of the larynx and ovary, and asbestosis (fibrosis
of the lungs).” (Reference:
https://www.who.int/ipcs/assessment/public_health/asbestos/en/ and
https://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/asbestos-elimination-of-asbestos-related-diseases)

We submit that the Commission. must recommend the enviro-occupational
health audit of the workers who handle asbestos laden talcum powder in the manufacturing facilities of talcum powder products in general
besides the health audit of the communities who are in the vicinity of such factories and recommend adequate compensation for those who are exposed to the carcinogenic mineral fibers and are suffering from
asbestos related diseases. This will be also relevant for assessing
the harm which the unsuspecting consumers continue to face. These
consumers include all judges, legislators, officials, their children
and grandchildren and the residents of India.

Earlier, an investigative report titled “Johnson & Johnson knew for
decades that asbestos lurked in its Baby Powder” was published on
December, 14, 2018 which too is relevant for protecting the human
rights of Indians. The investigation was conducted by Reuters, a 167
year old international news agency headquartered in London. This
investigative report is consistent with the findings of a study by
India’s Industrial Toxicology Research Centre (IITR), Lucknow, a
constituent laboratory of Council of Scientific & Industrial Research
(CSIR), Ministry of Science and Technology, Government of India on
“Exposure risk to contaminants in pharmaceutical and cosmetic powders” has found that “There are different types of cosmetic powders such asb ody powder, baby powder, face powder, eye shadow and powdered blush as well as pharmaceutical powders available in the market. Both thes exes of all age groups are using these powders. These are talc -based. Talc is a mineral product and often contaminated with asbestos
fibres.”

The aim of the IITR study “was to investigate the safety of such
powders being sold in the market, initially by analyzing the asbestos
content. Five branded samples of talcum powder were analysed and all
were found contaminated with asbestos fibres. Asbestos fibre
contamination in these powders ranged from 10.3 – 15.4%. Fibre length study on two samples revealed that asbestos fibres were 22.8 – 34.7%,4 8.2 – 55.1% and 17.1 – 22.1% in the range of <10 10="" 20="" and="" m="">20 ┬Ám, respectively. The study indicates risk of human exposure to
asbestos through the use of naturally contaminated talcum powder. It
is noteworthy that asbestos takes many years to cause asbestosis and
carcinogenic malignancies which are irreversible. It also necessitates
a regular monitoring and surveillance on all the cosmetic and
pharmaceutical powders being marketed for asbestos contamination.”
This has been published in the Annual Report Annual Report 2005-2006 of IITR. IITR is accredited by National Accreditation Board for
Testing and Calibration Laboratories (NABL) for chemical and
biological testing and is recognized for GLP (Good Laboratory
Practice) toxicity testing. (Reference:
http://www.itrcindia.org/ITRC_Annual_Report_2005-06.pdf )

The investigation by Reuters corroborates the findings of IITR. This
recent investigation was undertaken in the wake of three verdicts in
New Jersey, California and St. Louis awarding compensation to
plaintiffs who blamed asbestos-tainted Johnson & Johnson talc products for their mesothelioma, a type of cancer that develops from the thin layer of tissue that covers many of the internal organs. The
connection between asbestos exposure and mesothelioma was discovered in the 1970s. The third verdict was a watershed in in St. Louis: The 22 plaintiffs were the first to succeed with a claim that
asbestos-tainted Baby Powder and Shower to Shower talc, a longtime
brand the company sold in 2012 that caused ovarian cancer, which is
much more common than mesothelioma. The jury awarded them $4.69 billion in damages. Most of the talc cases have been brought by women with ovarian cancer who say they regularly used Johnson and Johnson talc products as a perineal antiperspirant and deodorant. The
inclusion of ovarian cancer besides mesothelioma has broadened the
potential liability of Johnson & Johnson, a 132 year old multinational
medical devices, pharmaceutical and consumer packaged goods
manufacturing company headquartered in New Brunswick, New Jersey, USA.

Earlier, British Medical Journal (BMJ) published an article titled
“Jury awards $4.7bn damages against Johnson & Johnson in talcum cancer
case” published in the renowned British Medical Journal (BMJ). As per
BMJ’s article, “More than 9000 former US talcum customers have lodged
suits against the company. Most claim damages for ovarian cancer, but
some allege that using the product led them to develop mesothelioma.
The award is by far the biggest yet against Johnson and Johnson in
litigation relating to talcum powder and the first case in which
plaintiffs alleged that asbestos in talcum powder caused their
disease. The verdict was handed down in the Circuit Court of the City
of St. Louis. ((Reference: BMJ 2018; 362 doi:
https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.k3135)

We reiterate that this investigative report is of deep relevance for
the public health of present and future generation of Indians given
the fact that Johnson & Johnson company has admittedly been in India for last 70 years. The company has brought many products in consumer healthcare, medical devices and pharmaceuticals. In 1947, Johnson & Johnson expanded into India, marketing Johnson’s Baby Powder. In September 1957, Johnson & Johnson incorporated as a legal entity in India. The production in its first manufacturing facility began in
1959 at the Johnson & Johnson India plant in Mulund, Mumbai, for
Johnson’s Baby Powder and other specialized products. In 1968, the
company introduces the Stayfree brand to India. A situation emerged
wherein Johnson & Johnson reached almost every household in India.

The Reuters investigative report refers to the findings of Dr. Irving
J. Selikoff who had conclusively established a link between the
inhalation of asbestos particles and lung-related ailments in the
1960s itself that paved the way for ban on asbestos of all kinds in
some 60 countries. Dr. Selikoff was the director of the Environmental
and Occupational Health Division of Mount Sinai Hospital in New York.
It is significant that Ms Lisa Girion of Reuters has shared the
official documents on the basis of which she has made these startling
claims in her investigative report.

(Reference: https://www.reuters.com/investigates/special-report/johnsonandjohnson-cancer/)

We wish to reiterate that in a Terms of Reference dated October 25,
2010 issued by Union Environment & Forests Ministry for a proposed
Asbestos cement sheet and accessories manufacturing unit of 1,80,000 Tonnes Per Annum capacity at Narsimharaopalem Village, Veerulupadu Tehsil, Krishna District, Andhra Pradesh by M/s Sahyadri Industries Limited made reference to "talc and chrysotile”.

Prior to the Reuters report, a 2014 paper published in the
International Journal of Occupational and Environmental Health titled
"Asbestos in commercial cosmetic talcum powder as a cause of
mesothelioma in women" by Ronald E Gordon et al concluded "we found
that a specific brand of talcum powder contained identifiable asbestos fibers with the potential to be released into the air and inhaled
during normal personal talcum powder application. We also found that asbestos fibers consistent with those found in the same cosmetic talc
product were present in the lungs and lymph node tissues of a woman
who used this brand of talc powder and developed and died from
mesothelioma. This study was published in October 2014. (Reference:
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4164883/)

We submit that the investigation by Reuters reveals that “Johnson &
Johnson developed a strategy in the 1970s to deal with a growing
volume of research showing that talc miners had elevated rates of lung
disease and cancer: Promote the positive, challenge the negative. That
approach was summed up by a J&J applied research director in a
“strictly confidential” March 3, 1975, memo to managers of the baby
products division, which used the talc in J&J’s signature Baby Powder.
Its approach reads: “Our current posture with respect to the
sponsorship of talc safety studies has been to initiate studies only
as dictated by confrontation,” the memo said. “This philosophy, so
far, has allowed us to neutralize or hold in check data already
generated by investigators who question the safety of talc.” It
reveals that scientific ghostwriters have been hired for long to hide
evidence of “cancer concern associated with exposure to talc.” Based on an Italian study, one such ghost authored article that appeared in the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine, in 1976 found no mesothelioma, the signature cancer of asbestos exposure. The Italian study in question has been updated three times – in 1979, 2003
and 2017 – “confirming the lack of association between exposure to
asbestos-free talc, lung cancer and mesothelioma.” The investigative
underlines that Johnson & Johnson got a lot of mileage out of the
study. It was cited in a review article titled “The Biology of Talc,”
published Nov. 1, 1976, in the British Journal of Industrial Medicine.

(Reference: https://pdfs.semanticscholar.org/77df/7030e57e91ee73c8e313d6b54e0ea0b7c498.pdf)

In addition to dozens of published studies, the review cited
unpublished research, including one experiment that used a doll as a
proxy for infants and that supported the company’s position on the
safety of talc. It didn’t disclose that Johnson & Johnson had
commissioned the unpublished research. The author of the review
article concluded that the “concern that has been expressed about the
possible health hazard from consumer exposure to cosmetic talc is
unwarranted … There is no evidence that its normal use poses a hazard
to health.” The author was Hildick-Smith, the Johnson & Johnson
physician executive who had overseen the Italian study and played a key role in the company’s talc safety research. The article did not
disclose his Johnson & Johnson connection, identifying him only as a
Rutgers University Clinical Assistant Professor of Pediatrics.

In a related event, I was a panelist at a Round Table Conference on
Issues Related to Asbestos Use in India held at India International
Centre, New Delhi on December 21, 2009, wherein Dr Iqbal Ahmad, a
scientist from IITR, Lucknow said that there are many different
sources of asbestos exposures which need to be looked at. He identified talc (powder) as a major source which has asbestos
contamination and exposes a large section of population, especially
children and women. Talc is used in several industries as raw
material. He said that we do have numbers of talc based cosmetic
powders in India. China is the largest producer of talc. Some 47
companies which used to procure Chinese talc powder had to withdraw
their product from market in South Korea due to high asbestos
contamination.

We submit that Commission’s intervention will be germane in the light of the judgment of Hon’ble Supreme Court in Consumer Education and Research Centre (CERC) Vs Union of India (1995 AIR 922, 1995 SCC (3) 42) that recognized right to health as part of right to life and had directed central and state governments to revise their law related asbestos in keeping with fresh resolutions of International Labour
Organisation (ILO). ILO’s asbestos related resolution of June 2006 is
relevant in this regard (Reference:
https://www.ilo.org/safework/info/standards-and-instruments/WCMS_108556/lang--en/index.htm. The ILO resolution was followed by a joint publication of WHO and ILO titled "Outline for the Development of National Programmes for Elimination of Asbestos-Related Diseases" published in December 2007.

It creates a logical compulsion for urgent remedial action.
(Reference: https://www.ilo.org/global/topics/safety-and-health-at-work/resources-library/publications/WCMS_108555/lang--en/index.htm)

In view of the above, we submit that instead of waiting for the coo
withdraw its asbestos-laden talcum powder products-both baby powder
and adult powder, the Commission must consider recommending to the
central government and state governments to prevent preventable
diseases and deaths by banning these products with immediate effect.

Thanking You

Yours faithfully

Gopal Krishna
ToxicsWatch Alliance (TWA)
Occupational Health India (OHI)
Mb: 9818089660
E-mail:krishnaruhani@gmail.com
Web:www.toxicswatch.org

Tuesday, January 7, 2020

Supreme Court Reaffirms Immunity to Google for Online Content w.r.t. killer asbestos mineral fiber in BANI defamation case

In its judgement in Google India Pvt. Ltd. vs M/s Visakha Industries in BANI defamation case dated December 10, 2019, the Supreme Court refused to quash defamation proceedings against Google for its failure to remove allegedly defamatory material from its ‘Google Group’ service. The 148 page long verdict is available here. The year 2019 ended with the verdict which reveals the ongoing struggle of Ban Asbestos Network of India (BANI) since 2002. They who are vocal against injustice and unjust corporate practices have always faced such cases. BANI cannot forget that there is no household in India which is free of deadly asbestos mineral fiber. Its case against asbestos laden talcum powder filed through ToxicsWatch Alliance (TWA) in National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) captured national media's attention. Ministry of Health and Family Welfare has responded to NHRC. The case remains with NHRC. 


1. India Top Court Reaffirms Immunity to Google for Online Content
Alphabet Inc.’s Google isn’t liable for defamatory content posted on its platforms after 2009, India’s top court ruled, reaffirming immunity for Internet companies in the world’s second-most populous nation.

However, the top court ruled that Google India Pvt. Ltd. will have to face defamation charges in cases lodged before 2009, when India’s information technology laws were amended to provide online and social media service providers immunity for content posted by a third party. They will have to take down content only after a court order.


India Says Google Not Liable for Defamatory Content on Its Platforms

Doug Isenberg  December 11, 2019

Alphabet Inc.’s Google isn’t liable for defamatory content posted on its platforms after 2009, India’s top court ruled, reaffirming immunity for Internet companies in the world’s second-most populous nation. The verdict, which reiterates a 2015 ruling, comes as a relief for social media companies, online retailers and service providers who are facing increasing pressure from the Indian government to regulate online 


2.  Google can't claim protection from defamation, says India's Supreme Court in BANI defamation case

A bench headed by Justice K.M. Joseph held that protection from defamation cannot be calimed 



3. Vishakha Defamation Case: SC Rejects Google India’s Appeal, Says It’s Matter For Trial


4. Google India to face trial in pre-2009 defamation case

Visaka Industries filed the complaint after the company said it issued legal notices asking Google India to take down the write-up. Google then moved the Andhra High Court for quashing the proceedings, but did not get any relief. On Google’s appeal, SC stayed the proceedings till it had applied its mind to the issues involved.


5. Google to face trial in India after SC says it can't claim protection from defamation


6. Google India to face criminal trial in alleged defamation case filed by Visaka Industries


7. No Protection For Intermediary Under Sec 79 IT Act From Criminal Defamation Before 2009 Amendment

8. 'Intermediaries can't claim protection from defamation'


Ban Asbestos Network of India (BANI)

Friday, July 5, 2019

Kudos to Bihar Govt’s policy against carcinogenic asbestos factories

Ban Asbestos Network of India (BANI)                         ToxicsWatch Alliance (TWA)


To 

Shri Nitish Kumar 
Hon’ble Chief Minister  
Government of Bihar  
Patna   

05 July, 2019

Subject-
Kudos to Bihar Govt’s policy against carcinogenic asbestos factories 

Dear Sir, 

Greetings from Ban Asbestos Network of India (BANI)-ToxicsWatch Alliance (TWA)!

This is to express our deep sense of appreciation for declaring in the State Assembly that Bihar Government will not allow construction of carcinogenic asbestos factories in the state on 1st July, 2019. This announcement of yours is a vindication of the anti-asbestos struggle by villagers of Muzaffarpur, Vaishali and Bhojpur. BANI- TWA has been part of this struggle for safeguarding public health.

We submit that the death toll of children in Muzaffarpur has revealed that asbestos cement sheets are quite unhealthy building materials. The fact remains children did not die specifically because of it but this unsafe and hazardous roofing material surely contributed to deterioration of their health.  

We submit that your observation with regard to carcinogenic white chrysotile asbestos mineral fiber is consistent with what is published on National Health Portal (NHP)[1], Centre for Health Informatics (CHI), National Institute of Health and Family Welfare (NIHFW), Ministry of Health and Family Welfare (MoHFW), Government of India. The National Health Portal states that “All forms of asbestos (chrysotile, crocidolite, amosite, tremolite, actinolite and anthophyllite) are in use because of their extraordinary tensile strength, poor heat conduction, and relative resistance to chemical attack. Chemically, asbestos minerals are silicate compounds, meaning they contain atoms of silicon and oxygen in their molecular structure. All forms of asbestos are carcinogenic to humans. Exposure to asbestos (including chrysotile) causes cancer of the lung, larynx, and ovaries, and also mesothelioma (a cancer of the pleural and peritoneal linings). Asbestos exposure is also responsible for other diseases such as asbestosis (fibrosis of the lungs), and plaques, thickening and effusion in the pleura.”[2] It observes that “Exposure to asbestos occurs through inhalation of fibers in air in the working environment, ambient air in the vicinity of point sources such as factories handling asbestos, or indoor air in housing and buildings containing friable asbestos materials.”

We wish to draw your urgent attention towards the order of Kerala Human Rights Commission (KHRC) that has ruled that exposing Indians to asbestos is a human rights violation. This paves the way for the eventual complete ban on asbestos and its products. On January 31, 2009, the KHRC ruled that the government should take steps to phase out asbestos roofing from all schools in the state. Bihar government can act of this recommendation as well.
Given the ubiquitous presence of the fiber, there is no alternative to getting it banned in right earnest.

We submit that so far Government of India has ignored Supreme Court’s order of 27 January, 1995 in Writ Petition (Civil) No. 206 of 1986. The Court observed: “The development of the carcinogenic risk due to asbestos or any other carcinogenic agent, does not require a continuous exposure. The cancer risk does not cease when the exposure to the carcinogenic agent ceases, but rather the individual carries the increased risk for the remaining years of life. The exposure to asbestos and the resultant long tragic chain of adverse medical, legal and societal consequences, remains the legal and social responsibility of the employer or the producer not to endanger the workmen or the community of the society. He or it is not absolved of the inherent responsibility to the exposed workmen or the society at large. They have the responsibility legal, moral and social to provide protective measures to the workmen and to the public or all those who are exposed to the harmful consequences of their products. Mere adoption of regulations for the enforcement has no real meaning and efficacy without die professional, industrial and governmental resources and legal and moral determination to implement such regulations.”
We submit that all the central ministries and state governments were supposed to incorporate specific directions of the Court given in its verdict of 27 January 1995 and reiterated on 21 January 2011 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 but it has been ignored so far. The Court referred to the In the "Encyclopaedia of Occupational Health and Safety", Vol-1, published by International Labour Office, Geneva, the latest 4th Edition, 1991 that provides definition of asbestos-“Its Pathology has been stated at page 188 in Vol-1, which is as follows:- "The retained fibres in the alveolar region are 3 um or less in diameter but may be up to 200 um long. Animal experiments strongly point to the longer fibres, 5 um and over, as being much more fibrogenic than shorter fibres. A proportion of the longer fibres, especially amphiboles, become coated with an iron Protein complex producing the drumstick appearance of asbestos bodies. All types of asbestos cause similar fibrosis”[3] (Supreme Court, 1995). Drawing on the Encyclopedia, it recorded that “The signs and symptoms of asbestosis are similar to those caused by other diffuse interstitial fibroses of the lung. Increased breathlessness on exertion is usually the first symptom, sometimes associated with aching or transient sharp pains in the chest.” Hon’ble Supreme Court has recorded that “whenever asbestos fibres are used for insulation and other purposes, the possibility of asbestosis among workers due to inhalation of asbestos fibres cannot be ruled out”[4] (Supreme Court, 2005). It noted that these materials are highly dangerous to human health, if inhaled or if contacted with skin surface.
We wish to also draw your attention towards what Government of India’s National Health Portal states: “The burden of asbestos-related diseases is still rising, even in countries that banned the use of asbestos in the early 1990s. Because of the long latency periods attached to the asbestos related diseases, stopping the use of asbestos now will result in a decrease in the number of asbestos-related deaths only after a number of decades. There is no safe use of asbestos and no safe limits set by WHO, ILO (International labour organization)”[5]. It discloses that “The prevalence of asbestosis in four cement factories (Ahmadabad, Hyderabad, Coimbatore and Mumbai) varied from 3% to 5%” and “In asbestos textile industry prevalence of asbestosis was 9% in workers having less than 10 years exposure, in contrast to the reported average duration of over 20 years”[6] (National Health Portal, Government of India).

We submit that in a reply to the Parliament, Union Minister of Health and Family welfare stated that “The Ministry of Mines has informed that the Grant of fresh mining leases and renewal of existing mining leases for Asbestos are presently banned in the country on Health Grounds”[7] (Union Ministry of Health and Family welfare, 2014). He also shared the findings of the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR), Union Ministry of Health and Family welfare which has “informed that major health hazards of asbestos include cancer of lung, mesothelioma of pleura and peritoneum and specific fibrous disease of lung known as asbestosis. All types of asbestos fibers are responsible for human mortality and morbidity….” This has been shared by the Union Minister for Health and Family Welfare in a written reply to the Parliament and released by Press Information Bureau, Government of India. This reply corroborates your observation in the State Assembly.

We commend the fact that you have factored in the lessons from the bitter protests of villagers led to the cancellation of asbestos based factories in Bhojpur, Muzaffarpur, Vaishali, West Champaran and Madhubani in Bihar. But the factories in Bhojpur’s Bihiya have managed to get relief from Hon’ble Patna High Court on a grossly procedural ground of violation of natural justice. This procedural error ought to be rectified and the operation of the two units of an asbestos company must be stopped. Its operation is a case of environmental health lawlessness. It has dumped hazardous asbestos waste in the agricultural fields and has been spewing toxic asbestos dust at night. It has violated every specific and general condition which has been stipulated in the environmental clearance and the No Objection Certificate. It may also be noted that when a worker died in this factory, his family was given a compensation of Rs 5, 000. The factory seemed to have own the patronage of Bhojpur administration by donating asbestos roofs to it for its parking. This situation creates a compelling logic for medical investigation of the health status of the village and temple communities living in the vicinity of these units and the workers of these two factories owned by the same company. The probe can reveal the extent of asbestos related diseases in this area.    

Given the fact that all asbestos based products have a life-span, it is natural that all asbestos based products are potential asbestos wastes. This state of sad affairs is crying for attention. At present Indian railways is removing asbestos cement roofs from all the railway stations and platforms in Bihar and in other parts of the country but it is not being disposed of in a scientific and safe manner. It is currently lying on railway platforms including at Patna Junction. This is endangering the health of all unsuspecting passengers.

In view of the above, we submit that Bihar government must consider putting an end to the use of the of all kinds of asbestos products that is being used and encountered daily, because none of the schools, offices, legislatures, courts, hospitals, automobiles, private and public buildings in our state are asbestos free. It must impose ban on procurement of asbestos based products, create a register of asbestos laden buildings and victims of asbestos related diseases besides setting up a compensation fund for them. It also creates a need to create a Master Plan for decontaminating all asbestos laden buildings including legislative and judicial buildings.    

Therefore, it is necessary to initiate preventive action in order to protect present and future generations from the silent killer which is akin to a time bomb. It is also necessary to withdraw fake cases against anti-asbestos villagers and activists in Muzaffarpur and Vaishali. We will be glad to share more relevant information against asbestos of all forms including white asbestos (chrysotile) as well. 

Thanking you in anticipation.                   

Yours faithfully

Dr Gopal Krishna, LL.B., Ph.D
Ban Asbestos Network of India (BANI)*
ToxicsWatch Alliance (TWA)**
Mb: 9818089660

*Ban Asbestos Network of India (BANI) has been working for freedom from asbestos related diseases since 2000. **ToxicsWatch Alliance (TWA) has been documenting environmental and occupational health hazards of industrial and urban activity since 2005.


[1] Asbestos-related diseases, National Health Portal, Centre for Health Informatics (CHI), National Institute of Health and Family Welfare (NIHFW), Ministry of Health and Family Welfare (MoHFW), Government of India, https://www.nhp.gov.in/disease/non-communicable-disease/asbestos-related-diseases, accessed on May 4, 2019
[2] Asbestos-related diseases, National Health Portal, Centre for Health Informatics (CHI), National Institute of Health and Family Welfare (NIHFW), Ministry of Health and Family Welfare (MoHFW), Government of India, https://www.nhp.gov.in/disease/non-communicable-disease/asbestos-related-diseases, accessed on May 4, 2019
[3] (1995), Order of Supreme Court, Writ Petition (Civil) N. 206 of 1986, 27 January
[4] (2005), Order of Supreme Court, Writ Petition (Civil) No.79 of 2005
[5] Asbestos-related diseases, National Health Portal, Centre for Health Informatics (CHI), National Institute of Health and Family Welfare (NIHFW), Ministry of Health and Family Welfare (MoHFW), Government of India, https://www.nhp.gov.in/disease/non-communicable-disease/asbestos-related-diseases, accessed on May 4, 2019
[6] Asbestos-related diseases, National Health Portal, Centre for Health Informatics (CHI), National Institute of Health and Family Welfare (NIHFW), Ministry of Health and Family Welfare (MoHFW), Government of India, https://www.nhp.gov.in/disease/non-communicable-disease/asbestos-related-diseases, accessed on May 4, 2019
[7] Asbestos Related Diseases, Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, Press Information Bureau
Government of India, 21 February, 2014, http://pib.nic.in/newsite/PrintRelease.aspx?relid=104105 accessed on May 4, 2019

Tuesday, June 4, 2019

Indian Govt maintains studied silence on India's role on white chrysotile asbestos at UN Meet

Official Press Release of  Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change,  Government of India maintains studied silence about India's role with regard to white chrysotile asbestos at  9th meeting of the  Conference of the Parties  to UN's Rotterdam Convention on the Prior Informed Consent Procedure for Certain Hazardous Chemicals and Pesticides in International Trade

Notably, the UN Meeting was concluded on 10th May, 2009 but the Press Release was issued on 16th May, 2019. Government's silence on white chrysotile asbestos is deafening.    

The joint meetings of three UN conventions on chemicals and waste was held in Geneva. The theme of the meetings this year was “Clean Planet, Healthy People: Sound Management of Chemicals and Waste”. 

The three meetings of these three Conventions included the fourteenth meeting of the Conference of the Parties (COP) to Basel Convention on the Control of Transboundary Movement of Hazardous Wastes and their Disposal  (COP 14), the ninth meeting of the COP to Rotterdam Convention on the Prior Informed Consent Procedure for Certain Hazardous Chemicals and Pesticides in International Trade and the ninth meeting of the COP to Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants. 


An Indian delegation of Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change, and comprising other ministries such as Agriculture, Chemicals, and Electronics and Information Technology participated in the meeting held in Geneva, Switzerland, from 29 April to 10 May 2019.

The Press Release issued by Press Information Bureau talks about Basel Convention on the Control of Transboundary Movement of Hazardous Wastes and their Disposal and Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants but feigns ignorance about its won position on Rotterdam Convention on the Prior Informed Consent Procedure for Certain Hazardous Chemicals and Pesticides in International Trade. India joined Pakistan to support the position of asbestos producing countries like Russia to oppose listing of white chrysotile asbestos in the UN list of hazardous chemicals unmindful of domestic law and scientific findings.  This silence is the silence of embarrassment it feels for having adopted a scientifically untenable position.  

The Press Release is available at  

Friday, May 10, 2019

Indian government fails to reconcile its ban on mining of all kinds of asbestos and trade in asbestos waste by opposing listing of carcinogenic white chrysotile asbestos mineral fiber in UN list of hazardous chemicals at the Geneva meeting

Ban Asbestos Network of India (BANI)                            ToxicsWatch Alliance (TWA)       

PUBLIC STATEMENT

Indian government fails to reconcile its ban on mining of all kinds of asbestos and trade in asbestos waste by opposing listing of carcinogenic white chrysotile asbestos mineral fiber in UN list of hazardous chemicals at the Geneva meeting

India is yet to ban import, manufacture and use of white chrysotile asbestos

India government fails to disassociate itself from the deleterious influence of asbestos promoters like Russian Federation, Kazakhstan, Syria, Zimbabwe, Kyrgyzstan, Pakistan, the International Alliance of Trade Union Organizations “Chrysotile”, Fiber Cement Product Manufacturer’s Association of India and Asbestos Cement Product Manufacturer’s Association

Government must abandon its unscientific and unethical double speak on hazardous carcinogenic white chrysotile asbestos mineral fiber at the meetings of UN’s Rotterdam Convention

Is it defensible for the government to take contradictory position carcinogenic white chrysotile asbestos mineral fiber? Under domestic law domestic law it is hazardous and carcinogenic but in UN Meetings, it says it is non- carcinogenic and non-hazardous.

Lack of consensus led to voting at the CoP-9 of Rotterdam Convention and adoption of new Annexure VII to the Convention for establishing procedures and mechanisms on compliance, sets precedent for all existing and proposed UN treaties including the proposed legally binding Treaty on TNCs and other Business Enterprises with Respect to Human Rights

10 MAY, 2019: Disregarding the finding and observation with regard to carcinogenic white chrysotile asbestos mineral fiber published on National Health Portal (NHP) , Centre for Health Informatics (CHI), National Institute of Health and Family Welfare (NIHFW), Ministry of Health and Family Welfare (MoHFW), Government of India, Indian delegation opposed inclusion of this hazardous mineral fiber in the UN list of hazardous chemicals. Taking a unscientific position which is manifestly contrary to the domestic laws and government’s submissions in the Parliament, the delegation expressed its opposition during the meeting of 9th conference of parties to the UN’s Rotterdam Convention on the Prior Informed Consent Procedure (PIC) for Certain Hazardous Chemicals and Pesticides in International Trade (April 29-May 10, 2019) in Geneva.

On 8th May, Rotterdam Convention Secretariat introduced the documents (RC/COP.9/10; Add.1) with regard to Chrysotile asbestos underling that that this issue has been on the agenda since the meeting of the Third Conference of Parties (COP-3) of the Rotterdam Convention. Countries like Australia, Colombia, Norway, Canada, Peru, Georgia, Uruguay, Gabon, Nigeria, Bahrain, EU, Japan, Iraq, Togo, Chile, Malaysia, New Zealand, Moldova, Switzerland, Vanuatu, Republic of Congo, Senegal, Maldives, Kuwait, Benin, Saudi Arabia and Cameroon supported listing of chrysotile asbestos in Annex III of the Rotterdam Convention, which the UN list if hazardous chemicals and pesticides.

Unfortunately, India joined countries and entities like the Russian Federation, Kazakhstan, Syria, Zimbabwe, Kyrgyzstan, Pakistan, and the International Alliance of Trade Union Organizations “Chrysotile” opposed the listing of chrysotile asbestos in Annex III of the Rotterdam Convention on the ground that there is lack of new evidence of effects on human health and the environment. Countries like Venezuela, Cuba and Iran wished to comprehend the logic of those countries which are opposed to listing of chrysotile asbestos and sought discussion on it.

The opponents including India disregarded incontrovertible conclusive scientific evidence provided by the World Health Organization (WHO) pointing out how all forms of asbestos cause cancer in humans. The International Labour Organization (ILO) observed that ILO’s Asbestos Convention should not be used to justify continued use of asbestos because it was never intended for promotion of use of asbestos.

It is quite apparent that Indian government delegation acted under the tremendous influence of the Fiber Cement Product Manufacturer’s Association of India (FCMPAI), a cartel of asbestos companies which opposed listing of white chrysotile asbestos citing discredited national governmental studies which admittedly, Asbestos Cement Products Manufacturers Association had co-sponsored, showing no negative health impacts. An entity called “Workers of Kazakhstan”, an apparent front of asbestos companies wanted chrysotile variety of asbestos to be treated differently.

As a consequence of the opposition from the seven countries and the asbestos companies, the consideration of listing of chrysotile variety of asbestos in the UN list of hazardous chemicals has been deferred for the 10th meeting of Conference of Parties of the Rotterdam Convention.

The inter-ministerial Indian delegation at the COP 9 failed to factor in the publicly and officially stated stance of National Health Portal, Government of India with regard to all forms of asbestos including white chrysotile asbestos. It states that “All forms of asbestos (chrysotile, crocidolite, amosite, tremolite, actinolite and anthophyllite) are in use because of their extraordinary tensile strength, poor heat conduction, and relative resistance to chemical attack. Chemically, asbestos minerals are silicate compounds, meaning they contain atoms of silicon and oxygen in their molecular structure. All forms of asbestos are carcinogenic to humans. Exposure to asbestos (including chrysotile) causes cancer of the lung, larynx, and ovaries, and also mesothelioma (a cancer of the pleural and peritoneal linings). Asbestos exposure is also responsible for other diseases such as asbestosis (fibrosis of the lungs), and plaques, thickening and effusion in the pleura.”  It observes that “Exposure to asbestos occurs through inhalation of fibers in air in the working environment, ambient air in the vicinity of point sources such as factories handling asbestos, or indoor air in housing and buildings containing friable asbestos materials.” The delegation included India’s official contact point, Manoj Kumar Gangeya, Director, Hazardous Substances Management Division, Union Ministry of Environment, Forests a& Climate Change.

The official brief for the Indian delegation to the meeting of Rotterdam Convention remains unchanged. Its brief stated that “The implication of listing of chemicals is rise in trade cost” and delay in import/export of hazardous chemicals. This is far from the truth. In its myopia, the brief does not factor in the health cost incurred due unrestricted trade in hazardous chemicals.

In a 29 page long “Draft decision guidance document” on Rotterdam Convention – Operation of the Prior Informed Consent procedure for banned or severely restricted chemicals” for “Inclusion of chrysotile asbestos in Annex III to the Rotterdam Convention” is on the agenda. (Item 5 (b) of the provisional agenda, Matters related to the implementation of the Convention: listing of chemicals in Annex III to the Convention). As per the Draft decision guidance document, “Chrysotile (serpentine forms of asbestos) is included in the PIC procedure as an industrial chemical. It is listed on the basis of the final regulatory actions to ban or severely restrict its use as notified by Australia, Chile and the European Community (EC).” Chrysotile is by far the predominant asbestos fibre consumed today (94% of the world’s production) and is processed into products such as friction materials, asbestos-cement, cement pipe and sheet, gaskets and seals, paper and textiles. The asbestos-cement industry is by far the largest user of chrysotile fibres, accounting for about 85% of all use. Sadly, the Draft decision guidance document has not been approved.

It may be recalled that at the very first meeting in 2005, 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 CRC 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.

Given the fact that the need for consensus has been used as a tool for blocking progress on the listing of hazardous chemicals in the UN list of hazardous chemicals and given the fact that all previous efforts to achieve consensus has been exhausted, Switzerland called for a vote to adopt a new Annexure VII to the Rotterdam Convention for establishing procedures and mechanisms on compliance. The voting resulted in with 120 parties supporting the proposal and 6 parties opposing it.

Countries like Brazil and Russian Federation opposed it. Countries like Chine and Trinidad and Tobago, Venezuela, Pakistan, Cuba, Qatar, Argentina and Iran expressed their concerns regarding this precedent in decision making. The proceedings of the 9th meeting of Conference of Parties Rotterdam convention have been recorded in the Earth Negotiations Bulletin (ENB) of the International Institute for Sustainable Development (IISD).

The proposed Annex VII of the Rotterdam Convention allows parties who do not agree to a compliance mechanism to opt out. This predicament is extremely dangerous for all the existing and proposed UN agreements and treaties including the proposed legally binding Treaty on TNCs and other Business Enterprises with Respect to Human Rights ahead of the 5th Session of the UN Open-Ended Inter Governmental Working Group (OEIGWG) to elaborate an international legally binding instrument to regulate within the scope of international human rights law and the activities of transnational corporations and other business enterprises in Geneva during 12-19 October, 2019 in Geneva. It is a universal fact that exposing human beings to asbestos fibers constitutes violation of human rights by asbestos companies. If a mandatory UN treaty on TNCs and other Business Enterprises gets adopted and comes into force asbestos based companies can be held liable both under civil and criminal law but before that happens Government of India has a duty to protect the human rights and public health of present and future generation of Indians by disassociating itself from the seven countries that are promoting white chrysotile asbestos unmindful of its human and environmental cost.

So far Government of India has ignored Supreme Court’s order of 27 January, 1995 in Writ Petition (Civil) No. 206 of 1986. The Court observed: “The development of the carcinogenic risk due to asbestos or any other carcinogenic agent, does not require a continuous exposure. The cancer risk does not cease when the exposure to the carcinogenic agent ceases, but rather the individual carries the increased risk for the remaining years of life. The exposure to asbestos and the resultant long tragic chain of adverse medical, legal and societal consequences, remains the legal and social responsibility of the employer or the producer not to endanger the workmen or the community of the society. He or it is not absolved of the inherent responsibility to the exposed workmen or the society at large. They have the responsibility legal, moral and social to provide protective measures to the workmen and to the public or all those who are exposed to the harmful consequences of their products. Mere adoption of regulations for the enforcement has no real meaning and efficacy without die professional, industrial and governmental resources and legal and moral determination to implement such regulations.” Rotterdam Convention’s PIC procedure and the recommendations of CRC are consistent with Supreme Court’s verdict.

Given the fact that mining of asbestos is rightly banned in India because of its hazardous nature, a member of Asbestos Cement Products Manufacturers Association (ACPMA) has revealed to the government and the public that the chrysotile type asbestos fiber “will be imported from Brazil , Canada and Russia.” It is the only kind that remains to be totally banned in India. Now the fact is that Brazil and Canada have banned asbestos but India has emerged as the biggest consumer of Russian white asbestos although India has technically banned mining of all kinds of asbestos and trade of asbestos waste (dust and fibers).
All the central ministries and state governments were supposed to incorporate specific directions of the Court given in its verdict of 27 January 1995 and reiterated on 21 January 2011 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 but it has been ignored so far. The Court referred to the In the "Encyclopaedia of Occupational Health and Safety", Vol-1, published by International Labour Office, Geneva, the latest 4th Edition, 1991 that provides definition of asbestos-“Its Pathology has been stated at page 188 in Vol-1, which is as follows:- "The retained fibres in the alveolar region are 3 um or less in diameter but may be up to 200 um long. Animal experiments strongly point to the longer fibres, 5 um and over, as being much more fibrogenic than shorter fibres. A proportion of the longer fibres, especially amphiboles, become coated with an iron Protein complex producing the drumstick appearance of asbestos bodies. All types of asbestos cause similar fibrosis”  (Supreme Court, 1995). Drawing on the Encyclopedia, it recorded that “The signs and symptoms of asbestosis are similar to those caused by other diffuse interstitial fibroses of the lung. Increased breathlessness on exertion is usually the first symptom, sometimes associated with aching or transient sharp pains in the chest.” The Supreme Court has recorded that “whenever asbestos fibres are used for insulation and other purposes, the possibility of asbestosis among workers due to inhalation of asbestos fibres cannot be ruled out”  (Supreme Court, 2005). It noted that these materials are highly dangerous to human health, if inhaled or if contacted with skin surface.

Admittedly, Government of India’s National Health Portal states: “The burden of asbestos-related diseases is still rising, even in countries that banned the use of asbestos in the early 1990s. Because of the long latency periods attached to the asbestos related diseases, stopping the use of asbestos now will result in a decrease in the number of asbestos-related deaths only after a number of decades. There is no safe use of asbestos and no safe limits set by WHO, ILO (International labour organization)” . It discloses that “The prevalence of asbestosis in four cement factories (Ahmadabad, Hyderabad, Coimbatore and Mumbai) varied from 3% to 5%” and “In asbestos textile industry prevalence of asbestosis was 9% in workers having less than 10 years exposure, in contrast to the reported average duration of over 20 years”  (National Health Portal, Government of India).

Notably, in a reply to the Parliament, Union Minister of Health and Family welfare stated that “The Ministry of Mines has informed that the Grant of fresh mining leases and renewal of existing mining leases for Asbestos are presently banned in the country on Health Grounds”  (Union Ministry of Health and Family welfare, 2014). He also shared the findings of the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR), Union Ministry of Health and Family welfare which has “informed that major health hazards of asbestos include cancer of lung, mesothelioma of pleura and peritoneum and specific fibrous disease of lung known as asbestosis. All types of asbestos fibers are responsible for human mortality and morbidity….Directorate General Factory Advice Service and Labour Institutes, (DGFASLI) under Ministry of Labour & Employment has intimated data of workers suffering from Asbestosis in factories registered under the Factories Act, 1948.As per the information provided by DGFASLI, it is informed that 21 no. of Asbestosis cases were reported in Gujarat in 2010 and 2 cases in Maharashtra in the year 2012”. This has been shared by the Union Minister for Health and Family Welfare in a written reply to the Parliament and released by Press Information Bureau, Government of India.

India continues to ignore that the 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 must be also 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. So far your ministry 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. It is noteworthy that given the fact that all asbestos based products have a life span, it is natural that all asbestos based products are potential asbestos wastes.

It may be recalled that on June 22, 2011 Indian delegation led by Mira Mehrishi, Additional Secretary, Government of India and the head of the Indian delegation had supported the listing of Chrysotile asbestos as a hazardous chemical substance at the fifth Conference of Parties to the Rotterdam Convention amidst standing ovation. Under the influence of foreign and domestic asbestos companies, India reversed its position and adopted an unscientific and unethical stance.

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.
So far governments have 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.
Government is acting as if its left arm does not know what the right arm is doing. How can it reconcile its position in UN meeting with its current phasing out of asbestos roofs from some 8000 railway stations across the country? Taking note of hazards from asbestos of all kinds, new rules have been framed in Maharashtra as a step to make the state free of asbestos. It is significant that bitter protests of villagers led to the cancellation of asbestos based factories in Bhojpur, Muzaffarpur, Vaishali, West Champaran and Madhubani in Bihar.

Given the fact that Department of Chemicals and Petrochemicals is the Designated National Authority (DNA) for industrial chemicals under the Rotterdam Convention on Prior Informed Consent Procedures (PIC) that entered into force on 24th February, 2004, which is a legally binding instrument, it should be rescued from the vice like grip of the foreign and domestic asbestos companies. The parties to the Convention are required to communicate their import policy for these chemicals to the PIC Secretariat. The exporting Party has to provide the export notification to the importing Party in respect of banned or severely restricted chemicals in the importing country. The export notifications received from other Parties for industrial chemicals are examined by Department of Chemicals and Petrochemicals, being the DNA for industrial chemicals, and acknowledgment/ reply is sent to the DNA of the exporting country. How can India deprive itself of this procedure with regard to import of hazardous and carcinogenic white chrysotile asbestos?

While there has been failure in listing of white chrysotile asbestos in the UN list of hazardous chemicals, the fact remains nothing stops Government of India to comply with Supreme Court’s verdict of 27th January, 1995 by adopting ILO resolution of 2006 which seeks elimination of all kinds of asbestos for the protection of human health.

For Details: Gopal Krishna, LL.B., Ph.D, Ban Asbestos Network of India (BANI)*/ToxicsWatch Alliance (TWA), E-mail: krishnaruhani@gmail.com, Mb: 9818089660,
Web:  www.asbestosfreeindia.org

 *Ban Asbestos Network of India (BANI) has been working for freedom from asbestos related diseases since 2000.


Blog Archive