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. Contact: Advocate Gopal Krishna, LL.M., Ph.D, krishnagreen@gmail.com

Friday, October 15, 2021

When will India ban import of carcinogenic white chrysotile asbestos?

When will India ban import of Russian, Chinese and Kazakh asbestos?

The Supreme Court and high courts in India have been consistent in voicing their concerns regarding exposure to these carcinogenic mineral fibres while asking the central and the state governments to update their laws as per the fresh resolution of International Labour Organisation (ILO), which has sought elimination of future use of white chrysotile asbestos to safeguard human health. But the governments in India have not complied with its directions so far. Only cheerful news comes from Bihar which has become the first State in India to announce that it will not allow setting up of asbestos factories in the State and 22 asbestos factories owner, CK Birla Group's Hyderabad Industries Limited (HIL), a member of Asbestos Cement Products Manufacturers Association (ACPMA), has entered non-asbestos, eco-friendly, autoclaved roofing solution. 

Fearing manslaughter cases, asbestos companies the world over are shifting to the non-asbestos sector. India's most deprived and marginalised communities – as many as 16.4 per cent in the rural areas and 20 per cent in the urban areas – live and work under asbestos roofs. Some 79 per cent of Dalits (200 million) live in such houses. The fact is that no private or public building in India is asbestos-free and almost all water supply pipes in the country are made of asbestos cement. Asbestos is harmful in its entire life cycle.

Significantly, First Schedule of Occupational Safety, Health and Working Conditions (OSHWC) Code, 2020 refers to industries involving hazardous processes including manufacture, handling and processing of asbestos and its products and its Third Schedule lists incurable asbestosis as a Notifiable Disease. Given the fact that some 70 countries have banned the products, immediate steps are required in the supreme national interest to safeguard the health of present and the future generations. Alas, wisdom does not dawn without a high fee it seems. India imported 21% of all the asbestos from Brazil. Following a Brazilian court's decision, there is a compelling logic for the Union of India and the State governments to pay heed to the verdict of the Supreme Court of India to update the laws in the light of ILO resolution of 2006 to eliminate all kinds of asbestos and related incurable and fatal diseases.

The Brazilian court's immediate suspension of the extraction, exploration, processing, marketing, transport and export of asbestos cancerous minerals is one of the most sensible decisions to come by in recent times. Yet exporting continues here. However, India is yet to implement the 26-year-old verdict of the Supreme Court of India seeking adoption of a fresh ILO resolution that seeks elimination of asbestos. It is indeed strange that members of the BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) group are refusing to learn from one another to safeguard the health of their citizens. Brazil, a country which banned asbestos, has been exporting it to India. South Africa, which has banned asbestos, has been importing asbestos products from India. Russia and China refuse to pay heed to asbestos-related laws in South Africa, Brazil and India. India has banned mining of asbestos but continues to import it from Russia, China and Kazakhstan. 

Is this the way to demonstrate scientific temper? 


Saturday, October 9, 2021

Violation of environmental laws by Ramco asbestos company in Bihiya, Bhojpur

 


To

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

Date: 09/10/2021

Subject- Violation of environmental laws by the two asbestos based units of Chennai based Ramco Industries Limited in Bihiya, Bhojpur

Sir, 

This is to draw your immediate attention towards the violation of environmental laws by two asbestos based factory units of Chennai based Ramco Industries Limited in Bihiya, Bhojpur near Mahthin Mai temple. 

I submit that First Schedule of Occupational Safety, Health & Working Conditions Code, 2020 refers to Industries involving hazardous processes including manufacture, handling & processing of Asbestos and ts products. Its Third Schedule lists incurable Asbestosis as a Notifiable Disease. Besides the villagers in the vicinity of Ramco's factories, all the workers face the threat of health hazards and accidents. This Code has to be read along with the verdict of Hon'ble Supreme Court dated 27 January, 1995 in Consumer Education Research Centre v Union of India for effective implementation. 

Initially, the legal action taken by the Bihar State Pollution Control Board (BSPCB) against the two units of asbestos based factories of Ramco Industries Limited located at Bihiya, Bhojpur pursuant to your instructions to the Board in response to villagers' petition to you against such hazardous factories merited appreciation. But subsequently, BSPCB revised it's position to the detriment of public health. 

As a follow up of your previous action in  regard to carcinogenic asbestos, I wish to draw your urgent attention towards the public health crisis as a consequence of ongoing unscientific and illegal disposal of hazardous and carcinogenic asbestos (dust & fibers) and broken asbestos based roofs by Chennai based Ramco Industries Limited in Bihiya, Bhojpur. It has endangered the human life and environmental health of Bihiya and the villages in the area besides the workers employed there. Asbestos is harmful through out it's life cycle. 

It may be noted that the Board's previous legal action could not become effective because of the order of a single judge bench of Hon'ble Patna High Court on the limited ground of violation of natural justice. The order of Justice Jyoti Sharan dated 30 March, 2017 had directed the Chief Secretary, State of Bihar to rectify the error of Chairman of the BSPCB and thev Appellate Authority happened to be Shri Vivek Kumar Singh. Source: https://indiankanoon.org/doc/64804529/

The fact remains this order too did not dispute the finding of the Board with regard to violation of the environmental laws. It did not dispute that as asbestos and asbestos based industries are heavily polluting and have been categorised as R24 in the Red Category (http://bspcb.bih.nic.in/Categorization_10.10.18_new.pdf) 

Subsequently, a division bench of the Hon'ble High Court comprising Justices Ajay Kumar Tripathi and Niku Agrawal passed another order modifying the previous order in The Bihar State Pollution Control Board & others Vs M/S Ramco Industries Ltd. on 30 April, 2018 (Letters Patent Appeal No.873 of 2017 In Civil Writ Jurisdiction Case No. 421 of 2017. The order authored by Justice Tripathi reads: "Since Mr. Vivek Kumar Singh no longer happens to be the Chairman of the Bihar State Pollution Control Board, therefore, one of the reasons provided by the learned Single Judge for interfering with the order no longer holds good. It is left open to the new Chairman of Bihar State Pollution Control Board to pass a fresh order in accordance with law after hearing the parties." Source: https://indiankanoon.org/doc/85967218/ 

In such a backdrop, I wish to draw your attention again towards the violation of all the general and specific conditions laid down in the NOC given by the Bihar State Pollution Control Board and the environmental clearance given by the Experts Appraisal Committee of the Union Ministry of Environment, Forests & Climate Change by the company's factories in question. 

I wish to draw your attention towards a news broadcast by a news channel titled - 

Ramco Company: सरकार के साथ साथ दे रही जनता को धोखा| https://youtu.be/2fJKGtrPyC4
An official video of Ramco Industries Limited which authenticates the claims made in the news report is available with us which can be shared when required. It is not being shared right away because of it is a heavy file. 
In such a context, I submit that I have learnt the following methods in disposing of asbestos waste (dust and fibers) by the company in question:

1. Using excavators the broken sheets are crushed and buried deep inside factory premises. The broken pieces pose a grave threat to the ground water shared by fertile agriculture land and villagers who use it for drinking purpose. 

2. Since there is no space to bury the asbestos waste and broken asbestos products are sold to fictitious or  known dealers on ex- factory basis to discard company's responsibility for disposal. Normally, the destination of duch disposal will be in remote locations and buried on fertile lands or used for land filling and covered by sand permanently. It seems to be a corporate crime but logical from company's perspective as no one will pay 4 times the cost for transportation for a zero value material. 

3. The broken ast based sheets are cut inside factory into unmarketable sizes like 1 meter length and gifted as CSR activities. The cutting process emits lot of asbestos dust and fibers harmful for the workers and villagers. 

4. Broken asbestos sheets and wastes during transit handling or from customer end are brought to depot at various locations to harden top soil or land filling which again poses a threat to ground water. Cutting broken bigger asbestos sheets also pose danger as asbestos  fibers become air borne. 

5. Wherever cement is handled in bags inside factory it creates occupational hazard for workers due to asbestos dust particles. This is a threat to villagers as well because the air quality in the area gets polluted. 

6. Ramco Industries Limited has been donating asbestos based roofs to the nearby Mahthin Mai temple and to the parking space of the District Magistrate's office as an exercise in ethical positioning of it's bran and as a public relations exercise. Villagers, temple devotees and the district administration has been taken for a ride. They have acted in complete ignorance of Board's action against Ramco's factories.

In view of the above, I wish to request you to probe the health status of the communities linked to the factory and who reside in proximity of the two units of asbestos factories in Bihiya, Bhojpur run by Ramco Industries Limited besides the workers. Your prompt action will  safeguard the environmental health of present and future residents of Bhojpur in particular and all the residents of Bihar in general by imposing immediate ban on use of asbestos based products of all kinds in State. 

I appreciate for stance 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 is a vindication of the anti-asbestos struggle by villagers of Muzaffarpur, Vaishali and Bhojpur. 

I submit that the death toll of children in Muzaffarpur has revealed that asbestos cement sheets are quite unhealthy building materials which lead to morbidity and mortality by contributing to the deterioration of their health.

I submit that Board's action with regard to carcinogenic white chrysotile asbestos mineral fiber has been consistent with what is 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. 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,s 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.”

I 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 State Pollution Control Board can act of this recommendation as well.

I submit that so far Hon'ble Supreme Court’s order of 27 January, 1995 in Writ Petition (Civil) No. 206 of 1986 cannot be ignored without endangering residents of Bihar. Hon'ble 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 is not absolved of the inherent responsibility to the exposed workmen or the society at large.”

I submit the state government was 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 but it has been ignored so far.

I 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)” . 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).

I 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”  (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.

I was saddened when Ramco company' factories in Bhojpur’s Bihiya managed to get relief from Hon’ble Patna High Court on a grossly procedural
ground of violation of natural justice. I am also saddened by BSPCB's failure to reiterate it's earlier order after the procedural error was rectified. It is evident that the operation of the two units of an asbestos company has not been stopped by the BSPCB as yet. Its operation is a case of environmental health lawlessness. Ramco 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 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 environmental 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 because of environmental exposure. 

Let me take the opportunity to mention the  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 like elsewhere but it is not being disposed of in a scientific and safe manner. 

In view of the above, I submit that the Board must be asked to reiterate its order on immediate closure of Ramco's hazardous factories, to create a Master Plan for decontaminating all asbestos laden government buildings including legislative and judicial buildings and discontinue public procurement of asbestos based products including asbestos cement pipes for water supply in Bihar. It s necessary to initiate preventive action in order to protect present and future generations of Bihar from the silent killer mineral fibers of asbestos which  are akin to a ticking time bomb.

I will be glad to share more relevant information in this regard.

Thanking you in anticipation.

Yours Sincerely

Gopal Krishna, LL.M., Ph.D
E-mail:krishnaruhnai@gmail.com
Website:www.toxicswatch.com

Tuesday, September 7, 2021

When will Bengal become asbestos free

To


Ms Mamata Banerjee

Hon'ble Chief Minister

Government of West Bengal

Kolkata


Date: September 7, 2021

Subject-When will Bengal become asbestos free


Madam, 

With reference to 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. 

I 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.”

I 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.

I 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) Vill. Tungadhowa, Guptamani-Kultikiri Road (2) Ramco Industries Ltd., Vill. 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.”

It 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”.

I submit that this reply appears to constitute a blatant case of adoption of Ostrich policy the State Government. It is refusing to admit to emergence of asbestos related diseases in these factory units of the State.

I 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

I submit that as per Environmental Impact Assessment Manual for Asbestos Based Industries, Union Ministry of Environment & Forests, type and quantity of solid waste generated during the construction and operational stages is to be quantified. In case of expansion of the unit, the solid waste generated category wise should be furnished. For disposing asbestos waste mate rial the norms notified under Hazardous Waste (Management, Handling and Transboundary Movement) Rules, 2008 and the recommendations as per IS: 11768 – 1986 (Reaffirmed 2005) is required to be followed. "All asbestos waste must be kept in closed containers before its transportation to the disposal point so that no asbestos dust is emitted into the environment during transportation. Final covering of asbestos waste, other than high-density waste, shall be to a minimum depth of 2m and the asbestos waste including the used bag filters should be disposed at an approved TSDF." It must be noted that there is no mention of Hazardous Waste Treatment, Storage and Disposal Facilities (TSDFs) for the waste generated for the asbestos factories in the State. The reply and the submission do not reveal the status of the procurement of asbestos based products by the State Government and the residents of the State. It has failed to report whether the State has the environmental and occupational health infrastructure in place to diagnose asbestos related diseases.

I 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.

I submit that the 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.”

I 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.

I submit that prior to Hon’ble High Court’s verdict, Kerala State Human Rights Commission recommended ban on use of asbestos roofs for schools and hospitals in its order dated n 31st January, 2009.

I submit that National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) has passed an order in Case No: 693/30/97-98 recommending that the asbestos sheets roofing should be replaced with roofing made up of some other material that would not be harmful.

I submit that globally asbestos industry is on trial. Countries after countries are passing verdicts against it. They are banning future use of the cancer causing mineral fiber of asbestos. Government of India is publicly revealing that it does not favour new asbestos plants in the country any more. There is a compelling logic emerging for pre-existing asbestos based plants to shift to non-asbestos based building materials. It is not surprising that "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." It has noted that "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". A concept paper by Union Ministry of Labour revealed this at the two-day 5th India-EU Joint Seminar on “Occupational Safety and Health” on 19th and 20th September, 2011. (Reference: http://www.labour.nic.in/lc/Background%20note.pdf)

I submit that the Annual Report of NHRC 2003-2004 refers to a Report entitled “Asbestos – Health and Environment – an in-depth Study “submitted by the Institute of Public Health Engineers, India. The study underlines that safe and controlled use of asbestos is not possible.

I submit that taking lessons from the industrial disaster of Bhopal, asbestos industry should ne 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.

I 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.

I 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 Japan has banned asbestos of all kinds including white chrysotile asbestos.

I also wish to draw your attention towards the fact that our neighbor Nepal has become the first country in South Asia which going in the direction of banning asbestos

I submit that in 27 January 1995, while passing the judgment for the asbestos case file by the Consumer Education & Research Centre (CERC) (case details: http://indiankanoon.org/doc/1657323/),  Hon’ble Supreme Court of India directed all asbestos factories to keep the health records of their workers for 40 years and/or 15 years after their retirement.

I submit that the second significant direction was the GoI and the state governments have to mend their rules and regulation as per the ILO resolution (International Labour Organisation). The ILO says eliminate asbestos of all kinds for elimination of asbestos related-diseases. Controlled use is not possible. It has not been possible for all the countries which have banned it and this is impossible in India too.

I submit that Navy officials have rightly objected to presence of asbestos in aircraft carrier Admiral Gorshkov which was inducted into the Indian Navy as INS Vikramaditya after asbestos decontamination. 

I 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”. During Emergency, the ruling party and its acolytes had proposed to put opposition leaders in jails which had asbestos roofs.

I 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

I submit that sooner or later, the asbestos industry will go bankrupt because they will have to pay huge amount of money in compensation. For every injury in the law there is a remedy. The present and the future generation will make sure they get remedy.

I submit that the rate of consumption of growth which they are enjoying today does not mean it will continue. In western countries, the rate picked at one time and today it is zero. This is the peak of Asbestos industry in India and now, the downfall will start.

I submit that the industry must be persuaded to phase out in two phases. In the first phase the goal is to eliminate use of chrysotile asbestos and the number of exposed workers and consumers in the country. In the second phase, the goal is 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.

I submit that Union Environment Ministry’s Vision Statement reads: “Alternatives to asbestos may be used to the extent possible and use of asbestos may be phased out”.   

I submit that meanwhile, while an Advisory Committee of Union Ministry of Labour has been set up to implement Hon’ble Supreme Court order issued 15 years ago on January 27, 1995 and repeated on January 23, 2012. Although more than 1 year and four months have passed but the Advisory Committee headed by Joint Secretary, Union Ministry of Labour is yet to submit its report to incorporate specific directions of the Court with regard to fresh ILO’s Resolution of June 14, 2006 introducing a ban on all mining, manufacture, recycling and use of all forms of asbestos.

I submit that even early industry-funded studies showed a causal relationship between asbestos exposure and cancer. Had this been made known to the public it could have prevented countless deaths but the asbestos industry made the conscious decision to protect their profits instead and choose to keep this information hidden from the public. India’s asbestos industry is following the same path.    As a consequence, although millions of Indian lives are being lost and millions are being exposed to the killer fibers of white chrysotile asbestos, no government agency or company is being held liable due to political patronage.

While on a visit to New Delhi, Dr Alec Farquhar, as the Managing Director, Occupational Health Clinics for Ontario Workers, Canada said, “We now have around 500 asbestos cancer cases every year in Ontario from a population of 13 million. If you (India) continue on your current path, you will multiply our death count by 100 times. That would be 50, 000 Indian workers dying every year from asbestos. In Ontario, we learned that safe use of asbestos is impossible. I urge you from the bottom of my heart, please do not make the same mistake as we made in Canada. Stop using asbestos and use a safe alternative.” It is clear that lack of documentation and lack of environmental and occupational health infrastructure does not mean lack of victims of asbestos related diseases.

I submit that the year 2011 is remembered in Bihar for a successful villagers’ struggle against a asbestos plant proposed by Kolkata based company Balmukund Cement & Roofing Ltd in Chainpur-Bishunpur, Marwan Block, Muzaffarpur district, Bihar that led to the winding up of the plant as per a communication from the Chairman, Bihar State Human Rights Commission.

I submit that following bitter resistance against the proposal of West Bengal based Utkal Asbestos Limited (UAL) at Chaksultan Ramppur Rajdhari near Panapur in Kanhauli Dhanraj Panchayat of in Goraul block in Vaishali, Bihar, Bihar State Pollution Control Board (BSPCB) cancelled the No Objection Certificate given to the UAL company. It had approval for 2.5 lakh ton per annum capacity. The peoples struggle led to stoppage of proposed asbestos based plant of 1.25 lak tons per annum (TPA) capacity in Pandaul, Sagarpur, Hati tehsil in Madhubani, Bihar. The proposal of 2.5 lakh TPA capacity plant by Hyderabad Industries Ltd in Kumar Bagh, Bettiah, West Champaran, Bihar has also been stopped. The company has constructed a boundary wall amidst rich agricultural field but faces court cases from villagers.         

It is sad that a killer fiber like asbestos which is banned in some 70 countries is being used in West Bengal to manufacture asbestos cement sheets disregarding the fatal health impact for present and future generations. Such plants and products should be stopped to save residents from incurable lung cancer like diseases.

I submit that asbestos death toll has surpassed traffic fatalities in Australia. In US, every year 10, 000 people are dying because of asbestos related disease. There is an epidemic of asbestos diseases in Europe. In India, a silent Bhopal disaster is happening every year. The rate of consumption of asbestos in India is rising at an alarming rate due to budgetary support. Nearly all of India's asbestos is mixed with cement to form roofing sheets. Bolstered by asbestos import tariffs that have been reduced from 78% in the mid-1990s to 15% by 2004, the country's asbestos-cement industry is increasing by roughly 10% every year.

I 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.

I submit that the health consequences are already apparent, but the scale of the problem is not clear because there is no documentation of disease caused by environmental and occupational factors. “The Government of India has a very poor, almost non-existent, system to record death and disease”, explains Arthur Frank from Drexel University, Philadelphia , PA , USA who is a regular visitor to India. Besides, cancer is not a notifiable disease. Prof. Frank cited a hospital in Mumbai which sees a dozen cases of mesothelioma every year. Studies have shown high rates of asbestosis among workers in the industry, including in those whose exposure to the material has spanned less than 5 years. There has been no real assessment of [asbestos-related disease] to the point that you can get accurate figures.

I submit that the verdict even by the World Trade Organization (WTO)’s Appellate Body (AB) validated the rights of Member States to prohibit the import and use of goods which contain carcinogenic substances such as chrysotile asbestos (white asbestos) is noteworthy. On March 12, 2001 the WTO's Appellate Body (AB) issued its ruling in the case of Canada vs. the European Communities Measures Affecting Asbestos and Asbestos-Containing Products. It noted that safe and controlled use of chrysotile asbestos is impossible.

I submit that India is the largest importer of asbestos, according to the UN Commodity Trade Statistics Database. Most of it goes into making corrugated roofing sheets as building material.

In our country, it has been estimated by a Canadian jurist that approximately 50, 000 people die every year due to asbestos related cancer. But so far Government of India and state governments has failed to take a pro-people’s health position and a scientific stand on the import of chrysotile asbestos whose mining is technically banned in India. It is a matter of fact that health is a state subject.

In such a context, I 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 World Health Organisation 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.

I 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, it is germane to ask Government of West Bengal to stop manufacturing, procurement and use of all forms of asbestos including white asbestos.

In view of the above, it is your solemn duty to protect the residents of West Bengal from the exposure of fibers of chrysotile asbestos.

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

Thanking you in anticipation


Yours Faithfully

Gopal Krishna, LL.M., Ph.D

Email:krishnaruhani@gmail.com

Web: www.asbestosfreeindia.org  


Tuesday, August 24, 2021

Legacy of Collegium Ramazzini Fellow, Dr. Morris Greenberg Survives: Barry Castleman

Dr. Morris Greenberg -- Remembrance


Dr. Morris Greenberg died peacefully on August 19, 2021. As UK Medical Inspector of Factories, he published a report of cases in the UK Mesothelioma Registry in 1974.  In addition to cases with occupational asbestos exposure as short as 3 weeks, one case included was a man whose only identified exposure was spending just one day sawing up asbestos sheets to make a chicken coop.  

In his work at the UK Factory Inspectorate, in publications continuing throughout his retirement, and in his willingness to be an activist and work with others for a world free of asbestos use, Morris Greenberg was an exemplar.  He wrote many papers analyzing historical events and showing where the authorities and industry had failed to protect the workers. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/?term=Greenberg%20M&cauthor_id=28913871&page=2 

In one paper, he recalled that London dock workers concerned about handling jute sacks of asbestos sought out the advice of renowned occupational health physician Donald Hunter in 1965.  Though Hunter supported their concerns, they were later lulled by reassurances from the port doctor and then trade union doctor Robert Murray (who would later go on to bankrupt asbestos activist Alan Dalton with a libel suit and testify in defense of T&N against asbestos victims).  Greenberg went on to show that the reassurances were not evidence-based and that existing data at the time and in decades since have shown that dockers were at increased risk of cancer.  

In 1997, the WHO Regional Office for Europe circulated draft reports “Asbestos and Health” and “Asbestos in Buildings.”  Dr. Richard Lemen, retired chief of the US National Institute of Occupational Health, raised concern that the reports were misleading and read like endorsements for using asbestos.  As controversy grew, WHO turned to Morris Greenberg to advise on the matter.  Though the “Asbestos and Health” report was modified by its author, Greenberg slammed the revision as containing elements unfitting in a WHO report.  Further criticism by union leaders and scientists including former IARC Director Lorenzo Tomatis led WHO headquarters to halt the report’s distribution in 1999.  A second edition of the report, much improved by the adoption of language from previous international reports, was published in 2000.  The “Asbestos in Buildings” report, whose atrocious draft advised local authorities to “de-dramatize the problem,” was never issued by WHO.

In 2008, the Collegium Ramazzini had just met in Carpi, Italy, and the periodic review of the Rotterdam Convention was scheduled to take place immediately afterward at the FAO in Rome.  Activists were coming to contest the opposition (by countries including Canada) to including chrysotile asbestos in the PIC list of substances covered by the convention's “prior informed consent” duty.  Scientists were needed to join the activists in trying to make a difference, where over 100 countries were represented.  Morris Greenberg (who was about 80 then) and Colin Soskolne agreed to come down with me on the train and spend several days in Rome, in case anybody wanted to argue about the epidemiology of chrysotile asbestos.  At one point, we joined a protest, holding large photographs of asbestos factory pollution in Asia.  [Pictures attached]

Morris Greenberg was a kind and decent man as well as a distinguished public health worker.

A Fellow of the Collegium Ramazzini practically since its founding in 1982 by Dr. Irving Selikoff and Cesare Maltoni, Dr. Greenberg was remembered with great affection by his colleagues and activists.  “A dear colleague and consummate gentleman” (Dr. Arthur Frank).  “Wise, deeply committed, and very dedicated.” (Dr. Phil Landrigan, former President of the Collegium)  “What a gentleman and scholar.  His cryptic sense of humor and his advocacy for worker health and safety were from his heart.  His contributions were many.”  (Dr. Richard Lemen)   “I remember his brilliant and biting wit, his scholarship and his human kindness. There won’t be another like him.  Grace, scholarship and humanity don’t come along very often.”  (Dr. Daniel Teitelbaum)  "A real mensch." (Dr. David Egilman)

Asbestos activists reacted with deep sadness to the passing of Morris Greenberg.  “He was such a wonderful man.” (Laurie Kazan-Allen, IBAS)  “His great contributions to public health and to end the man-made asbestos disaster will be remembered forever.”  (Linda Reinstein, ADAO)  “His work was dedicated to occupational justice across the globe which is an inspiration for countries like India where environmental-occupational health doctors are rare to find and required infrastructure is almost non-existent.”  (Gopal Krishna, BANI)

Morris Greenberg was also a great help to US lawyers representing asbestos victims, in their efforts to excavate the public health and corporate history of asbestos.  Gary Dimuzio wrote: “Morris, gentle giant of public and occupational health was unquestionably one of the major figures in occupational health including asbestos since the 1960s, he always fought for the ‘little guy’ even at the potential expense of his own career.  We all use his articles.  Despite advancing age and a fairly serious stroke several years ago, Morris was always willing to provide insights or help find an article or document that only he could find, as recently as just a few weeks ago.  He will be missed.”

Longtime US plaintiffs’ lawyer Conard Metcalf reacted, “ A great loss.  An incredible and enduring and powerful voice for workers and their families and of course for the science.”

By

Barry Castleman
--------------------------

MORRIS GREENBERG was Ramazzini Award recipient and Ramazzini Lecturer for 2011.  The Collegium Ramazzini issued this statement:

Morris Greenberg played a prominent role in occupational medicine in the United Kingdom over the past half century.  As Former HM Inspector of Factories and Former Senior Medical Officer, Division of Toxicology and Environmental Health in the UK Department of Health, he fought the power of industry throughout his career, dedicating himself to the health, safety, and well-being of workers.

Occupational medicine had become an academic discipline in the United Kingdom after the Second World War under the aegis of a few Universities and of the Medical Research Council. By 1970, the 110,000 factories covered by the 1879 Act had increased to 379,000 factories and the number of inspectors to 560, including 19 medical specialists, yet there had been little change to the organization.  Morris Greenberg participated in the realization of the Employment Medical Advisory Service Act of 1972, by which the Factory Inspectorate’s Medical Inspectors and some 1200 Appointed Factory Doctors were replaced by a national cadre of specialist physicians and nurses.  The whole health and safety apparatus was radically transformed, and Morris Greenberg was a key contributor in the process.

The newly reinforced Employment Medical Advisory Service collaborated with a number of academic units. Morris Greenberg was nominated as a founding member of the Council of the Royal Society of Medicine Occupational Health Section. When a Faculty of Occupational Medicine was inaugurated in the Royal College of Physicians London, to supplement the existing Society of Occupational Medicine, Morris Greenberg was elected to Fellowship. To the existing Diplomas in Industrial Health, academic units added the Master of Science degree, and the College of Physicians provided several levels of diploma, as well as maintaining a register of accredited doctors.

After retirement, Morris Greenberg was at liberty to speak out against the changes of government whose budgetary restraints reversed much of the progress he had helped to construct. Occupational medicine, whether academic, corporate, or private, is now in an uncertain state. He asked a rhetorical question in a paper published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine in 2002, The Rise and Fall of Occupational Medicine in the United Kingdom. “The first three quarters of the 20th century, before the golden age of Robens, threw up a number of UK worthies you would recognize as of international stature in the field of Occupational Medicine, including Oliver, Legge, Collis, Henry, Middleton, Merewether, Hunter, Schilling, and Gilson.  After 25 years of Robens, how many academics can you call to mind who can match them?  For that matter, how many academics have you come across prepared to alert politicians to Occupational Health problems, and to prick the consciences of the public?”

Indeed, it is Morris’ unique ability to “prick the conscience” of others that has made him such an invaluable member of the Collegium Ramazzini since 1983.  His devotion to the Collegium Ramazzini and the ideals for which it stands has provided a model for the next generation of physicians, practitioners and crusaders dedicated to the protection of workers and their health.

PHILIP J. LANDRIGAN, M.D. President
MORANDO SOFFRITTI, M.D. Secretary General
Carpi, October 29, 2011

 

Sunday, August 22, 2021

Doctor for Asbestos free world, Morris Greenberg is no more

One of the very earliest members of the Collegium Ramazzini, an independent academy in memory of the father of occupational medicine, Bernardino Ramazzini, Dr Morris Greenberg is no more. He died peacefully on August 19, 2021. He was a recipient of Ramazzini Award. Avi Greenberg informed that his grandfather is survived by his wife Gillian, his three children Susannah, Naomi and Daniel, his 11 grandchildren, and his 3 great grandchildren. Avi is a PhD Student in Prof. Itamar Simon's lab, Department of Microbiology and Molecular Genetics at Hebrew University Medical School, Jerusalem. 

In 1974, as Medical Inspector of Factories, UK, Dr. Morris Greenberg wrote a paper on the register of mesothelioma due to occupational asbestos exposure. He observed, "Overall in the study there were 38 cases (15.0% of all mesothelial tumours) lacking evidence of asbestos exposure. In this study the briefest occupational exposure to asbestos associated with a mesothelial tumour was three weeks, but if asbestos was a cause of mesothelioma it cannot be assumed that lesser exposures are safe." Most likely it is one of the earliest studies to underline that long duration of asbestos exposure is not a pre-condition for emergence of incurable asbestos related diseases.  Dr. Morris also served as senior Senior Medical Officer, Division of Toxicology and Environmental Health in the UK Department of Health. His work contributed to the enactment of UK's Employment Medical Advisory Service Act,1972. He was a founding member of the Council of the Royal Society of Medicine Occupational Health Section.

A Fellow of Collegium Ramazzini, Barry Castleman, author of Asbestos: Medical and Legal Aspects recalled, "In 2008, the Collegium Ramazzini had just met, and the periodic review of the Rotterdam Convention was scheduled to take place immediately afterward at the FAO in Rome. Activists were coming to Rome to contest the opposition to including chrysotile asbestos in the PIC list of substances covered by the convention's prior informed consent duty.  We needed some scientists to join the activists in trying to make a difference there.  Morris and Colin agreed to come down with me on the train and spend several days there, in case anybody wanted to argue about the lethality of chrysotile asbestos." Dr Morris would have been quite happy to see inclusion of chrysotile asbestos in the UN list of hazardous substances under Rotterdam Convention on Prior Informed Consent Procedure for certain Hazardous Chemicals and Pesticides in International Trade in his lifetime.  
(Photo: Dr. Morris Greenberg in hat with Dr. Barry Castleman)

In an article in American Journal of Industrial Medicine, he recalled how an inquiry from the UK in 1912 as to the health of Quebec asbestos miners was met by a denial of ill-health, but the loading of the premiums of asbestos workers in the 1930s indicated that, despite further reassuring health studies on Quebec miners, actuaries had data that was cause for serious concern. 

In Social History of Medicine, he wrote a chapter on "Knowledge of the Health Hazard of Asbestos Prior to the Merewether and Price Report of 1930" about the initial realization of the burden of ill health associated with occupational exposure to asbestos dust, and the need for environmental control, which according to him pre-dated the publication of the results of the survey by Merewether and Price in 1930. He held the view that there was sufficient evidence available prior to 1930 that should have led to preventive action. He observed, "The responsibility for this delay must be shared between manufacturers, workers' representatives, the Factory Inspectorate and Scientists involved in the relevant research." 

Notably, the Annual Report of the Chief Inspector of Factories in Great Britain for the year 1947 (published in 1949) was authored by the Chief Inspector,  UK, E. R. A. Merewether, a general practitioner who worked with an industrial engineer, C.V. Price, to publish the first epidemiological study of the asbestos industry in 1930. They examined 363 workers involved in opening, carding, stripping, grinding, spinning and weaving in asbestos textiles mills in the UK. They found that one in four of the workers had signs of a serious respiratory disease, paving the way for legislation. The findings were published in the US industrial medical journal- Journal of Industrial Hygiene in 1930.
In such a backdrop, writings of Dr. Morris underline the need for convergence between history of public health and medical science for preventive action against environmental and occupational diseases.

Towards the end of his life, he was dismayed by the uncertain state of occupational medicine. He wrote on The Rise and Fall of Occupational Medicine in the United Kingdom in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine. In the naked lust for profit by conscienceless body corporates, the plight of occupational health of workers is not accorded any priority by ruling parties who survive on the donations from these very undemocratic entities.
     
Ban Asbestos Network of India (BANI) salutes him and his work for the protection of public health. In November 2015, BANI co-signed a letter authored by Katherine Ruff, a noted Canadian human rights activist, with him to the Canadian Prime Minister seeking ban on asbestos. Subsequently, Canada banned asbestos. Canada has been one of the main suppliers of asbestos to India, which has banned its own asbestos mining due to harmful effects of asbestos mineral fibers. Dr Morris was familiar with the public health crisis in India in this regard. When he wrote in the matter of industry efforts to prevent asbestos ban in Pakistan, he recalled that Asbestos Cement Products Manufacturers of India like their Pakistani counterpart is part of the International Chrysotile Association, which represents the interest of the Chrysotile industry world over. His work was dedicated to occupational justice across the globe which is an inspiration for countries like India where environmental-occupational health doctors are rare to find and required infrastructure is almost non-existent. 

Monday, August 16, 2021

Indians saved from Brazilian White Asbestos, yet to be saved from Russian, Chinese & Kazakh ones

BANI welcomes Brazilian court’s immediate suspension of the extraction, exploration, processing, marketing, transport and export of asbestos cancerous mineral

India yet to implement 26 year old verdict of Supreme Court of India seeking adoption of fresh ILO resolution that seeks elimination of asbestos

 

Governments in India callous towards WHO resolution on elimination of incurable asbestos related diseases  


Eternit asbestos company announces stoppage of asbestos mining in Brazil



Ban Asbestos Network of India (BANI) welcomes the Brazilian court’s immediate suspension of the extraction, exploration, processing, marketing, transport and export of asbestos produced. The 25 page long decision of the court located in the Brazilian state of Goiás is consistent with the decision of the Brazilian Supreme Court. In 2017, decisions of the Brazilian Supreme Federal Court (STF) recognized the unconstitutionality of Article 2 of Federal Law No. 9,055/95, which allowed the extraction, processing, transportation, industrialization and export of asbestos of chrysotile variety. The order was communicated by Federal Public Prosecutor's Office on August 16, 2021. India is one of the key consumers of Brazilian asbestos. It is noteworthy that both the Brazilian decisions are consistent with the 24 page long verdict of Supreme Court of India in Consumer Education & Research Centre (CERC) v Union of India (1995) authored by Justice K Ramaswamy as part of 3-Judge Bench comprising of Chief Justice A M Ahmadi and Justice M.M. Punchhi.

 

Brazilian court’s decision has factored in the scientific knowledge about the harm of asbestos in all its varieties; the lack of safe limits for exposure to asbestos mineral; the existence of high risks of contamination not only for workers in the production chain, but also for their families, for the populations surrounding mines and factories and for consumers in general; and the technical impossibility of implementing control measures aimed at eliminating contact with the substance. The decisions of the Supreme Court had led to the shutdown of Sama's activities in Uruaçu in the Brazilian state of Goiás.

 

Brazil’s Federal Public Prosecutor's Office has obtained immediate suspension of activities of extraction, exploitation, processing, marketing, transportation and export of chrysotile asbestos by the company Sama S.A. Minerações Associadas, a subsidiary of Eternit S.A., headquartered in Minaçu (GO). The court’s decision implies  immediate suspension of the effects of authorizations from the National Mining Agency (ANM), granted through the National Department of Mineral Production (DNPM), for research, mining and processing of asbestos, granted to companies for exploration and processing of the carcinogenic mineral. The company Sama is one of the largest asbestos mining companies in the world, extracted and processed of asbestos for more than 40 years.  The order came from the Federal Court of Uruaçu in a public civil action.

 

In the aftermath of Brazilian Supreme Court’s ruling which banned the commercial exploitation of asbestos throughout the country, within the state of Goiás, Law no. 20,514 of July 16, 2019 was edited to authorize extraction and processing of asbestos from the chrysotile variety throughout the Brazilian territory. As a result, Eternit S.A. announced in February 2020 the resumption of asbestos mineral processing in Minaçu, through its subsidiary, Sama. 

 

Pursuant to the edited law Sama announced the resumption of excavations for the extraction of asbestos for export, based on state law on November 17, 2020. The company was already exploring, since February 2020, asbestos to “the United States, Germany, India, Indonesia, Malaysia and other Asian countries.” Notably, on November 29, 2017, by a majority verdict, the Brazilian Supreme Court prohibited the mining, processing, marketing and distribution of white chrysotile asbestos. The constitutional supreme court of Brazil decided by 8 votes against 2 that the Brazilian state of São Paulo has the right to forbid the production and selling of white chrysotile asbestos, a carcinogenic mineral fibre.  As many as 10 Brazilian states prohibited the use of this mineral fibre because of the incurable diseases caused by it prior to the verdict. The verdict extended the ban to all the 26 districts by declaring use of asbestos to be unconstitutional. On December 5, 2017, Eternit S.A. announced that it has suspended chrysotile asbestos mining operations at its Sama mine. On December 19, 2017, Justice Rosa Weber of Brazilian Supreme Court provided exemption to asbestos mining and manufacture in states where there was no ban on asbestos. On July 15, 2019, the Legislative Assembly of Goiás State approved the law which allowed Sama to resume mining for export only. On July 22, 2019, the National Association of Labor Attorneys appealed to the Supreme Court seeking suspension of Goiás State law. On November 17, 2020, Asbestos mining recommenced at the Sama Mine. It is evident that Justice Rosa Weber’s decision was indefensible.  

 

It was in this backdrop that José Ricardo Teixeira Alves, the Attorney of Anapólis, the author of the public civil action concluded that there was violation of the decisions of the Supreme Court and serious violation of national laws and the Federal Constitution, to the extent that it enabled white chrysotile asbestos extraction for export purposes. Located between two capitals, the federal capital Brasília and state capital Goiânia, Anapólis is a Brazilian municipality of the State of Goiás. As a consequence of the non-compliance with the court’s decision, the Federal Court fixed the application of a daily fine in the amount of five percent of the monthly income of the company when in activity.

 

It is indeed strange that members of the BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) group are refusing to learn from each other to safeguard the health of their citizens.  Brazil, a country which banned asbestos, has been exporting it to India. South Africa, which has banned asbestos, has been importing asbestos products from India. Russia and China refuse to pay heed to asbestos related laws in South Africa, Brazil and India. India has banned mining of asbestos but continues to export it from Russia and China.

 

According to a report of the government of India published in January 2020, imports of asbestos were 3,57,182 tonnes in 2017-18 against 3,10,592 tonnes in the previous year. Entire import was that of chrysotile asbestos. Imports of asbestos were mainly from Russia (63%), Brazil (21%) and Kazakhstan (16%). A total of 29,031 tonnes asbestos-cement products were also imported in 2017-18 as against 28,416 tonnes in the previous year. Imports were mainly from Thailand (89%) and China (3%). Besides above, asbestos-fibre of 3,57,182 tonnes was also imported during the year 2017-18 as compared to 3,10,592 tonnes in the previous year. Imports of asbestos-fibre were mainly from Russia (63%), Brazil (21%) and Kazakhstan (16%). Imports of asbestos fibre products were 4,479 tonnes during the year 2017-18 as compared to 5,227 tonnes in previous year. Imports of asbestos fibre products were mainly from Japan (34%), China and USA (15% each) and Thailand (8%). In addition to asbestos minerals, an unknown quantity of asbestos is traded within manufactured products, possibly including brake linings and pads, building materials, gaskets, millboard, yarn and thread.    

 

The report also reveals that India’s exports of asbestos increased substantially by 29% to 132 tonnes in 2017-18 as compared to 102 tonnes in the previous year. Exports were mainly to Bangladesh (more than 90%) and Nepal 6%. Exports of asbestos (fibre products) were at 35,812 tonnes in 2017-18 as compared to 33,973 tonnes in the previous year. Exports were mainly to the USA (26%), Egypt (8%), UAE (7%), Poland and Canada (3% each), Sri Lanka and South Africa (2% each). Export of asbestos (chrysotile) was one tonne during the year 2017-18 as compared to 26 tonnes in the preceding year. Exports of asbestos (others) increased to 131 tonnes during the year 2017-18 as compared to 76 tonnes in the preceding year. Exports of asbestos-cement products were 62,291 tonnes in 2017-18 as compared to 69,125 tonnes in the preceding year.  Exports of asbestos-cement products were mainly to UAE (34%), Qatar (18%), Nepal (15%), Saudi Arabia (7%) and Oman (4%)

 

It is apparent that governments in the USA, Poland, Canada, Sri Lanka, South Africa, Egypt, UAE, Bangladesh, Nepal,  Qatar and Saudi Arabia appear to be indifferent towards the recommendations of the World Health Organsiation like India.  

 

If WHO's recommendation inspires action on covid-19, why it's recommendation for elimination of asbestos related diseases due to white chrysotile asbestos not inspire action?  How is it scientific to trust and act as per WHO advice on covid-19 but not against all kinds of carcinogenic white chrysotile asbestos? The Supreme Court in Consumer Education & Research Centre (CERC) v Union of India endorsed ILO resolution against asbestos.

 

India's Supreme Court and high courts have consistently expressed their serious concerns regarding exposure to these carcinogenic mineral fibres and has asked the central and state governments to update their laws as per fresh resolution of the International Labour Organisation, which has sought elimination of future use of white chrysotile asbestos to safeguard human health. But the governments in India have not complied with its directions so far. Meanwhile, Bihar has become the first state in India to announce that it will not allow setting up of asbestos factories in the state and 22 asbestos factories owner, CK Birla Group’s Hyderabad Industries Limited (HIL), a member of Asbestos Cement Products Manufacturers Association (ACPMA) has entered non-asbestos, eco-friendly, autoclaved roofing solution. Fearing manslaughter cases, asbestos countries worldover are shifting to the no-asbestos sector. HIL observed, “The Asbestos business, which was contributing 80 per cent of revenue has now come down to 30 per cent, with rest of the 70 per cent from non-asbestos business.”  It is hoped that other members of ACPMA too will adopt HIL’s approach as well besides setting up a compensation fund for victims of asbestos related diseases.  

 

India’s most deprived and marginalised communities as many as 16.4 per cent in the rural areas and 20 per cent in the urban areas live and work under asbestos roofs. Some 79 percent of Dalits (200 million) live in such houses. The fact is that no private or public building in India is asbestos free and almost all water supply pipes in the country are made of asbestos cement. Asbestos is harmful in its entire life cycle. Significantly, First Schedule of Occupational Safety, Health and Working Conditions (OSHWC) Code, 2020 refers to Industries involving hazardous processes including manufacture, handling and processing of Asbestos and its products and its Third Schedule lists incurable Asbestosis as a Notifiable Disease. Given the fact that some 70 countries have banned human asbestos and human biology is the same everywhere, immediate steps are required in the supreme national interest to safeguard the health of present and future generations.

 

India imported 21 % of all its imported asbestos from Brazil. Following Brazilian court’s decision, there is a compelling logic for Union of India and State Governments to pay heed to the verdict of Supreme Court of India in the CERC case to update its laws in the light of ILO resolution of 2006 to eliminate all kinds of asbestos and related incurable and fatal diseases.


For Details: Gopal Krishna, Ban Asbestos Network of India (BANI), Mb: 091808966, E-mail: krishnagreen@gmail.com, Web: www.asbestosfreeindia.org   

 

Thursday, August 5, 2021

White Asbestos-a time bomb for lungs, larynx and ovaries


Asbestos is a proven carcinogen and banned in many countries. India has banned asbestos mining and trade in asbestos waste (dust and fibers) but it is yet to ban it's import, manufacture and use. The establishment in India has expressed its concern over the manufacture and use of this killer mineral but remain under the influence of the cartel of asbestos firms in practice at the behest of asbestos producers like Russia. Governments continue to give environmental clearance and No Objection Certificate (NOC) for asbestos based plants.

Villagers of Bihar's Bihiya, Bhojpur are up in protest. They want closure of the two asbestos plants in their neighbourhood. 

"Human biology is the same everywhere. How can a chemical be deemed poisonous in one district and non-poisonous in another district of the same state," the Bihiya, Bhojpur villagers are asking. They are emboldened by the fact that Bihar Chief Minister larynx Kumar has promised in the State Assembly that he will not allow asbestos plants in Bihar. 

In July 2019, he said, "We are not using asbestos sheets in government projects&schemes, nor are we providing any incentive to promoters of asbestos factories. CM has promised to provide pucca houses to the poor without the harmful asbestos roof. 79 ℅ of 200 million Dalits in India live under asbestos roofs (Census 2011).

Villagers of Bihiya, Bhojpur have been complaining against the hazardous factories in their proximity that manufacture  white asbestos-cement products. These two plants have been set up in Bihiya in Bhojpur by Tamil Nadu based Ramco Industries Ltd. 

Although Bihar Government has promised ban on asbestos plants, asbestos based products including roofs are visible in Araria, Arwal, Aurangabad, Banka, Begusarai, Bhagalpur, Bhojpur, Buxar, Darbhanga, East Champaran (Motihari), Gaya, Gopalganj, Jamui

Jehanabad, Kaimur (Bhabua), Katihar, Khagaria, Kishanganj, Lakhisarai, Madhepura, Madhubani, Munger, Muzaffarpur, Nalanda, Nawada, Patna, Purnia (Purnea), Rohtas, Saharsa, Samastipur, Saran, Sheikhpura, Sheohar, Sitamarhi, Siwan, Supaul, Vaishali and West Champaran. Most of the asbestos based products are coming from other states. 

Despite Chief Minister's promise a 120,000 MT/Annum capacity Asbestos Cement Sheet Plant and a 200,000 MT/Annum capacity Asbestos Grinding Plant which were set up in Bihiya prior to his assurance continues to function despite violating all the relevant environmental laws and in spite of the fact that Bihar State Pollution Control Board (BSPCB) had cancelled its NOC. 

Asbestos, banned in many countries, is still used widely across India and is part of a cartel of companies who justify the use of asbestos as affordable roofing and claim that chrysotile asbestos can be safely manufactured and used without risks. These companies claim that the kind of asbestos used in India is not carcinogenic.

Globally, asbestos industry is on trial since the 1920s. So far some 70 countries, including the Nepal, Japan, Israel, South Africa and European Union, have banned asbestos. In 2005, WHO and ILO passed a resolution seeking elimination of future use of chrysotile white asbestos. A 2010 report of the International Agency for Research on Cancer said, "Epidemiological evidence has increasingly shown an association of all forms of asbestos with an increased risk of lung cancer and mesothelioma" and that an estimated 125 million people are still exposed to it.

During an International Conference on "Emerging Trends in Preventing Occupational Respiratory Diseases and Cancers in Workplace," experts warned India of the dangers of continuing with asbestos. "No matter what misinformation comes from Canada or the Indian asbestos industry, there is no doubt that chrysotile causes asbestosis and lung cancer," said Prof Arthur L Frank, Department of Environmental and Occupational Health, Drexel University School of Public Health, the USA.

Dr Alec Farquhar, former Managing Director, Occupational Health Clinics for Ontario Workers, Canada, said, "We now have around 500 asbestos cancer cases every year in Ontario. If you (India) continue on your current path, you will multiply our death count by 100 times. That is 50,000 Indian workers dying every year from asbestos."

Experts and activists are exhorting Indian Commerce Ministry to desist from importing asbestos from Russia, Brazil, Kazakhstan and China. 

Union Environment Ministry s Vision Statement on Environment and Human Health said, "Alternatives to asbestos may be used to the extent possible and use of asbestos may be phased out." But the Ministry continues to give clearance to asbestos based plants.  Government is yet to disassociate itself from countries like Russia  who derailed the international consensus that could have categorised chrysotile asbestos as a hazardous substance although it is a hazardous substance under the domestic law. It is yet to set up a compensation fund for asbestos victims. New laws in India recognize asbestos related diseases but the governments are yet to make asbestos companies liable for knowingly exposing workers, consumers and citizens to asbestos fibres. Government had promised to include asbestos victims under Health Ministry s Rashtriya Swasthya Birna Yojana but it is yet to happen. 

Given the fact that WHO's recommendations regarding covid-19 has been accepted, it is logical to expect that both Union Government and State Governments will pay heed to WHO's recommendations for phase out use, trade and manufacture of white chrysotile asbestos. 

Asbestos is a group of naturally occurring fibrous minerals with current or historical commercial usefulness due to their extraordinary tensile strength, poor heat conduction, and relative resistance to chemical attack. For these reasons, asbestos is used for insulation in buildings and as an ingredient in a number of products, such as roofing shingles, water supply lines, and fire blankets, as well as clutches and brake linings, gaskets, and pads for automobiles.

The main forms of asbestos are chrysotile (white asbestos) and crocidolite (blue asbestos). Other forms include amosite, anthophylite, tremolite and actinolite.

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.

Approximately half of the deaths from occupational cancer are estimated to be caused by asbestos. In addition, it is estimated that several thousand deaths annually can be attributed to exposure to asbestos in the home.

Many fibre substitutes for chrysotile asbestos assessed by WHO pose a relatively low hazard to human health, though, the carcinogenic hazard of some fibre substitutes was found to be high. However, there are many non-fibre low hazard materials that can substitute for chrysotile asbestos in various uses, such as conventional building materials.

The World Health Assembly resolution 58.22 on cancer prevention urges Member States to pay special attention to cancers for which avoidable exposure is a factor, including exposure to chemicals at the workplace and in the environment.

With resolution 60.26, the World Health Assembly requested WHO to carry out a global campaign for the elimination of asbestos-related diseases "…bearing in mind a differentiated approach to regulating its various forms - in line with the relevant international legal instruments and the latest evidence for effective interventions…". Cost-effective interventions for prevention of occupational lung diseases from exposure to asbestos are among the policy options for implementing the "Global Action Plan for the Prevention and Control of Non-communicable Diseases" (2013-2020), as endorsed by the Sixty-sixth World Health Assembly in resolution WHA66.10 in 2013.

Eliminating asbestos-related diseases is particularly targeted at countries still using chrysotile asbestos, in addition to assistance in relation to exposures arising from historical use of all forms of asbestos.

WHO, in collaboration with the International Labour Organization and other intergovernmental organizations and civil society, works with countries towards elimination of asbestos-related diseases by:

recognizing that the most efficient way to eliminate asbestos-related diseases is to stop the use of all types of asbestos;

providing information about solutions for replacing asbestos with safer substitutes and developing economic and technological mechanisms to stimulate its replacement;

taking measures to prevent exposure to asbestos in place and during asbestos removal (abatement);

improving early diagnosis, treatment, and rehabilitation services for asbestos-related diseases;

establishing registries of people with past and/or current exposures to asbestos and organizing medical surveillance of exposed workers; and providing information on the hazards associated with asbestos-containing materials and products. 

There is a compelling logic for a moratorium on asbestos based hazardous industries and products. 

Is it not ironical that the "imported fiber" of carcinogenic white chrysotile asbestos is being advertised by asbestos companies in India given the fact that India has banned mining of all kinds of asbestos fibers because of its deleterious impact on human health? 


Blog Archive