Make India Asbestos Free

Make India Asbestos Free
For Asbestos Free India

Journal of Ban Asbestos Network of India (BANI) that works for Asbestos Free India inspired by trade union leader Purnendu Majumadar. Occupational Health India and ToxicsWatch Alliance are its members that includes doctors, researchers and activists. BANI demands criminal liability for companies and medico-legal remedy for victims. It works with trade unions, human rights, environmental, consumer and public health groups. For Details: 1715krishna@gmail.com

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

World Bank Group under Scanner for Asbestos use in India

People's Tribunal on World Bank takes note of Asbestos Hazards

New Delhi, 25/9/2007: On the final day of Independent Peoples Tribunal (IPT) on the World Bank Group (WBG), it was presented with evidence of Bank’s own officials suggesting how it finances huge infrastructure projects all over the world including India despite this there is no formal restrictions on the use of asbestos-cement (A-C) sheets and pipes in these projects. Over 90 percent of all asbestos used today is in A-C sheets and pipes, and this production is concentrated in poor countries. Ban Asbestos Network of India (BANI) called for urgent action in India and elsewhere to end the needless slaughter caused by this environmental and occupational health catastrophe.

The IPT heard the testimonies on Toxics and the role of WBG wherein it was alleged, 'The Bank is perpetrating toxic colonialism by funding discredited and polluting technology interventions'. The 4-day IPT was held from 21 –24 September at Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi.

Asbestos is a proven human carcinogen (a substance which can cause cancer). No safe level can be proposed for asbestos products because there is no threshold of exposure which is not safe. Asbestos accumulates in the body; the microscopic fibers which lodge in tissues are time bombs that can cause cancer years later. Since asbestos exposure is cumulative, young people are in particular need of protection. The World Health Organization (WHO), the International Labor Organization (ILO), and the International Social Security Association (ISSA) have all called for a global ban on asbestos use.

Despite this, asbestos consumption is rising dramatically in India. The International Program on Chemical Safety has condemned the use of asbestos in construction materials as especially dangerous because of the large number of workers in construction and the extreme difficulty of protecting them. The continuing usage of these materials constitutes a danger to workers manufacturing the products and communities exposed to wastes and air pollution from manufacturing and construction sites. The buildings and pipelines installed today will pose dangers for future generations of people in the countries where they are used, if they contain asbestos. Asbestos is processed through various methods and used for making cement products, gasket sheet material, friction material, heat resistant textiles, some special applications like in paints, thermoplastics etc. In addition it is used for textiles, laminated products, tape, gland packing, packing ropes, brake lining and jointing used in core sector industries such as automobile, heavy equipment, petro-chemicals, nuclear power plants, fertilizers, thermal power plants, transportation, defense and railways. It is used in manufacture of asbestos cement roofs, pressure and non-pressure pipes, sewage, irrigation and drainage system in urban and rural areas etc.

All forms of asbestos except Chrysotile Asbestos is banned in India. Mining of asbestos is also banned since no new lease for asbestos mining is allowed. The export and import of asbestos waste (dust and fiber) is also banned as per Hazardous Waste (Management & Handling) Rules, 2003. But import of Chrysotile asbestos is still allowed despite ban in some 40 countries due to incurable but preventable cancer caused by this killer fiber in the name of its continued mythical “safe and controlled use”. Asbestos-related diseases constitute the largest occupational epidemic of the 20th century; this global scourge has been acknowledged by reputed medical journals like the British Medical Journal (January 31, 2004).

Despite this knowledge, no attempt has been made to quantify the total number of asbestos victims in India despite the national asbestos crisis. While asbestos imports and use continues to grow in countries like India, its use has decreased significantly in developed countries. Canada exports almost all of the asbestos (more than 96%) mined in the country, especially to Asia, including India, whereas asbestos use in Canada is almost non-existent. In the US, demand for asbestos has continued to decline and a Ban Asbestos Act is on the Congressional agenda. The developed world has responded to the asbestos health catastrophe with bans on the use of asbestos. On the contrary, asbestos use is expanding in India and the government actively colludes with the asbestos industry by instituting pro-asbestos measures such as the reduction of taxes on asbestos imports. The reduction of import duty reduces the cost of asbestos and thereby gives harmful asbestos-containing products a price advantage over safer materials.

Although the Supreme Court of India has directed Union and State Governments to take action consistent with ILO resolutions and the ILO Convention on Asbestos, Ministries in India have not taken action in pursuance of ILO’s Resolution on Asbestos dated 14th June, 2006 stating “the elimination of the future use of asbestos and the identification and proper management of asbestos currently in place are the most effective means to protect workers from asbestos exposures and to prevent future asbestos-related disease and deaths.”. Even if the use of asbestos products is discontinued there are and will be a massive number of victims from past asbestos exposures. This is what has happened elsewhere and there is no doubt the asbestos epidemics which have occurred in the US, Europe, Australia and Japan will be replicated in India and other asbestos consuming countries. Information revealing the dangers to human health of exposure to asbestos was available over 60 years ago. Despite the efforts of the asbestos industry to suppress negative findings, during the 20th century epidemiological studies and medical data conclusively proved the link between asbestos and a number of debilitating and fatal diseases.
In a written submission to the IPT, BANI demanded, “The World Bank should adopt a formal policy of forbidding asbestos in all of its projects and require the use of safer substitute construction materials. Such substitution is feasible as shown by the bans in more than 40 countries.. The World Bank should also adopt best practice guidelines for the minimization of asbestos exposures in projects where in-place asbestos materials are disturbed by renovation or demolition activities.” It has called upon the World Bank to support the asbestos action program just started by the WHO
(See:http://www.who.int/occupational_health/publications/asbestosrelateddiseases.pdf)
and use its influence and leverage to press for cessation of asbestos use all over world.
.
BANI drew attention of the jury towards the report of World Bank environmental official Robert Goodland, "Sustainable Development Sourcebook for the World Bank Group's Extractive Industries Review: Examining the Social and Environmental Impacts of Oil, Gas, and Mining" (3 December, 2003). Policy options for asbestos (p. 141) included, "5. The WBG should work with the rest of the UN system to foster a global ban on asbestos." Other policy recommendations were:
1. The WBG should not provide support for any asbestos-containing products, even indirectly, including through mining, manufacture, commerce and use. The rest of the WBG should follow the lead of IFC, which has put asbestos on its Exclusion List.
2. The WBG should actively assist with the safe removal and disposal of asbestos, and adopt a best practice demolition code.
3. The WBG should support asbestos manufacturers in developing countries to
switch out of asbestos-containing products and into less risky products.
4. The WBG should support victims of asbestos exposure, including litigation for compensation of victims, and/or the creation of a financial compensation mechanism akin to the mechanism being explored in the case of toxic mine waste and the toxic lagoon legacy issue taken up by the Extractive Industry Review (See eireview.net).

The World Bank Group must explain why it has not taken the recommended actions.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Submission on Asbestos before Tribunal on World Bank Group




To

Independent People's Tribunal on the World Bank Group

Subject-Continued trade and use of asbestos in India and World Bank

Hon’ble Jury Members,

The World Bank Group (WBG) finances huge infrastructure projects all over the world including India but has no formal restrictions on the use of asbestos-cement (A-C) sheets and pipes in these projects. Over 90 percent of all asbestos used today is in A-C sheets and pipes, and this production is concentrated in poor countries.

The World Health Organization (WHO), the International Labor Organization (ILO), and the International Social Security Association (ISSA) have all called for a global ban on asbestos use.

Despite this, asbestos consumption is rising dramatically in India, China, Thailand, and other countries. The International Program on Chemical Safety has condemned the use of asbestos in construction materials as especially dangerous because of the large number of workers in construction and the extreme difficulty of protecting them. The continuing usage of these materials constitutes a danger to workers manufacturing the products and communities exposed to wastes and air pollution from manufacturing and construction sites. The buildings and pipelines installed today will pose dangers for future generations of people in the countries where they are used, if they contain asbestos.

All forms of asbestos except Chrysotile Asbestos is banned in India. Mining of asbestos is also banned since no new lease for asbestos mining is allowed. The export and import of asbestos waste (dust and fiber) is also banned as per Hazardous Waste (Management & Handling) Rules, 2003. But import of Chrysotile asbestos is still allowed despite ban in some 40 countries due to incurable but preventable cancer caused by this killer fiber in the name of its continued mythical “safe and controlled use”.

Asbestos is processed through various methods and used for making cement products, gasket sheet material, friction material, heat resistant textiles, some special applications like in paints, thermoplastics etc. In addition it is used for textiles, laminated products, tape, gland packing, packing ropes, brake lining and jointing used in core sector industries such as automobile, heavy equipment, petro-chemicals, nuclear power plants, fertilizers, thermal power plants, transportation, defense. It is used in manufacture of asbestos cement roofs, pressure and non pressure pipes, sewage, irrigation and drainage system in urban and rural areas etc.

Asbestos-related diseases constitute the largest occupational epidemic of the 20th century; this global scourge has been acknowledged by reputed medical journals like the British Medical Journal (January 31, 2004).

Despite this knowledge, no attempt has been made to quantify the total number of asbestos victims in India despite the national asbestos crisis. Asbestos is a proven human carcinogen (a substance which can cause cancer). No safe level can be proposed for asbestos products because there is no threshold of exposure which is not safe. Asbestos accumulates in the body; the microscopic fibers which lodge in tissues are time bombs that can cause cancer years later. Since asbestos exposure is cumulative, young people are in particular need of protection.

While asbestos imports and use continues to grow in countries like India, its use has decreased significantly in developed countries. Canada exports almost all of the asbestos (more than 96%) mined in the country, especially to Asia, including India, whereas asbestos use in Canada is almost non-existent. In the US, demand for asbestos has continued to decline and a Ban Asbestos Act is on the Congressional agenda. The developed world has responded to the asbestos health catastrophe with bans on the use of asbestos. On the contrary, asbestos use is expanding in India and the government actively colludes with the asbestos industry by instituting pro-asbestos measures such as the reduction of taxes on asbestos imports. The reduction of import duty, reduces the cost of asbestos and thereby gives harmful asbestos-containing products a price advantage over safer materials.

Although the Supreme Court of India has directed Union and State Governments to take action consistent with ILO resolutions and the ILO Convention on Asbestos, Ministries in India have not taken action in pursuance of ILO’s Resolution on Asbestos dated 14th June, 2006 stating “the elimination of the future use of asbestos and the identification and proper management of asbestos currently in place are the most effective means to protect workers from asbestos exposures and to prevent future asbestos-related disease and deaths.”. Even if the use of asbestos products is discontinued there are and will be a massive number of victims from past asbestos exposures. This is what has happened elsewhere and there is no doubt the asbestos epidemics which have occurred in the US, Europe, Australia and Japan will be replicated in India and other asbestos consuming countries.

Information revealing the dangers to human health of exposure to asbestos was available over 60 years ago.. Despite the efforts of the asbestos industry to suppress negative findings, during the 20th century epidemiological studies and medical data conclusively proved the link between asbestos and a number of debilitating and fatal diseases. Urgent action is needed in India and elsewhere to end the needless slaughter caused by this environmental and occupational health catastrophe

The World Bank should adopt a formal policy of forbidding asbestos in all of its projects and require the use of safer substitute construction materials. Such substitution is feasible as shown by the bans in more than 40 countries.. The World Bank should also adopt best practice guidelines for the minimization of asbestos exposures in projects where in-place asbestos materials are disturbed by renovation or demolition activities.

The World Bank should support the asbestos action program just started by the WHO
(See: http://www.who.int/occupational_health/publications/asbestosrelateddiseases.pdf)
and use its influence and leverage to press for the cessation of asbestos use all over the world.
.
The report of retired World Bank environmental official Robert Goodland, "Sustainable Development Sourcebook for the World Bank Group's Extractive Industries Review: Examining the Social and Environmental Impacts of Oil, Gas, and Mining" (3 December, 2003). Policy options for asbestos (p. 141) included, "5. The WBG should work with the
rest of the UN system to foster a global ban on asbestos." Other policy recommendations were,

1. The WBG should not provide support for any asbestos-containing products,
even indirectly, including through mining, manufacture, commerce and use. The rest of the WBG should follow the lead of IFC, which has put asbestos on its Exclusion List.

2. The WBG should actively assist with the safe removal and disposal of asbestos, and adopt a best practice demolition code.

3. The WBG should support asbestos manufacturers in developing countries to
switch out of asbestos-containing products and into less risky products.

4. The WBG should support victims of asbestos exposure, including litigation for compensation of victims, and/or the creation of a financial compensation mechanism akin to the mechanism being explored in the case of toxic mine waste and the toxic lagoon legacy issue taken up by the Extractive Industry Review (See eireview.net)

The World Bank must explain why it has not taken the recommended actions.


Yours faithfully


Submitted to the Jury of Independent People's Tribunal on the World Bank Group on 24th September, 2007 at Jawaharlal Nehru University(JNU), New Delhi

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Human Rights & Environmental Groups Condemn Blue Lady Ruling

Human Rights and Environmental Groups Condemn India for Callous Disregard for its Poorest Labourers

and the Law after Shipbreaking Ruling

New Delhi; Brussels 12 September 2007: The NGO Platform on Shipbreaking, a global coalition of environmental, labour and human rights organisations, today condemned the Indian Supreme Court’s September 11th decision to allow the demolition of the asbestos laden ocean liner SS Blue Lady (formerly SS France, SS Norway).

Since June of last year the Platform has provided indisputable evidence to the Indian Supreme court that the SS Blue Lady contains large amounts of hazardous materials that can not be dealt with in a safe and environmentally sound manner on the beaches of Alang, India. The Platform has also unfailingly notified the Court that allowing the dismantling of this toxics laden cruise liner is in breach with India’s own laws and commitments to international labour rights and environmental Conventions. Despite this, the vessel was allowed to be beached on 17 August 2006 and will now be dismantled in Alang at the inevitable cost of workers’ lives and environmental contamination. Just days previous, on September 6th, the Supreme Court passed a judgement calling for all ships coming into India destined for breaking to be emptied of all hazardous materials before export to India. Bangladesh already refused to dismantle the SS Blue Lady in February 2006 due to the large amounts of hazardous wastes on board.

“The Blue Lady ruling yesterday makes a mockery of the Indian judicial system and shows it has no respect for their own rulings, and international law, but likewise has officially condemned the shipbreaking workers to death by accident or from occupational disease such as asbestosis and cancer,” said Ingvild Jenssen, Platform coordinator. “This ruling sends an unmistakable signal that India does not care about the welfare of its poorest most desperate workers.”

After the EU's legal judgement to have the ex-aircraft carrier Clemenceau returned in compliance with the international Basel Convention in 2006, the Alang industry and their associates in government have been desperate to give India's internationally condemned shipbreaking industry a boost. According to the Platform, the Blue Lady was illegally beached to achieve this objective and will now be illegally broken.

No full inventory of the hazardous materials onboard the vessel was provided to the Indian Government before the vessel entered Indian territorial waters, as is required by the UN Basel Convention and under Indian law. The permission to beach the vessel was based on a flawed visual inspection of the vessel by a Technical Committee established for this purpose and formed as well as chaired by the same agencies that stand accused of violating the law in shipbreaking matters. No samplings of polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) were made which typically exist in large amounts in ships of this vintage; the Committee failed to note the presence of 5,500 fire detection points containing radioactive substances; and the well over 1,000 tons of asbestos contaminated materials known to be on board were said to be of no concern. This was stated despite the admission that 16% of the workers in Alang were found to have beginning signs of asbestosis, a respiratory disease which can lead to cancer and then to death.

The Platform has made the court fully aware that India lacks the capacity to properly destroy PCBs in accordance with the UN Stockholm Convention; that there is no capacity for managing the large number of radioactive materials discovered; and as India still refuses to ban all forms of asbestos use, and actually allows the recycling of this globally condemned substance, it will be allowed to continue to kill unsuspicious workers and buyers of asbestos containing materials.

The Court has consistently chosen to ignore the Platform’s submissions to the SS Blue Lady case; they have also paid no attention to the concerns of 30.000 villagers living in the surrounding areas of the Alang yards. These have in a petition to the Court in March 2007 asserted that asbestos dust is regularly contaminating the vicinity of the yards, including their living quarters, and that oil spills cause a serious threat to their livelihood as fisherman.

“The shipbreaking industry as operating today in India is an aberration against all norms of decency and humanity. By continuing to protect it, rather than reform it, India will soon find itself as a pariah among nations, and ironically their dirty business will be denied by the rest of the global community and hence fade out” said representative in India. “Its time for India to wake up.”

The Platform is now considering its next legal steps and intends to challenge the ruling in national and global arenas.

Monday, September 10, 2007

White Asbestos, a Ticking Time Bomb

All forms of asbestos except Chrysotile Asbestos is banned in India. Mining of asbestos is also banned since no new lease for asbestos mining is allowed. The export and import of asbestos waste (dust and fiber) is also banned as per Hazardous Waste (Management & Handling) Rules, 2003. But import of Chrysotile asbestos is still allowed despite ban in some 40 countries due to incurable but preventable cancer caused by this killer fiber in the name of its continued mythical “safe and controlled use”.
The word 'asbestos' in Greek means 'indestructible'. All types of asbestos tend to break into very tiny fibre, almost microscopic. In fact, some of them may be up to 700 times smaller than human hair. Because of their small size, once released into the air or water they may stay suspended for hours or even days. Because of its high durability and with tensile strength asbestos has been widely used in construction and insulation materials - it has been used in over 3,000 different products. After mining and milling (crushed/grinding), Asbestos is processed through various methods and used for making cement products, gasket sheet material, friction material, heat resistant textiles, some special applications like in paints, thermoplastics etc. In addition it is used for textiles, laminated products, tape, gland packing, packing ropes, brake lining and jointing used in core sector industries such as automobile, heavy equipment, petro-chemicals, nuclear power plants, fertilizers, thermal power plants, transportation, defense. Asbestos fibre is used in manufacture of asbestos cement roofs, pressure and non pressure pipes, sewage, irrigation and drainage system in urban and rural areas etc.
No accurate figures can be stated about the total number of asbestos victims in India as quantification has never been done despite ongoing global asbestos crisis. Nor has such attempt been made till date. Constraints of finance, technical know-how and competence regarding the environmental pollution control and to some extent, lack of preference of health in relation to financial gains are some of the important factors which influence the appropriate development of health and safety strategy. Other factors include migratory nature of workers and non maintenance of medical or other records by the factory owners for the migrant labourers which makes it difficult to track the exposure-related diseases.
This largest manmade epidemic of asbestos related diseases have become a reality and even reputed medical journals like British Medical Journal (January 31, 2004) have acknowledged it, Government of India should provide the names, addresses and photographs of the asbestos handlers including those who have been examined by the National Institute of Occupational Health (NIOH), since it is the only agency authorized to certify asbestos victims. This will enable future generations too to ascertain for whether or not asbestos exposure was avoidable by preventing its use.
Asbestos is a proven human carcinogen (a substance which can cause cancer). No safe level can be proposed for asbestos products because a threshold is not known to exist. The greater the exposure, the greater the risk of developing lung disease (and cancer). The exposures of workers installing, maintaining and handling asbestos-cement products are quite high, and this exposure defies regulatory control efforts. Asbestos has however, one very dangerous quality, as it accumulates in the body; the microscopic fibers lodged in tissues can remain like little time bombs and cause cancer years later. Since asbestos exposure is cumulative, young people are in particular need of protection. The empirical research says "Adults have three or four decades to develop cancer after exposure". "The kids have six or seven. This means that a smaller dose of a carcinogen is as dangerous to the kids as a larger dose of it is to adults".
“Why is it that the concern of the countries which have banned asbestos not relevant to India?” While asbestos imports and use continues to grow in countries like India, its use has decreased significantly in the developed countries. Canada exports almost all of the asbestos (more than 96%) mined in the country, especially to Asia, including India, whereas asbestos use in Canada is almost non-existent. In the US, demand for asbestos has continued to decline. The developed world has responded to the asbestos health catastrophe with bans on the use of asbestos.
As this unfolds, the global asbestos industry is transferring its commercial activities to the third world. "Multinational asbestos corporations present a deplorable history of international exploitation. These firms have opened large and profitable internal and export markets in Brazil and elsewhere in South America, and in India, Thailand, Nigeria, Angola, Mexico, Uruguay, and Argentina."
Current Status in India
Dealing with “Impact of Hazardous Waste on Worker’s Health”, Supreme Court directed the government “to examine the matter and enumerate medical benefits which may be provided to the workers having regard to the occupational hazard as also keeping in view the question of health of the workers and the compensation which may have to be paid to them. The Committee while examining the recommendations, shall also keep in view the judgment of this Court in Consumer Education and Research Centre vs. Union of India (1995 (3) SCC 42).”
In the Consumer Education and Research Centre vs. Union of India matter, the Court directed Union and the State Governments are directed to review asbestos standards “every 10 years and also as and when the ILO gives directions in this behalf consistent with its recommendations or any convention; (5) the Union and all the State Governments are directed to consider inclusion of such of those small-scale factory or factories or industries to protect health hazards of all workers engaged in the manufacture of asbestos or its ancillary products; appropriate Inspector of Factories in particular of the State of Gujarat, is directed to send all the workers, examined by the ESI hospital concerned, for re-examination by the National Institute of Occupational Health to detect whether all or any of them is suffering from asbestosis. In case of the positive finding that all or any of them are suffering from occupational health hazards, each such worker shall be entitled to compensation in a sum of rupees one lakh payable by the factory or industry or establishment concerned within a period of three months from the date of certification by the National Institute of Occupational Health.” (pg 73, 74. 1995 (3) SCC 42)
Although the Court had directed Union and State Governments to take action consistent with ILO resolutions and Convention on Asbestos, the concerned Ministries have not even initiated any action in pursuance of ILO’s Resolution on Asbestos dated 14th June, 2006 stating “the elimination of the future use of asbestos and the identification and proper management of asbestos currently in place are the most effective means to protect workers from asbestos exposures and to prevent future asbestos-related disease and deaths” has not been acted upon. That even if the use of asbestos products is discontinued there are and there will be massive number of victims from past asbestos exposure as is being experienced globally in US, Europe, Australia, Japan and other countries, therefore, the compensation amount may be increased from the current Rs 1 lakh to at least Rs 10 lakh. There is an urgent necessity for the creation of NIOH like facility in each state to deal with the imminent unprecedented environmental and occupational health crisis from asbestos exposure with trade union representation on its Boards.
In pursuance of the directions from the Chairman, Court's Committee of Technical Experts, the Director, NIOH was asked for medical examination of Asbestos Handlers in June 2006. The NIOH in its recommendation said, “The directives of Supreme Court (1995) for asbestos exposed workers …should be strictly followed.” The same has not been done else 16 % of the workers certified as asbestos victims by NIOH would not been found exposed to asbestos.
Asbestos Crisis
An urgent intervention is needed in the matter of a serious unprecedented environmental, physical and occupational health and moral crisis with regard to unnoticed asbestos (killer fibre) epidemic in our country. It is high time concerned authorities took note of exposures of workers and citizen consumers. “The Asbestos War” an editorial in the International Journal of Environmental Health, Special Issue, 2003 is a revealing document. It says, after one hundred years, asbestos industry’s battle for Europe as its market had been lost. Following the collapse in Western demand for asbestos, producers have mounted a global campaign to protect remaining markets and develop new ones. A well-oiled propaganda machine reassures civil servants and consumers that asbestos can be used “safely under controlled conditions,” despite a vast amount of scientific and medical evidence, which proves otherwise.
Asbestos Hazards
In an editorial “Chrysotile in India: Truth Held Hostage” (Indian Journal of Community Medicine, January – March 2006) Sanjay Chaturvedi, Professor, University College of Medical Sciences and GTB Hospital, Delhi wrote, “Information showing asbestos-cancer relationship was available as early as the 1940s. During next 2 decades, enough epidemiological as well as experimental evidence was generated to prove this relationship. For half a century the asbestos industry, in collaboration with some of the leaders of occupational and respiratory medicine, was able to suppress most of the data. Meanwhile, millions of people were exposed to the carcinogen and hundreds of thousand died. The knowledge that asbestos causes cancer became public in the 80s, not because of scientific community but as a result of prolonged struggle and legal actions by ordinary people. For decades, certain privileged sections of the world order, including some scientists, were instrumental in the enormous release of a known carcinogen, just to keep their .profits. intact. Now we have a job on our hands - for a century - to combat the insult. Isn’t it a profound statement on our times, our polity and to an extent our science? This is just a punctuation in the whole story that ceases to conclude.”
Scientific Case Studies
In Uttar Pradesh a survey of U.P. Asbestos Limited, Mohanlalganj, Lucknow and Allied Nippn Pvt Ltd, Gaziabad, (U.P), the lung function impairment was found to be higher in subjects exposed for more than 11 years. This was the result of a Central Pollution Control Board sponsored project entitled "Human risk assessment studies in asbestos industries in India". This has been reported in the (2001-2002) Annual Report of Industrial Toxicological Research Centre, Lucknow. It has also been published in the 139th Report of the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Environment, Forests, Science and Technology and presented to the parliament on 17th March, 2005.
Dr S R Kamat, a renowned lung specialist has been bitter at the "utter callousness of employers", the total lack of medical expertise and government inaction; all of which continued to put workers at risk of contracting asbestos-related diseases. In the 5 surveys done in the country, large number of the subjects showed asbestos lung diseases. All of them showed breathing problem, many had cough, some had sputum, chest pain finger clubbing and chest pain. Disability in such cases are permanent, progressive; means of compensation are meager. Dr Kamath, has observed number of asbestosis cases where patients who have not directly worked with asbestos had contracted the disease. "….patient was an industrialist's son, owner of an asbestos boxing plant...was exposed to the dust and diagnosed with asbestosis. In another case, the patient had an office in the first floor of a building which had asbestos boxing shed in the ground floor. The patient got exposed to asbestos fibres and dust through the AC ducts into the office...he was diagnosed with asbestosis too. A railway master was diagnosed with asbestosis due to the constant loading of asbestos in the rail wagons."
Dr Qamar Rahman one of the most renowned toxicologists of India formerly with Industrial Toxicology Research Centre (ITRC), Lucknow has revealed very shocking data on cellular and genetic mutations and about the plight of the asbestos mine workers especially women. She has informed the scientific and medical community about the occurrences of asbestos related diseases that include cases where women have died after 6-7 years of the first exposure as was reported by the government doctors.
Unmindful of the global ban on asbestos underway, on 6th September, 2007, the Supreme Court of India endorsed the use and reuse of asbestos in India. Unexamined in the media, workers in India work up to their knees in asbestos powder, breaking up asbestos cement roofs and pipes. In addition to cement, it is also used in brakes, clutch linings, and gaskets in motor cars, as well as insulation and fireproofing in buildings and warships. It is also used in electrical distribution systems, and domestic products such as ironing boards.
Stories of the toll asbestos takes on people are yet to hit the headlines in India as been the case in US, Europe, Australia and Japan. Indian homes are often built of asbestos cement roofs, and people cut their own windows and doorways. Research is showing asbestos epidemics across the globe even in countries where it is currently banned, as the consequence of past exposure.
While white asbestos mining is currently banned in India, its import, export or use in manufacturing is permitted. But recently, the Ministry of Mines has indicated that it may lift the mining ban. The recent UN statistics indicates that India imported roughly 306,000 MT of asbestos in 2006. Out of which 152, 820 MT was imported from Russia, 63, 980 MT from Canada, 48, 807 MT from Kazakhstan and 34, 953 MT from Brazil.
As per Indian Bureau of Mines during 2005-6, India imported 236492 MT of asbestos.
The reality is that the country's most powerful parliamentarians bless the asbestos industry. On 1 January 2006, production began at an asbestos-cement factory in Rae Bareli, Uttar Pradesh, in the constituency of Sonia Gandhi. The factory is of Visaka Industries, one of India's largest asbestos groups. The company also has asbestos-cement factories in Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, West Bengal and Karnataka. The Chairman of Visaka Industries, G Vivekanand, is the son of the G Venkataswamy, Member of Parliament, Deputy Leader of the Indian Congress Parliamentary Party and a former Union Textile Minister.
Visaka Industries has asbestos plants located even in Midnapore in West Bengal where CPI(M) is the ruling party for more than 25 years. Although Centre of Indian Trade Union and All India Trade Union Congress have called for ban on asbestos and have also written to the Prime Minister, the fact remains, that the CPI(M) has not gotten rid of it from their own backyard. The same is true of Kerela.
There are some states, for instance Assam, UP, and Tamil Nadu, where asbestos factory units are run by the state governments. Pulivendala, Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister Y S Rajasekhara Reddy's constituency, has 14 mines. In September 2004, P Dayasankar, Director, A.P.'s State Mines and Geology Department was reported in the Business Standard to have predicted that the ban on mining may well be lifted. Taking the line that state and central health agencies were also in favour of lifting the ban, he said: "We have already represented the matter to the government of India for the appropriate decision. To my knowledge, the Centre is on the verge of taking a positive decision."
It is not difficult to notice why the entire political establishment wears blinkers when it comes to acknowledging the fact that currently over 40 countries including Europe have banned all forms of asbestos including chrysotile (white asbestos) due to health hazards. With asbestos firms being owned by politicians or the state itself, the government seems to be following a classic ostrich policy.
What else can explain the discredited claims of 'safe use' of asbestos by the industry and the virtually blasphemous statement to Parliament by the Minister of State for Environment saying, "No complaints have so far been received regarding its carcinogenic content and its hazard to health and environment?"
The manifest support the industry to enjoy from the left supported ruling United Progressive Alliance (UPA) led by Congress Party with deafening silence from the opposition parties seems illustrative of an unhealthy consensus. In the meantime, research from leading Indian institutes continues to contradict the Ministry's push to lift the ban but government's research too has been compromised.
The NIOH was established by the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR), the apex body in India for the formulation, coordination and promotion of biomedical research, one of the oldest medical research bodies in the world presided over by the Union Health Minister. Most recently NIOH has taken money from Chrysotile Asbestos to do research on its hazards.
An in-depth study conducted by Industrial Toxicology Research Centre (ITRC), Lucknow in Beawer and Deovgarh Rajasthan observed higher fibre concentrations in the milling units. All the units belong to the unorganised sector where technology is poor and laws and regulations are simply not in force. The ITRC team observed prevalence of asbestosis in less than five years, which is very high and alarming. ITRC is a constituent laboratory of Council of Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR), an autonomous body associated with the Union Ministry of Education. It is dedicated to provide health safeguards to industrial and agricultural workers through its rich knowledgebase, created painstakingly over the years.
The Ministry of Mines chooses to ignore such suggestions in the same way as it has ignored the plight of victims of white asbestos mines in Roro Hills, Chaibasa, Jharkhand abandoned by Hyderabad Asbestos Cement Products Limited (now known as Hyderabad Industries Limited). And the Ministry of Environment says it has not received any complaint so far.
The rationale to support the continued use of this killer fiber used in over 3,000 products is glaringly hollow. It continues to devastate workers and consumers, but the extent of the tragedy remains largely uncovered in India.
The first independent opinion poll to ascertain what people think about issues of environmental pollution in India was conducted by The Hansa Research Group during February 5 to 8, 2006 across 10 cities in India.
The findings of the poll reveal among other things: 80% of the respondents feel that the production of hazardous substances that are banned in the developed world, for example Asbestos, should also be banned in India.
Industry Scenario
Asbestos Cement industry: There are 18 asbestos cement factories located in different parts of the country. NIOH has carried out environmental epidemiological studies in four asbestos cement factories located in Ahmedabad, Hyderabad, Coimbatore and Mumbai. The prevalence of asbestosis in these factories varied from 3% to 5%. The levels of asbestos fibres were found to be higher than the permissible levels of 2 fibres/millilitre in two of the factories.
Asbestos Textile industry: Making of asbestos yarn and ropes is done mostly in the unorganised sector of industries with very poor safety measures. The average levels of air borne asbestos fibres varied from 216 to 418 fibres/ml. The permissible level is 2 fibres/ml. The prevalence of asbestosis was 9%. This relatively low prevalence of asbestosis despite high environmental levels was attributed to high labour turn over. Cases of asbestosis were observed in workers having less than 10 years exposure in contrast to the reported average duration of over 20 years.
Asbestos Mining and milling: In India, the mining and milling of asbestos is done in Cuddapah (Andhra Pradesh) and Devgarh (Rajasthan). Environmental and epidemiological studies in mining and milling units were carried out in both the places. In asbestos mines at both locations, the air borne fibre levels were within permissible limits. The average fibre levels in milling units varied from 45 fibres/ml to 244 fibres/ml of air. The overall prevalence of asbestosis in mining and milling units was 3% and 21% respectively.
Even as a campaign for banning asbestos in India is gaining ground, the situation in Parliament indicates just how much more informed engagement is necessary between government, civil society groups and the industry before the wheel begins to turn. No conclusive scientific evidence." That's the direction governance is coming from.
For its part, the asbestos industry has misled both the houses of parliament on three occasions. It is evening attempting to manipulate public opinion. An advertisement in a recent issue of India Today that says, "Chrysotile Asbestos is a magic mineral". This is misinformation. The Chrysotile Asbestos Cement Products Manufacturers' Association (CACPMA), which has launched this misinformation campaign, is an association of 14 large manufacturing companies. The advertisements wrongly claim that, "In a country like India various types of roofing is used by the underprivileged, comprising 80 per cent of the population who cannot afford concrete constructions. The most economical roofing available for the poor is chrysotile asbestos cement sheet". Asbestos is presently being used in a large-scale manner in consumer products, particularly in products used in public utility service including roofing sheets, pipes for water supply, pipes for soil, rain water and ventilation and brake linings.
According to a paper entitled: Present Status of Asbestos Mining and Related Health Problems in India - A Survey by AL Ramanathan and V Subramanian which was published in the Industrial Health Journal, imported asbestos is widely used in India: "In India raw material asbestos is received from Canada without any warning... In India workers slice open the bags of Canadian asbestos with knives, then shaking the bags into troughs and mixing it with cement to make piping. Here the unprotected workers are completely covered in asbestos dust, where precautions are absolutely not in place." Similar is the situation with regard to imported asbestos from all countries.
Conclusion: The present pathetic situation demands the criminal prosecution of those responsible for asbestos exposures such as factory owners and company directors and also the planners and promoters of the product। Asbestos is a public health issue, which the Government has ignored for far too long. Although non-asbestos technology certainly exists in India, in fact in some factories the two technologies exist side-by-side, consumers will inevitably opt for the cheaper product: more demand will translate into higher sales which will generate more Asbestos Money that is being used to obtain political support.


presented at BWI's Regional Meeting in Kathmandu

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