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, November 28, 2007

The Powder That Chokes

In November, 2007 PLANNING DEPARTMENT of GOVERNMENT OF RAJASTHAN prepared a COMPENDIUM OF ISSUES PENDING WITH GOVERNMENT OF INDIA which listed Prohibition on Asbestos Mining as one of the pending issues.

The compendium reads: "Government of India has prohibited renewal of and grant of fresh asbestos mining leases in the country, keeping in view the adverse effects on the health of those working in such mines. The Indian Bureau of Mines has carried out detailed studies and has prepared a report which has been submitted to the Government of India. In this report, it is mentioned that the mining operations do not affect the health of a worker exposed to these operations and by taking precautionary measures, it can be checked. Based on this Report, GOI may be requested to lift the ban on renewal of existing and grant of fresh asbestos mining leases in the country.
A meeting was held on 21.9.2004 whereas decision was taken to continue ban on new leasing and renewal of asbestos mining in Rajasthan."

"Rajasthan State has largest deposits of low grade asbestos and having largest production also. Looking to this, ban on asbestos shall not continue. In this regard, GOI has been again requested on 10.11.2004. The Govt. of India has been recently reminded on 25.7.06 to lift the ban on asbestos mining."

It refers to Action required:-Government of India may be requested to lift ban on grant and renewal of Asbestos mining.

It has prepared Possible Question for the Government of India to respond:-
1. Is it true that Indian Bureau of Mines have conducted study on the health hazards of asbestos mine workers of Rajasthan ?
2. If yes, what are the recommendations ? Is study recommends for lifting of ban on asbestos leasing ?
3. Is Govt. of India have intension to implement these suggestions and lift ban on leasing and renewal of leases asbestos ?
4. If so, when ?

It also gives the Name & Telephone No. of concerned Minister/Officer in Government of India who should be approach. Their names are as under:-
Joint Secretary, Ministry of Mines, Telephone No. 23384886
Name & Telephone No. of concerned officer in Government of Rajasthan: -
Shri N. P. Sharma, Dy. Secretary, Mines Department, Jaipur. Telephone No. 2227217(O), 2703036(R).

Note: Asbestos mines in India is taking its toll but there is criminal negligence towards the asbestos victims. In India, asbestos occurs in the states of Andra Pradesh, Rajashtan, Jharkhand, Karnataka, Tamilnadu and Manipur. (Most of the Indian asbestos deposits belong to the tremolite-actinolite variety. It occurs in tremolite-actinolite schists, amphibolites and metamorphosed basic and ultra
basic rocks. Jharkhand and Rajasthan were mainly enriched with tremolite followed by small amount of chrysotile.

In Andra Pradesh and Tamilnadu the amphibole variety is more abundant than the chrysotile variety. In Jharkhand, chrysotile asbestos occurs in Singhbhum districts associated with serpentinised dunites and peridodites and is usually between 3.1 to 6.2 mm long. Chrysotile asbestos fibers are short between 9.4 to 15.75 mm in length. Lakshmana mines in Cuddapah district in Andra Pradesh chrysotile fibers are between 0.076 to 0.152 mm in length2, 4–7).countries.













All forms of asbestos cause asbestosis, a progressive fiberotic disease of the lungs. All can cause lung cancer and malignant mesothelioma. In new developing industrial
nations like India the exposure are much higher and the potential for epidemics of asbestos diseases is great.



Singbhumi Ekta, a weekly from Chaibasa, published between January and August 1981, carried a press release from the late P. Mazumdar, the leader of the United Mine Workers Union (AITUC), which says that 30 workers from Roro mines had died of asbestosis. Sundaraw, a asbestos worker(PICTURE ABOVE) and others like him will also meet the same fate who are engaged in the mines at Pulivendala, Andhra Pradesh.

HEALTH: ASBESTOS MINING


Shuchi Srivastava

Health norms be damned. India may lift the ban on asbestos mining.



Matter That Kills


• WHO estimates 90,000 people die annually due to asbestos-related occupational cancer.
• Experts aver that there are no safe levels of asbestos exposure.
• Not many aware that even normal wear and tear of asbestos carry health and environment hazards.
***
Around 40 countries the world over may have banned or set in motion steps to phase out the use of asbestos, a deadly carcinogenic mineral, yet India blithely moves in reverse gear.

The move to lift the asbestos mining ban defies global practices. The US has banned its use recently.

Unmindful of the health and environment concerns, the Centre is working overtime to lift a 20-year-old ban on asbestos mining. In 1986, it had directed all states to stop granting new mining leases for asbestos (including chrysotile) in view of the deleterious effect on the health of mine workers. In 1993, the government also stopped renewing existing mining leases.

Now it is set to do an about turn. "A gazette notification outlining our recommendations towards lifting the ban on mining chrysolite asbestos is currently under formulation. We expect it to go for cabinet approval early next year," says Kaushik Sarkar, deputy-director, Directorate General of Mines Safety (DGMS).

For the layman, asbestos is a generic term applied to certain naturally occurring fibrous minerals that came into use in over 3,000 products for their thermal resistance and immense tensile strength. Chrysotile, amosite and crocidolite are the most commonly used forms of asbestos. Chrysotile, deemed the safest, has 90 per cent market share. Asbestos's global reputation of being a proven human carcinogen has led to experts calling for a total cessation of its use. who estimates show that asbestos kills at least 90,000 people annually—about half of all occupational cancer deaths. Classified by EU as a category one carcinogen, experts aver there is no safe level of asbestos exposure. Once inhaled, the fibres get enmeshed in lung tissues, causing lung cancer, asbestosis and mesothelioma, which is a painful cancer of the chest wall lining.

The government volte-face signals the culmination of a debate that began in 1998 when the Ministry of Mines and Minerals (MOMM) asked the Indian Bureau of Mines (IBM) to assess the feasibility of lifting the ban on expansion of asbestos mining after assessing pollution levels in asbestos mines and processing plants in Rajasthan and Andhra Pradesh.

Based on the IBM report, the MOMM in March 2006 issued an advisory stating, "IBM has been asked to work out necessary safeguards in consultation with the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB), subject to which chrysotile asbestos mining can be permitted, so as to ensure workers' safety." Defending the decision, S.R. Roy, deputy controller of mines, IBM, says: "IBM is playing a facilitator's role between the DGMS and the CPCB, both of which have decided to reduce occupational exposure limits to all kinds of asbestos in the work environment from the earlier 2 fibre per cubic centimeter (f/cc) to 0.5 f/cc, although we believe the instrumentation required to measure this is quite expensive and could be difficult to implement." Adds Sarkar, "We feel the ban on chrysotile asbestos mining is illogical, especially as we allow large-scale asbestos imports from Canada and Russia for processing and manufacture into various products. So, if these units can be allowed to function under stringent safety rules, why can't we do the same while allowing local asbestos mining?"

Naturally, CPCB holds a different view. Says an official: "In principle, we have agreed with the DGMS to reduce exposure of the asbestos workers' to the global norm of 0.5 f/cc to 0.1 f/cc, but still have reservations about lifting the ban."

Qamar Rahman, senior scientist at the Lucknow-based Industrial Toxicology Research Centre, says: "On the basis of my own study and others conducted at the asbestos milling units, the ban on asbestos mining should not be lifted. Mining and processing are interrelated, and conditions need to be improved at both places simultaneously."

Rahman says that in the milling or grinding areas, fibre concentrations were high and workers didn't use gloves, masks or protective clothing. The primitive manual ways of grinding and housekeeping in the units was also very bad.

Local activists say the move to lift the mining ban is a blatant defiance of global benchmarks. Last month, the US Senate passed the Ban Asbestos in America Act. India, on the contrary, has slashed import duty from 78 per cent in 1995-96 to 25 per cent in 1999-2000.

As a result, the use of asbestos products for manufacture of pipes for water supply, sewage, irrigation and drainage system, textiles, laminated products, brake lining and jointing for automobiles, heavy equipment, fertilisers and thermal power plants continues unabated.

Global trade data reveals that in 2006, India imported around 3,06,000 metric tonnes (MT) of asbestos of which 1,52,820 MT was from Russia, 63,980 MT from Canada, 48,807 MT from Kazakhstan and 34,953 MT from Brazil. Ironically, while Canada doesn't allow domestic asbestos use, it is a major supplier.

Giving an industry perspective, Vivek Chandra Rao, GM, occupational health, Hyderabad Industries Ltd (HIL), a Birla group company, says: "The lifting of the ban does not mean that the industry will start using the indigenously mined asbestos, as we will first check the grade and quality versus the imported Canadian and Russian asbestos. Then there is the question of the volume available in our mines for our daily usage." HIL manufactures the 'Charminar' brand of corrugated asbestos cement sheets and has a marketshare of 22 per cent. Similarly, Everest Industries, with a 17 per cent marketshare in asbestos cement roofing, feels checking the quality is essential, as indigenous asbestos could also have high levels of adulteration.

With the asbestos industry employing about 8,000 workers, the main concerns are about health. "The health and safety legislation does not cover 93 per cent of workers in the unorganised sector, where asbestos exposures are very high," says Gopal Krishna, a veteran anti-asbestos activist. Not many are aware that even asbestos products like water pipes and roofing carry health risk as wind erosion besides normal wear and tear leads to disintegration of fibres, which can get lodged in the nose, mouth, throat, larynx or lungs. Says Rahman: "As these fibres are bio-persistent (stay in the body for years without changing) they can cause irreparable damage and cancer."

The government support of asbestos as a poor man's building material does not bode well, particularly when polyvinyl alcohol (PVA)—a man-made fibre—is available as a cheaper and less hazardous alternative. Activists allege that PVA import duties, now at around 71 per cent, hinder its acceptability as a replacement for asbestos in construction.

What the government hopes to achieve by going against the global tide remains unclear, but given asbestos's hazard potential, it should be ready to face the consequences.


Dec 03, 2007, Outlook
Source: http://www.outlookindia.com/full.asp?fodname=20071203&fname=Asbestos+%28F%29&sid=1&pn=2

Monday, November 12, 2007

Use of Russian & Canadian asbestos rising in India

Asbestos is a proven human carcinogen (a substance that causes cancer). Lack of health surveillance of asbestos exposed workers and consumers is an invitation to disaster from wholesale public exposure, especially babies and infants in India. Some 45 countries have banned this killer fiber. Asbestos consumption is rising dramatically in India even as U.S. Senate passed Ban Asbestos in America Act on October 04, 2007 unanimously. Asbestos is banned in Europe since 1 January 2005. Indian politicians of all ilk seem to be hand in glove with both the Indian and global asbestos traders. The ruling Indian National Congress led United Progressive Alliance government and left supporters in their states too are guilty of subjecting Indian workers and consumers to asbestos hazards.




But countries like Russia, Canada, Kazakhstan and Brazil continue to produce, trade and promote this ticking time bomb in India. Instead of protecting the interest of their citizens,leaders like Sonia Gandhi and Kamal Nath(Congress leaders in the picture) remain callous towards asbestos victims. The Russian Federation has also been found to be exporting asbestos industry waste to India. Research is showing asbestos epidemics across the globe even in countries where it is currently banned, as the consequence of past exposure.











Stories of the toll asbestos takes on people are yet to hit the headlines in India as has been the case in US, Europe, Australia and Japan. 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.

It is noteworthy that International Conference on trade unions & chrysotile asbestos in Moscow (25-27 April, 2007) issued an appeal to World Health Organisation opposing the “WHO Policy on elimination of asbestos-related diseases” in favour of controlled use of chrysotile asbestos. The appeal concluded saying, “We are sure that chrysotile must not be banned for the sake of health and social welfare of hundreds of millions of people in the world (especially in developing countries), who suffer and prematurely die from having no shelter and clean water. A wide use of low-cost chrysotile-cement products is necessary to resolve this problem” ignoring the WHO finding that no safe level can be proposed for asbestos use because a threshold is not known to exist.

Asbestos production and marketing started in the Urals at the start of the 19th century. By the onset of World War I, Russia was the world’s second biggest asbestos producer, although well behind Canada. In 1975, Soviet Russia overtook Canada as the world’s leading asbestos producer. Russia remains the leading world asbestos producer. The country’s principal asbestos mine (Uralasbest) was privatized and was owned by new Russian capitalists. It was even declared bankrupt in 1997 but it resumed its activities afterwards.

There has virtually been no debate on asbestos either under the Soviet regime or since. Following the banning of asbestos in the European Union, the Vladimir Putin government did set up a panel of experts to give an opinion on a possible Russian asbestos ban.

The panel’s report is an impassioned defence of asbestos use. The pro-Russian asbestos lobby like their counterparts in Canada, Zimbabwe and Brazil too claim that it holds relatively little danger for health. The Russian authorities continue to deny the health havoc wrought by asbestos. Russian media, civil society and academia must sensitize the Russian citizens to desist from exporting asbestos to gullible Indians.

Currently mining of all kinds of asbestos (Blue, Brown and White [chrysotile] Asbestos) is banned in India. Trade in asbestos waste is also banned. Besides all other forms of asbestos other than chrysotile asbestos (White Asbestos) is prohibited in India. While white asbestos mining is currently banned in India, its import, export or use in manufacturing is permitted.

In September 2007, Independent Peoples Tribunal (IPT) on the World Bank Group (WBG) was presented with evidence of Bank 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 4-day IPT was held from 21 –24 September at Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi.

It was 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 and use its influence and leverage to press for cessation of asbestos use all over world.

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."

The voice of asbestos victims has been totally disregarded by Indian political parties of all hues both in the states and at national level unlike US and Europe. Indian homes are often built of asbestos cement roofs, and people cut their own windows and doorways. The occurrence of asbestos-related diseases, including mesothelioma, lung cancer and asbestosis, is growing out of control. Studies estimate that during the next decade, in India victims will die of an asbestos related disease at the rate of 30 deaths per day.













Sixty-seven-year old Mangabhai Patel, a retired workers of Ahmedabad based Torrent Power Ahmedabad Electric Company (AEC)Limited is battling asbestosis. Patel has been diagnosed with asbestosis by the National Institute of Occupational Health (NIOH).
He got exposed while working at Torrent Power AEC where he had to pound asbestos and paste it along pipes as an insulator. Workers were given no protective gear while working and the result is showing on their body now.

Narayanprasad Mehra, another retired AEC worker worked for 25 years at the AEC power plant and he was diagnosed with asbestosis long before he retired.

A petition with the Gujarat High Court and the Supreme Court is pending. Following the directions of the High Court, NIOH was to examine the workers suspected to be suffering from asbestos related disease but even before the NIOH could start its work
Motiram and Manaji Rathod () died on 5 January 1996 and 2 February 1996 respectively. NIOH submitted its report to the Court on 22 June 1996. The High Court passed an interim order but Kishan Gopalani, died soon after the order. There are numerous such people who are suffering from both the disease and apathy of the government and the companies.

Indian government should disassociate itself from the Russian and Canadian asbestos lobby and take lessons from the nations that have banned this fiber to safeguard its workers and citizens.

P.S: Pascal Lamy, Director-General, WTO in a speech at the Yale University on 24 October 2007, said that the WTO has surprised critics by showing itself to be “capable of delivering not only trade justice, but some measure of environmental justice too,” citing as examples the dispute cases about asbestos and sea turtles.

Given below are the Press Releases of Ministry of Commerce & Industry, Government of India prior to the WTO order on asbestos. These Releases make its position on asbestos quite clear. So far there has been no change in the Indian government's stance in the matter.
-------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
INDIA PROTESTS AT WTO APPELLATE BODY MOVE INVITING AMICUS BRIEFS

Date : 23 Nov 2000
Location : New Delhi

At a special meeting of the General Council of the World Trade Organisation (WTO) held in Geneva, on 22nd November, India joined a vast majority of WTO members in protesting against the Appellate Body’s decision to invite amicus curiae (literally meaning "friends of the court") briefs* in the case relating to "European Communities -- Measures affecting Asbestos and Products Containing Asbestos ".

India's statement at the meeting by India's Ambassador to the WTO, Shri S Narayanan, made it clear that India did not regard this issue as a procedural one, as viewed by the Appellate Body, but a substantive matter in which the Appellate Body's approach was totally unjustified. In his statement Shri Narayanan dwelt at length on how the Appellate Body's approach to accept unsolicited briefs as well as to invite submissions from any source on the most sensitive of all issues in the WTO, namely dispute cases, amounts to changing the inter-governmental character of the WTO.

For one thing, the ultimate compliance is to be done by Governments, not by others. Furthermore, Governmental position in disputes are arrived after consultations with all domestic stake holders. If Governments know that their non-governmental agencies have a further chance to influence the dispute settlement mechanism, then, they would pay less attention to finalising their positions and even worse, there may be implications for compliance by the Governments themselves, he said.

Shri Narayanan also said that the Appellate Body's approach would also have the implication of putting the developing countries at an even greater disadvantage in view of the relative unpreparedness of their own non-governmental agencies who have much less resources and wherewithal either to send briefs without being asked for or to respond to invitations for sending such briefs. Looking at the record of the WTO Appellate Body, Shri Narayanan said that the Appellate Body was at its best when it confined itself to its mandate i.e. deal with issues of law and legal interpretation.

When it went beyond its mandate and started making rules or amending rules and thus encroached into what was admittedly Members' territory, it created a problem for itself and the entire membership. In conclusion, Shri Narayanan said that the Appellate Body should show deference to the conviction of almost the entire Membership that in accepting unsolicited amicus curiae briefs and seeking amicus curiae briefs, the Appellate Body was acting without mandate and to take appropriate measures to remedy the situation.
-------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Canada promotes Asbestos use in India

"The Government of Canada recognizes that all forms of asbestos fibres are carcinogenic." Canada’s failure to ban asbestos and the continuing promotion of its mined asbestos to the developing world–particularly India, Canada’s largest market, where asbestos cannot be legally mined but is used extensively in the production of cement.

It is high time Stephen Harper, Prime Minister, Canada desisted from the practicing active promotion of the export of asbestos in India and banned asbestos. The deafening silence of Stephen Harper and Canadian House of Commons is killing the workers and consumers in India.

Government of Canada should introduce legislation to ban the use and export of asbestos, support the listing of chrysotile asbestos under the Rotterdam Convention and stop funding the Asbestos Institute (renamed the Chrysotile Institute).

The frozen passivity of Canadian Ministers like Gary Lunn, Minister of Natural Resources and legislators like St├ęphane Dion, Leader of the Liberal Party, Jack Layton, Leader of the New Democratic Party, Gilles Duceppe, Leader of the Bloc Quebecois and
Elizabeth May, Leader of the Green Party is taking its toll. To refer to their acts of omission and commission as barbaric is an understatement.

Inhaling asbestos fibers, which easily become airborne when a product is worn or disturbed, can cause mesothelioma–a painful cancer that attacks the lining of the lungs, abdomen or heart–as well as asbestosis, lung cancer and various other cancers.

According to World Health Organization estimates, asbestos is responsible for approximately half of all occupationally-related deaths from cancer, or at least 90,000 deaths every year. While 40 countries have banned the use of asbestos in response to this health crisis, Canada has not.

Canada, through its two active asbestos mines in Quebec, remains one of the world’s biggest providers of raw asbestos, a $93 million per year business. And the Canadian government spends large sums of money to promote the use of asbestos in its remaining markets, even calling on diplomatic staff to guard against asbestos bans in the approximately 70 countries that still buy asbestos from Canada.

The Canadian government says that the asbestos industry has agreed to sell only to countries that use the same safety measures that Canada uses to protect workers, but in India, which takes about one fourth of Canada’s asbestos, workers can be found handling asbestos with no protection at all, wearing only shorts, T-shirts and flip-flops.

One published study in India estimated that about 100,000 workers there are exposed to asbestos, and a study of asbestos-exposed factory workers found that 22 percent has asbestosis–which signals significant exposure over an extended period.

India started using asbestos extensively in the 1980s, as usage in the United States and other Western countries began to decline. Because of the latency period between exposure and the appearance of disease, India has an asbestos-related cancer epidemic in its future, one that it is certainly not prepared for. Martin Mittelstaedt who writes for The Globe and Mail says, Canada must bear some responsibility for the coming epidemic.

Given below is the excerpts of the full story by him in The Globe and Mail:


Asbestos shame

Yesterday's miracle mineral, asbestos is now so well understood to be dangerous that Canadians run from it. Yet the federal and Quebec governments still promote it aggressively to the developing world. It was published on October 27, 2007

Before asbestos became feared as one of the most powerful cancer-causing agents ever used, it was heralded as the "magic mineral." In an age of impermanence, asbestos offered durability. While it had the texture of wool, it didn't burn and was incredibly resistant to decay. That is why it was once used in thousands of products, everything from car brake pads to insulation on some of the giant steel girders holding up the World Trade Center.

But asbestos has a big problem. When used, it promiscuously sheds tiny dust fibres. Once inhaled, the fibres become tangled in lung tissues, where they wreak havoc — typically lung cancer, asbestosis and mesothelioma, a rare, painful and almost always fatal cancer of the lining of the chest wall.

The unfortunate drawback of killing large numbers of people has led more than 40 countries, a who's who of advanced industrialized nations, to outlaw asbestos use. But Canada isn't among them.
While the federal government projects an image of being a helpful, international Boy Scout on issues ranging from peacekeeping to nuclear proliferation, Canada has a peculiar relationship to asbestos.
Since it's a carcinogen, Canadians don't use much of it any more. Even the asbestos in the Parliament Buildings is being removed. But the country remains one of the world's biggest purveyors of the deadly mineral, selling abroad 95 per cent of the output from the country's two remaining mines, both in Quebec, a business worth about $93-million a year.
Most asbestos used in developing countries is added to cement (at a rate of one part asbestos to about 10 parts of cement) to add durability to water pipes and the ubiquitous corrugated roofing that is a familiar sight in shantytowns around the Third World.
India alone has about 50 plants making asbestos cement destined for homes and other buildings. Asbestos cannot be mined legally in India, so it imports what it uses from countries such as Canada. Cement is the end use of practically all Canadian exports — more than 93 per cent, according to the federal government.
It's not just that Canada is home to companies that sell asbestos abroad. The federal and Quebec governments actively promote it, spending tens of millions since 1984 to encourage the remaining markets, mainly in developing countries. Ottawa has even mobilized Canadian diplomatic staff, from Jakarta to Washington, as recently as last summer, to stand on guard against asbestos bans in the roughly 70 countries that still buy it from Canada.

Natural Resources Canada is the lead federal department dealing with asbestos. It declined a request from The Globe and Mail to interview officials about Canada's asbestos policy, but agreed to answer written questions.

"Canada has long advocated, at home and abroad, a responsible, controlled use approach for chrysotile asbestos," the department said, although it added that "the implementation of domestic measures to ensure workplace health and safety is a sovereign responsibility of importing countries."
The response sidestepped questions about whether promoting asbestos abroad is a good use of taxpayers' money and whether it is done to protect federalism in Quebec.

The government insists that foreigners can and do use asbestos safely, because Canadian companies would sell it only to those that implement Canadian-style safeguards: "The Canadian chrysotile industry has agreed not to export to companies that do not use chrysotile in a manner that is consistent with Canada's controlled-use approach."

The biggest purchaser, taking about a quarter of Canada's output, is India, where it's easy to find workers using one of the most dangerous materials in the world clad only in T-shirts, shorts and flip-flops.

Animal experiments conducted in the mid-1970s, when the material was still widely used in Canada, found that as little as one day's exposure was enough to induce cancer in the laboratory.

Even though the federal government says today's Canadian asbestos doesn't pack the same killing punch of other varieties, the World Health Organization says all types — including chrysotile asbestos, the only type now mined in Canada and worldwide — cause cancer.
The WHO says thousands of other people die each year after unknowingly come into contact with asbestos dust. The dust is such an efficient inducer of cancer, no known safe exposure level exists: "Bearing in mind that there is no evidence for a threshold for the carcinogenic effects of asbestos … the most efficient way to eliminate asbestos-related diseases is to stop using all types of asbestos."
The United Nations agency cites as a particular concern the continued use of asbestos cement in the construction industry because "the work force is large, it is difficult to control exposure, and in-place materials have the potential to deteriorate and pose a risk to those carrying out alterations, maintenance and demolition."
It isn't often that Canada is totally at odds with a UN agency, but it is on asbestos.
"The Government of Canada is of the view that the health risks of chrysotile can be managed if regulations, programs and practices equivalent to Canada's are in place to limit exposures to airborne fibres and that the risks would be no greater than posed by other occupational activities," the government said earlier this year in a statement issued by Peter MacKay, then foreign affairs minister.
It was a response to a petition filed with the office of the federal Environment Commissioner by David Boyd, a University of British Columbia researcher, seeking an explanation for Canada's promotion of asbestos. (The government has a legal obligation to answer questions posed in petitions to the commissioner.)
In an interview, Mr. Boyd said he feels that Canada's continuing export of "a deadly substance with profound public health impacts" is "unethical and immoral," but based on a desire of governments to win votes in Quebec.
"It's the old conundrum where we've got an industry that's centred in Quebec and the federal government is always walking on pins and needles when it comes to dealing with issues that threaten the loss of votes or seats in Quebec," he said.
In the statement, Ottawa said it doesn't verify whether buyers follow Canadian-style rules when using asbestos, arguing that seeking such information would violate foreign sovereignty. About 75 per cent of Canadian asbestos is shipped to Asia, where, along with India, the biggest customers are Indonesia, South Korea, Sri Lanka and Thailand.
Many health experts consider it laughable to say that workers in poor countries use asbestos with the same care that is taken in Canada. Ontario's asbestos regulations run seven pages, and their requirement for sophisticated dust-control equipment — and decades of medical monitoring including chest X-rays for those exposed — are unlikely to be followed in poor countries.
"Anyone who says there's controlled use of asbestos in the Third World is either a liar or a fool," says Barry Castleman, a consultant who helped to advise Europeans in 2000 on Canada's unsuccessful attempt to overturn a French ban on Canadian asbestos.
According to a published estimate in India, about 100,000 workers are exposed to asbestos. Fewer than 30 people have ever been formally compensated for asbestos-related diseases, a figure that is unlikely to reflect the true extent of the illness burden. A 2005 study of a group of exposed factory workers found that 22 per cent had asbestosis, although the industry has published figures claiming that none of its workers have developed the disease from the mineral.

In July, the Canadian embassy in Washington sent a letter to the U.S. Senate, which was considering an asbestos ban. The letter conceded that "all forms of asbestos fibres, including chrysotile, are carcinogenic," but it maintained that its use can be safe if proper precautions are followed. The Senate ignored the advice and voted unanimously this month to ban asbestos.

Last year, Canada was more successful, scuttling an effort by the UN's Rotterdam Convention to have chrysotile added to the list of materials that are so dangerous that countries need to approve imports in advance, as a sign that they know what they are getting into. Canada allied itself with pariahs such as Iran and Zimbabwe to defeat the listing.
Despite these occasional successes, the federal government's aid probably will not avert the eventual death of the Canadian asbestos-mining industry. With the fall of communism, Russia and Kazakhstan have emerged as low-cost producers, taking away business from Canada. And because of health worries, the Canadian industry's output is about one-third of what it was in the 1980s. This summer, one of Quebec's producers, LAB Chrysotile Inc., filed a notice advising that it would seek bankruptcy protection.

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Asbestos laden ship MV Al Arabia in Alang

MV Al Arabia (Aqaba Express, Beni Ansar) violates apex court’s order






An urgent letter from UN’s Basel Secretariat has been sent to Ministry of Environment & Forests concerning asbestos, PCB and radioactive laden the vessel named Aqaba Express (formerly Beni Ansar) that has changed its name MV Al Arabia. The ship anchored in Alang on 27 October, 2007 in violation of the September 6, 2007 order of the Supreme Court. The ship is beached in plot no. 114. Its port of registry is Moroni.

The UN official, Ms Katharina Kummer Piery's letter to R K Vaish, Joint Secretary, Hazardous Substances Management Division has reference to the arrest of the ship in Spain and the fact that the ship has asbestos and PCBs. The
letter suggests that the vessel left Spanish territorial waters by informing the Spanish authorities it is going to Romania for refurbishment and instead it came to Alang. As per Basel Convention, such misrepresentation is part of illegal traffic. The ship has not complied with the Court's orders of September 6, 2007 order and 14th October, 2003 that endorsed the Basel Convention and deemed it as part of right to life. Ship breaking activity must operate under the clear mandate for the decontamination (pre-cleaning) of ships of their hazardous substances including asbestos, radioactive material, waste oils, gases and both solid and liquid PCB contaminated material and any other substances covered by the Basel Convention prior to imports for breaking.

As per the exiting rules, if the ship breaking facility is not deemed by the country of import, or the country of export as possessing the capability for “Environmentally Sound Management” then import/export must be prohibited. Exporting country can be the country where a ship owner is located, a port state, or the flag state. Parties to the Convention such as India is duty bound to prohibit trade in hazardous wastes between themselves and non-Parties without a special bi/multilateral Agreement.

A Basel Party wishing to export a ship containing hazardous materials for scrapping must first notify and then receive consent from recipient country prior to export. Prior Informed Consent (PIC) paperwork is required including a notification indicating that the ship does not contain any hazardous or radioactive substances onboard. Such a notification will require full sampling and testing of various onboard materials.

The ship should be properly decontaminated by the ship owner prior to export for its breaking. In the case of MV Al Arabia (Aqaba Expres, Beni Ansar). As per the Court order, “Gas-free for hot work certificate” is mandatory for the seller of tankers before such ships are handed over to the recycling yard. Such certificates have to be obtained from the last port of call based on certificate issued by the classification society. No ship should be given a beaching permission unless Gas Free for Hot Work certificate is shown, but MV Al Arabia has not done the same.

For ship like MV Al Arabia (Aqaba Expres, Beni Ansar), the September 2007 order reiterates, “…a clear mandate for the decontamination of ships of their hazardous substances such as asbestos, waste oil, gas and PCBs, prior to export to India for breaking.” The same has not been complied with. Indian Platform on Ship-breaking has written to Basel Secretariat, Environment Ministry, Spanish and Romanian authorities seeking their response with regard to the illegal traffic.

According to a European Commission official, "Spain as the presumptive country of export is in the best position to take further measures, i.e. giving full information about the hazardous nature of the waste, requesting a return of the ship and/or offering cooperation on environmentally sound management elsewhere, and initiating criminal proceedings against the persons who have given false declarations towards Spanish authorities (in so far as this is criminal under Spanish law). We have pointed the Spanish MoE to these possibilities and assured them our support. The EU or Commission can play only a limited role in this context."

He added, EU is observing the effect of the recent ruling of the Indian Supreme Court on the ground. A proper application of the Court's requirements would mean that the Aqaba Express / MV Al Arabia should not be accepted for dismantling in Alang. If import countries do not even implement their own law, European intervention or UN law has limited value.

Asbestos laden MV Al Arabia ship in Alang

MV Al Arabia (Aqaba Express, Beni Ansar) violates apex court’s order




An urgent letter from UN’s Basel Secretariat has been sent to Ministry of Environment & Forests concerning asbestos, PCB and radioactive laden the vessel named Aqaba Express (formerly Beni Ansar) that has changed its name MV Al Arabia. The ship anchored in Alang on 27 October, 2007 in violation of the September 6, 2007 order of the Supreme Court. The ship is beached in plot no. 114. Its port of registry is Moroni.

The UN official, Ms Katharina Kummer Piery's letter to R K Vaish, Joint Secretary, Hazardous Substances Management Division has reference to the arrest of the ship in Spain and the fact that the ship has asbestos and PCBs. The letter suggests that the vessel left Spanish territorial waters by informing the Spanish authorities it is going to Romania for refurbishment and instead it came to Alang. As per Basel Convention, such misrepresentation is part of illegal traffic. The ship has not complied with the Court's orders of September 6, 2007 order and 14th October, 2003 that endorsed the Basel Convention and deemed it as part of right to life. Ship breaking activity must operate under the clear mandate for the decontamination (pre-cleaning) of ships of their hazardous substances including asbestos, radioactive material, waste oils, gases and both solid and liquid PCB contaminated material and any other substances covered by the Basel Convention prior to imports for breaking.

As per the exiting rules, if the ship breaking facility is not deemed by the country of import, or the country of export as possessing the capability for “Environmentally Sound Management” then import/export must be prohibited. Exporting country can be the country where a ship owner is located, a port state, or the flag state. Parties to the Convention such as India is duty bound to prohibit trade in hazardous wastes between themselves and non-Parties without a special bi/multilateral Agreement.

A Basel Party wishing to export a ship containing hazardous materials for scrapping must first notify and then receive consent from recipient country prior to export. Prior Informed Consent (PIC) paperwork is required including a notification indicating that the ship does not contain any hazardous or radioactive substances onboard. Such a notification will require full sampling and testing of various onboard materials.

The ship should be properly decontaminated by the ship owner prior to export for its breaking. In the case of MV Al Arabia (Aqaba Expres, Beni Ansar). As per the Court order, “Gas-free for hot work certificate” is mandatory for the seller of tankers before such ships are handed over to the recycling yard. Such certificates have to be obtained from the last port of call based on certificate issued by the classification society. No ship should be given a beaching permission unless Gas Free for Hot Work certificate is shown, but MV Al Arabia has not done the same.

For ship like MV Al Arabia (Aqaba Expres, Beni Ansar), the September 2007 order reiterates, “…a clear mandate for the decontamination of ships of their hazardous substances such as asbestos, waste oil, gas and PCBs, prior to export to India for breaking.” The same has not been complied with. Indian Platform on Ship-breaking has written to Basel Secretariat, Environment Ministry, Spanish and Romanian authorities seeking their response with regard to the illegal traffic.

US Ban on asbestos Bill diluted, say its backers

Lobbyists, industry won changes, they charge

Just a month after the Senate with great fanfare passed the first legislation to ban disease-causing asbestos, public health officials, government regulators and advocates for asbestos victims are increasingly speaking out in opposition to the bill they once supported.

The bill originally imposed a total ban on asbestos, and that's the version that the public health experts testified in support of.

But between the hearing in June and the Senate vote last month, ban supporters say the legislation was watered down to appease powerful lobbyists and industry. Many asbestos-containing products now aren't covered by the ban at all.

Nonetheless, says Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., the ban is "a major step forward, and I passionately wish it covered all asbestos products." "If I was just Patty Murray and I didn't have to worry about getting other votes or a Republican president or that I have a one-vote majority in the United States Senate, I'd have a 100 percent ban," Murray said last week.

Staffers for Murray and Sen. Barbara Boxer of California, who co-sponsored the legislation, insist that the Environmental Protection Agency "fully supports the bill as passed" and the agency's personnel were closely involved throughout the process.

Not so, say agency scientists and the EPA's legislative office. While the EPA said it had "no public position on the legislation," documents obtained by the Seattle P-I show the agency has "significant concern" that the ban doesn't go far enough.

In a draft of a letter prepared for the House Committee on Energy and Commerce, which will hold the hearings on the Senate-passed bill, the EPA quickly went to the issue that is concerning much of the public health community: "To protect public health and the environment from asbestos hazards, the ban should target any products in which asbestos is intentionally added or knowingly present as a contaminant," read the evaluation, which was to be signed by EPA Administrator Stephen Johnson.

But last month, the White House Office of Management and Budget rejected the entire document and told the EPA it could not submit it. Government scientists charged that the OMB action was another example of the White House putting politics over science.

But the EPA did not buckle.

In comments prepared this week for Congress, the EPA scientists repeated that the ban should apply to "any product to which asbestos is deliberately added or used, or in which asbestos is otherwise present in any concentration."

This definition is precisely what businesses, road builders, the owners of mines and pits where asbestos-contaminated sand, stone and ore is still dug, managed to get deleted.

The lobbyists also wanted to control how the research the legislation demanded would be done.

The bill says that a study would be done to collect scientific evidence to determine the cancer-causing hazard to health from products not covered by the ban.

"I've got to tell you, (industry lobbyists) tried to back me off the study more times then you can know," Murray said.

"The Stone, Sand and Gravel Association demanded their own scientists do the study, be at the table. No way," Murray said. "If you put that in here, I'm walking away from it."

What the bill won't do

Here are some of the effects of the last-minute changes in the Senate bill:

# An epidemiologist with the Connecticut health department told the Consumer Product Safety Commission earlier this year that asbestos was found in modeling clay that children were using in art classes. The art clay, the health official wrote, contained asbestos-contaminated talc from the R.T. Vanderbilt talc mines in upstate New York. Though federal health investigators documented the presence of asbestos in that mine decades earlier and scores of workers have been sickened or killed from exposure to asbestos in the talc, the Senate ban would not prevent the tainted powder from being sold.

# Along the Iron Range in northern Michigan and Minnesota, waste from the taconite iron mines is contaminated with asbestos. Miners with asbestosis and the fast-killing mesothelioma are never far from tanks of oxygen. Elaborate marketing plans obtained by the P-I show how the taconite industry plans to sell the mining waste across the Midwest for construction of roads, airports, bridges and other public products and to claim that the product is free of asbestos. The current legislation will do nothing to prevent that.

# Millions of homes and businesses have insulation in their walls and attics made from asbestos-contaminated vermiculite ore. Hundreds of miners and their family members have died and thousands more are ill from this Libby, Mont., vermiculite ore. Nothing in the law would keep the mine from being reopened and the tainted ore again sold in scores of products. Nor will the Senate effort restrict or even demand monitoring of other mines that are today producing vermiculite.

Murray says the education provision of the bill will tell people of these risks, but some of the witnesses who testified for the ban say that isn't enough.

"The government knows that asbestos products not covered by the legislation can cause harm and would allow, and probably encourage, companies to continue selling contaminated products because they are exempt from the ban," said Dr. Aubrey Miller, senior medical officer and toxicologist for the EPA.

Dr. Michael Harbut, who has diagnosed and treated thousands of asbestos victims, also testified for the bill and is now worried about the language.

"We need to be truthful with the public. This should be called the limited asbestos ban act," said Harbut, who is co-director of the National Center for Vermiculite and Asbestos-Related Cancers at the Karmanos Cancer Institute.

Linda Reinstein, a mesothelioma widow and executive director of the Asbestos Disease Awareness Organization, said: "After all the years of effort by the physicians, scientists, victims and Senators Murray and Boxer, we cannot wind up with a ban that doesn't include all asbestos. ... We all knew that compromises had to be made to get this legislation passed but I didn't anticipate that industry would successfully intervene at the last minute."

Sausage making

The axiom that crafting legislation is like making sausage does little to convey the meticulous, high-pressure choreography between what lawmakers want their legislation to do and what industry lobbyists will permit. Murray and Boxer had to live with that reality.

For six years, Murray fought to get her colleagues in the Senate to ban asbestos. It made sense. People were dying by the thousands and the deaths of a new generation might be prevented. But industry and the Bush White House didn't want the U.S. to follow 40 other countries and ban the importation, use and sale of the cancer-causing fibers. Lobbyists for America's largest industries swarmed over Capitol Hill, called in IOUs and dumped millions of dollars to fight the ban.

But on Oct. 4, every U.S. senator voted to ban asbestos. That day, widows and friends toasted loved ones killed by asbestos.

Scientists and physicians who had helped educate the senator and her staff members called one another, many not believing that the ban finally was just House passage away from becoming law. But when the euphoria of winning waned and people actually read the bill, many of them realized that the legislation no longer contained the same protection they had testified about, and they started speaking out.

Bill Kamela, who is Murray's senior staff person in the fight for the ban, left a voice mail message last week on the home phone of the EPA's Miller.

Kamela questioned the accuracy of Miller's views and ended the message with: "This disinformation campaign is not helpful to anybody and certainly not folks who want to stick around this administration and try to do the right thing at the end of the day."

Murray blamed her aide's action on "the frustration of having the bill mischaracterized ... "

As the staff continues to defend the quality of the bill, they say the "real threat" will come from Rep. John Dingle, who heads the House committee that will hold hearings on the bill early next month. They say the Michigan Democrat will bow to the auto industry to exclude asbestos-containing brake material from the ban. Dingle did meet with auto industry representatives last month, "but will do nothing to damage the bill," a member of the committee staff said.

Almost all of the witnesses who had worked earlier to get the bill passed or to testify on its need were contacted repeatedly last week by Kamela, Bettina Poirier, staff director and chief counsel for Boxer's committee on Environment and Public Works and other staff members.

"These people, especially Poirier, kept calling. She ordered me not to talk to anyone about my views on the bill. She told me that I was spreading disinformation, that the bill was not flawed," Miller said.

Richard Lemen, a retired U.S. assistant surgeon general and former acting director of the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, has long fought for the ban and what Murray was trying to do.

Lemen and several of Murray's other witnesses joined in a two-hour conference call with the Senate staff one evening last week. Three of the participants said Poirier screamed at Lemen for much of that time, trying to get him to change his mind.

"It was not pleasant," Lemen said. "They were trying to get me to change my opinion, which I'm not going to do. This is a bad bill."

Poirier said she wasn't screaming at him.

"Maybe that's how they interpreted it. I have a cold so my voice doesn't sound exactly normal," the senior aide explained.

"We were trying to help him ... because they misunderstood what happened and we were trying to clear the air and support them."

Lemen saw it differently.

"These staff people are the same ones who asked us to testify and now they're the same people who are trying to shut us up. I'm not going to be quiet," he said.

"The public will be given a false sense of hope and that, to me, is an outrage, As a result there are going to be thousands of people at risk of developing asbestos-related diseases. No one knows how many will die."


Andrew Schneider: andrewschneider@seattlepi.com.

Blog Archive