Make India Asbestos Free

Make India Asbestos Free
For Asbestos Free India

Ban Asbestos Network of India (BANI) 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, oshindia@yahoo.in

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Russia, largest supplier of asbestos to India

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. The rest came from Canada,Kazakhstan and Brazil.

"Asbestos is a threat to everyone, not just workers. From children in schools, to young and old in private and public buildings where asbestos is present and to whole communities where it exists as a pollutant".

Perversely, the extent of the damage in industrialized countries is now being measured only after consumption has been slashed or halted altogether. This is because of the long latency for the development of asbestos-related cancers.


Generally, the mortality curve for asbestos-related cancers follows the asbestos consumption curve with a lag of about 30 to 40 years. In Europe, the mortality peak will be reached only around 2020.

The production and marketing started in Russia 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. Essentially halted by the world war and civil war, asbestos production took off again from the late 1920s. Modernisation of the rail network enabled the intensive development of the Uralasbest mine. By the late 1930s, Soviet industry had a widely diversifi ed asbestos productsindustry. In 1975, Soviet Russia overtook Canada as the world’s leading asbestos producer, and remains
so today.

The early 1990s, however, saw a dramatic collapse in asbestos production due to the general upheaval in manufacturing industry and construction, and nothing to occupational health or environmental protection concerns. It was the result of shock therapy from the reintroduction of capitalism. The country’s principal
asbestos mine (Uralasbest) was privatised, partly sold off to German investors, eventually ending up under the control of new Russian capitalists. It was
even declared bankrupt in 1997, only to resume its activities afterwards.

There was virtually no debate on asbestos either under the Soviet regime or since. Following the banning of asbestos in the European Union, the Putin government
set up a panel of experts to give an opinion on a possible Russian asbestos ban. The panel mainly consisted of occupational medicine specialists. Its final report is an impassioned defence of asbestos use. The Russian press tends to take a jingoistic
approach to the asbestos issue. The struggle by world trade unions and victim support groups to get asbestos banned is sometimes portrayed as the product of a trade war waged with “the deep pockets of transnational trusts”. The pro-Russian asbestos lobby claim that it holds relatively little danger for health.

With the same arguments coming out of Canada, Zimbabwe and Brazil, asbestos victims must count themselves really unlucky not to have been exposed just to these pure national varieties of chrysotile.

The Russian authorities continue to deny the health havoc wrought by asbestos. This rose-tinted view is challenged by the figures from Eastern European countries that imported Soviet asbestos almost exclusively.

Russian press voiced concern about the practise of asbestos-using firms handing out production residues to private individuals as filling material, bumping up
asbestos pollution of the environment. Still, Russian government's position remains caught in a time warp.

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