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

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Asbestos Cleaning-Canadian double standards

Apropos the article dated March 26th 2008(given below), while Canada is cleaning even its bathroom of its asbestos content, its consumption is rising dramatically in India. Out of several million workers exposed to asbestos in countries like India, less than 30 have been compensated so far. The reasons for such a small number are: refusal by management sponsored studies to grant medical certifications to workers suffering from occupational diseases, lack of training for doctors in diagnosis of occupational lung diseases, deliberate misdiagnosis by doctors of asbestosis as either chronic bronchitis or tuberculosis.

Under Canadian and Russian influence, Indian Ministry of Chemicals and Fertilisers commissioned the National Institute of Occupational Health (NIOH), a premier research institute under the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR), to conduct a study titled Implementation of Rotterdam Convention on Prior Informed Consent Procedures- Study of Health Hazards / Environment Hazards resulting from use of Chrysotile Variety of Asbestos in the country. The study was commissioned in 2004 in the light of the proposed inclusion of chrysotile (popularly known as white asbestos) in the Prior Informed Consent (PIC) list of the Rotterdam Convention, which was recommended in 2005 and 2006 by the Chemical Review Committee of the Convention. On the face of it, the Government’s decision to base its position on science is laudable.

However, documents obtained through the Right to Information (RTI) Act reveal that the Government is conducting the study merely to justify its position that white asbestos does not pose an unmanageable risk. The made-to-order study, partly funded by the asbestos industry, is being tweaked by a review committee some of whose members are representatives of the asbestos industry. At no point in the study will members of public, workers’ organizations or in-dependent physicians be allowed to comment.

Information gained using Canadian Right to Information corroborates the same. The Information Commissioner of Canada informed, “Canada is working with other countries to promote chrysotile asbestos. The Indian government has worked diligently in cooperation with the Indian Asbestos Information Centre (AIC) and the Canadian Asbestos Institute.” Canadian High Commission in India says, “A ruling which states that subjecting a worker to asbestos is a violation of human rights could have far reaching consequences whether or not it is binding". It also notes, “AIC is of the belief that problems with safe use of asbestos will arise in the unorganised sector.

These include small manufacturers who cannot afford to either install the equipment necessary to safely use asbestos or invest in the health needs of their workers.” AIC accepts that “unorganised sector does use imported products that they acquire through agents.” It is noteworthy that Indian Government consults and trusts this very AIC in matters related to continued use of chrysotile.

The information from Natural Resources Ministry of Canada was given under Access to Information Act. Information made available shows that Second Secretary (Commercial), Canadian High Commission in India has been in correspondence with Ministry of Environment, Labour, Commerce on asbestos issue. He has arranged bilateral meetings between the Ministers too in the past specifically "to discuss[tongue]romotion of the safe-use of chrysotile asbestos and confirm India's continued market access and policy approach (controlled-use) re chrysotle asbestos".

In one letter written by Second Secretary (Commercial) Canadian High Commission in India, he informs, " I met with Brigadier Sethi of Asbestos Information Centre (AIC)..."
He was informed the outcome of the April 11, 2002 meeting where Ban Asbestos Network of India (BANI) was formed. It reads, "Most of the articles have headlines similar to the Times of India story saying that Experts are calling for the banning of asbestos in manufacturing, mining, etc". "Be advised that the Courts in India are much more interventionist than in Canada. It is entirely possible that the High Court could issue the injunction and stop the use of asbestos. Eventually the matter would reach the Supreme Court but there is no predicting the outcome."

The Brigadier also told me that a similar petition has been with the National Human Rights Commission. He does not seem concerned about this because the NHRC is a non-binding body.Second Secretary (Commercial) Canadian High Commission in India advised that "a finding stating that subjecting a worker to asbestos is a violation of human rights could have far reaching consequences whether or not the ruling is binding. I think that it may be necessary at some point to prepare an advocacy campaign to counter the arguments of the NGOs"

In such a context, what is alarming is that both consumers and workers do not enjoy any protection. There is a political consensus in India to expose workers and consumers to asbestos. Till date there is no firm in India that has expertise in asbestos removal from existing public and private buildings like Indian Parliament, provincial legislatures, even the higher courts and the residences of these lawmakers and enforcers quite unlike the Canadian Parliament that has been decontaminated.

Meanwhile, the asbestos roofs, its pieces and particles are seen strewn around in all the cities and villages in India where there is a upsurge in the construction industry. This underlines that while ban on asbestos is a must, safe removal of asbestos from buildings and other places would be long drawn and arduous process besides the compensation and rehabilitation of asbestos victims. There is no reason to continue the litany of unnecessary injury and death that comes from asbestos use. Alternatives to this killer fiber exist in the construction industry; the time to ban asbestos is now but Canadians and Russians are not letting it happen in India.

What is noteworthy is that while the Canadian government system continues to expose Indian workers along with the Russians, despite such a barbaric act Canada has a persona of a civilized nation due to corporate media's sleight of hand.

Gopal Krishna

Pointe Claire cleaning up asbestos as best they can

The City of Pointe Claire will be spending over $200,000 on two separate clean-up contracts in the next few months, and most of that is due to the presence of asbestos, according to Pointe Claire Mayor Bill McMurchie.

"We're cleaning a bathroom at Stewart Hall and you would wonder where the asbestos was in the wall of a bathroom," McMurchie said.

"It's asbestos fibre in the plaster," he said. Stewart Hall Building was constructed in 1916, when the health hazards posed by asbestos were not very well-known. However, McMurchie explained that the asbestos in the building posed no immediate danger, since it is not exposed to the public. Only those parts of the plaster that have to be changed will be removed.

"We have to be conscious of the fact that we're dealing with asbestos and that's a special contract," McMurchie said, explaining why the contract with N. Faucher construction company will come up to $106,280. Workers will be using specialized equipment to ensure they or the environment around them are not harmed by asbestos.

Pointe Claire's City Hall, meanwhile, will have two of its furnaces replaced, once more requiring the work of a company that specializes in dealing with asbestos to remove it from the area safely. That contract is for $98 100. C.I.I. Technologies did not return phone calls as of press time due to the Easter break.

Asbestos is a common name given to six different types of minerals including chrysotile, amosite and crocidolite. They were widely used in construction at the end of the 19th century and the dawn of the 20th due to their flame-retardant nature as well as tensile strength and resistance to electricity and chemical damage.

However the use of asbestos has become heavily regulated and sometimes banned outright since it was discovered inhalation of these minerals' fibres can lead to serious illnesses.

by Raffy Boudjikanian, raffy.boudjikanian@transcontinental.ca

March 26th 2008
The Chronicle, Montreal

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