Make India Asbestos Free

Make India Asbestos Free
For Asbestos Free India

Ban Asbestos Network of India (BANI) works for Asbestos Free India since 2002. Occupational Health India and ToxicsWatch Alliance are its members that includes occupational health doctors, researchers and activists. BANI demands criminal liability for companies and medico-legal remedy for victims. It works with trade unions, human rights, environmental and public health groups. For Details:krishna1715@gmail.com, oshindia@yahoo.in, toxicswatchallaince@gmail.com

Thursday, October 30, 2008

India opposes putting asbestos in hazardous list

Note: R.H. Khwaja, Additional Secretary, Ministry of Environment & Forests has betrayed the Indians and compromised their health to protect asbestos industry at the UN meeting of the Rotterdam Convention on the Prior Informed Consent (PIC) Procedure for Certain Hazardous Chemicals and Pesticides in International Trade in Rome.

As an act of manifest sophistry and insincerity, Khwaja, argued strategies for global chemicals management must respect nations’ sovereign right to use chemicals for the national good, taking into account both socio-economic and environmental concerns..

Supporters of corporate barbarism like Russia, India, Pakistan and Canada compelled the UN conference TO miss the opportunity to list chrysotile (white) asbestos for the fourth time.

Public interests groups have emphasized that the Convention is about protecting health and the environment, not trade. Being a Convention about hazardous chemicals trade, it is in the nature of the traders to move in minimal steps with criminal callousness.

Barry Castleman & members of the Rotterdam Convention Alliance (ROCA) demonstrated at the FAO rooftop to raise awareness on the banning of chrysotile asbestos. (Photos courtesy: ROCA)

Gopal Krishna


U.N. hazardous chemical treaty faces deadlock at meeting in Rome


“Government position is untenable”


NEW DELHI: Reacting to the “anti-worker and anti-science” position of few “reckless governments” that has created a stalemate for the U.N. hazardous chemicals treaty, the Ban Asbestos Network of India (BANI) has accused Canadian, Russian and Indian governments of turning a blind eye towards the poisonous atmosphere around the asbestos factories and the dangers it poses to the health and life of citizens. This was being done just to pander to the industry’s hunger for profit at human cost, it said.

“The Indian government has betrayed the public interest by taking an unpardonable position that endangers each and every citizen of the country at the fourth meeting of the Conference of the Parties (COP-4) of the U.N.’s Rotterdam Convention on the Prior Informed Consent Procedure (PIC) for Certain Hazardous Chemicals and Pesticides in International Trade in Rome,” a statement issued by BANI said here.

As a consequence, the hazardous chemicals treaty faces deadlock in the Rome meeting. A very important proposal was placed to wriggle out of the situation where chemicals that meet the Convention’s criteria but on which the COP fails to reach consensus about listing in Annex III as has happened in the case of chrystolite asbestos aend endosulphan. Chemical and chrystolite asbestos industries and countries like India, Russia and Canada are opposed to the inclusion of these chemicals in the list although they meet the criteria to be listed as hazardous chemical. Fearing certain defeat, Canada stated that introducing voting for Annex III would create a dual system that could weaken the Convention. The Indian government took an untenable position at a U.N. meeting in Rome by opposing the inclusion of chrystolite asbestos in the U.N.’s hazardous chemical list under the “influence” of asbestos industry and Canadian and Russian governments. A number of countries, including some that continue to mine and export chrystolite asbestos, blocked its addition to the PIC list when the Parties to the Convention last met in 2006 and further opposition is expected at next week’s meeting, according to the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO).

India is the largest importer and consumer of Canadian and Russian asbestos to the detriment of its citizens and workers.

When the matter came up for discussion on October 28, head of the Indian delegation R.H. Khawaja, Additional Secretary, Ministry of Environment opposed the listing of chrystolite asbestos and endosulphan in the PIC list for hazardous chemicals and pesticides.

The Indian government’s delegation acted under tremendous pressure from the representatives of Indian chemical industry and chrystolite asbestos industry who dictated government’s official position, the BANI statement said.

Oct 31, 2008
The Hindu

Put human health before trade in hazardous chemicals

PRESENTATION, Kathleen Ruff, international co-ordinator, Rotterdam Convention Alliance

Rotterdam Convention 4th Conference of the Parties, High Level Segment, October 30, 2008

The Rotterdam Convention Alliance (ROCA) represents environmental and health groups around the world who are concerned with hazardous chemicals and pesticides.

We came to the COP with high hopes. Our hope was, as the WHO representative powerfully put it, that this Conference would put human health before trade.

The Rotterdam Convention is not a Convention to protect trade. Its mandate is to protect human health and the environment. Its mandate is to stop people from falling ill and dying unnecessarily from hazardous chemicals and pesticides. Its mandate is to empower developing countries by providing them with a legally binding right to crucial information and the right to set their own policy, as they see fit, to protect their people and their land from hazardous chemicals.

The overwhelming majority of Parties here at this Conference want to put human health before trade. They want the Convention to be implemented. They want hazardous chemicals and pesticides that have met the scientific criteria of the Convention to be put on the Convention’s list.

A tiny handful of countries are blocking the will of the overwhelming majority of the Parties. They are putting trade before human health. The reasons they give are completely illogical and obstructive. They say that “more studies need to be done”, trying to deny the reality that theConvention’s expert scientific body has completed the scientific process of the Convention and rendered its recommendation.

The tactic of manufacturing doubt and delay is a well-known and dishonourable way to destroy a Convention. It is a tactic that the tobacco industry employed for many decades, using industry-funded research to deny the clear science on the harm of tobacco. Millions are dying unnecessarily from tobacco-caused disease because of that delay, just as many people will die unnecessarily because of the delay that has been manufactured here at this Conference.

Delay is a victory for those who do not wish the Convention’s provisionto be implemented.

We are now at the political process, not the scientific process.

A small number of countries are holding the Convention hostage by refusing to work towards consensus. They are using the requirement to achieve consensus not as a way to co-operate but as a weapon to sabotage the Convention.

These few countries are violating everything the Convention stands for. They are betraying the legal and moral commitments they made when they ratified the Convention.

- They are putting commercial interests ahead of health and the environment.
- They are denying other countries their right to be informed about specific
hazardous chemicals that meet the Convention’s criteria.
- They are disempowering developing countries by refusing to let them decide the terms under which they wish to receive these hazardous chemicals.
- They are reinforcing global inequality whereby wealthy countries already enjoy the right to be informed about hazardous chemicals and control their use, whereas people in poor countries do not enjoy that right and consequently their people are exposed, unnecessarily, to harm from hazardous chemicals.

This is a global scandal and a global injustice. A few countries are killing a basic human right promised by this Convention. In order to protect the industry that produces a particular hazardous chemical, they are preventing the chemical from being listed under the Convention.

Those few countries who are blocking the listing of chrysotile asbestos and endosulfan are blocking the clear will of the community of nations. We call on those countries to stop and think what you are doing. You are blocking a basic human right: the right to information. How can anyone possibly justify blocking this basic human right?

You are blocking the right for countries, especially developing countries, to control their borders. You are blocking their right to take decisions regarding import of hazardous chemicals that they think is in their best interests.

We have heard here at this Conference the voices of a great many countries in Africa say that the right to prior informed consent over chrysotile asbestos and endosulfan is a right they need, a right they want and a right they are entitled to.

For the tiny handful of countries who are obstructing the Convention, you have the right to do whatever you wish for your own country, to make your own decisions to export or import these substances. But what gives you the right to deny other countries the right to take their own decisions?

We are seeing the Convention in danger of becoming a farce. Hazardous pesticides and chemicals that are no longer traded will get listed.

Pesticides and chemicals that are commercially valuable will not be listed, even though they are so deadly industrialized countries have banned or severely restricted them.

The interest of the chrysotile asbestos and endosulfan industries are represented here at the Conference. They argue for continued uncontrolled trade of their products without any prior informed consent requirement.

These vested interests must not succeed in blocking the Convention. Haven’t we seen enough disasters from uncontrolled trade of hazardouschemicals? Haven’t we seen enough deaths? Isn’t it time to put publichealth and the environment first?

It is particularly offensive to see wealthy western countries, such as my own, where we have the advantage of abundant scientific and other resources, where we have the right to prior informed consent for ourselves, where we have the necessary information and infrastructure to control the import of hazardous chemicals, where we can therefore protect the health of our own citizens, then turn around and deny this basic human right of prior informed consent to developing countries who do not have these same resources.

This is not only grossly hypocritical, it is simply shameful. A World Call of Conscience has been signed by a large number of leading, prestigious health professionals and scientists from around the world, calling on Parties to respect the commitment they made when they ratified the Convention.

The Rotterdam Convention is in grave danger of suffering a devastating blow here. But it is not too late. There is still time to make this Conference a success for public health and the environment.

For that handful of countries who are destroying the Convention, we, the voice of the world’s environmental and health organizations, say: Stopdefending industry. Allow chrysotile asbestos and endosulfan to be listed.

Honour your commitment under the Convention to put human health first.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Canada, India, Pakistan & Russia sacrificing public good

Immoral opposition from Chrysotile asbestos importers like India and Pakistan under the influence of Russia and Canada besides the industry has almost ensured that the killer fiber will not be blacklisted by the UN hazardous chemicals treaty.

Pat Martin, a member of the leftist New Democratic Party, said the Canadian government -- currently run by a conservative minority -- was behind the deadlock as it sought to defend the country's small but politically important asbestos industry.

Ban Asbestos Network of India (BANI) says, Indian position is dictated by Italy born President of ruling Indian National Congress party. She is an avid supporter asbestos industry because her party's senior members own companies that manufacture asbestos products.

More Sacrifices of the Public Good

in the Name of Appeasing Quebec

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A report on "As It Happens": CBC Radio One (08.10.29), from the Rotterdam Conference indicates that Canada has not taken a position on the matter of asbestos.

However, in small workshop sessions leading to the plenary session, Canada has indicated that political decisions are instrumental in this matter. Read: We have to pander to Quebec and the jobs in their asbestos industry which is killing both their own people and which is probably harmful to the people working in the industries using this product in foreign countries.

Note to Stephen Harper: much of Quebec cares not a rat's ass about the Conservatives in particular and Canada in general. In Quebec, it is always about "MOI"!

So, Steve, do the right thing and stop this commerce in death. It won't affect the votes cast for your Party one whit.

There is a role here for the media.

One: Go to those communities in Quebec affected by the asbestos industry. Tell us the stories of those people. Are they actually willing to make a choice of having the highest death rate in Canada from asbestosis in order that those asbestos-related jobs are maintained?

Two: Which countries are buying Quebec/Canadian asbestos? How is this asbestos used in those countries? The workers in the purchasing countries who are working with asbestos, what are the related health effects for these people?

Canadian Doctors say, Stop exporting asbestos
October 29, 2008
Aleck Ostry, Tom Kosatsky, Bruce W. Case

When it comes to discussions of the continued mining, use, or particularly export of chrysotile asbestos – the major form used worldwide and formerly an important Canadian export, now accounting for under ten per cent of world production – it seems that even agreement on principles does not lead to action.

The Post editorial provocatively titled “The case for selling asbestos” (Oct. 22, 2008) agrees with Canadian Medical Association Journal editorialists that chrysotile should be added to the Rotterdam Convention “PIC” list of hazardous substances that can be exported only on condition of an intergovernmental warning. They agree further that an expert-panel report on asbestos risks submitted to Health Canada in March which has been held secret despite calls from the authors, the British Medical Journal, and an editorial in the Annals of Occupational Hygiene “should certainly be allowed” to see the light of day.

Yet somehow, they manage to squeeze out of this a pro-industry position – at least, a position that supports the vestigial remnant of the Canadian chrysotile industry, a small enterprise that is essentially bankrupt and no longer relevant to the Canadian economy. To get things really wrong, they make the breathtaking (pun intended) assertion that “The science is still too immature to apply the precautionary principle to chrysotile asbestos”.

The Precautionary Principle, as proposed in the UN Rio Declaration on Environment and Development of 1992, is described by Environment Canada: “…the absence of full scientific certainty shall not be used as a reason to postpone decisions when faced with the threat of serious or irreversible harm”. While there is debate over the degree to which chrysotile asbestos causes malignant mesothelioma, there is consensus that it is a cause, given sufficient dose, of asbestos-related lung cancer (which is twice as common as mesothelioma) and asbestosis (irreversible scarring of the lungs). Indeed, compensation has been given to workers for these diseases in every Canadian Province for decades; in Quebec chrysotile asbestos was recognized as a cause of compensable disease in 1946 (noted by Paul Cartier in his Contribution á l'étude de l'amiantose, Arch Mal Prof, 1949). Materials that were proven “toxic” over 60 years ago do not fit the purpose or definition of the “precautionary principle”.

It is quite true that the CMAJ editorialists gloss over the debate about chrysotile and mesothelioma, and even use the seminal 2008 articles referred to by the Post’s editors by Wayne Berman and Kenny Crump in Critical Reviews in Toxicology as evidence for equivalence of risk for fibre types in lung cancer. However, this is accurate: the study shows no significant differences for lung cancer while simultaneously estimating mesothelioma chrysotile risk at at least 200 times less than the other forms of asbestos. In other words, both sets of editorialists cherry-pick their data from the same study, an unfortunate but not unusual habit in the “asbestos debate”.

But is this a reason to encourage export of a proven carcinogen to countries where Canada has absolutely no control over its use? And in so doing to prop up a dying industry with taxpayers’ money, when that money could be used to provide a socially just transition for out-of-work chrysotile miners and millers and their families to jobs which actually exist in reality rather than simply as a possibility?

Canadian scientists and Canadian health bodies are certainly not in doubt about this; the Canadian Association for Research on Work and Health (CARWH) called in May of 2005 for “…the federal government to cease its support for the asbestos industry and ban the mining, production and use, as well as, the export of asbestos; (and) upon the federal and provincial Quebec government to provide the necessary financial and logistic support for an economically just transition and environmental remediation for the asbestos mining communities”.

They were joined by the Canadian Cancer Society recently whose public position is in part directly relevant to the question at hand:

“Countries importing chrysotile asbestos from Canada should be fully informed of the human health and environmental risks associated with its use. The Canadian government, for the first time, should support the inclusion of chrysotile asbestos on the Rotterdam Convention’s Prior Informed Consent list for 2008”
We may not know absolutely everything there is to know about the magnitude of chrysotile asbestos’ health risks, but the latter inclusion is an easy, moral, and necessary step to take.

Bruce W. Case, MD, DOH, MSc, FRCP(C)
Montréal, Québec, H3G 1A4

Tom Kosatsky, MD, MPH
Vancouver, B.C.

Aleck Ostry, MA, MSc,PhD
Victoria, B.C.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Indian govt betrays its citizens supports asbestos industry




Indian government took an internationally untenable position on 28th October at a UN meeting in Rome by opposing the inclusion of Chrysotile Asbestos in the UN's hazardous chemical list under the manifest influence of Asbestos industry and Canadian and Russian governments.

Italy born President of Indian National Congress Party, Sonia Gandhi and her government headed by Manmohan Singh ignored the appeals by its own Environment & Health Ministry along with trade unions & environmental groups to support the inclusion of Chrysotile Asbestos in the list of hazardous chemicals but Indian officials at the UN meeting in Rome are all set to disregard the public interest concerns and be guided by the industry.

Manmohan Singh government has betrayed the public interest by taking an unpardonable position that endangers each and every citizen of the country at the fourth meeting of the Conference of the Parties (COP-4) of the UN's Rotterdam Convention on the Prior Informed Consent Procedure (PIC) for Certain Hazardous Chemicals and Pesticides in International Trade commenced today at the headquarters of the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) in Rome, Italy. The meeting would conclude on 31 October.

There are 39 substances on the Rotterdam Convention's international trade watch list, under which an exporting nation must ensure no substance on the list leaves its territory without the consent of the recipient country. The watch list is formally known as the Prior Informed Consent (PIC) Procedure for Certain Hazardous Chemicals and Pesticides in International Trade.

Chrysotile asbestos, which is widely used in building materials, accounts for some 94 per cent of global asbestos production. The UN World Health Organization (WHO) has identified it as a human carcinogen, and reports that at least 90,000 people die each year of asbestos-related diseases such as lung cancer and mesothelioma. And International Labour Organisation has called for the elimination of its use.

A number of countries, including some that continue to mine and export chrysotile asbestos, blocked its addition to the PIC list when the Parties to the Convention last met in 2006 and further opposition is expected at next week's meeting, according to FAO. India is the largest importers and consumers of Canadian and Russian asbestos to the detriment of its citizens and workers.

Manmohan Singh government has turned a blind eye towards how the atmosphere around asbestos factory and asbestos products becomes poisonous.

When the matter came for discussion on 28 October, Head of the Indian delegation R H Khawaja, Additional Secretary, Ministry of Environment opposed the listing of Chrysotile asbestos and endosulphan in the PIC list for hazardous chemicals and pesticides. Indian government's delegation acted under tremendous pressure from the representatives of Indian Chemical Industry and Chrysotile asbestos industry who dictated government's official position.

Reacting to the unfortunate position of the government for the fourth time, Ban Asbestos Network of India (BANI) condemned the Indian position and said,
"It clearly illustrates that the ruling Indian National Congress Party politicians are either themselves owners of asbestos companies or are in hand in glove with these companies in their naked lust for profit."


--
For Details:Gopal Krishna,Ban Asbestos Network of India (BANI), Mb: 9818089660
E-mail:krishnagreen@gmail.com

Selling our reputation: The Ottawa Citizen

Note: India is also an ally of Canada in its promotion of Chrysotile Asbestos along with Russia & others. Indian delegation in Rome is in a corporate grip. The delegation does not represent the Indian citizens, it solely represents the corporate interests. As a nation India is making a laughing stock of itself by saying the killer asbestos is not hazardous.

October 28, 2008

Canada is the only western democracy opposed to declaring the chrysotile form of asbestos a dangerous substance under the Rotterdam Convention, an international treaty designed to protect developing nations from toxic trade. And who are Canada's allies in the battle against regulating the export of this carcinogen?

Iran, Russia and Zimbabwe.

That pretty much tells you everything you need to know about Canada's position.

Canada's increasingly isolated position on asbestos exports has earned the country criticism at home -- including a damning editorial in the Canadian Medical Association Journal. As for our good name abroad, Citizen columnist Keith Spicer has reported on at least one public protest in Europe denouncing Canadian irresponsibility.

The federal government's position is hypocritical. Here at home, Canadian workers are protected against the dangers of asbestos by worker safety laws. Yet the government has spent millions promoting its export to countries such as India which, as the Citizen series "The Asbestos Time Bomb" points out, has left a deadly legacy of asbestos-related health problems.

Canada has pumped more than $19 million into the Chrysotile Institute, an advocacy group. It has also commissioned a study into the risks of chrysotile exposure, but kept the report secret. And it has consistently blocked the inclusion of chrysotile in the Rotterdam Convention, which would simply mean that importing governments are notified before it is shipped to them.

Canada is doing all of this because we happen to be the world's largest producer of the chrysotile form of asbestos. Canadians need to recognize that this export revenue comes with a price, as measured in the damage to our international reputation.

The Ottawa Citizen

Monday, October 27, 2008

एस्बेस्टस का हानिकारक प्रभाव इंगित करनेवाला प्रथम व्यक्ति

मानव स्वास्थ्य पर एस्बेस्टस का हानिकारक प्रभाव इंगित करनेवाला प्रथम व्यक्ति कौन था ?
इर्विंग जे.सेलिकोफ

Towards a criminal repetition from the Canadian Government?

ASBESTOS and CANADA
Rotterdam Convention:

Towards a criminal repetition from the Canadian Government?

Between 27th and 31st October, members of the Rotterdam convention will meet in Rome and will – even if that sounds incredible - ask again the following question: should asbestos be included in the list of hazardous products? The question has to be raised again because Canada has so far opposed a veto to the inclusion of asbestos!

The Rotterdam convention is an important tool for the protection of human health and environment; the convention promotes control of trade of hazardous industrial chemicals and pesticides when they are listed in the convention. When an industrial chemicals or pesticide is included in the Annex III, Parties have the right to use the procedure «Prior Informed Consent», to control the import of hazardous industrial chemicals and pesticides in their countries. The purpose is not to ban the product but to enable the importing country to be informed about the hazards of these products.

Implemented in February 2004, the convention has among other products included 22 pesticides and asbestos … but only the amphibole varieties, «forgetting» the chrysotile asbestos which represents more than 90% of the world asbestos production – it is the type of asbestos produced by the Québec mines; Canada remains the first exporter of asbestos, even if asbestos is hardly used anymore on its territory.

This year, like in 2004 and 2006, the inclusion of (chrysotile) asbestos – the major industrial killer of our planet – will again be discussed. The fact that a product killing more than 200 000 persons every year, banned by more than thirty countries, whose replacement is recommended by the International Labour Organization and World Health Organization, cannot be included in the Rotterdam convention is a genuine public health scandal.

The main culprit for this catastrophy is Canada, even if it received help from other asbestos producers (China, Russia, …). The purpose of the Canadian government is simple : protect the asbestos mine industry in Québec (around 500 jobs are at stake) even if that goes against public health or even moral standards. In complete connivance with the Asbestos Institute (renamed in 2003 «Chrysotile Institute», the cousin of the infamous [French] «comité permanent amiante » and also a source of propaganda, backed by the government), the Canadian government non only forces developing countries to use asbestos but tries to tamper information on hazards and prevention that could damage trade.

Ottawa has yet to indicate the position it will defend during the 2008 meeting. In 2004 and 2006, Canada has cynically opposed its veto to the inclusion of chrysotile on the list of hazardous substances. Today the position of the Canadian government is unbearable. Within Canada numerous voices have denounced the irresponsability of the government. Not only all forms of asbestos must be included in the list of hazardous substances, but the use of asbestos must be banned worldwide, like it is today in Europe.

Recall that the Canadian government went as far as pushing a formal complaint in front of the World Trade Organisation (WTO) against the French decision of banning asbestos. This complaint was rejected in September 2000 and the appeal in march 2001.


Contacts : François Desriaux, Michel Parigot, Marc Hindry

Conversation with the author of Secret History of the War on Cancer

An interview Devra Davis on the causes of the delay in taking action against agents related to cancer. Tobacco and asbestos the main issues of her talk

"Exporting asbestos to India is immoral, but it also needs to be made illegal. "

This interview to Devra Davis, Professor of Epidemiology and Director of Center for Environmental Oncology at UPCI, and is the author of the Secret History of the War on Cancer, Basic Books, is related to the Lectio Magistralis she presents at the Festival della Scienza 2008, in Genoa - Italy on 27th October 2008.

Devra Davis is Professor of Epidemiology and Director of Center for Environmental Oncology at UPCI, and is the author of the Secret History of the War on Cancer, Basic Books.


As it is presented, your speech will deal with the problems caused to cancer research by specific interest (either of tobacco factories or of those doctors who felt threatend by the Pap test). What exactly you discovered? and what do you suggest should be done in order to prevent such things to happen again?

President Nixon formally declared war on the disease of cancer in 1971, ignoring then well known causes, including tobacco,asbestos, x-rays, sunlight, hormones, and mining. We began fighting the wrong war against the wrong enemies, focusing on the disease and not on the things then known to cause it. Those who urged that the war should focus on finding and treating the disease of cancer often came from the same industries that produced agents that caused cancer, including tobacco, industrial chemicals and synthetic hormones.

Bigger and bigger becomes the number of cancer cases in the world, but is it a truth that also belong to the third world or rather is it mainly a problem connected with Western countries?

Half of all cancer cases today occur in the developing world, where cancer rates are growing rapidly. while cancer occurs in industrialized nations, as developing nations acquire many of the technologies of industry, they will also acquire the health risks associated with some industrial practices

Lately there's also a tendency to talk about form of viruses that generate or rather characterise particular typologies of cancer? Could you please make specific reference to the womb cancer and to the recent vaccination proposed to young adolescent to prevent it?

HPV virus contributes to cervix(womb) cancer, head and neck tumors, anal cancer, and possibly breast cancer. Vaccination can reduce the chances that HPV infection will arise. It makes no sense to vaccinate only girls, since we know that boys also transmit the virus, and that gay men are at high risk of anal cancer. In addition, we do not have a well developed safety record regarding this vaccine. We need to be careful that the vaccine only be given to healthy girls without any immune problems or pre-existing disease. And we must monitor for adverse reactions very carefully.

On the other hand there's also a sort of alternative approach to cancer that look at it from a psychological and symptomatic point of view as the result of something that troubles us at the point of generating a dark zone in our body and the perfect soil for the germination of cancer. What's your position in relation to this attitude? How much responsability do you thing we have on our health and on the wellness of our body?

There is no evidence that the mind causes cancer, but there are impressive studies that the mind can be used through meditation, yoga, and a variety of other techniques to help people with cancer cope with the disease.

Could you please briefly disclose other main points of your Lectio Magistralis at the Festival della Scienza in Genoa on 27th Octorber?

I will also draw on these remarks...Last month, India banned smoking indoors, joining Uruguay, France, Italy, Ireland, Sweden and a growing number of industrial and developing nations. More than half a century ago, scientists understood tobacco’s deadly impacts on health. Why did it take so long to act against this dangerous habit? Carefully cultivated scientific uncertainties about tobacco became powerful public relations strategies justifying delay. A deadly rulebook explains why the world took so long to act against tobacco and why efforts to control other damaging modern agents remain largely stymied. .

When it was first launched in 1971, the official war on cancer was strangely silent on the need to control tobacco, or other agents then known to cause the disease. This was no accident. The addiction to tobacco and many cancer-causing products was not just physical but financial.


In the 1950s, the AMA received $10 million dollars to devise a safe cigarette, a program on which the U.S. government spent some $35 million through the 1970s. The first director of the American Cancer Society, Clarence Cook Little, became scientific director of the Tobacco Industry Research Council in 1954. Tobacco millions meted out to some of the world’s top scientists well into the 1980s provided quick and authoritative challenges to any report that surfaced on tobacco hazards. The AMA ran ads featuring smoking physicians touting health benefits of tobacco. In the 1950s, the ACS board ordered its staff scientists not to disclose their own research on tobacco hazards.

In 1957, Reader’s Digest, then America’s major monthly magazine, reported that cigarettes contained high amounts of tars and nicotine. Industry came up with a simple solution endorsed by eminent authorities: new and improved filters would produce smoother smokes. A carefully concocted strategy rolled out the first filtered cigarettes in 1953. With their lowered tar and nicotine levels officially tested by the AMA, Kent cigarettes worked too well. So what did these too efficient filters contain? Declassified government reports described a very special compound—asbestos—that could remove radioactive and other fine particles.

From 1952 to 1956 a little more than half a billion packs of Kent brand asbestos-filtered cigarettes were sold. Of course, asbestos was not solely used in cigarettes. Within short order asbestos became widely employed because of its ability to fireproof hardened materials, whether roof sheets, floor tiles, furnaces and wiring, or cement building blocks. Once invisible particles of asbestos are deeply inhaled into the lung, they can leave telltale scars that can give rise forty years later to lung cancer or to mesothelioma, a slowly suffocating cancer. When reports surfaced that asbestos was killing workers in the 1930s, medical experts tapped by industry provided soothing, scientific assurance that these were wrong.

Next week in Rome, a meeting of more than 100 nations that have agreed to the United Nations Conference of the Parties on the Rotterdam Convention on Toxic Hazards can end decades of delay in controlling asbestos. Two countries stand apart in refusing to act. The U.S. and Canada. Canada’s reason for resisting the listing of asbestos as a toxic hazard is simple—money. Like Russia, Kazakhstan, and Brazil, Canada is a major exporter of asbestos. The U.S. has not banned asbestos domestically and has not ratified the treaty.

In more than sixty developing countries, Canadian embassies regularly host asbestos promoting affairs. Drawing on more than $50 million of government funding to specially cultivated scientists and public relations experts, the fabulously successful Chrysotile Institute, formerly called, the Asbestos Institute, claims that chrysotile asbestos is safe—a position that differs from that of the Canadian Medical Association, the Canadian Cancer Society, the World Bank, the World Health Organization, the American Public Health Association and the Collegium Ramazzini.

In a number of African nations and in India, imports of Canadian asbestos have tripled in less than a decade, as have imports of asbestos sheet cement into the U.S. from Mexico this century. Investigative photos of Indian asbestos factories in the Toronto Globe and Mail revealed dusty, dangerous working conditions of young Indians reminiscent of those depicted by Dickens. An epidemic of asbestos-related illness continues to afflict Quebec—the province where Canadian asbestos is produced and where women--few of whom have worked in mines-- have the highest rates of asbestos-related lung disease in the world.

Asbestos is not widely utilized in Canada at all today. Safer substitutes are employed. Yet, the government has been shamelessly promoting asbestos to developing nations. While boasting that its green Olympics were free of asbestos, China quadrupled mining of asbestos in Tibet which is widely used throughout the countryside.

Wherever it’s been produced, asbestos does not stay in factories. This year, Leigh Carlisle, a 26 year old British woman who never worked with asbestos in her short life, died of mesothelioma. Her only known exposure occurred as a girl walking past an asbestos-using worksite as she made her way to school. She is not alone. One in three cases of this lethal disease today occurs in people with no known workplace history of asbestos exposure.

Exporting asbestos to India is immoral, but it also needs to be made illegal. Nations like Canada and the U.S. with Premiers and Presidents that have won the Nobel Peace Prize can do the right thing and stop perpetuating the deadly legacy of this dangerous dust.

di Laura Santini, 26 OTTOBRE 2008

UN treaty to include Chrysotile Asbestos in Hazardous Chemicals watch list

Press Release

UN treaty to include Chrysotile Asbestos in Hazardous Chemicals watch list


New Delhi/22/10/2008: Three hazardous chemicals including cancer causing Chrysotile Asbestos, tributyltin compounds and endosulfan are slated for inclusion in the UN list.

The fourth meeting of the Conference of the Parties (COP-4) of the UN's Rotterdam Convention on the Prior Informed Consent Procedure (PIC) for Certain Hazardous Chemicals and Pesticides in International Trade commenced today at the headquarters of the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) in Rome, Italy. The meeting would conclude its session on 31 October.

Efforts by over 120 countries are on to add three hazardous chemicals – including the world's most widely used form of asbestos – to a trade "watch list" under this UN-backed treaty. It is aimed at helping developing countries more effectively manage potentially harmful imported substances.
There are 39 substances on the Rotterdam Convention's international trade watch list, under which an exporting nation must ensure no substance on the list leaves its territory without the consent of the recipient country. The watch list is formally known as the Prior Informed Consent (PIC) Procedure for Certain Hazardous Chemicals and Pesticides in International Trade.

The member states of UN will consider adding two pesticides – endosulfan and tributyl tin compounds – and the industrial chemical chrysotile asbestos to the PIC list in Rome.
The Convention is designed to ensure that hazardous chemicals do not endanger human health and the environment but inclusion on the list is not a recommendation for an international ban or severe restriction of the use of the substance.

Chrysotile asbestos, which is widely used in building materials, accounts for some 94 per cent of global asbestos production. The UN World Health Organization (WHO) has identified it as a human carcinogen, and reports that at least 90,000 people die each year of asbestos-related diseases such as lung cancer and mesothelioma. And International Labour Organisation has called for the elimination of its use.

A number of countries, including some that continue to mine and export chrysotile asbestos, blocked its addition to the PIC list when the Parties to the Convention last met in 2006 and further opposition is expected at next week's meeting, according to FAO. India is the largest importers and consumers of Canadian and Russian asbestos to the detriment of its citizens and workers.

Indian Environment & Health Ministry along with trade unions & environmental groups have appealed to the Ministry of Chemicals to support the inclusion of Chrysotile Asbestos in the list of hazardous chemicals but Indian officials at the UN meeting in Rome are all set to disregard the public interest concerns and be guided by the industry.
Ministry of Chemicals is turning a blind eye towards how the atmosphere around asbestos factory and asbestos products becomes poisonous. Out of 110 signatories to the UN treaty, 105 favour the inclusion of Chrysotile asbestos in PIC list, but India does not want it. India is also a part to the treaty.

When the matter comes for discussion on 23 October, Head of the Indian delegation R H Khawaja, Additional Secretary, Ministry of Environment is all set to oppose the listing of Chrysotile asbestos and endosulphan in the PIC list for hazardous chemicals and pesticides. Indian government's delegation is under tremendous pressure from the representatives of Indian Chemical Industry and Chrysotile asbestos industry who are also dictating government's official position.

COP-4 will address those issues which eluded consensus during the last meeting of the Conference of the Parties, namely, mechanisms and procedures for non-compliance and the inclusion of chrysotile asbestos in Annex III of the Convention, as well as ways to ensure the continued effectiveness of the Convention.

A high-level segment is scheduled for 30–31 October, where Ministers and heads of delegation will hold panel discussions on the theme: "Sound chemicals management: relieving the burden on public health".

The meeting will also consider the inclusion of tributyltin compounds and endosulfan in Annex III of the Convention; and the recommendations of the Ad Hoc Joint Working Group on Enhancing Cooperation and Coordination among the Basel, Rotterdam and Stockholm conventions.


For Details: Gopal Krishna, Ban Asbestos Network of India (BANI), Mb: 9818089660, E-mail: krishnagreen@gmail.com

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Govt won't ban use of asbestos

Both Environment & Health Ministry support ban

A asbestos victims from Ahemedabad, Gujarat

Here is a hand signal you should look for to keep a check on your asbestos disease

Club fingers: If the tips of your fingers are dome-shaped or look like small clubs, it could be a warning sign of serious diseases such as lung cancer, TB or mesothelioma - a deadly lung disease linked to asbestos. It is due to the build-up of a substance called PGE2 which helps dampen down inflammation in the lungs. It is thought lung tumours send production of PGE2 into overdrive, churning out 10 times the amount the body needs. It builds up in the finger tips and causes swelling. A new study in the latest issue of the Journal of the Royal
Society of Medicine reveals that if you have club fingers, you may have lung cancer.


Yeshwant Peje, a worker of Hindustan Composites, an asbestos-cement factory has asbestosis, a disease that scars the lungs and can be fatal. He has received no compensation. He knows that the asbestos comes from Canada in bags.. Russia is also a supplier.

Peje wore cotton gloves and a mask on a daily basis. His asbestosis makes him breathless and drains his energy for most things, aside from a bit of yoga in the morning. "The risk was assumed," he says . He is one of some 300 men who were examined for asbestos related illnesses. Out which 160 had symptoms that required X-rays. Only 99 showed up for the X-rays, and of those men, 41 were diagnosed with asbestosis. Thirty-six of the men launched a compensation claim in 2005. The factory relocated in 2006, and none of the men have received compensation.

Asbestos is everywhere - in the asbestos-cement roofs and also in the lungs of an unknown number of workers who are sick from the effects of working with asbestos besides consumers.

Till date 34 cases of asbestosis have been compensated for by the official compensation body, the Employees' State Insurance Corporation.

Some 107 cases of mesothelioma diagnosed between 1985 and 2005 at the Tata Memorial Hospital in Mumbai. Mesothelioma is a lethal, rare cancer that affects the lining of the lungs, and is increasingly common in Canadian communities that used to thrive on asbestos. But no work histories were taken of the men and women who had mesothelioma at the Tata Memorial Hospital. They were never formally acknowledged or given a certificate for compensation.

No one in India could provide definitive numbers of how many people have been affected by exposure to asbestos. Some 30 people die every day of an asbestos-related disease. It is a conservative estimate..

Right to health and medical care is a fundamental right under Article 21 read with Articles 39(c), 41 and 43 of the Constitution to make the life or workman meaningful, held the Supreme Court in CERC V. Union of India. In 1995, the Court directed that the workers who suffered from asbestosis - an occupational health hazard, should be paid compensation by the concerned establishments. All the asbestos industries were directed to maintain and keep maintaining healthy record of every worker upto a minimum period of 40 years from the beginning of the employment or 15 years after retirement or cessation of employment whichever is later, to adopt the Membrane Filter test to detect asbestos fibre, and to compulsorily insure health coverage to every worker.

Govt won't ban use of asbestos

27 Oct 2008, Nitin Sethi

NEW DELHI: More than 50 countries have banned it. The World Health Organisation says its causes cancer. Even a country that exports it to India
prefers not to use it domestically. But India refuses to even label asbestos as a hazardous material and is again ready to internationally commit to import it without any restrictions.

Despite the fact that safer and almost as cheap alternatives are available to white asbestos, the government has yet again decided to oppose any move to put it on the 'prior informed consent' or PIC list of the international Rotterdam Convention.

Putting asbestos on the PIC list would not have banned its import. It would have only forced the exporters to label it as hazardous and inform India as much each time they send a shipment of the fibrous material that is used to make rooftops as well as break linings.

Under the Rotterdam Convention, 126 countries will debate in Rome from October 27 to 31 whether chrysotile or white asbestos should be added to the 'watch list' of dangerous chemicals. As usual there are not going to be many in favour of continuing the free trade in the dangerous material. Canada and Russia — the world's biggest exporters — and India — one of the biggest importers — would be the key dissidents besides a few other exporting and importing countries.

In 2007, Canada exported US $77 million worth of asbestos — almost 95% of the chrysotile asbestos it mined. Forty-three per cent was shipped to India.

But, there has been dissension within the government too against continued free imports. The health and the environment ministries have objected but the chemicals and fertiliser ministry — the nodal agency for the issue — has stuck to its position favouring the domestic asbestos industry.

"The environment ministry made its reservations clear on the subject. But the government has decided to stick to its position (in favour of unencumbered imports of asbestos)," an environment ministry official told TOI.

While the convention does not oblige the countries to ban the international trade in the substance, the Indian government, observers say, would be wary of even accepting that it was openly trading in a material and using it extensively despite acknowledging that it is known to cause cancer. The chemicals ministry's defence of the domestic asbestos-processing industry was criticised earlier too when it commissioned a study on the impacts of white asbestos.


Baban Shirgaanker, 63, looks at an X-ray of his lungs under the watchful eyes of Pralhad Malwadkar. Malwadkar is employed by the Occupational Health and Safety Centre in Mumbai set up by unions to address occupational health issues. Shirgaonker was diagnosed with asbestosis by Malwadkar at the factory gates . He was 19 when he got a job as a machine operator at the factory. His job was to cut the asbestos brake liners for scooters and cars. Shirgaonker finds it difficult to breathe. Photo CREDIT: Katie Daubs, The Ottawa Citizen

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Canada under fire for asbestos exports

Medical officials in Canada, Britain and the United States are condemning the Canadian government's continued exports of asbestos to developing countries.

Last March, the Health Canada agency produced a 4,000 word report on the threats of asbestos, which is known to cause lung cancer and asbestosis. Its panel members are forbidden from disclosing the contents, although one member told the Canwest News Service it "does not support continued Canadian exports."

This week's edition of the Canadian Medical Association Journal calls for an export ban.

"For Canada to pretend that India, Thailand and Indonesia can succeed in managing asbestos safely, when developed countries have failed, is fanciful," the editorial said.

The British journal Annals of Occupational Hygiene's online editorial also criticized Canada's asbestos policy, the report said.

The U.S. Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine says Canada's claim asbestos can be safely exported to developing countries "should be truly embarrassing to the Canadian government and people."

Canada's only asbestos mines are in Quebec, and employ as many as 700 people. Asbestos exports generate about $93 million per year, the report said.

CBI

Canada an 'avid cheerleader' for asbestos: CMAJ editorial

The Canadian government continues to promote exports of asbestos to developing countries, a position likened to arms trading in an editorial published by the Canadian Medical Association(CMAJ)Journal.

"Canada's government seems to have calculated that it is better for the country's asbestos industry to do business under the radar like arms traders, regardless of the deadly consequences," the editorial in Monday's online issue concluded. It is the first time the journal has denounced the federal government's stance on asbestos.

"What clearer indication could there be that the government knows what it is doing is shameful and wrong?"

The editorial "Asbestos mortality: a Canadian export" appears ahead of talks that start next week in Rome on governing trade in substances harmful to human health and environment. A proposed addition to the treaty would add the chrysotile form of asbestos to the world's list of most dangerous substances

The Rotterdam Convention does not ban trade in hazardous substances, but it would require Canada to notify the importing government before chrysotile asbestos is shipped, so the importing country can give informed consent on accepting the dangers.

No western democracy supports Canada's position, so in the last round of talks in 2006, Canada turned to Iran, and Zimbabwe as allies.

In May, two internationally recognized experts who contributed to a Health Canada review on the cancer risks of asbestos appealed to the federal minister of Health to make their report public.

"I want to make the record clear that nothing in the report would argue against the sensibility of an asbestos ban in Canada or for that matter anywhere else in the world," Leslie Stayner, head of the School of Public Health at the University of Illinois, told CBC at the time.

Health Minister Tony Clement's office has said that the report will be made public once his officials have reviewed it. The CMAJ said its sources said the blockage is in the prime minister's office.
A page from tobacco's playbook

In response to a petition requesting information of Canada's policies on chrysotile asbestos, in March 2007, Foreign Affairs Minister Peter MacKay responded: "The Government of Canada recognized that all forms of asbestos fibres, including chrysotile, are carcinogenic."

But to date, Canada has argued that "chrysotile is a less potent carcinogen" that poses a lower health risk — an argument "redolent of the tobacco industry's playbook on light cigarettes," the editorial's authors said.

The Canadian government believes asbestos is safe if handled properly and has spent nearly $20 million in the past two decades to promote exports of the mineral, almost all of it going to developing nations such as India, Indonesia and Pakistan for use in construction material.

"For Canada to export asbestos to poor countries that lack the capacity to use it safely is inexplicable," said the editorial, which called Canada "an avid asbestos cheerleader."

"But to descend several steps further to suppress the results of an expert committee, pour millions of dollars into an institute that shills for the industry and oppose even the Rotterdam Convention's simple rule of politeness is inexcusable."

One of the world's foremost experts on asbestos-related disease, McGill University's Dr. Bruce Case, said chrysotile is safer than other forms of the mineral, but he agreed that Canada should be a leader in saying it is hazardous.

"We have absolutely no control over what countries like India do with the asbestos once it's exported to them," said Case.

Asbestos has been banned by nearly every developed country, as well as a growing number of developing nations. The World Health Organization has estimated as many as 100,000 preventable deaths occur worldwide each year, mainly from asbestos-related diseases such as mesothelioma and lung cancer.

The editorial was written on behalf of the journal's editorial team by Dr. Amir Attaran, David Boyd and Dr. Matthew Stanbrook.

CBC News

A common thread deadly


India is importing asbestos and, critics fear, health problems that have long ailed Canadians


Next week in Rome, 126 countries will debate whether chrysotile asbestos should be added to a 'watch list' of dangerous chemicals.

Canada, which exports 95 per cent of the chrysotile asbestos it mines, has vetoed the addition in the past, arguing the material can be used safely. Critics at home and abroad call Canada's position 'self-serving.'

In a four-part series on the eve of the Rome talks, Katie Daubs examines the past and present of Canada's asbestos legacy.

- - -

AHMEDABAD, India - Narayan Mehra smiles through the sheets of rain and motions for us to come inside. He is proud of his home, which is a lot like him -- worn, but dignified.

Raghunath Manwar, the secretary of the Occupational Health and Safety Association in Ahmedabad, has brought me to this periwinkle-blue house to hear Mr. Mehra's story, so I can understand what happens to Canadian asbestos when it arrives in India.

There's no mistaking Mr. Mehra from a photo I saw a few days earlier, on a sheet labelled "Asbestos Victims." He is a small man with grey hair and good posture.

As Mr. Mehra's wife, Sureetha, passes us cups of chai, Mr. Mehra sits on a stool, and tells me about his job in the turbine department at a thermal power plant down the street. He says he used to mix asbestos from Canada and India with other chemicals, then put it on pipes for insulation.

"It was a good job," he says through a translator. It gave him enough money to buy this house and raise a family in the '70s.

Mr. Mehra says there were few safety measures and he never figured asbestos was dangerous. Before he retired, he was diagnosed with asbestosis, an illness that scars the lungs, making it difficult for them to expand.

Usually the body's filters keep particles from settling in the lungs, but asbestos fibres are tiny and difficult to expel, causing diseases like the one from which Mr. Mehra suffers. A recent X-ray reveals that Sureetha Mehra has the same scars on her lungs. She's never worked at the plant, but she washed her husband's clothes. She is bigger than her husband, and wears a modest sari and a few red bangles. She doesn't understand the conversation, but smiles pleasantly from the corner of the room where she sits, arms folded in her lap.

Even though I'm half a world and several years away from the memory, Christmas 2001 rattles in my head.

- - -

My grandparents had nine children, so as time passed, family get-togethers became crowded affairs. In the late '90s, we tried to make it easy by celebrating the festive season in a rented hall. Christmas 2001 was not much different, except this time we gathered at St. Joseph's Hospital.

As my extended family dined on ham and scalloped potatoes in a hospital lounge, my grandma was dying down the hall.

My youngest cousins squealed with excitement when they opened dress-up outfits and plastic high heels, gifts from my grandma. They clomped down to see her. She wanted to join us, but couldn't get out of bed. At 77, Georgina McHenry had mesothelioma -- cancer caused by asbestos exposure -- and had lost 50 pounds.

Our grandpa, John McHenry, was already dead. He'd been a carpenter in Sarnia's chemical industry. The doctors suspected he had mesothelioma, but my family didn't find that out until a few years after he died.

One month after he died, my grandma came down with chills, lost her appetite and experienced extreme nausea.

After three lung biopsies, they figured it out. Although she had never worked in a chemical plant or a mine, she had mesothelioma. The only contact she'd ever had with asbestos was when she washed my grandpa's work clothes, as Sureetha Mehra had her husband's. Different lives, continents and diseases, but hauntingly similar situations: they put their lives at risk doing laundry.

When my grandma died in February 2002, she weighed 85 pounds. Her arms were skin and bones.

- - -

For 35 years my grandpa held a steady job at Imperial Oil. He didn't believe in coffee breaks and life was more or less black or white. "The company was good to me," he'd say. And it was true, except for those last few years.

As a carpenter, one of his jobs was to wrap pipes with asbestos insulation. The material was fireproof, which is why it was used to insulate many of the pipes in Sarnia's chemical industry.

Doctors and nurses encouraged my family to submit a claim for both my grandparents. The Workplace Safety and Insurance Board denied them both. There was no conclusive proof that mesothelioma had killed my grandfather. My grandmother was a secondary victim, ineligible for compensation. The claims have never been resolved. Neither have my questions.

That's why I'm in India on a monsoon August day.

I'm trying to understand as much as I can about chrysotile asbestos. Despite the estimated thousands of Canadians who have died and the World Health Organization's call for a global ban, Canada continues to send asbestos to recipients in the developing world. Chrysotile asbestos is recognized as the least dangerous type of asbestos, but is still classified as a carcinogen by the International Agency for Research on Cancer. The Canadian position is that risks can be controlled.

An editorial in last week's edition of the Canadian Medical Association Journal describes Canada's position as "self-serving," if not preposterous. "Most developed countries, including Canada, have concluded that their occupational health and safety systems were no match for handling asbestos safely ... for Canada to pretend that India, Thailand and Indonesia can succeed in managing asbestos safely, when developed countries have failed, is fanciful."

Industry advocates say asbestos and the way it is handled are safer today. I'm here to see for myself.

The Canadian chrysotile asbestos industry is located in the Eastern Townships of Quebec. In the heyday of global asbestos consumption, Canada was the main player. But with Russia, Kazakhstan and Zimbabwe mining at lower costs, the Canadian industry has shrunk significantly, and now employs about 1,000 people.

Last year, Canada exported $77 million worth of asbestos; 43 per cent of it arrived at Indian ports.

Some consider chrysotile asbestos a godsend for India, where 456 million people live on less than $1.25 a day. It is inexpensive and can be mixed with cement to create all kinds of useful infrastructure: pipes, brakes and rooftops.

Asbestos is a naturally occurring mineral found in deposits around the world, including Quebec. When asbestos rock is processed, it separates into strong fibres that can be used as insulation, or in such products as fire blankets, ceiling tiles and pipes. It is used frequently because the fibres are strong and flexible, and resistant to heat. (The word itself comes from the Greek, and means "not-extinguishable.")

The Canadian government maintains that while chrysotile asbestos is carcinogenic, it can be used safely if proper controls are in place. Critics have questioned this for years. Many other countries have implemented bans and restrictions. "If Sweden doesn't think they can use it safely, developing countries don't have a chance," says Dr. Jim Brophy, the former director of Sarnia's occupational health clinic.

Even within Quebec, there are doubts. When the Quebec government implemented a policy to increase its usage of chrysotile asbestos in 2002, the Institut National de Santé Publique du Québec published a report that stated the government shouldn't be endorsing the mineral because it was a proven human carcinogen that was difficult to use safely, especially in construction, renovation and asbestos-processing industries.

Clément Godbout, the director of the Chrysotile Institute in Montreal, says far more countries use the mineral than do not. Emotion, he says, clouds the debate. He says people who have lost family members have a hard time keeping an open mind. They don't understand, or perhaps don't want to understand, that working conditions are different now and that different types of asbestos are used, he says.

Mr. Godbout explains that it was amphibole asbestos -- amosite, crocidolite, and tremolite -- that made people sick because the fibres are needle-like, and have a longer "biopersistence" in the lungs. He says chrysotile asbestos is of the serpentine family, and the fibres are eliminated from the lung easily.

Scientists have debated the danger of chrysotile fibres to such an extent that terms have been coined for the bitterly divided camps: "Chrysophiles" say amphibole fibres caused so many illnesses in the past. "Chrysophobes" say chrysotile asbestos is just as bad -- and point to the high cancer rates among Canadians exposed to that type of asbestos.

I don't know what kind of asbestos was on my grandpa's clothes, though Dr. Brophy is adamant that chrysotile asbestos was the only asbestos used in Sarnia, with the exception of one plant.

"We have to be very frank. The past conditions, the working conditions were just terrible -- there was dust, no controls, and all sorts of fibres. No wonder that today we have a problem," Mr. Godbout says. "But we shouldn't be closing our eyes. Today, the building industries, we are not doing those things anymore."

But those who support a chrysotile ban say controls are not enforced in the developing world.

In 1984, the Canadian asbestos industry created the Chrysotile Institute. According to Access to Information documents obtained by the Citizen, the Canadian government has contributed more than $19 million to the institute since its inception.

The institute bills itself as an industry leader for promoting the safe use of chrysotile asbestos around the world. Leading researcher Barry Castleman, author of Asbestos: Medical and Legal Aspects, says the institute makes the global situation worse by legitimizing bad science.

And as the scientific and political battle continues, the next salvo will be fired in Rome.

Next week, United Nations member countries that have ratified the Rotterdam Convention will try to add chrysotile asbestos to the Prior Informed Consent list. Chemicals on the list are deemed dangerous, and countries that import them are provided with this information in advance so they can decide if they should continue to import the substances. Inclusion on the list doesn't mean a chemical is banned, but it puts a significant dent in its reputation. In the past, Canada and a handful of other countries, including India, have vetoed the addition of chrysotile. A spokesman for the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade said the position in 2008 is still being considered.

New Democratic Party MP Pat Martin, who has supported an asbestos ban for decades, says by keeping chrysotile off the Rotterdam Convention, Canada is abusing its image. "Other countries think, if a nice country like Canada thinks it's OK, it must be. Canada is lying to the world about asbestos."

Mr. Martin says he is going to Rome to tell other countries to listen to Canada's scientists, not to its government.

Mr. Godbout had no specific details about Canada's position. He says he'll be in Rome as an observer.

Critics say commercial interests threaten the sanctity of the convention. Others worry the exclusion of chrysotile threatens workers around the world. Mr. Godbout says if chrysotile is added to the list, its replacement might be more dangerous and less regulated.

In Ahmedabad, Narayan and Sureetha Mehra have no position on the matter. Mr. Mehra's compensation case has languished before the Gujarati High Court for 14 years, and the couple don't have enough money to finance a claim on Mrs. Mehra's behalf. Their children support them, and Mr. Mehra uses his pocket change to buy the inhalers he needs to breathe.

Mr. Mehra was exposed to asbestos from all over the world in his job: India, Russia, Canada.

The asbestos story is tangled like that. It stretches around the world, from the mines of Quebec and Russia to the factories of India to the decision-makers in Rome. It's a story that spans decades and many lives, affecting the powerful and powerless alike.

Mr. Godbout is right. It's not right to confuse the past and the present, but the two are inextricably linked. Although India has used asbestos for decades, its use has been exploding since the mid-'90s. As a result, we will look at another place that has used asbestos heavily, but neither produces, nor uses, the mineral anymore. We will look at Sarnia.

- - -

Commercial types of asbestos

Chrysotile (white asbestos) -- Mined from serpentine rock. Chrysotile is the most flexible form of asbestos, and the most prevalent commercially. It is considered dangerous, but not to the same extent as asbestos from the amphibole family. Some scientists say because chrysotile fibres are somewhat curly, they do not stick around in the lungs like the straight, needle-like fibres from the amphibole family. There has been a continued debate about the danger of chrysotile asbestos.

The International Agency for Research on Cancer classifies it as a known human carcinogen.

Amosite (brown asbestos) -- Mined from amphibole rock in South Africa. Generally accepted to be the second-most-dangerous type of asbestos. It is no longer mined. The International Agency for Research on Cancer classifies it as a known human carcinogen.

Crocidolite (blue asbestos) -- Mined from amphibole rock in South Africa and Australia. Considered the most dangerous type of asbestos. Crocidolite fibres are straight and needle-like, which makes them easy to inhale. Crocidolite fibres are also known for staying in the lungs. It is no longer mined. The International Agency for Research on Cancer classifies it as a known human carcinogen.

Asbestos diseases

Asbestosis -- Asbestosis is intense scarring of the lungs. After prolonged exposure to asbestos, scars form where asbestos fibres have settled. There is usually a latency period of several decades. The scars make it difficult to breathe by decreasing the elasticity in the lungs. There is no cure, and symptoms get worse over time. There is also an increased risk of developing lung cancer.

Mesothelioma -- A rare cancer linked to asbestos exposure. The cancer forms in the mesothelium, which is composed of the pleura (thin lining around the lung),and the peritoneum (lining of the abdomen). Mesothelioma occurs when asbestos fibres settle in the lining of the chest cavitity or the abdomen and create malignant tumours. The tumours compress the lung, making it very difficult to breathe and swallow. There is also extreme weight loss. The latency period can vary from 10 to 40 years. Death is common within six months to two years of diagnosis.

Lung cancer -- Lung cancer can be caused by asbestos, cigarette smoking, and other agents.

Pleural plaques -- Pleural plaques are an indicator of asbestos exposure, and are not fatal. They are patches of tough, callus-like tissue inside the chest wall.

Katie Daubs
The Ottawa Citizen

Supreme Court order on Asbestos

ITEM NO.37 COURT NO.1 SECTION PIL

SUPREME COURT OF INDIA
RECORD OF PROCEEDINGS

WRIT PETITION (CIVIL) NO(s). 310 OF 2008

Date: 24/10/2008 This Petition was called on for hearing today.

CORAM :
HON'BLE THE CHIEF JUSTICE
HON'BLE MR. JUSTICE P. SATHASIVAM
HON'BLE MR. JUSTICE AFTAB ALAM

For Petitioner(s) Mr.Sanjay Parikh, Adv.
Mr.P.C.Sen, Adv.
Ms. Binu Tamta,Adv.


For Respondent(s)

UPON hearing counsel the Court made the following
ORDER


The petitioner by way of this writ petition seeks prohibition on import of Asbestos into India as it is a major health hazard. According to the petitioner, huge quantity of Asbestos is being imported from other countries causing health problems.

The petitioner is at liberty to pursue the matter with the Government/appropriate authority.

The writ petition is disposed of accordingly.




(G.V.Ramana) (Veera Verma)
Court Master Court Master

Friday, October 24, 2008

Business First

Despite it being a proven carcinogen, India imported 3 lakh tonnes of asbestos in 2006

GOPAL KRISHNA

At the upcoming fourth UN meeting to be held in the last week of October in Rome, the Indian government is expected to once again remain consistent in colluding with the corporate interests of the asbestos industry against manifest public interest. White asbestos or Chrysotile fibre constitutes about 95 per cent of the world production and commercial use of asbestos primarily in the construction industry.

All kinds of asbestos including chrysotile cause cancer and according to World Health Organisation, “there is practically no safe level of exposure or use of asbestos against cancer”. It is a “silent killer” in that its effects are both gradual and not easily noticeable. But asbestos poisoning reaches everyone from the person mining it to the ultimate consumer of products containing asbestos.


Irrespective of the political party in power, India has opposed the inclusion of chrysotile, a lethal fibre in the list of UN's Rotterdam Convention on the Prior Informed Consent Procedure for Certain Hazardous Chemicals in International Trade at the three previous conferences of the parties to the convention against the interest of the Indian workers and citizens.

Asbestos is a generic term used for several naturally occurring fibrous, silicate materials and is used in a variety of everyday as well as industrial applications. Broadly there are three varieties of asbestos referred to as blue, brown and white Asbestos; all of them tend to break into microscopic fibres. Because of their small size, once released, they remain suspended in the air. Asbestos fibres are indestructible — they are resistant to chemicals and heat.

The threat from inhalation of asbestos fibre was known as far back as 1924. But this fact was not disclosed to workers involved in the asbestos industry. By the mid-1930s, it was proved that a small amount of asbestos fibre in the lungs could be fatal.

Asbestos-induced diseases like Mesothelioma and asbestosis currently kill more people than any other single work-related illness. These diseases have no cure. Worse, once the exposure has taken place, merely removing the victim from the site does not limit or arrest the progress of the disease nor the risk of cancer.

White asbestos continues to be in use in India although blue and brown asbestos are banned. It is used mainly for water pipes or as roofing sheets in the construction industry. Asbestos dust can be inhaled while drilling a hole, cutting a pipe, repairing, renovating or demolishing a building. Clinical reports show that asbestosis, mesothelioma and lung cancer can show up even 25 to 40 years after exposure to asbestos.

Chrysotile is a convicted mass killer. There is no single product in day-to-day use at work or at home that strictly needs to be made from deadly asbestos. Even then, over 3,000 workplace and home-based products contain this poison. Cellulose fibre, PVA fibre, clay, stone tiles and steel are all good substitutes for asbestos. Although expensive at first, they work out to be cheaper in the long run because of their long life.

Few months back Dr Anbumani Ramadoss helplessly informed the parliament on asbestos "A lot of poor people use it. As regards the issue pertaining to banning of asbestos, on health grounds, the government certainly has not taken it up. It is an occupational hazard and people working in the asbestos factories are prone to lung cancer, but we are taking the enormity of the usage of asbestos. Mostly, poor people in the villages use it. Hence, I cannot take a decision on this issue."

Indeed it is for the Union Commerce Ministry to take a decision and amend the existing import policy for chrysotile without which the alarming rise in the asbestos consumption is unlikely to change. As per data released by the U.N. Statistics Division, India imported about 306,000 tonnes of asbestos in 2006. Of which, 152,820 tonnes was imported from Russia and 63,980 tonnes from Canada. It is estimated that cumulative asbestos consumption will exceed 7 million tonnes by the end of 2008. Of the total sales of asbestos cement products, more than half goes to the rural sector, while 20 and 30 percent are in the urban and industrial sectors, respectively. This is all the more dangerous given the sad state of medical facilities in rural areas. In any case asbestos diseases are preventable but incurable.

It is unpardonable for the ministry of commerce to succumb to pressures from the domestic asbestos industry which has been lobbying with the help of Chrysotile Asbestos Cement Products Manufacturers’ Association and Asbestos Information Centre, both corporate NGOs and sharing the same platform with the international asbestos producers using the International Chrysotile Association.

Some 50 countries have banned asbestos to safeguard their citizens and workers but Indian government officials, like R K Vaish, Joint Secretary, Union Ministry of Environment and Forests have, astonishingly objected to the extension of prior-informed consent to cover white asbestos as a hazardous material subject to trade control. India has consistently joined hands with Russia and Canada — from where most of the asbestos is imported— to scuttle attempts to include the material in the international list of chemicals under the Rotterdam Convention. The Convention, which came into force in February 2004 under the United Nations Environment Programme, is a globally-binding instrument that provides an early warning system and transparent information on chemicals that have been banned or restricted by at least two countries.

The Indian government’s current stance at the upcoming Rome meeting goes against the interests of Indian workers and citizens. India must disassociate itself from Russian and Canada, which have successfully blocked consideration of a proposed UN initiative on trade in white asbestos with support from Russia and 12 other asbestos-producing countries. The recent years have witnessed global movement against asbestos gaining ground amid reports of asbestos companies going bankrupt due to their huge compensation liabilities. Following on the footsteps of Europe, the latest countries to ban asbestos are South Africa, Japan and Australia.

Unmindful of the fact that “poison” does not become “non-poisonous” as a result of advertising and public relations campaigns, the asbestos producing countries and asbestos industry continues to support mythical “safe” and “responsible” use of white asbestos turning a blind eye towards disastrous health consequences.

The story of such criminal recklessness by the asbestos industry has been documented in a recently released dossier titled "India's Asbestos Time Bomb". The dossier recommends, "The only way for the government to remedy the situation created by the asbestos industry is to implement a complete ban on the mining, manufacture, use and trade of all kinds of asbestos including chrysotile (white asbestos)."

While the reality is quite grim as far as the workers and consumers are concerned, industry continues to enjoy the patronage of the central and state governments. So much so that on 24 September, 2008 an investment advisory said, "If I were to sell my house and buy a stock I would probably buy this (Visaka Industries) asbestos-cement (AC) sheets manufacturing stock because it is coming at a very good valuation and there is a significant increase in profits expected over the next two years."
A paper titled Asbestos-Related Disease in India notes: "Although mesothelioma, asbestos related lung cancer are recognised worldwide, in India, neither one of the diseases is commonly reported. This is not surprising as in India, cancer is not a notifiable disease.” It has resulted in the failure of the medical professionals who are not trained to issue asbestos related diagnoses, leaving the victims with no option but to die a slow and painful death.

It is noteworthy that under massive criticism from all quarters both the ministries of Environment and Forests and Labour and Employment admitted on 17 March 2008 in the Rajya Sabha and on 20 March 2008 in the Lok Sabha that the government has undertaken a conflict of interest ridden study to give clean chit to chrysotile, a human carcinogen.

Earlier in its 2001 verdict, Appellate Body of World Trade Organisation while upholding chrysotile ban in France had soundly rejected the "controlled use" and safe use argument of the Canadian asbestos industry. In its 95th Session of the International Labour Conference on 14 June 2006, International Labour Organisation adopted a resolution for the elimination of all forms of asbestos from future use as the only way forward for protecting workers. It passed this resolution: "Considering that all forms of asbestos, including chrysotile, are classified as known human carcinogens by the International Agency for Research on Cancer, a classification restated by the International Programme on Chemical Safety (a joint Programme of the International Labour Organization, the World Health Organization and the United Nations Environment Programme)".

In the light of the an unprecedented occupational health crisis due to ongoing asbestos exposure, environmental, labour and human rights organisations have called upon the government to support the inclusion of chrysotile in the list of the Convention.

What is most alarming is that as of now there is a political consensus to promote its use in India. The acts of omission and commission by all the agencies that are working in tandem with Russian and Canadian asbestos producers must be brought under a scanner to set matters right. Insulated from media's attention in India, death toll due to asbestos is rising at an alarming rate. Even as such manifest acts of corporate crimes are underway routinely without any conviction till date, all news agencies remain dogmatically focussed on street crimes. Both state and central governments have devised a very simple way of responding to it. They have ensured that the deaths caused by asbestos are not recorded by any institution. As it stands now, Indian asbestos industry is well-insulated from the ongoing global ban on asbestos.

Oct 24, 2008
TEHELKA

Hazardous hypocrisy

A curious liking for asbestos

MONTREAL

The Economist, 23 October 2008

FOR more than a decade, workers in hazmat suits have been boring into the walls and ceilings of Canada’s parliament buildings to remove tonnes of asbestos insulation. This tedious and expensive work is to protect the health of lawmakers and their staff: even limited exposure to asbestos can cause lung cancer or mesothelioma, a deadlier cancer. These risks have prompted most rich countries, and many poor ones, to ban all forms of asbestos.

But they have not stopped Canada from exporting large quantities of the mineral to developing countries, especially in Asia, nor discouraged the government from paying to promote its use abroad. This is “corporate welfare for corporate serial killers”, says Pat Martin, a former asbestos miner who is one of the few members of parliament to denounce the hypocrisy.

Campaigners hope that it will end at a meeting in Rome, starting on October 27th, of the Rotterdam Convention, a registry compiled by the United Nations of hazardous substances which require “prior informed consent” before they can be exported from one country to another. Canada has lobbied vigorously to prevent chrysotile, or “white” asbestos—the only kind still mined—from being included.

The industry argues that this carries little risk of pleural mesothelioma, a cancer of the lungs’ protective lining. It also claims that if chrysotile is used in high-density materials, in which the asbestos is bound together with concrete or resin, the risk of lung cancer is minimal. But medical experts, including the World Health Organisation, disagree. They say that in practice it is impossible to prevent carcinogenic dust being released when chrysotile asbestos is handled, and want it listed as hazardous under the convention.

At the convention’s previous meeting in 2006 Canada led a select group of countries—including India, Iran, Kyrgyzstan, Peru and Ukraine—in blocking a listing. The reward for Canada lending its boy-scout reputation to this cause was that the other countries would “tolerate higher-cost Canadian producers” and thereby allow its asbestos industry to remain profitable, according to a ministerial briefing-note obtained by a researcher.

Fewer than a thousand Canadians still work in asbestos mines, down from 7,000 in the 1970s. The remaining active mines are in Quebec. The industry’s labour battles, and role in the approval of workplace safety laws, have given it an almost sacred status in the province and made it politically untouchable. Even health officials are wary of criticising it, although mesothelioma rates in Quebec are among the highest in the world. “It’s a very touchy question,” says Louise de Guire of the province’s public-health institute. “There’s a certain pride in the industry, even if not many people survive off it any more.”

Things may be about to change. This month two dozen public-health experts issued an open letter calling for chrysotile to be listed under the convention. This followed calls from Canada’s main labour federation for an end to asbestos mining and exports. Comparing the asbestos industry to arms traders, the Canadian Medical Association Journal said the government was taking part in a “death-dealing charade” by arguing that chrysotile can be safely used in the developing world.

The political timing is propitious for a ban. Stephen Harper, the prime minister, has just won a second term for his Conservative minority government. He owes no favours to Quebec’s voters, who gave him no extra seats, or to Jean Charest, the province’s premier and a former ally, who railed against the federal government during the campaign.

Officials say they have yet to decide what position they will adopt at the Rome meeting. If they drop their opposition to chrysotile being listed as a hazardous material, that would be the first step towards banning it, fears Clément Godbout, who heads the Chrysotile Institute, a government-funded lobby group formerly known as the Asbestos Institute. That, say campaigners, is precisely the point.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

The asbestos battle

Will Rotterdam Convention put controls over the killer mineral?
NIDHI JAMWAL

(In the picture: A professor and an ‘Asbestos witch’: protesters in Sao Paulo, Brazil)


PRODUCERS of chrysotile asbestos, India, Russia and Canada, will again try to scuttle any controls over the mineral under the Rotterdam Convention that allows countries to monitor and control trade and use of hazardous chemicals.

Conference of parties (CoP-4) to the Rotterdam Convention on the Prior Informed Consent (PIC) procedure will be held in October-end in Rome. In the earlier three meetings, India had opposed inclusion of chrysotile asbestos on the pic list of hazardous chemicals.

The government claims there is not enough scientific evidence to prove asbestos-related afflictions, though asbestos is known to cause cancer and asbestosis, a chronic respiratory disease.

To build up support for controls on chrysolite asbestos, the International Ban Asbestos Secretariat (IBAS), an independent ngo working for a worldwide ban on asbestos and justice for its victims, released a dossier, India’s Asbestos Time Bomb, on September 25.


The dossier is authored by Indian and international scientists. “During CoP-4, the issue of including chrysolite asbestos in the pic list will come up, and we fear the Indian government will again play dirty and oppose its listing. In this monograph we have put together all scientific evidence to build up a case against chrysolite asbestos," said Madhumita Dutta of Chennai-based campaign group Corporate Accountability Desk.

According to the dossier, between 1960 and 2006, 6.7 million tonnes of asbestos was used in India. It claims that the asbestos industry in the country has gone scot-free, while thousands of workers are suffering. “India’s asbestos industry is worth Rs 3,000 crore. Its might can be gauged from the fact that in spite of 50 countries banning the use, manufacture and trade in asbestos, the Indian government continues to support it," said Gopal Krishna, coordinator of the Ban Asbestos Network of India, a group of health, environment and labour activists.

The government has not taken any action against asbestos use because politicians own most asbestos mines, allege activists. Rather in September 2007, India, along with Russia and Canada, blocked proposals to control the movement of asbestos wastes being considered by a working group of the Basel Convention, a treaty on control of hazardous waste movement across international borders. The Indian delegate argued that more research was needed before declaring chrysolite asbestos a hazardous substance.

Qamar Rahman, dean of Research and Development at the Integral University, Lucknow, along with the Central Pollution Control Board, carried out a study on asbestos effects in Rajasthan and Maharashtra in 2001-02. She found that 21 per cent workers in the unorganized sector had asbestosis. In the organized sector, 26 per cent of the workers had the disease, Rahman said in her paper that is a part of the dossier. The figures remain the same even now, she added.

“The Indian government rather engaged in a 'scientific' hogwash by hiring Ahmedabad-based National Institute of Occupational Health (NIOH) to study the health impacts of chrysolite asbestos on workers,” alleges the report. The Rs 60 lakh study is being partially funded by the Indian asbestos industry and its representatives are part of the review committee of the study.

“The NIOH study is designed to hoodwink the international community. The scientific community, along with the Indian government, is to be blamed for turning a blind eye towards the problem. Most doctors also do not try to find out the history of patients suffering from mesothelioma, a type of cancer caused due to exposure to asbestos. There is no safe limit of asbestos exposure,” said S R Kamat, a retired professor of respiratory medicine at KEM Hospital, Mumbai.

V Murlidhar, founder member of the Mumbai-based Occupational Health and Safety Centre, a medical officer on a un Mission in Iraq, explained how the Indian medical community colluded with the asbestos industry by misreporting asbestosis cases as tuberculosis. He alleged that premier research institutions undertake several studies on asbestosis but the results are never made public. Added Prahlad Malwadkas, Murlidhar's colleague: “Asbestos patients are fighting a legal battle for compensation in the Bombay Labour Court and it may take years before they receive even a penny.” The industry even manipulates court hearings, he alleged. “To prove that a person is an asbestosis patient, the certifying doctor needs to depose before the court. But for months Murlidhar did not get a chance to depose before the court. Every time he came back from Iraq for a court hearing, the hearing got deferred.”

20 October

Down To Earth
http://www.downtoearth.org.in/full.asp?foldername=20081031&filename=news&sid=11

Preventive Measures to Protect health of workers engaged in ship breaking industry

The Preventive measures taken by authorities to protect the health of workers engaged in ship breaking industry are as under:

• Ministry of Labour and Employment has amended the model rule on ship breaking.

• Directorate General Factory Advice Service & Labour Institutes has identified Personal Protective Equipments (PPEs) for different operations carried out in the ship breaking yards. Gujarat Maritime Board (GMB) has agreed to enforce the use of PPEs in the ship breaking yards and use the penal provisions available in the “Gujarat Maritime Board Ship Recycling Regulations 2003.”

• Government of Gujarat has notified Rule 68-H under the Gujarat State Factory Rules pertaining to ship building, ship repairing and ship breaking.

• The Government of Gujarat has established a separate Inspectorate of Factories at Alang headed by the Deputy Director for exclusive enforcement of the provisions in ship breaking yards. The competent persons are also declared by the Chief Inspector of Factories for the purpose for issuing certificates like Naked Light, Testing and examination of pressure vessels and lifting appliances, etc. As a result of inspection and monitoring by Inspector of Factories, some of the practices being followed in Alang included wet method for removal of Asbestos, hot work certification and use of personal protective equipments.

• Workers engaged in removal of asbestos are regularly medically examined by doctors. So far, no worker is found to be suffering from asbestosis.

This information was given by the Minister of State for Labour and Employment Shri Oscar Fernandes (Independent Charge) in a written reply in the Lok Sabha on 20 October.

PIB
Ministry of Labour & Employment


Ineffective regulation on asbestos use and its illegal waste trade makes India vulnerable to a much larger and devastating epidemic.

Ban Asbestos Network, a global toxic activists’ coalition, has called upon the Conference of the Parties of the UN Rotterdam Convention, slated for October 27-31 at Rome, to bring asbestos under its list of hazardous products such that its trade can be curtailed to protect health of unsuspecting consumers from potential harm and to make national decision-making process on its import transparent.

The call is timely, given the fact that the Indian asbestos lobby — in connivance with its Canadian counterparts — has been consistently successful in blocking a UN move to impose health information disclosures on exports of chrysotile asbestos in the past. India is the largest importer of white asbestos, called chrysotile, a product that has not only been proven carcinogenic but has invited ban on its use in as many as 50 countries.

Yet, asbestos continues to be the cheapest roofing material for the poor in the country. However, its presence in our daily lives extends beyond corrugated sheets: as floor tiles, in brake linings and as fire protection. Shockingly, however, finely powdered asbestos has sneaked as adulterant in perfumed talc and as whitener in ‘extra white basmati’ rice. Without doubt, it is neither suited to the skin nor is it a delicacy!

Conversely, it is a time bomb that is slowly ticking away. The problem with asbestos is that its fibre can hardly be destroyed, justifying its Greek derivation which means inextinguishable. It is therefore not surprising that while its selling is banned in Canada, it is the second largest exporter of asbestos after Russia. India consumes 30 per cent of asbestos exported by Canada, signifying a well-protected asbestos industry.

Else, a product banned in the European Union, Australia, Japan and New Zealand would not have been imported without impunity in India. Slashing of import duty on asbestos from 78 per cent in 1995 to 15 per cent in 2004 only helps piece the conspiracy story. No wonder, cumulative asbestos imports have touched a whopping seven million tonnes, increasing from a low annual import of 40,000 tonnes in 1960 to over 2,50,000 tonnes in 2006.

Conservative estimates indicate that over 10,000 workers are exposed to asbestos at any given time; the absence of a national cancer register makes it impossible to assess real impact. However, testimonies of workers echo the unheard pains of thousands of workers at the unregulated asbestos industry. Ravindra Mohite is one amongst them who succumbed to asbestosis in 2004.

Mahite used to work at a Ghatkopar factor in north Mumbai, interweaving asbestos fibre with polyester to make it resistant at the cost of making himself vulnerable. Like 36 others, Mohite now awaits court’s direction on compensation from the factory. The grim reality of asbestos exposure is that while mesothelioma and asbestos related lung cancer have been recognised around the world these have rarely been reported in India.

Since occupational health is a neglected subject with students rarely having access to standard radiological plates, mandatory for asbestosis diagnosis, the disease rarely gets diagnosed, leaving the victims with no option but to die a slow and painful death. It is however another matter that the disease was known as early as in the first century AD to Greek geographer Strabo and the Roman naturalist Pliny the Elder.

While Gujarat is an asbestos hot spot — with ship-breaking and power plants — its greatest consumers; Maharashtra is a veritable time bomb with scores of asbestos factories located at all major industrial establishments of the state viz, Mumbai, Pune, Kolhapur, Kalyan, Nashik, Thane and Aurangabad. Without doubt, India has become the backyard of toxic dump by the industrialised West.

Need it be said that ineffective regulation on asbestos use and its illegal waste trade makes India vulnerable to a much larger and devastating epidemic. Because it can take 30 years or more for asbestos-related cancers to be fully blown, India faces an inevitable and sharp escalation in cancer cases over the next three decades. No one is safe!

That medical ignorance and government intransigence has allowed a time bomb to slowly tick in our backyards should be a matter of serious debate in the public. How long can the absence of a national cancer registry or a system to record asbestos cancers or asbestos exposures be allowed?

By Sudhirendar Sharma
(The writer is a Delhi-based development analyst)

23 October, 2008
Deccan Herald

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