Make India Asbestos Free

Make India Asbestos Free
For Asbestos Free India

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

Friday, February 27, 2009

Make Rashtrapati Bhavan Asbestos Free

Smt. Pratibha Devisingh Patil, President of India

To

Hon'ble President of India
New Delhi

Subject: Seeking urgent intervention make Rashtrapati Bhavan asbestos free & to stop use of cancer causing asbestos products

Madam,

With due respect I wish to seek your urgent intervention in the matter of a serious unprecedented environmental and occupational health crisis with regard to unnoticed asbestos epidemic in our country in general. Even if one asbestos fibre reaches the right place, it causes irreversible damage - leading to asbestosis, lung cancer or mesothelioma. Thirty deaths are caused per day from asbestos-related diseases as per estimates based on US and European studies.

According to the 2008 report of the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Science and Technology, Environment and Forests, “A technical person in the Gujarat State Pollution Control Board spares 1.77 days to monitor an industry in a year...while in Maharashtra the person spends only 1.23 days a year. This includes time taken on travelling.” The Committee's Report on the Functioning of Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) is must set the alaram belling ringing. Underlining the malaise that afflicts CPCB the Parliamentary Committee agrees with the Supreme Court’s monitoring committee on hazardous waste observation that 77 per cent chairpersons and 55 per cent member secretaries in State Pollution Control Boards are not qualified enough to hold the post.

How handicapped has our environmental regulatory bodies is best illustrated in the manner in which asbestos is allowed to be used in the country despite the fact that some 50 countries have banned it and even International Labour Organisation and World Health Organisation call for its elimination. Even World Trade Organisation upheld the right of the Europe to ban this incurable cancer cauding killer fiber. In case of asbestos, a carcinogen, India has no policy to discourage its use in textiles, building materials, insulation and brake linings in automobiles. Since the import of asbestos is cheaper than any of its alternatives like poly venyl alcohol, there is no economic incentive to shift to cleaner production. There are alternatives within India also like natural cellulose fibre and a lot of research has been done on it, but there is little budget to promote it in the market. The situation with regard to monitoring of occupational health concerns arising from the ongoing manufacturing of asbestos products is no different. In fact it is worse. The manner in which one of the world's most vulnerable work force in the asbestos and ship breaking industry is compelled to work in degrading, dangerous and highly exploitative condition is a case of outrageous barbarism with active connivance of the government.

When the world is preparing and planning to get rid of all forms of asbestos, it makes us look stupid in India to be still importing it, we should devote our scarce resources to prevent the impending disaster by phasing it out as soon as we can. Safer substitute materials for white asbestos are available, they should be considered for use.

It is high time Government of India took note of ongoing asbestos exposures of citizens, consumers and workers and took immediate remedial measures. The exposure of construction workers and automobile mechanics for instance defies regulatory control efforts in any country.

I wish to draw your urgent attention to the order of Kerala Human Rights Commission that has ruled that exposing Indians to asbestos is a human rights violation. This paves the way for the eventual complete ban on asbestos and its products. On January 31, 2009, the Commission ruled that the government should take steps to phase out asbestos roofing from all schools in the state.

As per the survey of U.P. Asbestos Limited, Mohanlalganj, Lucknow and Allied Nippn Pvt Ltd, Gaziabad, (U.P), the lung function impairment was found to be higher in subjects exposed for more than 11 years. This was the result of a Central Pollution Control Board sponsored project entitled "Human risk assessment studies in asbestos industries in India". This has been reported in the (2001-2002) Annual Report of Industrial Toxicological Research Centre, Lucknow. It has also been published in the 139th Report of the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Environment, Forests, Science and Technology and presented to the parliament on 17th March, 2005.

Given the ubiquitous presence of the fiber, there is no alternative to getting it banned in right earnest. Scientists, doctors, public health researchers, trade unions, activists and civil society groups has been working to persuade the Governments to give up its consistent and continued pro-asbestos industry bias and lack of concern for the asbestos-injured who die one of the most painful deaths imaginable.

I wish to draw your attention towards the Government of India's submission made in August 2006 in its Report to the Supreme Court by Dr Prodipto Ghosh, then Secretary, Union Ministry of Environment and Forests and Chairman, Technical Experts Committee on Management of Hazardous Wastes took note of asbestos victims and cites the "Medical Examination of the Asbestos Handlers" by a team of National Institute of Occupational Health (NIOH) that concludes, " The X ray examination by NIOH showed linear shadows on chest X rays of 15 (16 %) of 94 workers occupationally exposed to asbestos. These are consistent with asbestosis…"

Although the Supreme Court of India has ruled that the Government of India must comply with ILO resolutions, so far the ILO resolution (June 14,2006) stating "the elimination of the future use of asbestos and the identification and proper management of asbestos currently in place are the most effective means to protect workers from asbestos exposures and to prevent future asbestos-related disease and deaths" has not been acted upon.

We earnestly request you to direct all the workers and consumers in your state to take immediate steps to ensure that there no more exposures take place from now on.

Earlier on August 18,2003, the Union Minister of Health and Family Welfare and Parliamentary Affairs informed the Parliament that: "Studies by the National Institute of Occupational Health (NIOH), Ahmedabad, have shown that long-term exposure to any type of asbestos can lead to development of asbestosis, lung cancer and mesothelioma." This was not the first official acknowledgment of the asbestos hazard. Government of India's Office Memorandum NO.6 (6)/94 - Cement, (Sept 1, 1994) of the Ministry of Industry states: "The Department has generally not been recommending any case of Industrial License to any new unit for the creation of fresh capacity of asbestos products in the recent past due to the apprehension that prolonged exposure to asbestos leads to serious health hazards".

Public health researchers, civil society groups, trade unions and human rights groups have demanded an immediate ban on all uses of asbestos including an immediate end to the import of chrysotile. They seek measures to identify, compensate and treat the asbestos-injured and regulations to minimize harmful exposures are also being proposed. They demand criminal prosecution of those responsible for asbestos exposures such as factory owners and company directors. Although non-asbestos technology certainly exists in India, in fact in some factories the two technologies exist side-by-side, consumers will inevitably opt for the cheaper product: more demand will translate into higher sales which will generate more chrysotile rupees that can be used to obtain an eve\of political support. As the quid-pro-quo relationship between Government officials and asbestos businessmen exists outside the media spotlight, journalists and the public remain unaware of the pernicious reasons which motivate the decisions being taken; decisions which will expose current and future generations to the deadly asbestos hazard.

The pattern of asbestos disease in India is all set to follow the diseases pattern seen in the developed countries.

Concerned with the global and national evidence about the increasing death toll of asbestos workers, trade unions, labour and environmental groups have sought immediate phase out of chrysotile asbestos. In India asbestos is still used in the manufacture of pressure and non-pressure pipes used for water supply, sewage, and drainage, packing material, brake linings and jointing used in automobiles, heavy equipment, nuclear power plants, thermal power plants amongst others.

Despite the fact that the World Trade Organisation has given an appropriate judgment against it, upholding France's decision to ban import of asbestos from Canada, successive governments in India have promoted this killer mineral fibre ignoring public health. World over almost forty countries have already banned asbestos, says H Mahadevan, General Secretary All India Trade Union Congress (AITUC) & Vice-president, National Safety Council.

Dr S R Kamat, a renowned lung specialist was bitter at the "utter callousness of employers", the total lack of medical expertise and government inaction; all of which continued to put workers at risk of contracting asbestos-related diseases. In the 5 surveys done in the country, large number of the subjects showed asbestos lung diseases. All of them showed breathing problem, many had cough, some had sputum, chest pain finger clubbing and chest pain. Disability in such cases are permanent, progressive; means of compensation are meager, informs Dr Kamat.

White asbestos continues to be in use in India although other kinds such as blue and brown asbestos are banned. Asbestos is being promoted freely in our country whereas the developed countries are keeping away from it.

According to recent studies in United States there 10, 000 deaths happening due to past asbestos exposure and will cause million more deaths worldwide. This has been corroborated by studies published in the British Medical Journal. "The most vulnerable and affected people are the workers in asbestos manufacturing units who work under extremely hazardous conditions," said P K Ganguli of Centre for Indian Trade Union.

Taking note of the fact that public concern, regulations and liabilities involved have ended the use of asbestos from the developed countries, delegates at a Round Table wondered, "why is it that the concern of the countries, which have banned asbestos not relevant to India?." Exposing workers to asbestos must be equated to murder and legal provisions must deal with it accordingly. How many consumers would want to use the material if they know that even a single exposure can cause cancer? "Experimental as well as epidemiological studies proved asbestos as carcinogen as well as co-carcinogen. Risk assessment and control of occupational exposure are very poor in developing countries like India," said Dr Qamar Rehman, a renowned toxicologist. Corroborating it Raghunathbhai Manwar of Occupational Health and Safety Association, Ahmedabad said, "There are no industrial physicians and virtually no occupational health centres, whatever the rules may say."

Even World Bank has a policy against asbestos since 1991. "The Bank increasingly prefers to avoid financing asbestos use...Thus, at any mention of asbestos in Bank-assisted projects, the Task Manager needs to exercise special care." Diagnosable asbestosis among workers in most asbestos cement factories and consumer products with no warning labels and unions with no programmes to prevent asbestos disease and
exposure in builders and mechanics is alarming. Delay in stopping asbestos use is a victory for those who do not wish to put health and the environment ahead of commercial interests.

In the light of these findings and developments, in short we

1. Request you to ensure that Rashtrapati Bhavan be made asbestos free at the earliest & urge you to put an end to the use of the of all kinds of asbestos products that is being used and encountered daily, because none of the schools, offices, legislatures, courts, hospitals, automobiles, private and public buildings in our country are asbestos free in our country.
2. Ensure medical check of workers, consumers and citizens who handle asbestos products or are in its vicinity and work towards a just transition of workers with compensation to the affected workers and citizens
3. Prepare a Register of asbestos handlers and victims and award a compensation of at least Rs 20 lakh for the asbestos victims
4. Issue an appeal to the National Human Rights Commission and all the State Human Rights Commissions of the country to adopt the path-breaking order of the Kerala Human Rights Commission with immediate effect
5. Protect the human rights of the 94 asbestos workers identified in Alang ship breaking yard, Gujarat

Yours faithfully

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Asbestos price continues to decline

Union Ministry of Commerce & Industry has released the official Wholesale Price Index for ‘All Commodities’ (Base: 1993-94 = 100) for the week ended 14th February, 2009 declined by 0.1 percent to 227.8 (Provisional) from 228.0 (Provisional) for the previous week.

The annual rate of inflation, calculated on point to point basis, stood at 3.36 percent (Provisional) for the week ended 14/02/2009 (over 16/02/2008) as compared to 3.92 percent (Provisional) for the previous week (ended 07/02/2009) and 5.66 percent during the corresponding week (ended 16/02/2008) of the previous year.

The movement of the index for the various commodity groups included the index for ‘Minerals’ group that rose by 5.3 percent to 622.6 (Provisional) from 591.1 (Provisional) for the previous week due to higher prices of magnesite (83%), barytes (38%), ochre (25%), iron ore (6%), chromite (3%) and steatite (1%).

Sadly, the prices of asbestos (2%) has declined in a context where the rate of consumption of asbestos in India is rising at an alarming rate because of political patronage.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Woman to be sentenced in asbestos case

Note: A woman from Andover is facing sentencing on 28 charges involving her asbesto removal firm. In her employ were approximately 800 untrained, illegal workers who she had removing asbestos. On top of this, she provided false identification for those workers and evaded taxes. However, the asbestos issue is possibly the most dangerous of the charges against her.

By using untrained workers to remove asbestos, she not only put their lives in danger, but made it possible for asbestos to be missed and left behind. This puts the lives of many other people at risk as well. Unfortunately, when someone is exposed to asbestos, it can take decades for mesothelioma to develope. If the person does not know when he or she was exposed right away, there is almost no way to know, and makes it harder to diagnose and treat mesothelioma.

Punishment to be lesson to others

A Methuen businesswoman is scheduled to face sentencing in federal district court next week for her conviction last year on 28 charges of employing as many as 800 untrained illegal immigrants in the dangerous job of removing asbestos, providing them bogus identifications, and evading taxes.

Prosecutors are hoping for a tough sentence in the case against Albania Deleon, 39, of Andover, which they say would signal to those involved in the asbestos-removal business that they must abide by state and federal laws protecting the environment, their clients, and workers.

"The government is going to seek a sentence that sends a loud and clear message to the asbestos industry that it is extraordinarily important that workers be properly trained to handle asbestos, both for their own safety and to protect the public," Assistant US Attorney Jonathan Mitchell, who prosecuted the case, said in an interview last week.

Deleon, originally from the Dominican Republic and a US citizen for 15 years, is appealing her conviction.

She faces up to five years imprisonment on each charge, except for six mail fraud counts, which each carry a 20-year maximum sentence. Her lawyer, Carl N. Donaldson, declined to comment and refused to allow his client to be interviewed for this story.
Environmental officials say that even though Deleon's conviction effectively shut down her business, the largest asbestos-removal training school and employment agency in the state, many others could now step in to fill the vacuum. The hope, they say, is that these businesses will be good citizens.

Joseph Ferson, a spokesman for the Environmental Protection Agency, said officials there view Deleon's conviction as a way of "leveling the playing field" for other operations that conduct business by the book. "We welcome those who are properly licensed to do business," he said.

Deleon owned two intertwined Methuen-based companies, Environmental Compliance Training Inc. and Methuen Abatement Staffing Inc., which respectively trained and certified individuals in removal of asbestos and sent them out on jobs throughout New England.

By law, those who work with asbestos, which can cause cancer, must take an initial training course and annual refresher courses. The courses must include lectures, demonstrations, and at least 14 hours of hands-on training, respirator fit testing, course review, and a written examination with multiple-choice questions. A score of at least 70 percent is required to pass the course.

The applicant must then appear before the state agency with an application listing vital information, including a Social Security number and a certificate verifying completion of the courses. The Environmental Protection Agency oversees the program.
Deleon "cheated the system" in two ways to enrich herself, according to the government's case. Under her ownership, Environmental Compliance Training issued false asbestos removal training certificates and lied about it to the state. She also evaded payroll taxes and workers' compensation insurance premiums by paying hundreds of employees of Methuen Abatement Staffing under the table. The company had a gross unreported payroll of $4.6 million from 2002 to 2006, according to a government document introduced at the trial.

Deleon also arranged for workers from other countries to obtain false US Social Security cards. In a transcript of a conversation caught on video used in court, Deleon advises a cooperating government witness to disguise his own handwriting to get the bogus documentation for what he describes as his sister's boyfriend aiming to work for the Methuen company but not yet in the United States. "Change the writing a little bit," Deleon says in the recorded conversation.
Deleon's codefendant Jose Francisco Garcia-Garcia, an employee, was captured on videotape taking $400 from an undercover agent as payment for arranging a bogus license. He pleaded guilty and turned federal witness.

The case came about in 2006 after officials in the state Division of Occupational Safety suspended the training company's license to operate for three months for failing to provide the full training. The agency referred the case to the federal environmental agency, which passed along information to US Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

In November 2006, federal authorities arrested some of Deleon's employees on a job at Dartmouth College, and at the same time searched the Methuen office.
Last March, a federal grand jury indicted Deleon and Garcia-Garcia. The indictment charged that they conspired to defraud the Environmental Protection Agency, and to encourage illegal immigrants to enter the country and hire them, to obtain asbestos training certificates without taking the courses, and to work in the field. Deleon was also charged with mail and tax fraud.

In mid-November, after a 2 1/2-week trial, Deleon was convicted on all charges. She appealed the case last month and is under house arrest in Andover wearing an electronic bracelet, pending her sentencing next Wednesday.

By Connie Paige

Connie Paige can be reached at connie_paige@yahoo.com

Boston Globe Correspondent / February 12, 2009

Monday, February 9, 2009

Kerala Human Rights Commission seeks asbestos free schools

Kerala Human Rights Commission and its chairperson Justice N Dhinakar has ruled that exposing Indians to asbestos is a human rights violation. This paves the way for the eventual complete ban on asbestos and its products. On January 31, 2009, the Commission ruled that the government should take steps to phase out asbestos roofing from all schools in the state.

The commission has directed the state government to replace the asbestos roofs of those school buildings under the government control with country tiles in a phased manner.

The government has been directed to initiate measures to ensure that asbestos roofs are replaced with country tiles within a fixed time-frame in the case of schools that are run under the private managements. The state government has been directed to make sure that no new school begins functioning with asbestos roofing in the future.

The petition submitted to the commission complained that roofing school buildings with asbestos were hazardous to the health of children.

It is noteworthy that the order has come in the context amid reports showing how asbestos cement sector has bucked the trend of recession and has notched up impressive growth. A asbestos cement sector grew by 32%, according to data from a survey carried out by business lobby Confederation of Indian Industry (CII).

Underlining the current state of affairs this year's Republic Day Guest was the President of a asbestos exporting country.

Ban Asbestos Network of India (BANI) appeals to the National Human Rights Commission and all the State Human Rights Commissions of the country to adopt the path-breaking order of the Kerala Human Rights Commission with immediate effect given the fact that none of the schools, offices, legislatures, courts, hospitals, automobiles, private and public buildings in our country are asbestos free.

Besides Congress led United Progressive Alliance government at the centre,
the support asbestos industry gets from the West Bengal Chief Minister although he belongs to Communist Party of India (Marxist) [that claims to have the mandate to fight for occupational rights of workers] is highly questionable, immoral and untenable still one hopes that Kerala Chief Minister who is also from the same party would desist from supporting this killer industry despite the fact that the state government owns Kerala Asbestos Cement pipe Factory Limited.

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