Press Release Support of SUCI, CPIML, SJP & SF for Asbestos Ban Welcomed
Villagers Threaten Self-Immolation Against Killer Balmukund Factory
BANI Congratulates Turkey Govt for Banning Asbestos Completely
31/12/2010 NEW DELHI/PATNA: Ban Asbestos Network of India (BANI) welcomes the support of Socialist Unity Centre of India (SUCI), Communist Party of India Marxist Leninist (CPIML), Samajwadi Jan Parishad and Socialist Front to the villagers of Chainpur-Bishunpur, Muzaffarpur who have waged a bitter struggle against a hazardous asbestos factory. Prior to this National Alliance for People’s Movement (NAPM) has also extended its support and written to Bihar government.
Amidst heavy police presence, disappointed with state government’s response, the villagers have threatened to undertake self-immolation against the construction of the toxic asbestos factory in their village. They are shocked at the manifest collusion between the district administration and the factory owners.
BANI met Shri Vasishtha Naraian Singh, the state President of Janata Dal (United), in person gave a written petition on 29th December seeking his support for the movement against asbestos plant in Muzaffarpur in particular and in the state in general. He has promised to respond after 2nd January, 2011. A petition has been sent to the heads of national political parties as well.
Meanwhile even before the disclosure of the factory owner’s meeting with the Mr Sushil Kumar Modi, Deputy Chief Minister, a letter has been sent to him by BANI drawing his attention towards the massive opposition to the life threatening factory, the letter of world’s foremost asbestos expert, Dr Barry Castleman and the letter of Dr Sanjay Chaturvedi, Professor and Head, Dept of Community Medicine, Faculty of Medical Sciences, University of Delhi, Delhi.
Dr Chaturvedi’s letter states, “It is disturbing to note that new factories to produce asbestos containing products are being established in Bihar. Asbestos is a highly hazardous material to human health and both – occupational as well as non occupational exposures to any form of asbestos are associated with mesothelioma and other malignancies among humans. WHO, IARC, US EPA and several leading biomedical journals have identified asbestos as a potent carcinogenic material which needs to be replaced by safer substitutes. This is what the regulatory bodies and experts have been saying for a long time”.
Contradicting the misplaced claims of the owners of Balmukund asbestos company, Dr Tarun Mandal, Member of Parliament, SUCI has written to Mr Jairam Ramesh, Union Minister of Environment & Forests seeking his intervention to stop the hazardous asbestos factory in Muzaffarpur. He has alleged that the factory owner has “misled” and has been “feeding false information” to the Union Environment Ministry. Dr Mandal has expressed dismay at the fact that the “making of Asbestos Factory on fertile agricultural land by Bal Mukund Company” constitutes “plundering fertile farm land adding threat to food security”. He has noted that “The land, surrounded by thickly populated villages having number of schools, was purchased by the company” saying “an agriculture related plant will be raised there”. Dr Mandal has sought an inquiry by the Environment Ministry.
Reputed institutions such as Dept of Community Medicine, Faculty of Medical Sciences, University of Delhi, Centre for Science and Environment, Science for Society, Breakthrough Society, ToxicsWatch Alliance have raised objections against the proposed asbestos plant based on rigorous scientific and medical findings. Dr Gopalji Trivedi, Ex Vice Chancellor of Rajendra Agricultural University, Pusa, Bihar disapproved of acquisition of agricultural land for industrial operations such as asbestos factories.
The International Agency for Research on Cancer, a UN agency says, “Asbestos, is a potent human carcinogen; and amount of asbestos already released in the environment creates a situation where exposure to chrysotile products remains the leading cause of mesothelioma in the world.” It has been pointed out that “Since new asbestos use is banned in developed world, the global asbestos corporate is trying to create new markets in the countries with weak legislation.”
BANI has drawn the attention towards the directions and observations of the Supreme Court of India in the Consumer Education and Research Centre and Others versus Union of India decided on 27.1.1995 and reported in 1995 (3) SCC 42 saying, “The development of the carcinogenic risk due to asbestos or any other carcinogenic agent, does not require continuous exposure. The cancer risk does not cease when the exposure to the carcinogenic agent ceases, but rather the individual carries the increased risk for the remaining years of life. The exposure to asbestos and the resultant long tragic chain of adverse medical, legal and societal consequences, reminds the legal and social responsibility of the employer or producer not to endanger the workmen or the community or the society. He or it is not absolved of the inherent responsibility to the exposed workmen or the society at large. They have the responsibility-legal, moral and social to provide protective measures to the workmen and to the public or all those who are exposed to the harmful consequences of their products. Mere adoption of regulations for the enforcement has no real meaning and efficiency without professional, industrial and governmental resources and legal and moral determination to implement such regulations.”
In such grave circumstances, Bihar government cannot and should not become party to asbestos company’s blind lust for profit at any human cost.
At the meeting, the resolution of International Labour Organization (ILO) adopted by the 95th Session of the International Labour Conference, in June 2006, stateS, “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)”.
The resolution noted that “an estimated 100,000 workers die every year from diseases caused by exposure to asbestos and resolved that “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 exposure and to prevent future asbestos-related diseases and deaths”.
The matter with regard to complete decontamination of existing asbestos sites is pending before the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC). The Union Mines Ministry has consistently informed the Parliament that "In view of the hazardous effect of asbestos mining on health, the Government has decided not to grant any new lease for mining of asbestos and minerals found along with asbestos. It does not renew the existing mining leases of asbestos.
In view of the deleterious effect of asbestos mining on the health of the workers, the government have ordered the State governments in 1986 not to grant any new mining lease for asbestos (including chrysotile variety) in the country. In June 1993, government stopped the renewal of existing mining leases of asbestos in the country." The ministry has rightly recognised the poisonous nature of asbestos fibers. Is it reasonable for the Bihar government to ignore the "deleterious effect of asbestos."
BANI expects a pro-farmer, pro-people, pro-worker and pr-environment decision from the Bihar government. Public interest creates a compelling logic for Bihar government to denounce indefensible and misleading information being offered by Kolkotta based Balmukund asbestos company choosing not to learn from the experience of Singur and Nandigram.
As early as 1898, British government factory inspectors recognized adverse health effects associated with exposure to asbestos fibres. By the 1930s, the scientific evidence of the association between asbestos exposure and non-malignant respiratory disease was well established. With the publication of Irving Selikoff’s study of insulation workers in 1964, the evidence of carcinogenicity was incontrovertible. (Reference: Selikoff IJ, Churg J, Hammond EC. Asbestos exposure and neoplasia. JAMA. 1964;188:22–26) The scientific consensus today is that all types of asbestos fibres, including chrysotile, cause asbestosis, lung cancer, and other cancers most specifically mesothelioma.
At the International Conference this year entitled "Preventing Emerging Occupational and Environmental Risks in South Asia and Beyond" was organized by Centre for Occupational & Environmental Health (New Delhi), Collegium Ramazzini (Italy), and Drexel University, School of Public Health, Philadelphia, supported by Union Ministry of Labour and Employment, Government of India, and WHO, SEARO held in Maulana Azad Medical College, New Delhi, the experts noted that the grave health hazards of asbestos are entirely preventable if exposure to this killer fiber is avoided. The health risks of asbestos exposure are unacceptable. Indian health experts and officials admitted the almost complete absence of occupational and environmental health infrastructure in the country. There isn’t any cancer registry that records environmental and occupational cancers.
Renowned experts of environmental and occupational exposures who were in New Delhi earlier this for this conference repeatedly urged Government of India to harbour no illusions about the “controlled use” of asbestos because there is no realistic alternative to a ban. Moreover, even the best workplace controls cannot prevent occupational and environmental exposures to products in use or to waste. The trend of alarming rise in the consumption of asbestos in India in hospitals, schools, homes and commercial buildings now resemble those that existed in the industrialized countries before the dangers of asbestos were widely recognized. Besides Russia, the world's largest manufacturer which is the largest supplier of chrysotile asbestos to India, Canada is the second largest supplier to India although over the past two decades, Canada has spent millions stripping asbestos from the walls and ceilings of schools, the Parliament Buildings, and hospitals because of the national outcry against asbestos making the government to stamp out asbestos use at home. But it is promoting its use in India.
Till date, some 52 countries have banned asbestos. Asbestos is recognized as a carcinogen and is banned in all 27 European Union member countries besides Australia, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Chile, and Japan. Unmindful of this between 1999 and 2001, Canada’s government spent about $575,000 appealing France’s 1997 asbestos ban, only to have even the World Trade Organization (WTO) uphold the prohibition imposed on these killer fibers. Turkey has announced that it has banned production, use and supply of asbestos from 30th December, 2010. Turkey's Environment Management Directorate General released a statement said, "The ban on use of asbestos will both eliminate diseases stemming from the substance and end emission of asbestos to the environment," the statement said.
In such an international scenario, BANI hopes that Bihar government will protect the state’s villagers from the poisonous factory and not the poisonous factory.
For Details: Gopal Krishna, Convener, Ban Asbestos Network of India (BANI), Asbestos Mukti Andolan, Mb: 07739308480, 09818089660, Web: banasbestosindia.blogspot.com