Shri Yashwant Sinha
Chairperson & Members
Parliamentary Standing Committee on Finance
Shri Ramkumar Suryanarayanan
Parliamentary Standing Committee on Finance
Subject- Health Hazards of Trade Agreement with Asbestos trader Canada
This is to draw your attention towards the need for making our country asbestos free at the earliest. But instead of immediately banning the import of potentially deadly asbestos, the proposed free trade agreement between India and Canada will boost asbestos trade.
Amidst a growing demand for a global ban on all kinds of asbestos and its products, Ban Asbestos Network of India (BANI), an alliance of occupational and environmental groups and public health researchers’ appeal to the Committee to recommend that ban on asbestos trade with Canada must be deemed a pre-condition for future negotiations on CEPA. On November 16, Canadian Minister of International Trade Peter Van Loan opened formal talks with our Union Commerce Minister, Anand Sharma on a strategic economic partnership between the two countries.
We wish to bring to your notice that a helicopter carrying our President hit an asbestos shed at the Bhubaneshwar airport on December 9, 2009. Shri M C Bhandari, Hon'ble Governor, Orissa and Shri Devi Singh Shekhawat were also along with her. A Court of Inquiry was ordered into the incident by the Indian Air Force but the fact that such asbestos sheds pose a health, environmental and occupational risk to everybody in our country is noteworthy too. In 2006 alone there were more than 1,000 mesothelioma deaths (asbestos related fatal disease) in Japan which along with some 52 countries have banned asbestos.
Our armed forces are at a grave risk of asbestos exposure because asbestos has been used extensively in their work places and residential places. In the Army and Air Force, asbestos is used in brake and clutch pads installed in everything from tanks to jeeps to aircraft. Asbestos is part of the insulation in housing and other buildings on military bases, electric wiring insulation aboard military planes, and fire retardant materials used by military firefighters and gunners. In the Navy, Merchant Marine, and Coast Guard, it is even more widely used, mainly as thermal insulation aboard ships. Asbestos is used in old and new constructed naval vessels.
Our Ministry of Defence, Navy, Army and Air Force must be asked to compile statistics for how many soldiers have died from asbestos related diseases, how many are suffering from it and how many face the danger of exposure which causes asbestos-related lung cancers and serious respiratory diseases.
Our airmen, sailors and soldiers would feel betrayed by the armed forces and the government they served if they come to know that they faced asbestos exposure and government did nothing to save them.
It was admitted by Indian public health experts that none of the 300 medical colleges are asbestos free and none are equipped to deal with asbestos diseases. "A beginning must be made by asking all the medical colleges to prepare a list of asbestos exposed patients, preparing a register of incurable asbestos diseases and starting occupational health courses," said Dr Arun Kumar Agarwal, Additional Director, General of Health Services, Government of India at another international conference at Maulana Azad Medical College, New Delhi on 19th December, 2009. This reveals the state of occupational and environmental health infrastructure of our country.
We seek your urgent intervention in the matter of a serious unprecedented environmental and occupational health crisis with regard to unnoticed epidemic of asbestos related disease 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.
We appreciate the fact that the Parliament has taken a historic initiative of introducing The White Asbestos (Ban on Use and Import) Bill, 2009 in the Rajya Sabha. The issue of health hazards from asbestos has been raised consistently in the parliament. The Statement of Objects and Reasons of the White Asbestos (Ban on Use and Import) Bill, 2009 introduced on 31 July 2009 captures clearly the global stand on this issue:
The white asbestos is highly carcinogenic even the World Health Organisation has reported that it causes cancer. It is a rare fibrous material that is used to make rooftops and brake linings. More than fifty countries have already banned the use and import of white asbestos. Even the countries that export it to India prefer not to use it domestically. But in our country, it is imported without any restriction. Canada and Russia are the biggest exporters of white asbestos. In 2007, Canada exported almost Ninety five percent of the white asbestos it mined and out of it forty-three percent was shipped to India. It is quite surprising that our country is openly importing huge quantity of a product, which causes cancer. This is despite the fact that safer and almost cheap alternatives to asbestos are available in the country. Instead of importing a hazardous material, it will be better if we spend some money in research and development and use environment friendly product. In view of the above, there is an urgent need for a total ban on the import and use of white asbestos and promote the use of alternative material.
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 the committee recommended measures to prevent asbestos exposures of citizens, consumers, workers. Notably, the exposure of construction workers and automobile mechanics for instance defies regulatory control efforts in any country.
We wish to draw your urgent attention to the order of Kerala Human Rights Commission on January 31, 2009, the Commission ruled that the government should take steps to phase out asbestos roofing from all schools in the state.
We wish to ask: Is it not unfair that the ministry is the real protector of the hazardous asbestos industry to the detriment of public health? How is it that killer fibers of asbestos, banned in some 52 countries, is deemed poisonous in those countries and it becomes non-poisonous the moment it enters Indian borders?
It may be noted that Union Ministry of Labour has admitted in the Parliament that “Out of a total of Rs. 59.66 lacs allocated for the National Institute of Occupational Health (NIOH)’s study of chrysotile asbestos by Ministry of Chemicals and Fertilizers, the Asbestos Cement Products Manufactures Association has contributed Rs. 16 lacs” on March 17, 2008. The corrupt influence of the asbestos industry on the ministry is quite manifest. The government has consistently slashed import duty on asbestos and made it artificially cheaper.
It may be recalled noted that in the US, Dow Chemicals Company has set aside $2.2 billion to address future asbestos-related liabilities arising out of the Union Carbide Corporation acquisition. There no such initiative by the Indian asbestos companies although it an established fact that asbestos is a known human carcinogen that claims more than 100,000 lives every year. The World Health Organization (WHO), the International Labour Organization (ILO) and the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC), representing 176 million workers in 151 countries have all called for an end to the use of any form of asbestos, including chrysotile asbestos, which represents 100% of the global asbestos trade.
The time is now to embrace policy that puts public health before blind profit. You and the Parliamentary Committee have the historic opportunity and the moral duty to end the deadly asbestos legacy.
We wish to point out that despite Canada’s leadership in medical care and technology, it is an act of double standards and human rights violation when an advanced country that strictly regulates the use of asbestos within its own borders, exports asbestos in India and around the world. Admittedly, India lacks the expertise to monitor and treat incurable illnesses that results from inhaling asbestos fibers.
BANI seeks your support and solidarity with the protest from health and environmental groups against an attempt by Indian and other investors to revive a big Canadian asbestos mine. Jeffrey and one other remaining mine in the Quebec province of Canada produce chrysotile, or white asbestos, used mainly to reinforce cement used for water pipes and other building materials. Exposure to asbestos fibers causes incurable and fatal lung diseases.
Canada is the world’s fifth-biggest asbestos producer after Russia, China, Kazakhstan and Brazil. India is one of the biggest consumers of cancer causing asbestos fibers from Quebec, Canada. The proposed revival and expansion of the mine would boost asbestos production from the 100-year-old mine from an estimated 15,000 tonnes this year to 180,000 tonnes in 2012 and an eventual capacity of 260,000 tonnes, or about 10 per cent of global production.
In India, there is a ban on asbestos mining but trade, manufacture and use of asbestos products is yet to be banned. There is a ban on trade in asbestos waste as well.
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. Unmindful of such studies new factories are coming up in Bihar, Orissa, Maharashtra, Uttaranchal and in other states.
We submit that given the ubiquitous presence of the killer fibers of asbestos, 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.
We wish to draw your attention towards the Government of India's submission made in August 2006 in its Report to the Supreme Court by the 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.
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. We seek measures to identify, compensate and treat the asbestos -injured and regulations to minimize harmful exposures are also being proposed. We 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.
It appears that since a quid-pro-quo relationship between government officials and asbestos industry exists, the issue remains away 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.
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.
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.
According to recent studies in United States there 10, 000 deaths happening every year due to past asbestos exposure and will cause million more deaths worldwide. This has been corroborated by studies published in the British Medical Journal.
We wonder as to 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. In such a scenario, it is quite disturbing to note that there are no industrial physicians and virtually no occupational health centres in India, 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 urge you to put an end to the use of the of all kinds of asbestos products that is being manufactured 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. There is an urgent need to prepare a Register of asbestos handlers and victims and award a compensation of at least Rs 20 lakh for the asbestos victims.
It is submitted that the International Programme on Chemical Safety, the European Union, the Collegium Ramazzini, the International Social Security Association and the International Commission on Occupational Health all support a global ban on asbestos. Even the Supreme Court of India recognised in 1995 the hazards of asbestos in the case of Consumer Education and Research Centre (CERC) versus Union of India and more recently, in 2009 the Kerala Human Rights Commission noted that “exposing Indians to asbestos is a human rights violation” by banning its use in school. National Human Rights Commission too has termed it as harmful to health.
Therefore, we urge you to recommend the Government of India to:
· Take steps to ban import of asbestos from Canada and from all other exporting countries.
· Ensure the passing of the White Asbestos (Ban on Use and Import) Bill 2009 introduced in the Rajya Sabha in July 2009 (Bill No. XIII of 2009).
· Revise its stand and support the listing of chrysotile asbestos in the Prior Informed Consent (PIC) list of the Rotterdam Convention.
· Ratify the ILO Convention & Resolution on Asbestos.
· Take concrete steps to address the occupational and safety concerns of workers employed in asbestos related industries; ensure compensation for workers harmed by asbestos and support a just transition for workers losing employment due to a ban on the mining, use in manufacture, and trade in asbestos.
· Amend the existing Import Policy of Ministry of Commerce for chrysotile asbestos without which the alarming rise in the consumption of asbestos products is unlikely to change.
In view of the above, we request you and the Parliamentary Committee to examine the need for immediate ban on asbestos of all kinds including chrysotile asbestos. We will be glad to share more information.
Ban Asbestos Network of India (BANI)
Mb: 98180989660, Efirstname.lastname@example.org
1 Sinha, Shri Yashwant
2 Dr Bali Ram
3 Bandyopadhyay, Shri Sudip
4 Chang, Shri C. M.
5 Chavan, Shri Harischandra Deoram
6 Das, Shri Bhakta Charan
7 Das, Shri Khagen
8 Dasgupta, Shri Gurudas
9 Dubey, Shri Nishikant
10 Mahtab, Shri Bhartruhari
11 Mandal, Shri Mangani Lal
12 Nahata, Smt. P. Jaya Prada
13 Rao, Shri Sambasiva Rayapati
14 Reddy, Shri Magunta Sreenivasulu
15 Reddy, Shri Y. S. Jagan Mohan
16 Sarvey, Shri Sathyanarayana
17 Siddeswara, Shri Gowdar Mallikarjunappa
18 Singh, Shri N.Dharam
19 Tagore, Shri Manicka
20 Thambidurai, Dr. Munisamy
21 Yadav, Shri M. Anjan Kumar
22 Ahluwalia, Shri S.S.
23 Alvi, Shri Raashid
24 Darda Shri Vijay Jawaharlal
25 Goyal Shri Piyush
26 Mahendra Mohan, Shri
27 Dr. Mahendra Prasad
28 Misra Shri Satish Chandra
29 Moinul Hassan, Shri
30 Rao, Shri K.V.P. Ramachandra
31 Trivedi, Shri Y. P.