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: firstname.lastname@example.org
Friday, May 27, 2011
Health Impact of Bihar's Asbestos Promotion Policy
Dr. B.S. Rajput
Joint Replacement and Stem Cell Transplant Surgeon
Breach Candy hospital,
Subject-Seeking Advice for Health Impact of Bihar's Asbestos Promotion Policy
This is with reference to your article dated 17 May, 2011 in Dainik Jagran wherein you referred to incurable industrial lung disease (ILD) or lung fibrosis caused by atmospheric pollutants like asbestos of all kinds and how medical science in general and stem cell transplant research is grappling with it. This very newspaper has reported on 20th May, 2011 that asbestos plants of Bhojpur have reached production stage.
As you are aware about the diseases caused due to exposure to asbestos fibers, it is germane to request you to advise Bihar and central government to abandon its asbestos promotion policy. Union Budget 2011 also referred to diseases caused by asbestos despite this Bihar Government has allotted land for four asbestos plants. It is relevant to inform you that a New Delhi Declaration Seeking Elimination of all forms of Asbestos including Chrysotile from India was adopted after the conclusion of International Conference on "Emerging Trends in Preventing Occupational Respiratory Diseases and Cancers in Workplace" at Maulana Azad Medical College in March 2011 that expressed grave concern about asbestos related diseases like lung cancer in the national capital. (The Declaration is given below)
With this letter, I am seeking your support in persuading the Chief Minister of Bihar, a seemingly progressive politician to stop the three asbestos plants in Bhojpur, Bihar. Two of these plants have just been set up in Bihiya, Bhojpur, Bihar by Tamil Nadu based company, Ramco Industries Ltd. The third one has just been set up at Giddha, Koilwar Block, Bhojpur, Bihar by Tamil Nadu based Nibhi Industries Pvt. Ltd. In neighboring Sri Lanka an erudite committee has been appointed to look into health and environmental hazards of the use of asbestos. The committee was appointed considering the world trends to abandon the use of asbestos due to their negative impacts. In a communication to us Dr Charitha Herath, Chairman Central Environmental Authority (CEA), Sri Lanka informed, "We at the CEA are trying our best to study the matter of Asbestos and to take an appropriate action." Unmindful of incurable disease caused by asbestos fibers, Nibhi Industries Pvt. Ltd has proposed a plant in Sri Lanka too.
It is noteworthy that on 10th May, 2010, the project of Ramco Industries was discussed by the Experts Appraisal Committee (EAC), Industry of Union Environment Ministry. In the minutes of the EAC, there is explicit reference to "Health Management Plan for Mesothalimoa, Lung cancer and Asbestosis related problems in asbestos industries".
I wish to draw your attention towards a July 2010 editorial "A Repeat Call for the Banning of Asbestos" published in Environmental Health Perspectives, a monthly journal of peer-reviewed research and news published by the U.S. National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, National Institutes of Health, Department of Health and Human Services merits attention in this regard. The editorial is attached.
In a statement as Union Minister of Health and Family Welfare Ministry, Sushma Swaraj had informed the Rajya Sabha saying: "Studies by the National Institute of Occupational Health, Ahmedabad, have shown that long-term exposure to any type of asbestos can lead to the development of asbestosis, lung cancer and mesothelioma'' on August 18, 2003.
More than 55 countries have banned the use of all forms of asbestos including chrysotile (white asbestos) and how the Kerala State Human Rights Commission considered the problem created by asbestos and directed that the use of asbestos for roofing the school buildings should be stopped and they should be replaced with country tiles. The recent Supreme Court order dated 21st January, 2011 takes cognizance of the Ban White Asbestos Bill in the Rajya Sabha.
I submit that asbestos dust and fibers can be inhaled while drilling, cutting a pipe, repairing, renovating or demolishing a building and its effects are far-reaching, affecting everyone from the person mining it, manufacturing asbestos based products to the ultimate consumer and their families. Clinical reports show that asbestosis, mesothelioma and lung cancer can show up even 25 to 40 years after exposure to asbestos.
Asbestos is a term used for a group of naturally occurring, fibrous minerals. The main types of asbestos commercially used are: Crocidolite (blue), Amosite (brown), Chrysotile (white). Asbestos is used extensively in building materials in both urban and rural India. Diseases caused by asbestos fibers are preventable but incurable. White Asbestos constitutes 100 % of the global market.
I am an applicant in the hazardous wastes/shipbreaking case in the Supreme Court where insecure environmental borders of our country is being dealt with. My application seeking decontamination of asbestos laden buildings in India is pending with the National Human Rights Commission. I am an environmental & occupational health researcher with avid interest in the matter of civil liberties. I have been an invitee to UN Committees, Parliamentary Committees, Supreme Court's Committees etc. I have worked with national, international environmental organisations and have been part of related Fact Finding Committees. I have been a research scholar at Centre for Social Medicine & Community Health, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi. I am deeply concerned about the alarming increase in the rate of consumption of asbestos in our sub-continent.
In such a backdrop, Bihar Government's promotion of three white asbestos plants in Bhojpur is anti-environment, anti-people, anti-health and unscientific. Villagers of Koilwar and Bihiya region in Bhojpur are against these three lung cancer causing asbestos plants. Such plants are banned in almost thee entire developed world and World Health Organisation (WHO) has passed a resolution in 2005 seeking its elimination of its future use.
It is quite disturbing that media and political parties barring some left parties in Bihar are adopting an unscientific and anti-public health approach in dealing with incurable diseases caused by the killer fibers of asbestos.
In an age when most scientific and medical studies are available online, it does not require great effort to comprehend that there is no alternative to banning use and manufacture of asbestos products in Bihar in the same way as Kerala and Karnataka banned Endosulfan because health is a state subject. The State government did take progressive steps in the matter of not following the path of Special Economic Zone (SEZ), GM food etc being pursued by the central government. It can do the same if it is made to realize that there is no doubt about the eventual ban on asbestos fibers. It is the timing of the ban which is the issue. There is no doubt that asbestos will be banned, the question is about timing: Will the state government ban it before losing its prestige or will it do so after having lost it?
I wish to draw your attention towards the 5th Conference of the Parties (COP5) to the UN's Rotterdam Convention on the Prior Informed Consent Procedure for Certain Hazardous Chemicals and Pesticides in International Trade to be in Geneva wherein the fate of Endosulfan, Chrysotile asbestos and some other chemicals will be be decided. The objective of the Rotterdam Convention “is to promote shared responsibility and cooperative efforts among Parties in the international trade of certain hazardous chemicals in order to protect human health and the environment from potential harm.”
In order to meet its objective, COP5 of Rotterdam Convention will consider the inclusion in Annex III of chrysotile asbestos, Endosulfan, Alachlor and Aldicarb under agenda item 5 c during the meeting scheduled for June 20-24, 2011.
It is noteworthy that the inclusion in Annex III does not equate to a prohibition of trade. It imposes requirements on exporting nations to provide basic information to consumers and customers environmental health hazards due to certain hazardous chemicals and pesticides in international trade.
I wish to inform you that there has been several attempts to include chrysotile asbestos (White Asbestos) on the prior informed consent list have failed due to the influence of asbestos producing countries who are compelled by their companies led by Quebec based Canadian companies who have succeeded in preventing any action on chrysotile asbestos being taken.
I submit that discussions on chrysotile asbestos at the COP 4 of Rotterdam Convention in 2008 took a decision to examine its listing at COP5 in June 2011.
The statement of Smt Sushma Swaraj clearly implies that white asbestos or Chrysotile asbestos is a health hazard which is essentially what COP5 is to decide in Geneva. Union Ministry of Chemicals, Government of India must be urged to reverse its untenable position and support the listing of chrysotile asbestos in the PIC list of the Rotterdam Convention.
I can provide documentary evidence for each of the things I am mentioning below.
1. Union Environment Ministry's 19 page Vision Statement on Environment and Human Health (Para 4.3.1) on page 12 that reads:
"Alternatives to asbestos may be used to the extent possible and use of asbestos may be phased out". This is available on Ministry's
website. This finds resonance in Hon’ble Supreme Court’s order of 21st January, 2011.
2. In its order Hon’ble Court’s bench of Chief Justice of India Justice S.H. Kapadia, Justice K.S. Panicker Radhakrishnan and Justice Swatanter Kumar observed in para 15, “the Government has already presented the Bill in Rajya Sabha. The statement of objects and reasons of this Bill specifically notices that the white asbestos is highly carcinogenic and it has been so reported by the World Health Organisation. In India, it is imported without any restriction while even its domestic use is not preferred by the exporting countries.”
Hon’ble Court further notes, “Canada and Russia are the biggest exporters of white asbestos. In 2007, Canada exported 95% of the white asbestos, it mined out of which 43% was shipped to India. In view of these facts, there is an urgent need for a total ban on the import and use of white asbestos and promote the use of alternative materials. The Bill is yet to be passed but it is clearly demonstrated that the Government is required to take effective steps to prevent hazardous impact of use of asbestos.”
3. The WHO and ILO Resolutions have called for elimination of future use of asbestos. The relevant documents are availble on their website. The ILO Resolution is attached and WHO Factsheet on elimination of asbestos-related diseases is available here
4. The cancer causing nature of chrysotile asbestos (white asbestos) fibres has been acknowledged since 1977 by the International bodies, such as International Agency for Research on Cancer and the WHO. In these circumstances, we find that the panel remained well within the bounds in its discretion in finding that chrysotile cement products pose a risk to human life or health.
5. The Kerala State Human Rights Commission on 31st January, 2009 considered the problem created by asbestos and directed that the use of asbestos for roofing the school buildings and hospitals should be stopped and they should be replaced with country tiles. The Kerala State Human Rights Commission, while giving these directions, has considered the judgment of the Supreme Court.
6. The National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) too has passed an order in Case No:693/30/97-98 recommending that the asbestos sheets roofing be replaced with roofing made up of some other material that would not be harmful. The Annual Report of NHRC 2003-2004 refers to a Report entitled “Asbestos – Health and Environment – an in-depth Study “submitted by the Institute of Public Health Engineers, India. The study underlines that safe and controlled use of asbestos is not possible. The asbestos related disease are incurable and fatal. Human biology is same everywhere if the asbestos is deemed hazardous in the developed countries, it must be deemed so in Bhojpur, Bihar as well.
7. In such a backdrop, is it not apt for the Bihar Government to take a position on asbestos of all kinds including chrysotile asbestos and recommend its phase out to the Cabinet Committee on Economic Affairs (CCEA), to begin with?
8. As Union Health Minister Smt Sushma Swaraj informed the Parliament that "long-term exposure to any type of asbestos can lead to the development of asbestosis, lung cancer and mesothelioma". How can Bihar's Health Minister, Shri Ashwini Kumar Chaubey and Bihar's Environment Minister, Shri Sushil Kumar Modi be ignorant about it? How can Dr C P Thakur, former Union Health Minister from Bihar maintain a studied silence on such a critical public health issue. Bihar Chief Minister Shri Nitish Kumar must verify the truth about incurable cancer causing nature of any type of asbestos from Smt Sushma Swaraj.
9. Bihar Government must recommend to the central government to support listing of chrysotile asbestos in the PIC list of UN’s
It is high time that the Chief of Bihar is persuaded to take cognisance of problem of asbestos related diseases and took necessary steps for its prevention and appropriate remedial steps are taken, it would be deemed a very welcome public health, progressive and historic intervention by the state for which the current regime will be remembered by by the posterity.
In view of the facts mentioned above, I wish to request you to initiate appropriate and immediate to steps to stop the asbestos
plants in Bhojpur and in other places like Madubani, West Champaran, Vaishali and Muzaffarpur where it is proposed as well to protect
present and future generations from the lethal fibers of asbestos.
On behalf of Ban Asbestos Network of India (BANI), I wish to request you to intimate your colleagues in some 22 states about the "Research (which) has found that needle-like crystals permanently penetrate the lung tissue when dust-sized particles of asbestos are inhaled. The crystals can eventually cause scarring of the lungs, called asbestosis, and can cause cancer of the lining of the lung, called mesothelioma. Both diseases are incurable and terminal."
It is a glaring fact that the members of Chrysotile Asbestos Cement Products Manufacturers Association (CACPMA), Asbestos Cement Products Manufacturers Association of India (ASCMA) and other industries based on killer fibers of asbestos are knowingly exposing workers, their families and consumers with impunity.
I will be happy to share more reference documents for your consideration and to recommend to central government and state
governments in general and Bihar government in particular steps to stop consumption of asbestos products.
Ban Asbestos Network of India (BANI)
Asbestos Mukti Andolan, Bhojpur, Bihar
Mb: 09818089660, 07739308480
Prof (Dr) Arthur Frank, Professor, Chair: Department of Environmental and Occupational Health, Drexel University School of Public Health, US,
Dr. S.R. Kamat, former Chief, Department of Chest Medicine, K.E.M. Hospital, Mumbai.
Dr Aleck Farquhar, Managing Director, Occupational Health Clinics for Ontario Workers, Canada,
Professor Elihu D Richter MD MPH, Hebrew University-Hadassah School of Medicine, Israel
Dr Yael Stein, MD, Unit of Occupational and Environmental Medicine, Hebrew University, Israel
Dr Lyle Hargrove, Chairperson, Occupational Clinics for Ontario Workers, Canada
Prof (Dr) Qamar Rahman, Fellow, National Academy of Sciences, India & former Deputy Director, Industrial Toxicology Research Centre, India
Dr. T.K. Joshi, Fellow, Collegium Ramazzini, Italy
Dr Barry Castleman, Author, Asbestos: Medical and Legal Aspects
Prof. (Dr) Sanjay Chaturvedi, Faculty of Medical Sciences, University of Delhi, New Delhi, India
New Delhi Declaration Seeking Elimination of all forms of Asbestos including Chrysotile from India
Date: 24 March, 2011
Recalling the Ban Asbestos Resolution of 2002, WHO Resolution of 2005 and
ILO Resolution of 2006 seeking elimination of future use of asbestos of all
forms, in the face of massive asbestos exposure underway in India;
Taking note of The White Asbestos (Ban on Use and Import) Bill, 2009
introduced in Rajya Sabha (Upper House of Indian Parliament) and the order
of the Kerala State Human Rights Commission banning the use of asbestos in
Considering the anti asbestos movement against 12 proposed asbestos plants
in Bihar in face of massive people’s resistance;
Outraged at the Union of India’s Budget 2011-12’s callous reference to
asbestos by including it under the Rashtriya Swasthya Bima Yojana to cover
‘unorganized sector workers in hazardous mining and associated industries
like asbestos etc’ and on the other hand Bihar’s Deputy Chief Minister’s
Budget is allocating land for 4 new asbestos plants;
Recognising the fact that enviro-occupational health infrastructure in India
is weak or non-existent in the face of workers and consumers who are sick
and dying from asbestos-caused cancer and other related diseases;
Endorsing The STATEMENT OF OBJECTS AND REASONS of The White Asbestos (Ban on
Use and Import) Bill, 2009 introduced in the Indian Parliament that reads:
“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 (roofing material) and break (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.”
Appreciating Supreme Court of India’s order of 21st January, 2011 that takes
cognizance of the above mentioned Bill and the resolutions of ILO and WHO
and seeks government to take immediate preventive steps;
Taking cognizance of the human rights violation involved in exposing people
to killer asbestos fibers and how even if few asbestos fibre reach the right
places, it causes irreversible damage leading to asbestosis, lung cancer or
Considering Government of India’s role in preventing the listing of
chrysotile asbestos as a hazardous product under the Rotterdam Convention,
an International Agreement that requires that importing countries be warned
of the risks associated with hazardous products is unbecoming of a nation of
India’s stature. It is unconscionable that the government knowingly allows
trades in a killer product that will cause death of hundreds of thousands of
people in India in general and in Andhra Pradesh, Jharkhand, Gujarat, Bihar
and Rajasthan in particular and elsewhere in the world;
Reminding the Government of India that there is incontrovertible evidence
that creates a compelling logic for making India asbestos free;
Condemning the asbestos exporting countries liaison with the Indian asbestos
industry to which Government is turning a blind eye who have unleashed a
misinformation campaign about controlled use of asbestos products which is a
Disapproving Ministry of Environment & Forests Experts Appraisal Committee
on Industry for approving environmental clearance of asbestos plants;
Asserting the fact that so far some 55 countries have banned all forms of
asbestos, and are already using alternative materials;
Underlining that almost every international health agency of repute
including the World Health Organization, the International Labor
Organization, International Agency for Research on Cancer, Occupational
Safety and Health Administration, National Institute for Occupational Safety
and Health, and the American Cancer Society agree there is no safe level of
asbestos exposure. Most recently, the International Agency for Research on
Cancer (IARC) reconfirmed that all commercial asbestos fibers - including
chrysotile, the most commercially used form of asbestos - cause lung cancer
and mesothelioma. In addition, IARC newly confirmed that there is sufficient
evidence that asbestos causes ovarian cancer and reconfirmed asbestos causes
We urge the Government to adequately compensate the victims of
asbestos-related diseases, create a database of asbestos exposed people and
victims as well besides providing legal and possible medical relief and
taking preventive measures. We call on the government to create a
mesothelioma registry and a building registry of those facilities which have
asbestos. We seek inclusion of environmental and occupational health study
in the medical education of all the 300 medical colleges in India
We recommend that the Government should start efforts to decontaminate
asbestos laden buildings including schools and hospitals
We express shock at the instance countries like Canada using tax-payers
money and Canadian embassies to actively promote the sale of asbestos around
We appeal to the Government of India to put a ban on export, import,
manufacturing, use and mining of all forms of asbestos including chrysotile
(white asbestos) in India.
We call upon the Government of India, State Governments in general and Bihar
Government in Particular besides Indian Ministry of Health, Ministry of
Environment, Ministry of Commerce, Ministry of Labour, Ministry of Consumer
Affairs and Ministry of Mines to initiate steps for an immediate ban on use,
manufacture and trade of all forms of asbestos (including Chrysotile or
Prof (Dr) Arthur Frank, Professor, Chair: Department of Environmental and
Occupational Health, Drexel University School of Public Health, US, Email-
Dr Aleck Farquhar, Managing Director, Occupational Health Clinics for
Ontario Workers, Canada, E-mail- email@example.com
Professor Elihu D Richter MD MPH, Hebrew University-Hadassah School of
Medicine, Israel, Efirstname.lastname@example.org
Dr Yael Stein, MD, Unit of Occupational and Environmental Medicine, Hebrew
University, Israel, E-mail- email@example.com
Dr Lyle Hargrove, Chairperson, Occupational Clinics for Ontario Workers,
Canada, E-mail- firstname.lastname@example.org
Prof (Dr) Qamar Rahman, Fellow, National Academy of Sciences, India & former
Deputy Director, Industrial Toxicology Research Centre, Lucknow E-mail-
Dr. T.K. Joshi, Fellow, Collegium Ramazzini, Italy, Eemail@example.com
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