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

Sunday, July 31, 2011

Protest Against Killer Asbestos Plants in Bhojpur Continues

(Owner of Koilwar, Giddha's asbestos plant that is facing consistent opposition from villagers and environmental groups)
Villagers of Koilwar and Bihiya region in Bhojpur, Bihar are protesting against the three lung cancer causing asbestos plants in the district in the face of an incestous relationship between ruling parties in Bihar. Several left party organisations are supporting the struggle against asbestos plants in Bhojpur.

The villagers and environmental groups are demanding that Bhojpur plants be stopped in the same way as Muzaffarpur based plant has been stopped. Human biology is same everywhere, how can same thing be deemed poisonous in one district and non-poisonous in another district.


It must be noted that the “Research 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.” Alarmed by such a trend, Federico Demaria, a Italian researcher based in University of Barcelona, Spain who visited Bhojpur wrote a letter to the Chief Minister.

In Bhojpur’s Bihiya, there is a proposal to set up a 120,000 MT/Annum capacity of Asbestos Cement Sheet Plant and 2 00000 MT/Annum capacity of Asbestos Grinding Plant. The total project area is 20 acres and land is allotted by the state government on lease for 90 years.

On 10th May, 2010, the project was discussed by the Experts Appraisal Committee (EAC), Industry. In the minutes of the EAC, there explicit reference to “Health Management Plan for Mesothalimoa, Lung cancer and Asbestosis related problems in asbestos industries”. The plant being established by Tamil Nadu based Ramco Industries Ltd. Bihar’S State Investment Promotion Board (SIPB) cleared its establishment on 23rd November, 2009 with a total investment of Rs 60.20 crore.

In Bhojpur’s Giddha village, Tamil Nadu based Nibhi Industries Pvt. Ltd is establishing the 100000 MT Capacity Asbestos Fiber Cement Corrugated Sheet, Flat Sheet and Accessories and Light Weight Fly Ash Block Plant. This has been approved in SIPB meeting on 19th October, 2009 with a total investment for of Rs 31 crore.

In an order dated January 21, 2011, Hon’ble Supreme Court’s bench of Chief Justice of India Justice S.H. Kapadia, Justice K.S. Panicker Radhakrishnan and Justice Swatanter Kumar has 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.” It is noteworthy that once a Bill is introduced in Rajya Sabha, it never lapses.

The Bench of Chief Justice of India 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.”

The World Health Organization (WHO) has issued a new factsheet on asbestos:http://www.who.int/mediacentre/factsheets/fs343/en/index.html It re-iterates that the most efficient way to eliminate asbestos-related diseases is to stop the use of all types of asbestos and specifically states that its strategy is particularly targeted at countries still using chrysotile asbestos. The factsheet notes that “more than 107 000 people die each year from asbestos-related lung cancer, mesothelioma and asbestosis resulting from occupational exposure.”

The work of WHO and International Labour Organization (ILO) must be taken cognisance of by Bihar Government in its efforts towards elimination of asbestos-related diseases “by recognizing that the most efficient way to eliminate asbestos-related diseases is to stop the use of all types of asbestos and by providing information about solutions for replacing asbestos with safer substitutes and developing economic and technological mechanisms to stimulate its replacement.”

The New Delhi Declaration Seeking Elimination of cancer causing all forms of asbestos including Chrysotile from India was adopted and endorsed by eminent scientists and doctors on 24th March, 2011. This happened at a Round Table which was organized immediately after the conclusion of International Conference on “Emerging Trends in Preventing Occupational Respiratory Diseases and Cancers in Workplace” at Maulana Azad Medical College that expressed grave concern about asbestos related diseases like lung cancer in the national capital. The Declaration is given below for your perusal and immediate consideration.

The delegates at the Round Table discussed the asbestos policy of Bihar. These delegates shared their views and gave their valuable hand written notes so that it can be used in a credible way while strongly recommending the need for immediate ban on asbestos to Government of India, State Governments and the relevant ministries.

During a visit to New Delhi in March 2011, Dr Alec Farquhar, Managing Director, Occupational Health Clinics for Ontario Workers, Canada said, “We now have around 500 asbestos cancer cases every year in Ontario from a population of 13 million. If you (India) continue on your current path, you will multiply our death count by 100 times. That would be 50, 000 Indian workers dying every year from asbestos. In Ontario, we learned that safe use of asbestos is impossible. I urge you from the bottom of my heart, please do not make the same mistake as we made in Canada. Stop using asbestos and use a safe alternative.”

Professor Elihu D Richter MD MPH, Hebrew University-Hadassah School of Medicine, Israel said, “All form of asbestos kill. India should bury asbestos, not people. Here is a case for examining whether those countries which export asbestos to India are committing a crime against humanity, because they are engaging in willful neglect. India should not repeat the mistakes of going back some 70 years which will kill tens of thousands of workers and their families.” Prof. Richter too was in New Delhi in March 2011.

It must be noted that “No matter what mis-information comes of Canada or the Indian asbestos industry about Chrysotile, there is no question that science has shown that Chrysotile causes asbestosis, lung cancer and mesothelioma. This is the conclusion of World Health Organisation. The International Agency for Research on Cancer, and other organizations that have no biases except for protecting people’s health,” said Prof. Arthur L Frank, MD, PhD, Department of Environmental and Occupational Health, Drexel University School of Public Health, US. He has over 40 years work experience in dealing with asbestos related health effects. He was in India to make a presentation at an International Conference on Occupational Health.

The Collegium Ramazzini, a Italy based independent, international academy founded in 1982 by Irving J. Selikoff, Cesare Maltoni and other eminent scientists has called for the elimination asbestos of all kinds. Presenting her views, Prof (Dr) Qamar Rahman, fellow of National Academy of Sciences, Dean, Integral University, Lucknow & former Deputy Director, Industrial Toxicology Research Centre, Lucknow asserted, “This is high time that Government of India should ban the use of asbestos in India. It has been proven scientifically that asbestos based articles such as roof ceilings, storage tanks will release fibers. The asbestos fibers will be the cause of exposure to our coming generations.” This merits Chief Minister’s immediate attention.

In such a backdrop, in short, the Chief Minister ought to take steps on the following points:

· Do not grant environmental clearance to the proposed asbestos sheet plant

· Deny Consent to Establish to this hazardous factory unit

· Create a Registry of Incurable Lung Cancers and Mesothelioma besides a registry of asbestos related diseases

· Start efforts to decontaminate asbestos laden buildings including schools and hospitals

· Create a building registry of those buildings and products which have asbestos.

· Include environmental and occupational health study in the medical education of all the medical colleges in the state

· Stop procurement of cancer causing asbestos based products in Bihar

· 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

The Environment Impact Assessment (EIA) reports of the proposed asbestos plants reveals that they will procure asbestos from Canada and Russia.

The petitions (Parivaad Sankhya-454/3-2/2011, 948/17/3/2011) have been submitted the District Magistrate but there has been no response. Letters have also been submitted to Managing Director, BIADA, Principal Secretary, Environment, Bihar, Principal Secretary, Industry, Bihar and Principal Secretary, Health in March 2011 but so far villagers have not got any relief.

(Owner of Bihiya's two asbestos Plants which is facing bitter protest)

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

NHRC issues notices on banning use of White Asbestos

National Human Rights Commission, New Delhi

Press Release

NHRC issues notices to different Union Ministries, States, Union Territories on the issue of banning use of White Asbestos

Dated: 6th July 2011: The National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) has taken cognizance of a complaint alleging that about fifty thousand people die every year in the country due to Asbestos related cancer. The complainant has sought Commission's intervention for a ban on the use of Chrysotile Asbestos (White Asbestos), which is hazardous for the health of people and causes various incurable diseases. The white Asbestos is a fibrous material used for building roofs and walls and various in other forms. The pdf version of the NHRC statement is attached.

Citing contradictory position of the Government on the issue the complainant Gopal Krishna of Toxics Watch Alliance has alleged that though the mining of Asbestos has been technically banned by the government, but it allows its import and that too from the countries which do not prefer its domestic use.

It is also alleged that white Asbestos is considered a hazardous chemical substance for environment by a number of countries in the world. However, it is being used in a number of industries in India affecting the workers employed their in.

The complainant has also requested for grant of a compensation package for present and future victims of Asbestos diseases.

The Commission has issued notices to the Secretaries of Ministries of Chemical Fertilizers, Environment and Forest, Health and Family Welfare, Industry and Commerce, Labour and Chief Secretaries of all the States/Union Territories calling for status reports within four weeks on the issues raised in the complaint.

*********
For further details: kindly contact National Human Rights Commission, Faridkot House, Copernicus Marg, New Delhi, PIN 110001 Tel.No. 23382742 Fax No. 23384863 E-Mail: covdnhrc@nic.in, ionhrc@nic.in

Gopal Krishna, Convener, ToxicsWatch Alliance (TWA), Mb: 9818089660,
E-mail: krishna2777@gmail.com, Blog: banasbestosindia.blogspot.com, toxicswatch.blogspot.com, Web: www.toxicswatch.com

Note: Earlier, ToxicsWatch Alliance (TWA) has sought appropriate directions to all the States/UTs and the Central Government with regard to the following:

I) How many industries/factories exist in the State where asbestos is used. Is there an inventory of products wherein the said material is used?

II)Total number of workers in the said industry?

III)Whether there is regular medical check-up and whether medical facilities exist?

IV)Whether there is any record of persons who died because of asbestosis?

V)How many persons suffer from asbestosis and whether they are receiving regular treatment for the said disease?

VI)What steps States/UTs has taken to check/prevent occurrence of asbestosis and how many hospitals dealing with the occupational diseases exist in the State/UT.

VII)What measures have been taken to decontaminate the existing buildings and products from the asbestos fibers

VIII)How many institutions in the country have the competence to decontaminate asbestos and how many medical, occupational health and scientific institutions can diagnose asbestos exposure

IX) How do our armed forces deal with cases of asbestos exposure? Is there a record of soldiers who have suffered from asbestos related diseases

X) What action has been taken by the central government and the state governments to protect children from asbestos exposure in future?

The applications seek necessary directions for its prevention and appropriate remedial steps are suggested/recommended and suitable directions are issued to the Central Government/State Governments and UTs.

Letter to NHRC

To

Chairman,

National Human Rights Commission (NHRC)

New Delhi

Date: 15/6/2011

Subject- Reference Complaint No. 41418/15 April, 2010, seeking recommendation for listing of chrysotile asbestos in the Prior Informed Consent (PIC) procedure list of hazardous materials at the 5th meeting of the Conference of Parties (COP5) to the UN's Rotterdam Convention on the Prior Informed Consent Procedure for Certain Hazardous Chemicals and Pesticides in International Trade (20 to 24 June, 2011, Geneva)

Sir,

I wish to congratulate you for ensuring that NHRC (India) retained its “A” status in its accreditation with the International Coordinating Committee of the National Human Rights Institutions (NHRIs), Geneva which it has been holding since 1999 under UN’s “Paris Principles”.

This status has been achieved and maintained because of the pro-active role of NHRC for the protection of human rights causes not only within the country but even in International Conventions as an independent body.

I would, in particular, like to mention the bold and independent stand taken by NHRC in the matter of ban on Endosulfan wherein it urged the Government of India to join the international consensus against it in the UN's Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants (POPs). This position of NHRC has been deemed quite progressive world over. Endosulfan was banned in most of the countries but Government of India had not taken a pro-public health position on it.

I submit that NHRC’s recommendation in the matter of Preventive Remedial Rehabilitative and Compensation for victims of lung disease-Silicosis. Such steps of NHRC and sensitivity towards environment and pollution related crimes are commendable.

Similar to silicosis, asbestos related diseases are also incurable. Asbestos death toll has surpassed traffic fatalities in Australia. In US, every year 10, 000 people are dying because of asbestos related disease. There is an epidemic of asbestos diseases in Europe. In India, a silent Bhopal disaster is happening every year. The rate of consumption of asbestos in India is rising at an alarming rate due to budgetary support. Nearly all of Indi 's asbestos is mixed with cement to form roofing sheets. Bolstered by asbestos import tariffs that have been reduced from 78% in the mid-1990s to 15% by 2004, the country's asbestos-cement industry is increasing by roughly 10% every year. Since 2003, companies no longer require a special licence to import chrysotile asbestos.

Since 1960, India has incorporated about 7 million tonnes of asbestos into its buildings. The health consequences are already apparent, but the scale of the problem is not clear because there is no documentation of disease caused by environmental and occupational factors. “The Government of India has a very poor, almost non-existent, system to record death and disease”, explains Arthur Frank from Drexel University , Philadelphia , PA , USA who was in New Delhi in March 2011. Besides, cancer is not a notifiable disease. Prof. Frank cited a hospital in Mumbai which sees a dozen cases of mesothelioma every year. Studies have shown high rates of asbestosis among workers in the industry, including in those whose exposure to the material has spanned less than 5 years. There has been no real assessment of [asbestos-related disease] to the point that you can get accurate figures.

Like Endosulfan, several attempts have been made to include chrysotile asbestos (White Asbestos) on the UN’s prior informed consent list of hazardous chemicals due to non-cooperative role of the Government of India and exporting countries like Canada, the UN Convention has failed to do so.

Chrysotile asbestos is banned in 55 countries, including the European Union and Japan etc. The verdict even by the World Trade Organization (WTO)’s Appellate Body (AB) which validated the rights of Member States to prohibit the import and use of goods which contain carcinogenic substances such as chrysotile asbestos (white asbestos) is noteworthy. On March 12, 2001 the WTO's Appellate Body (AB) issued its ruling in the case of Canada vs. the European Communities Measures Affecting Asbestos and Asbestos-Containing Products. It noted that safe and controlled use of chrysotile asbestos is impossible.

India is the largest importer of asbestos, according to the United Nations Commodity Trade Statistics Database. Most of it goes into making corrugated roofing sheets as building material.

In such a backdrop, it is submitted that in an order dated January 21, 201, Hon’ble Supreme Court’s bench of Chief Justice of India Justice S.H. Kapadia, Justice K.S. Panicker Radhakrishnan and Justice Swatanter Kumar has 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.”

The Bench of Chief Justice of India 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.”

It is also noteworthy that 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.

I submit that 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.

It is relevant to point out that asbestos waste (dust and fibers) has been treated hazardous in all forms and has been banned under Hazardous Wastes Management Rules farmed under the Environment Protection Act, 1986. In our country, approximately 50, 000 people die every year due to asbestos related cancer. But so far Government of India has failed to take a pro-people’s health position and a scientific stand on the import of chrysotile asbestos whose mining is technically banned in India.

I submit that there is a nexus of political class and business class which is not allowing Government of India to take steps to protect human health from the lethal fibers of chrysotile asbestos. It is relevant to note that Kerala State Human Rights Commission has recommended ban on use of asbestos roofs for schools and hospitals.

In this regard, I may point out that NHRC’s urgent attention is required 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 held in Geneva during June 20-24, 2011 wherein the fate of Endosulfan, Chrysotile asbestos and some other chemicals will be decided for inclusion in the UN list of hazardous chemicals.

Having succeeded in, blocking UN recommendations on, four previous occasions, there is little doubt that, chrysotile asbestos producers will repeat their obstructive, behaviour at the COP-5, Rotterdam Convention held in Geneva. It is high time Government of India is asked to detach itself from the unethical practice of chrysotile asbestos producing countries.

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 and other chemicals under agenda item 5 c.

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.

It appears that Government of India has been misled about the toxicity of to chrysotile asbestos. As a consequence, the global public opinion and Indian citizens have begun to consider Indian chrysotile asbestos companies as the main obstacle to the inclusion of chrysotile asbestos in the list of UN agreement on hazardous chemicals.

I submit that a just transition program for asbestos workers, their families and communities around asbestos plants and products is urgently required, the NHRC may recommend to Government of India to adopt such a program.

In such a context, I appeal to NHRC to ask Government of India:

• To comply with the resolutions of WHO and ILO (2005 and 2006 seeking elimination of future use of asbestos including chrysotile asbestos worldwide

• To announce the compensation package for present and future victims of asbestos diseases as it has done in the case of Silicosis and make the asbestos companies criminally liable for knowingly exposing citizens and consumers of asbestos products

• To take note of Union Minister of Health and Family Welfare Ministry's statement in 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

• To take cognisance of the order of Hon’ble Supreme Court’s bench of Chief Justice of India dated January 21, 2011

• To take note of The White Asbestos (Ban on Use and Import) Bill, 2009 introduced in Rajya Sabha and the order of the Kerala State Human Rights Commission dated 31st January 2009 banning the use of asbestos in schools and hospitals

• To consider the deliberations of the International Conference on "Emerging Trends in Preventing Occupational Respiratory Diseases and Cancers in Workplace" at Maulana Azad Medical College, New Delhi in March 2011 following which New Delhi Declaration Seeking Elimination of all forms of Asbestos including Chrysotile from India on 24 March, 2011

• To take note of the fact that 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 laryngeal cancer

• To recall that the World Health Organisation's latest estimate notes that asbestos already claims 107,000 lives a year. Even that conservative estimate means every five minutes around the clock a person dies of asbestos related disease. The ongoing use of the asbestos fibre kills at least 300 people every day

• To respect the scientific process of the Rotterdam Convention and approve the recommendations of the Chemical Review Committee to list chrysotile asbestos in the PIC list of hazardous substances

• To refer to World Bank's Asbestos Good Practice Guidelines. These Guidelines, as well as its earlier Environmental, Health & Safety General Guidelines, require that the use of asbestos must be avoided in new construction in projects funded by the World Bank around the world. The Guidelines also provide information on available safer alternatives to asbestos.

In such a backdrop, it is germane to ask as to why India still a leading importer of chrysotile asbestos.

It is submitted that Canadian government which exports chrysotile asbestos to India has removed it from Canadian Parliament and its Prime Minister's Home. India has technically banned mining of asbestos (including chrysotile) but allows import, manufacture and use of asbestos based products which are proven to be deadly!

The UN's Rotterdam Convention on the Prior Informed Consent Procedure for Certain Hazardous Chemicals and Pesticides in International Trade is an important tool to protect human health and the environment by controlling trade in hazardous chemicals and pesticides that meet the requirements of the Convention.

It is indeed unbecoming of a small number of Parties to the UN agreement (like Government of India), who have been misguided by commercial interest of chrysotile asbestos companies to the Convention hostage by refusing to cooperate with the scientific process of the Convention and the will of the overwhelming majority or Parties.

It does not behove the stature of Government of India to wield a veto over the Convention against the listing of chrysotile asbestos as a hazardous substance and deny itself the sovereign right to utilize the prior informed consent procedure. When a hazardous substance is listed under Annex III of the Convention, Parties like Government of India has the sovereign right to utilize the procedure.

It is an act of immorality of Government of Canada to have prevailed upon Government of India to obstruct the recommendation of the Chemical Review Committee regarding chrysotile asbestos to protect the blind lust for commercial profit at the cost of the health of Indian citizens and workers. It is quite sad that Government of Canada has misinformed and misguided Government of India to deny itself the right to control its own borders from hazardous substances under the manifest influence of chrysotile asbestos companies.

The Rotterdam Convention is based on the principle of environmental justice. It has been witnessed that increasingly, hazardous chemicals and pesticides that are banned or severely restricted in industrialized countries are being shipped to developing countries or countries with economies in transition, where resources to safely monitor and manage these dangerous substances are often lacking or non-existent.

The Rotterdam Convention addresses this inequality in exposure to environmental and human risk by empowering countries with the right to Prior Informed Consent. All Parties to the Convention have a legal and moral obligation to support the right to Prior Informed Consent in the Convention as an important tool for overcoming the widening gap.

You will agree that human biology is same everywhere if the asbestos is deemed hazardous in the developed countries; it must be deemed so in India too.

In view of the above, it is your solemn duty of NHRC to protect Indian citizens from the exposure of fibers of chrysotile asbestos. In pursuance of the same as a first step there is a compelling reason for Government of India to support listing of chrysotile asbestos in the Prior Informed Consent (PIC) procedure list of hazardous materials at the 5th meeting of the Conference of Parties (COP5) to the UN's Rotterdam Convention on the Prior Informed Consent Procedure for Certain Hazardous Chemicals and Pesticides in International Trade (20 to 24 June, 2011, Geneva).

All the groups working on human rights, labour rights, health rights and environmental justice will appreciate if NHRC intervenes urgently in the matter of Chrysotile Asbestos as it did in the case of Endosufan.

We will happy to meet and share additional information.

Yours Sincerely

(Gopal Krishna)
ToxicsWatch Alliance (TWA)
Web: www.toxicswatch.com

Friday, July 1, 2011

Roofs can turn carcinogenic


Asbestos, a commonly used construction material, is now drawing as much heat for its carcinogenic properties as endosulfan has for its debilitating side-effects.

Fifty-five countries across the world have banned asbestos and people in the US are suing builders for billions of dollars for health problems caused by exposure to asbestos, but it appears as though Tamil Nadu just cannot get enough of the hardy sheets.

They are used in everything from cramped, makeshift quarters provided for construction workers who build roads and flyovers or as roofing for garages. Asbestos is close to indispensable in the state.

Asbestos is considered a sturdy, waterproof, fire retardant material that can be bought for as low as Rs 250 per sheet, making it the poor man’s delight. However, the fibrous mineral is constantly shedding particles that cause irreversible damage to the lungs, and even trigger dangerous cancers when inhaled continuously.

“Asbestos use was restricted in the ’60s, but the cheap construction material is used widely these days. Around 80 per cent is used for roofing purposes in slums and temporary shelters. Asbestos waste is not biodegradable, and these fibres tend to get lodged in the lungs. Initially, exposure causes allergic symptoms of coughing, sneezing and weight loss, but chronic exposure can cause pneumoconiosis and cancers of the lungs and bronchi,” said Dr S. Elango, former state director of public health.

“At a time when most nations, including Australia, and the European Union, have banned asbestos, Tamil Nadu is using copious amounts of the material. After the Kumbakonam fire tragedy, asbestos lobbyists convinced the TN government to replace all eco-friendly thatched roofing in government schools with asbestos roofs — a deadly move for the state’s children,” says Mr Gopal Krishna, founder of the Ban-Asbestos Network in India.

“India’s asbestos industry is now worth Rs 4,500 crore and some of the key private players are based in Tamil Nadu. What’s worse is that the state government runs asbestos factories under the Tamil Nadu Cements Corporation label. There are PSU plants in Virudhunagar, Perambalur, Karur and Cuddalore districts, where workers, their families and the surrounding communities are exposed to the toxic fibres,” he laments.

In addition to using asbestos in all its constructions, the government is promoting the killer material by waiving sales tax on asbestos sheets.

The Central government had banned mining of white asbestos (chrysotile) in 1989 as the asbestos dust was recognised as a severe health hazard. However, Indian companies continue to import asbestos from Canada and Russia, and employ hapless workers to mould the toxic material into the ubiquitous corrugated sheets.

On June 23 however, the Indian delegation to the ongoing Rotterdam convention in Switzerland agreed to include asbestos in their list of harmful chemicals. The Rotterdam convention is a United Nations Treaty that promotes responsible handling of hazardous chemicals, and India’s move may encourage other nations like Canada, Ukraine, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Vietnam to discourage asbestos use.

“Maybe this is the beginning of the end,” says a hopeful Gopal Krishna.

July 1, 2011
By Anisha Francis

Source URL: http://www.deccanchronicle.com/channels/cities/chennai/roofs-can-turn-carcinogenic-852

Phase out plan for asbestos industry

To
Smt Sonia Gandhi
Chairperson
United Progressive Alliance (UPA)
National Advisory Council
New Delhi

Dr Manmohan Singh
Prime Minister
Cabinet Committee on WTO Matters
Cabinet Committee on Economic Affairs
Cabinet Committee on Political Affairs
Cabinet Committee on Infrastructure
Government of India
New Delhi

Subject-Phase out plan for asbestos industry

Dear Smt. Gandhi and Dr Singh,

On behalf of Ban Asbestos Network of India (BANI), I wish to express my gratitude for your exemplary leadership in changing Government of India's position on chrysotile asbestos (white asbestos) that clears the way for its elimination in near future. I had written to you on 13th June stating " the global public opinion and Indian citizens have begun to consider you as the main obstacle to the inclusion of chrysotile asbestos in the list of UN agreement on hazardous chemicals" and urged you to urged you to "resist undue influence of chrysotile asbestos companies". I salute you for resisting the influence of twins of asbestos companies- Asbestos Cement Products Manufacturers' Association and Asbestos Information Centre.

Now I say, the global public opinion and Indian citizens consider you a supporter of ban on chrysotile asbestos unlike the Canadian Prime Minister whose act has compelled European Union (EU) to call for sanctions against Canada for derailing a United Nations protocol to protect vulnerable populations from the hazards of asbestos on June 30, 2011.
It is indeed quite sad that both national and regional media is so obsessed with vulture stories that when something as historic and dramatic as a reversal in the position of Government of India with regard to support for the demand for inclusion of chrysotile asbestos (white asbestos) in the UN list of hazardous chemicals and pesticides This happened at the 5th meeting of the Conference of Parties (COP5) to the UN's Rotterdam Convention on the PIC Procedure for Certain Hazardous Chemicals and Pesticides in International Trade in Switzerland on 22nd June, 2011

At this UN Meet, Indian delegation received was greeted with standing ovation from the delegates from all over the world. But when this happened there was deafening silence in Indian media.

It is appropriate in such a situation that the Press Council of India and Union Ministry of Information & Broadcasting seek an explanation from the news channels, newspapers, business newspapers, news magazines, radio and news websites who chose to make this global news of seminal importance because it paves the way for eventual phase out of all chrysotile asbestos based product to safeguard the health of present and future generation of Indians, a non-news in India.

I wish state that Ban Asbestos Network of India (BANI) applauds the role of Shri Jairam Ramesh, Union Ministry of Environment & Forests and Shri M. K. Alagiri, Union Ministry of Chemicals & Fertilizers at the 5th meeting of the Conference of Parties (COP5) to the UN's Rotterdam Convention on the PIC Procedure for Certain Hazardous Chemicals and Pesticides in International Trade in Switzerland on 22nd June, 2011 in the matter of listing of chrysotile asbestos (white asbestos) in the UN list of hazardous chemicals and pesticides.

BANI wishes to take the opportunity to thank you and Chairman, National Human Rights Commission, Shri L K Advani, Smt Sushma Swaraj, Shri Arun Jaitley, Union Finance Minister, Union Commerce Minister, Union Health Minister, Union Law Minister and Cabinet Secretary, Government of India for supporting the demand for inclusion of chrysotile asbestos in the UN list of hazardous chemicals. Smt. Swaraj had informed the
Parliament that all forms of asbestos causes incurable diseases as a Union Health Minister.

BANI places on record its appreciation for the work of Ms Mira Mehrishi, Additional Secretary, Ministry of Environment and Forests, Mr Manoranjan Hota, Mr Sanjay Bansal, Director, Ministry of Chemicals and Fertilizers and Ms Jyoti Singhal, Under Secretary, Ministry of Agriculture in announcing that Government of India considers chrysotile asbestos suitable for listing in the Prior Informed Consent (PIC) procedure list of hazardous chemicals.

BANI takes the opportunity ask you to suggest following logical next steps to your decision in view of the fact that both present and future generation of Indians are at risk:

1. Create an inventory of all asbestos based products and public and private buildings which are laden with asbestos

2. Start a program to remove asbestos from public and private buildings such as legislatures, courts, hospitals, schools, railway platforms, buildings of armed forces, National Human Rights Commission and State Human Rights Commissions

3. Issue an order to all the Chief Secretary of States and Administrators of Union Territories to stop construction of new asbestos based plants, stop procurement and use of asbestos based products and construction materials;

4. Issue an order to start the process of decontaminating the buildings of legislators, judges, hospitals, schools and railway platforms with immediate effect;

5. Ask all the departments of Government of India, state governments and Union Territories to submit inventory of asbestos products, list of asbestos based factories and a register of victims of asbestos related diseases;

6. Recommend to all the 300 medical colleges in India to include study enviro-occupational diseases in their courses so that they can diagnose asbestos and other enviro-occupational exposures;

7. Initiate a rehabilitation and compensation program for victims of incurable diseases caused by asbestos and other enviro-occupational exposures;

If these measures are undertaken, present and future generation of Indians will remember you as a seemingly silent but effective minister who left his mark despite all odds.

An appropriate order may be passed with regard to the above and my previous submissions to you.

I will be happy to share relevant information and documents.

Thanking You

Your Sincerely
Gopal Krishna
Ban Asbestos Network of India (BANI)
Patna/New Delhi
Mb: 9818089660
E-mail: krishna2777@gmail.com, toxicswatchalliance@gmail.com
Blog: banasbestosindia.blogspot.com
Web: www.toxicswatch.com

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Letter to Smt Sonia Gandhi and Dr Manmohan Singh on Chrysotile Asbestos

To
Smt Sonia Gandhi
Chairperson
United Progressive Alliance (UPA)
National Advisory Council
New Delhi

Dr Manmohan Singh
Prime Minister
Cabinet Committee on WTO Matters
Cabinet Committee on Economic Affairs
Cabinet Committee on Political Affairs
Cabinet Committee on Infrastructure
Government of India
New Delhi

Subject- Support listing of chrysotile asbestos in the Prior Informed Consent (PIC) procedure list of hazardous materials at the 5th meeting of the Conference of Parties (COP5) to the UN's Rotterdam Convention on the Prior Informed Consent Procedure for Certain Hazardous Chemicals and Pesticides in International Trade (20 to 24 June, 2011, Geneva)

Dear Smt Gandhi and Dr Singh,

This is an earnest appeal to you to ensure that Government of India votes to list chrysotile asbestos (white asbestos) as a hazardous substance, which it has been refusing to do so since 2004 (COP1) years under the influence of asbestos companies unmindful of the human rights violation it entails.

During 20- 24 June, 2011, India will get yet another opportunity to rectify its untenable position on hazardous nature of chrysotile asbestos in Geneva at the 5th meeting of the Conference of Parties (COP5) to the UN's Rotterdam Convention on the Prior Informed Consent Procedure for Certain Hazardous Chemicals and Pesticides in International Trade. Having succeeded in, blocking UN recommendations on, four previous occasions, there is little doubt that, chrysotile asbestos producers will repeat their obstructive, behaviour at the COP-5, Rotterdam Convention held in Geneva. It is high time Government of India detached itself from their unethical practice.

It appears that you and Chairperson of UPA has been misled about the toxicity of to chrysotile asbestos. As a consequence, the global public opinion and Indian citizens have begun to consider you as the main obstacle to the inclusion of chrysotile asbestos in the list of UN agreement on hazardous chemicals. It is public knowledge that chrysotile asbestos based plant is operating in Raebarelly, Utter Pradesh in the face of countries after countries banning it. It is also an open secret that the plant is owned by a Member of Parliament of Indian National Congress who runs a chrysotile asbestos company. In such a context,

We appeal to you to:
Resist undue influence of chrysotile asbestos companies
Support listing of chrysotile asbestos in the Prior Informed Consent (PIC) procedure list of hazardous materials at the 5th meeting of the Conference of Parties to the UN's Rotterdam Convention to be held from 20 to 24 June, 2011 in Geneva
Prohibit import, manufacture and use of asbestos based products
Institute just transition program for asbestos workers, their families and communities around asbestos plants and products
Join the United Nations in banning the production and export of chrysotile asbestos worldwide
Announce the compensation package for present and future victims of asbestos diseases
Make the asbestos companies criminally liable for knowingly exposing citizens and consumers of asbestos products
Take note of Union Minister of Health and Family Welfare Ministry's statement in 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
Take cognisance of the order of Hon’ble Supreme Court’s bench of Chief Justice of India dated January 21, 2011
Take note of The White Asbestos (Ban on Use and Import) Bill, 2009 introduced in Rajya Sabha and the order of the Kerala State Human Rights Commission dated 31st January 2009 banning the use of asbestos in schools and hospitals
Consider the deliberations of the International Conference on "Emerging Trends in Preventing Occupational Respiratory Diseases and Cancers in Workplace" at Maulana Azad Medical College, New Delhi in March 2011 following which New Delhi Declaration Seeking Elimination of all forms of Asbestos including Chrysotile from India on 24 March, 2011
Take note of the fact that 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 laryngeal cancer
Recall that the World Health Organisation's latest estimate notes that asbestos already claims 107,000 lives a year. Even that conservative estimate means every five minutes around the clock a person dies of asbestos related disease. The ongoing use of the asbestos fibre kills at least 300 people every day
Respect the scientific process of the Rotterdam Convention and approve the recommendations of the Chemical Review Committee to list chrysotile asbestos in the PIC list of hazardous substances
Recall the verdict even by the World Trade Organization (WTO) which validated the rights of Member States to prohibit the import and use of goods which contain carcinogenic substances such as chrysotile asbestos (white asbestos). On March 12, 2001 the WTO's Appellate Body (AB) issued its ruling in the case of Canada vs. the European Communities Measures Affecting Asbestos and Asbestos-Containing Products
Refer to World Bank's Asbestos Good Practice Guidelines. These Guidelines, as well as its earlier Environmental, Health & Safety General Guidelines, require that the use of asbestos must be avoided in new construction in projects funded by the World Bank around the world. The Guidelines also provide information on available safer alternatives to asbestos.

It brings discredit to the scientific temper of India as a nation that it has failed to factor in the fact that asbestos is banned in 55 countries, including the European Union and Japan in its policy making. India is the largest importer of asbestos, according to the United Nations Commodity Trade Statistics Database. Most of it goes into making corrugated roofing sheets as building material.

In such a backdrop, it is germane to ask why is Government of India still a leading importer of asbestos?

It is submitted that Canadian government which exports chrysotile asbestos to India has removed it from Canadian Parliament and its Prime Minister's Home.

Believe it or not, India has technically banned mining of asbestos (including chrysotile) but allows import, manufacture and use of asbestos based products which are proven to be deadly!

The UN's Rotterdam Convention on the Prior Informed Consent Procedure for Certain Hazardous Chemicals and Pesticides in International Trade is an important tool to protect human health and the environment by controlling trade in hazardous chemicals and pesticides that meet the requirements of the Convention.

The Chemical Review Committee plays a critical role by ensuring that the review mechanism of the Convention is used objectively and that science is the cornerstone of the review process. If the recommendations of the Chemical Review Committee are obstructed (which India has done since 2004), the Convention will fail in achieving its mandate. Instead of being based on science, public health decisions will be based on political expediency.

It is indeed unbecoming of a small number of Parties to the UN agreement (like Government of India), who have been misguided by commercial interest of chrysotile asbestos companies to the Convention hostage by refusing to cooperate with the scientific process of the Convention and the will of the overwhelming majority or Parties.

It does not behove the stature of Government of India to wield a veto over the Convention against the listing of chrysotile asbestos as a hazardous substance and deny itself the sovereign right to utilize the prior informed consent procedure. When a hazardous substance is listed under Annex III of the Convention, Parties like Government of India has the sovereign right to utilize the procedure.

It is an act of immorality of Government of Canada to have prevailed upon Government of India to obstruct the recommendation of the Chemical Review Committee regarding chrysotile asbestos to protect the blind lust for commercial profit at the cost of the health of Indian citizens and workers.

It is quite sad that Government of Canada has misinformed and misguided Government of India to deny itself the right to control its own borders from hazardous substances under the manifest influence of chrysotile asbestos companies.

The Rotterdam Convention is based on the principle of environmental justice. It has been witnessed that increasingly, hazardous chemicals and pesticides that are banned or severely restricted in industrialized countries are being shipped to developing countries or countries with economies in transition, where resources to safely monitor and manage these dangerous substances are often lacking or nonexistent.

The Rotterdam Convention addresses this inequality in exposure to environmental and human risk by empowering countries with the right to Prior Informed Consent. All Parties to the Convention have a legal and moral obligation to support the right to Prior Informed Consent in the Convention as an important tool for overcoming the widening gap.

In such a backdrop, it is submitted that in an order dated January 21, 201, Hon’ble Supreme Court’s bench of Chief Justice of India Justice S.H. Kapadia, Justice K.S. Panicker Radhakrishnan and Justice Swatanter Kumar has 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.”

The Bench of Chief Justice of India 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.”

It is also noteworthy that 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.

You will agree that human biology is same everywhere if the asbestos is deemed hazardous in the developed countries, it must be deemed so in India too.
In view of the above, it is your solemn duty to protect Indian citizens from the the exposure of fibers of chrysotile asbestos. In pursuance of the same as a first step there is a compelling reason for Government of India to support listing of chrysotile asbestos in the Prior Informed Consent (PIC) procedure list of hazardous materials at the 5th meeting of the Conference of Parties (COP5) to the UN's Rotterdam Convention on the Prior Informed Consent Procedure for Certain Hazardous Chemicals and Pesticides in International Trade (20 to 24 June, 2011, Geneva).

We will be happy to meet and share additional information.

Your Sincerely
Gopal Krishna
Ban Asbestos Network of India (BANI)
ToxicsWatch Alliance (TWA)
New Delhi
Mb: 9818089660
E-mail: krishna2777@gmail.com, toxicswatchalliance@gmail.com
Blog: banasbestosindia.blogspot.com
Web: www.toxicswatch.com

Cc
President of India
Chairman, National Human Rights Commission
Vice President of India
Speaker, Lok Sabha
Union Finance Minister
Union Commerce Minister
Union Health Minister
Union Law Minister
Union Environment Minister
Union Agriculture Minister
Cabinet Secretary, Government of India

Azhagiri's decision about Asbestos appreciated

Azhagiri's decision about Asbestos appreciated
N. ASOKAN | Chennai

The Union minister for Chemicals and Fertilizers, MK Azhagiri, has received a rare appreciation from NGOs which normally complain about the functions of government. His Ministry's decision in a global forum to reverse a years long stand about Asbestos has fetched him the appreciation.

In the 5th meeting of the Conference of Parties (COP5) to the UN's Rotterdam Convention on the Prior Informed Consent (PIC) Procedure for Certain Hazardous Chemicals and Pesticides in International Trade in Switzerland on 22nd June, 2011, India has given its consensus for the listing of Asbestos in the UN hazardous and harmful chemicals list.

The moment the Indian decision was announced, the gathering comprised of international delegates gave a half a minute standing ovation. Now Canada, which is the largest exporter of Chryosotile asbestos (White asbestos) is opposing this move which means after Asbestos is listed in the PIC procedure, it is mandatory for the exporting country to provide the data about the asbestos mineral that is being exported.

In a letter to M.K. Azhagiri, Ban Asbestos Network of India (BANI) and Toxics Watch Alliance (TWA) have expressed their appreciation to him and his team of officials in the Ministry. ''BANI and TWA salute you for resisting the influence of twins of asbestos companies- Asbestos Cement Products Manufacturers' Association and Asbestos Information Center”, the letter reads. It further states that this decision clears the way for the elimination of Asbestos in the near future.

They have also made some recommendations to the Ministry which include removing of asbestos from public and private buildings, banning the use of asbestos based products and initiating a rehabilitation programme for those affected with asbestosis. ''Azhagiri has restored the reputation of Indian Government by taking a decision based on Science. He has successfully resisted the powerful Asbestos Industry lobby," Gopal Krishna, an Environmentalist associated with BANI told TSI.

According to World Health Organisation's latest estimate, asbestos claims 107,000 lives a year. NGOs and activists all over the World are calling for stopping its use.

The Sunday Indian
June 30, 2011

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