Ban Asbestos Network of India (BANI) 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, email@example.com
Saturday, September 8, 2012
Consequences of procurement and use of lung cancer causing asbestos based products
Government of NCT of Delhi
Subject-Consequences of procurement and use of lung cancer causing asbestos based products
With reference to my previous letters, the notice of NHRC sent to Chief Secretary, Delhi Government and New Delhi Declaration Seeking Elimination of Asbestos from India, this is to draw your urgent attention towards the news report 'Chinese car maker Chery announces Brazil recall of 12,500 vehicles for asbestos' (Washington Post, August 30, 2012) revealing recall of cars sold after asbestos was found in engine and exhaust gaskets by Chery International, a Chinese automaker. This follows ban on entry of China-made cars containing incurable cancer causing asbestos in its structure in Australia. Australia is one of the 53 countries that have banned the import of asbestos. India is yet to ban it. Almost all the vehicles in Delhi are laden with asbestos based components. There is no building in Delhi which is asbestos free.
I submit that given the fact that health is State subject, you can immediately initiate steps to stop procurement of all asbestos based products to safeguard public health of residents of the national capital. Delhi government can pave the way for the whole country to follow its example in the field of prevention of adverse environmental health effects. Delhi has the potential to become the first asbestos free state in South Asia.
I submit that NHRC issued a notice to State Government on July 6, 2011 and it issued a statement on June 5, 2012 revealing that Delhi Government has not filed its status report on victims of asbestos in Delhi despite reminders. The NHRC has asked the State to Govt explain as to why asbestos should not be banned.
I submit that taking cognizance of threats to life and public health; more than 50 countries have banned production, use, manufacture and trade of the hazardous mineral fiber, ASBESTOS. These countries are: Algeria, Czech Republic, Iceland, Malta, Seychelles, Argentina, Denmark, Ireland, Mozambique, Slovakia, Australia, Egypt, Israel, Netherlands, Slovenia, Austria, Estonia, Italy, New Caledonia, South Africa, Bahrain, Finland, Japan, Norway, Spain, Belgium, France, Jordan, Oman, Sweden, Brunei, Gabon, South Korea, Poland, Switzerland, Bulgaria, Germany, Kuwait, Portugal, Turkey, Chile, Greece, Latvia, Qatar, United Kingdom, Croatia, Honduras, Lithuania, Romania, Uruguay, Cyprus, Hungary, Luxembourg and Saudi Arabia. All the 27 countries of European Union have banned it.
I wish to inform you that on August 15 August, 2012 news came from Australia that an Australian importer has recalled 23,000 cars made by China's Great Wall Motor Co Ltd and Chery Automobile Co after deadly asbestos fibres were found in engines and exhaust gaskets. The importer, Ateco Automotive has been asked by Australian Competition and Consumer Commission to replace affected components in the cars. Dealers have also been asked to stop selling the asbestos laden cars.
I submit that this news is quite relevant to our country because disregarding disastrous public health consequences, trade, manufacture and consumption of asbestos based products is rising at an alarming rate due to fiscal incentives of the central government since 1982.
I submit that the World Health Assembly Resolution on cancer prevention has urged the countries to pay special attention to cancers for which avoidable exposure is a factor, including exposure to chemicals at the workplace. The World Health Assembly has requested WHO to carry out a global campaign for the elimination of asbestos-related diseases. WHO Resolution is aimed at eliminating asbestos-related diseases is particularly targeted at countries still using chrysotile asbestos, in addition to assistance in relation to exposures arising from historical use of all forms of asbestos.
I submit that besides mining of asbestos of all kinds, trade in asbestos waste (dust & fibers) is banned in India. In June 1993, central government stopped the renewal of existing mining leases of asbestos. The mining activity was banned by Union Ministry of Mines. It is strange that while mining of asbestos is banned in our country due to adverse health impact, the same is being imported from Russia, Canada and other countries. It may be noted that Canada has a no home use policy and it is investing to decontaminate its built environment of asbestos.
I submit that UN headquarters has been decontaminated of asbestos besides Canadian House of Commons. It is about time Indian buildings like its legislatures, courts, schools, hospitals etc also became asbestos free.
I submit that the term asbestos refers to a group of naturally occurring fibrous minerals. The principal forms of asbestos are chrysotile (white asbestos) and crocidolite (blue asbestos). Other forms are amosite, anthophylite, tremolite and actinolite. It is noteworthy that chrysotile asbestos represents 100% of the global asbestos trade.
I submit that according to a Fact sheet No.343 of World Health Organisation (WHO) titled ‘Asbestos: elimination of asbestos-related diseases’ dated July 2010, “All forms of asbestos are carcinogenic to humans, and may cause mesothelioma and cancer of the lung, larynx and ovary. Asbestos exposure is also responsible for other diseases, such as asbestosis (fibrosis of the lungs), pleural plaques, thickening and effusions.” The harmful effects of asbestos of all kinds have been established conclusively.
I submit that the Indian Mines Ministry has consistently informed the Parliament that “In view of the hazardous effect of asbestos mining on health, the Government has decided not to grant any new lease for mining of asbestos and minerals found along with asbestos. It does not renew the existing mining leases of asbestos. In view of the deleterious effect of asbestos mining on the health of the workers, the government has ordered the State governments in 1986 not to grant any new mining lease for asbestos (including chrysotile variety) in the country.
It is noteworthy that in 1995, Supreme Court of India held that “The development of the carcinogenic risk due to asbestos or any other carcinogenic agent does not require continuous exposure. The cancer risk does not cease when the exposure to the carcinogenic agent ceases, but rather the individual carries the increased risk for the remaining years of life. The exposure to asbestos and the resultant long tragic chain of adverse medical, legal and societal consequences, reminds the legal and social responsibility of the employer or producer not to endanger the workmen or the community or the society. He or it is not absolved of the inherent responsibility to the exposed workmen or the society at large. They have the responsibility-legal, moral and social to provide protective measures to the workmen and to the public or all those who are exposed to the harmful consequences of their products. Mere adoption of regulations for the enforcement has no real meaning and efficiency without professional, industrial and governmental resources and legal and moral determination to implement such regulations.”
I submit that unmindful of this asbestos has become so widespread in the country that on December 9, 2009 even President’s helicopter hit an abandoned asbestos roof.
I submit that it high time India stopped procuring raw asbestos fibers from Russia’s Ural Asbestos Mining & Ore Dressing Company, the world's largest manufacturer. It should rescind its asbestos trade related agreements with Canada, Kazakhstan and Brazil.
I submit that public health experts and environmental and occupational health specialists have argued for long that asbestos should be buried not people. The continued use of asbestos in India is bound to lead to a public health disaster of asbestos-related illness and premature death for decades to come. This will be repeating the epidemic that is witnessed today in developed countries that used asbestos in the past.
I submit that both International Labour Organization (ILO) and WHO recognize that the most efficient way to eliminate asbestos-related diseases is to stop the use of all types of asbestos, replace asbestos with safer substitutes, take measures to prevent exposure to asbestos in place and during asbestos removal and improve early diagnosis, treatment, social and medical rehabilitation of asbestos-related diseases and to establish registries of people with past and/or current exposures to asbestos. ILO also passed a resolution seeking elimination of future usage of asbestos of all forms in June 2006. How can such glaring scientific and medical facts be ignored?
I submit that National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) has issued notices to all the State Governments, Union Territories and concerned ministries of central government to file the status of asbestos disease victims and asked them why it should not be banned. The Commission has underlined that keeping inmates under asbestos roof is harmful and alternative roofs should be used. But so far only the States of Mizoram, Nagaland and the National Institute of Occupational Health Ahmedabad have submitted the reports. NHRC’s intervention has been sought for a ban on the use of chrysotile asbestos (white asbestos), which is hazardous for the health of people and causes various incurable diseases. While Government has rightly banned mining of asbestos, yet it allowed its import and that too from the countries like Canada which did not prefer its domestic use.
I submit that unmindful of such developments in the world and within the country, it appears that Ministry of Commerce is unable to resist asbestos industry’s influence in public interest and desist from signing the "Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement" (CEPA) with Canada that allows the export of cancer causing Canadian asbestos to India. The New Democratic Party (NDP) of Canada, the official Opposition party has revealed the efforts of Canadian Prime Minister, Stephen Harper government to eliminate trade tariffs on exports of lethal Canadian asbestos to India. “It is a disgrace that the Harper government has opposed the global effort to ban this substance,” NDP said in a release dated December 5, 2011.
I submit that Quebec provincial government’s $58 million subsidy to re-open the Jeffrey asbestos mine reveals that asbestos traders remain callous towards the public health crises that has emerged due to asbestos exposure. Jeffrey mine plans to export 200,000 tonnes of asbestos annually to Asian countries including India for the next 25 to 50 years.
I submit that Québec's Medical and Health authorities are also opposed to this asbestos mining project. Their call on the Québec government to stop the mining and export of asbestos has been ignored.
I submit that besides WHO and ILO the International Trade Union Confederation that represents 176 million workers in 151 countries have called for an end to the use of all forms of asbestos, including chrysotile asbestos.
I submit that asbestos is claiming more than 100,000-150,000 cancer deaths a year worldwide.
I submit that while Canadian government is spending millions of dollars to remove chrysotile and other forms of asbestos from public buildings. This removal is underway even in Quebec’s schools, hospitals and buildings in order to protect the lives of the Quebec people.
I submit that Central Governments and State Governments should resist the tremendous influence of Chrysotile asbestos cement products manufacturers association in India, global asbestos industry in general and Canadian asbestos industry in particular. Cabinet Committee on Economic Affairs besides Planning Commission and State Governments need to coordinate efforts to eliminate asbestos and asbestos based products from the country.
I submit that the International Commission on Occupational Health (ICOH) has called for a global ban on the mining, sale and use of all forms of asbestos and the elimination of asbestos-related diseases.
I submit that there is international consensus has recommended that a total ban on production and use of all forms of asbestos is the best way to eliminate the occurrence of asbestos-related diseases.
I submit that Delhi Government has banned use of asbestos roofs for new schools but sadly the same has not been extended to other buildings and products. In the meanwhile villagers’ protest in Muzaffarpur and Vaishali in Bihar has led to closure of asbestos factories. The construction of lung cancer causing white asbestos plants in Madhubani, West Champaran and production in Bhojpur districts is also facing resistance.
I submit that villagers are protesting against the proposed hazardous asbestos cement roofing factories in Sambalpur and Bargarh district of Odisha. As a result the Sambalpur plant has been stopped. Protests against asbestos factories in states like Himachal Pradesh and Andhra Pradesh is also going on.
I wish to draw your attention towards the recommendations of Kerala State Human Rights Commission. It made three recommendations banning use of asbestos roofs in its order dated January 31, 2009. The recommendations are: “a) The State Government will replace asbestos roofs of all school buildings under its control with country tiles in a phased manner. b) The Government will take steps to see that the schools run under the private management also replace the asbestos roofs with country tiles by fixing a time frame. c) The Government should see that in future no new school is allowed to commence its functions with asbestos roofs.” All State Human Rights Commissions ought to initiate steps to make their states asbestos free by adopting it.
In such a scenario, it is quite disturbing that asbestos cement based building materials are being used in the Union Rural Development Ministry’s Indira Awas Yojna. Central government’s Rs 10, 000 crore worth annual housing flagship scheme endangers the rural poor as it is using carcinogenic asbestos sheets to keep the cost below the ceiling of Rs 45,000 per house under the scheme. Government should put a stay on use of such hazardous building materials and adopt alternative materials for both rural and urban housing schemes like Rajiv Awas Yojna. A NHRC member has objected to such cruel disregard for the lives of the unsuspecting poor who is bound to get exposed to killer fibers of asbestos.
I submit that incessant campaign seeking asbestos free India has persuaded several ministries of Government of India and other agencies to discourage and phase out white asbestos trade. But the fact remains India remains one of the key consumers of asbestos from Quebec, Russia and other countries. Years of efforts by citizen groups are beginning to yield results.
I submit that Union Ministry of Labour revealed that that the “Government of India is considering the ban on use of chrysotile asbestos in India to protect the workers and the general population against primary and secondary exposure to Chrysotile form of Asbestos" in concept paper by Union Ministry of Labour at the two-day 5th India-EU Joint Seminar on “Occupational Safety and Health” during 19-20 September, 2011. The Union Ministry of Chemicals took the right step on June 21, 2011 when it disassociated India from Canada and other asbestos producing countries in order to get white asbestos listed in the UN list of hazardous materials. Union Ministry of Railways is working to make all railway platforms in India asbestos free. The Vision Statement on Environmental Health of Union Ministry of Environment & Forests’ reads: “Alternatives to asbestos may be used to the extent possible and use of asbestos may be phased out”. The Union Ministry of Finance has announced that asbestos related diseases will be covered under Rashtriya Swasthya Bima Yojana but this is hardly sufficient in the absence of environmental and occupational infrastructure. It is high time government withdrew fiscal incentives from the asbestos industry to discourage use of asbestos products instead of promoting it.
I submit that disregarding the epidemic of asbestos related diseases due to past exposure, new factories are coming up all over the country. White asbestos based business enterprises appear to have misled political parties that are ruling in the central and state governments into ignoring ban on it by almost all the developed countries.
I submit that Dow Chemicals Company has set aside $2.2 billion in compensation fund to address future asbestos-related liabilities arising out of acquisition of Union Carbide Corporation and its Indian investments in 1999. Many manufacturers of asbestos-containing products have gone bankrupt in USA as a result of asbestos litigation. Government should also set up a compensation fund to provide compensation to the asbestos victims of past exposure by making asbestos based companies liable for knowingly exposing workers, consumers and citizens to asbestos fibers.
In short, there is an urgent need to boycott asbestos products, phase out asbestos and asbestos based products, decontaminate asbestos laden building and products, to prepare a register of asbestos workers and victims of asbestos related diseases, to build environmental and occupational health infrastructure, to identify asbestos laden buildings, to prepare an inventory asbestos laden products, to set up a compensation fund for occupational and non-occupational victims of asbestos exposure.
I submit that malignant asbestos-related diseases include lung cancer, mesothelioma and cancers of the ovary and larynx.) There is sufficient evidence that amphibole asbestos (e.g., crocidolite) and serpentine asbestos (e.g., chrysotile) both cause malignancies of the lung, pleura and peritoneum.) Non- malignant asbestos-related diseases include asbestosis and pleural abnormalities such as pleural thickening, pleural calcification and pleural effusion.)
I also urge you ensure that your government urgently initiates efforts aimed at primary, secondary and tertiary prevention of asbestos-related diseases through country-specific “National Programmes for Elimination of Asbestos-Related Diseases” in line with ILO and WHO guidelines.
I also wish to take the opportunity to seek an appointment for a delegation to meet you to share relevant documents and insights in this regard.
ToxicsWatch Alliance (TWA)
Union Minister of Environment & Forests
Union Minister of Health & Family Welfare
Chief Secretary, Government of Delhi
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