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

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Internal dispatches from UN meeting show how Canada derailed asbestos listing

Internal dispatches from UN meeting show how Canada derailed asbestos listing

Ever wonder how Canada goes from a silent observer at a United Nations meeting to lone opponent to label chrysotile asbestos as a hazardous material under the UN’s Rotterdam Convention? Well, look no further.

After Postmedia broke the news last June that Canada derailed international efforts to list chrysotile asbestos on Annex III of the convention just as a consensus was emerging (after being accused of letting other countries to do its “dirty work”), I wanted to get my hands on the real-time updates from the plenary floor in Geneva from the head of the Canadian delegation, DFAIT’s David Sproule. The partly redacted dispatches, released under access to information, are in.

Here’s the run-down on how Canada got the job done to keep chrysotile asbestos (mined in Quebec and exported to India and other developing countries) off Annex III. Such a listing requires “Prior Informed Consent” before countries can export it, meaning importing countries are informed of the hazards and can refuse it if they believe they can’t handle it safety (sounds like Canada’s safe use policy, no? Health Canada bureaucrats think so.) Consensus is needed for any listing, so any one country party to the convention can stymie a listing.

It sure looks like Canada stayed quiet as long as it could.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011 “Day 2 Update”

- Sproule informs DFAIT colleagues that a handful of parties to the convention “indicated that they cannot support listing (Kazakstan, Sudan, India, Kyrgystan, Ukraine, Vietnam) citing a view that the danger of the substance has not been established and the safety of alternatives has not been investigated.” Sproule adds that these countries were countered by 19 others speaking in favour of listing, including Australia and the European Union. Given these opposing positions, a contact group will likely be created to see if consensus can be achieved, Sproule writes.

My translation: looks like things are unfolding according to plan (or at least Plan A).

Wednesday, June 22, 2011 at 6:42 AM “URGENT”

- Sproule tells colleagues in Ottawa that “India has changed its position and will support the listing of chrysotile. India is Canada’s largest customer of chrysotile. Up until this point, it appeared that India was the strongest opponent of listing. This leaves Kazakhstan, Kyrgystan, Ukraine and Vietnam opposing the listing. A small group has been formed that is pressuring these parties to change their position as well.” (Three redacted lines follow.)

My translation: Uh oh, India has flipped, but Canada still has cover with a few countries still opposed to the listing.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011 at 10:46 AM “URGENT”

- Sproule reports that Canada is in the contact group to see if a consensus can emerge to list chrysotile asbestos as a hazardous material.

My translation: Canada is keeping a close eye to make sure there’s no consensus.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011 at 10:58 AM “URGENT: Canada has opposed listing”

-Sproule breaks the news (and Canada’s silence) to Ottawa colleagues after “Ukrainian spokesperson for the group changed his position.”

My translation: Canada has to break silence when rest of countries follow India’s lead (Plan B).

Thursday, June 23, 2011 “Day 4 Report”

- “This afternoon features a rough and tumble plenary” at which Canada confirmed “our opposition to listing.” Canada also reminded the plenary “about the importance of respecting differences of opinion and the results (consensus rules); and whether delegations like it or not, the convention gives the Convention of the Parties and not the Chemical Review the final authority on listing.” (Context: the convention’s expert scientific committee had recommended that chrysotile asbestos, a known carcinogen already banned in many developed countries, be placed on Annex III based on the best available science.)

My translation: Canada is getting tough ride, but pushes back, saying Canada is not beholden to scientific advice of the convention’s experts.

So, there you have it. See you at the next meeting of the Conference of Parties. In the meantime, enjoy the talking points on the safe use of asbestos.

Sarah Schmidt, February 22, 2012.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Debate on asbestos marks Senate session

The Senate’s Feb. 15 meeting was marked by a vigorous debate over a motion urging University officials to issue a public statement clarifying McGill’s position on asbestos research.

While the resolution was ultimately tabled, pending the outcome of a preliminary review of the research, the animated debate underscored a dilemma raised by the issue: several senators argued that it was important to take a stance in order to defend the University’s reputation and address an important public-health issue, while others worried that an official University position on any scientific issue would undercut academic freedom.

The debate followed recent allegations in the media that retired Emeritus Professor, J. Corbett McDonald, may have allowed his research to be influenced by the asbestos industry. Those allegations prompted the Faculty of Medicine last week to launch a preliminary review of McDonald’s work.

In a Feb. 9 message to the McGill community, Dean of Medicine David Eidelman said Rebecca Fuhrer, Chair of the Dept. of Epidemiology, Biostatistics and Occupational Health, was undertaking a review “to ensure that the research of Prof. McDonald was conducted according to the rigorous scientific standards for which McGill is known.” The outcome of the review will determine whether a more detailed investigation is needed.

Chrysotile mortality rates

Starting in 1966, McDonald and colleagues began an epidemiological study investigating the mortality rates of about 11,000 Quebec miners and millers of chrysotile, a type of asbestos fibre. They published the findings in a series of research articles in international peer-reviewed journals from 1971 to 1998. The research was funded in part by the Institute of Occupational and Environmental Health of the Quebec Asbestos Mining Association, “a fact that Prof. McDonald acknowledged clearly in peer-reviewed published journal articles,” Eidelman said.

A recent CBC documentary stated that McDonald’s “scientific studies suggested other possible culprits for the cancer being found in the asbestos workers in Quebec.”

In his message, Eidelman noted that “McDonald suggested that the health risks of chrysotile asbestos could be greatly minimized through lessening exposure, and that chrysotile was significantly safer than other types of asbestos fibres. Nonetheless, his published work also demonstrates a clear link between higher rates of mortality and the exposure to asbestos that the 11,000 men received during the course of their employment. Thus, Prof. McDonald’s work demonstrated that asbestos, including chrysotile asbestos, is a carcinogen associated with both lung cancer and mesothelioma.”

The Senate debate involved a resolution, proposed by Prof. Edith Zorychta, of the Faculty of Medicine, and Law Prof. Richard Janda, to “strongly encourage University officials to issue a public statement clarifying McGill’s position on asbestos research, which indicates that: a) none of the research on asbestos at McGill refutes the international scientific consensus that chrysotile can cause lung cancer, mesothelioma and asbestosis; and b) McGill research does not document that chrysotile use is safe in other countries.

In presenting the resolution, Zorychta said the public accusations concerning asbestos research at McGill have been disturbing to members of the University community. A concise, factual statement by University officials on the matter could help “put to rest some misconceptions” stemming from media coverage, she argued.

Motion tabled

Eidelman said that while he was sympathetic to the intent of the motion, he had concerns about the University taking a position on social issues; instead, he suggested, professors and students should be the ones to present and defend opinions, backing them up with the highest-quality data.

Dean of Law Daniel Jutras echoed Eidelman’s concern, saying that it touched on the issue of academic freedom. Others said they didn’t have the scientific expertise to weigh in on the specifics of the controversy.

Janda, for his part, argued that McGill’s good name is being used by government and chrysotile-industry officials to promote their interests – and that the University has a responsibility as a public institution to protect public health.

Senators ultimately agreed to table the motion until Dean Eidelman makes known the outcome of the preliminary review.

McGill Reporter,The official news source of McGill University
February 16, 2012
http://publications.mcgill.ca/reporter/2012/02/debate-on-asbestos-marks-senate-session/

TWA welcomes Italian criminal court’s verdict against asbestos company

Press Statement

TWA welcomes Italian criminal court’s verdict against asbestos company

Upcoming Union Budget should provide for phase out of asbestos products in India

Make Indira Awas Yojna, asbestos free


New Delhi 18/2/2012: ToxicsWatch Alliance (TWA) welcomes the guilty verdict of a court in Turin, Italy that provides legal remedy for a public health and environmental disaster that claimed thousands of lives due to the criminal callousness of asbestos company and calls on Union Finance Minister to provide a road map for the phase out of asbestos products in the upcoming Budget Session of the Indian Parliament. The 3-judge panel sentenced the owners of asbestos company, the defendants to 16 years in jail on February 13, 2012.

It is noteworthy that the birth place of Chairperson of Indian National Congress led United Progressive Alliance, Sonia Gandhi is in the Turin province. Italy banned asbestos in 1992 still its effect is being felt as a consequence of past exposures. While Italy has banned asbestos, manufacturing of asbestos products is rising at alarming rate in India in general and in Rae Bareli, her parliamentary constituency in particular.

Italian Health Minister Renato Balduzzi has applauded the verdict by the Turin court as "without exaggeration, truly historic". The silence of India’s Union Health Minister in the matter of public health crisis due to asbestos exposure is deafening.

The Turin court ordered asbestos company, Eternit’s owners to pay a total of €95 million in compensation to the families of the victims, to the town of Casale, trade unions and other parties. Damages are also to be determined in a separate civil proceeding to victims’ relatives and to a number of local authorities. TWA hopes Indian Parliament will equip the legal system so that they can provide remedies to present and future victims of asbestos fibers.

This verdict came in the criminal trial of 64 years old Swiss Stephan Schmidheiny and 89 year old lead Belgian shareholder Louis de Cartier who owned and managed a company called Eternit that made asbestos-cement building products in many countries in Europe, South America, and South Africa. Eternit closed its operations in Italy in 1986.

The verdict was read out by Judge Giuseppe Casalbore after 66 hearings. Schmidheiny and Cartier were accused of causing “permanent health and environmental catastrophe” at their asbestos based plants. The victims were exposed to asbestos fibers.

TWA appreciates the conviction of these two billionaires and considers it a milestone in the battle to eradicate asbestos fibers that is still used in the construction industry in most of the Asian countries despite ban in 55 countries world over. This is the biggest ever trial on asbestos related deaths and the first involving criminal charges brought against asbestos company’s owners. Similar fate awaits the owners of asbestos companies in India which exercise an incestuous influence over ruling political parties and exacting fiscal incentives from Union Finance Ministry at least since 1982.

The trial has been going on since 2009. Schmidheiny has a net worth of about $3 billion and has reportedly spent over $10 million a year on lawyers and public relations representatives in this case. This proves that no amount of expenditure on public relations and advertisements can hide the truth about asbestos related incurable diseases such as Asbestosis, Lung Cancer and Mesothelioma.

It has come to light that in the northern town of Casale Monferrato, where the largest of Eternit’s four plants were located since 1907, 1,800 people have died of asbestos-related diseases, including some 800 who never even worked for the asbestos company. Every week in the small town of 35,000, doctors discover a new case of pleural mesothelioma, a rare form of cancer caused by exposure to asbestos fibers. The company never handled disposal of asbestos waste (dust and fibers) in environmentally sound manner and gifted it to workers families.

In India, although trade in asbestos waste (dust and fibers) is banned under the Hazardous Waste Management Rules, there no capacity in the private or public sector to handle end of life asbestos products in an environmentally sound manner. One can witness countless locations even in the national capital where asbestos waste is strewn around in the streets, at the Railways Stations, Metros, hospitals and schools.

In such a backdrop, Commerce Ministry should desist from signing the "Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement" with Canada that allows import of Canadian asbestos to India. Incidentally, work is on to decontaminate the offices and homes of members of the Canadian House of Commons which have asbestos. The government has stated publicly that it does not favour new asbestos plants in the country any more. "The Government of India is considering the ban on use of chrysotile asbestos in India to protect workers and the general population against primary and secondary exposure," a concept paper by the Ministry of Labour said in September 2011.

Union Environment Ministry s Vision Statement on Environment and Human Health says, "Alternatives to asbestos may be used to the extent possible and use of asbestos may be phased out." Union Ministry of Chemicals urged the government to disassociate itself from countries like Russia and Canada who derailed the international consensus that could have categorised chrysotile asbestos as a hazardous substance. If the Finance Minister takes cognizance of the global and national developments, the Union Budget may see the beginning of the end of the asbestos manufacturing industry in India given the fact that it’s mining is already banned by Union Mines Ministry.

It high time Union Rural Development Minister took cognizance of it and made its Indira Awas Yojna, asbestos free. Inhalation of asbestos fibres can cause serious illnesses including malignant lung cancer or mesothelioma and asbestosis, a chronic lung disease. The year 2011 will be remembered for a successful villagers' struggle against an asbestos plant in Chainpur-Bishunpur in Marwan block of Muzaffarpur district, Bihar that led to its closure. Bihar State Human Rights Commission has announced the winding up of the killer plant. Several such plants are facing resistance in Bihar and across the country. Kerala Human Rights Commission had banned the use of asbestos roofs in schools and hospitals in me state and the National Human Rights Commission had issued notices to central ministries, states and union territories seeking a report on asbestos related incurable diseases and on why asbestos should not be banned.

It is a bizarre and inexplicable economic logic to allow Russia and Canada and other asbestos producers to endanger the health of present and future generation of Indian citizens even as the developed world saves its citizens from the killer fibers of asbestos.

For Details: Gopal Krishna, Convener, ToxicsWatch Alliance (TWA), Mb: 09818089660, Web: banasbestosindia.blogspot.com, E-mail: krishna1715@gmail.com
More information on the Eternit trial from the Italian Asbestos Victims Families Casale (in English) here: http://asbestosinthedock.ning.com/

Friday, February 17, 2012

Widow urges Quebec to keep asbestos mines closed

By Kristy Kirkup, Parliamentary Bureau

OTTAWA - An Ontario woman whose husband died due to a painful asbestos-related illness brought her crusade against the mined mineral to Ottawa on Thursday.

Margaret Buist, 73, of Sarnia, has launched a postcard campaign to urge federal and provincial leaders to stop "promoting" the production of crysotile asbestos.

Buist's 58-year-old husband died to an asbestos-related disease in 1996. She said she promised her husband one thing during his health battle - when he cried, she didn't and when she cried, he didn't.

"I don't know how we did what we did," she said, stating her husband was exposed to asbestos while he worked for Imperial Oil.

Canada's last asbestos mine closed recently in Quebec due to financial and environmental issues - marking the end of a 130-year-old industry - but a Montreal asbestos trader is trying to reopen a mine in Asbestos, Que.

Quebec Premier Jean Charest said he would grant a $58-million government loan to support the project to kick start the failed mine, but the deal has not been approved yet.

Montreal-based asbestos businessman Balit Chadha is hopeful the project will be given the green light following a third-party safety audit. Chadha's company has already started reviewing resumes to hire 60 workers.

Buist was joined at an Ottawa news conference on Thursday by NDP MPs Pat Martin and Francois Lapointe to protest Charest's support for the project.

Martin said the Criminal Code of Canada should be amended to address what he calls "murder" by the asbestos industry.

The federal government maintains it has promoted "safe use of chrysotile domestically and internationally for more than 30 years" and scientific reviews confirm fibres can be used safely under controlled conditions.

Martin said an inventory of asbestos is still available from the last Canadian asbestos mine, but he said the industry will die "a natural death" if reopening the Quebec mine is rejected.

Kristy.Kirkup@sunmedia.ca

On Twitter: @kkirkup

Toronto Sun, February 16, 2012 http://www.torontosun.com/2012/02/16/widow-urges-que-to-keep-asbestos-mines-closed

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

White Asbestos-a time bomb for the lungs

Asbestos is a proven carcinogen and banned in many countries. The establishment in India too has expressed its concern over the manufacture and use of the mineral. Yet, new asbestos plants are being sanctioned. ECO visits Bhojpur in Bihar, where three new asbestos plants have come up.

By: Gopal Krishna, Bhojpur (Bihar)

Villagers of Bihar s Bhojpur are up in protest. They want the three new asbestos plants in their neighbourhood to shut down. They do not want the health hazards that exposure to asbestos entails as all forms of asbestos are proven carcinogens. But then, perhaps these villagers are not as aware as the state government and asbestos companies.

"Human biology is the same everywhere. How can a chemical be deemed poisonous in one district and non-poisonous in another district of the same state," the Bhojpur protestors are asking. They are emboldened by the fact that a similar 'death factory' was recently forced to shut shop in nearby Muzaffarpur district.

2011 will be remembered for a successful villagers' struggle against an asbestos plant in Chainpur-Bishunpur in Muzaffarpur district that led to its closure. Earlier, Kerala Human Rights Commission had banned the use of asbestos roofs in schools and hospitals in me state and the National Human Rights Commission had issued notices to central ministries, states and union territories seeking a report on asbestos related incurable diseases and on why asbestos should not be banned.

In a letter to Bihar Chief MinisterNitish Kumar, the villagers of Bhojpur have complained against the hazardous factories in their proximity that manufacture chrysotile white asbestos-cement products. Two of these plants have been set up in Bihiya in Bhojpur by Tamil Nadu based Ramco Industries Ltd. The third has been set up at Giddha in Koilwar Block by another Tamil Nadu company Nibhi Industries Pvt Ltd.

Asbestos is a naturally occurring silicate mineral and has thin fibrous crystals. The world s largest asbestos mine is located in the town of Asbestos, Quebec, Canada, where it s mining first began. Asbestos became increasingly popular among manufacturers and builders for its sound absorption properties, tensile strength and resistance to fire, heat, electrical and chemical damage. It was extensively used for electrical insulation, mixed with cement or woven into fabric or mats. That is, till its health implications came to light.

Inhalation of asbestos fibres can cause serious illnesses including malignant lung cancer or mesothelioma and asbestosis, a chronic lung disease.

Yet, a 120,000 MT/Annum capacity Asbestos Cement Sheet Plant and a 200,000 MT/Annum capacity Asbestos Grinding Plant have been set up in Bihiya. The project was allotted 20 acres by the state government on lease for 90 years. In Giddha village, the 100,000 MT Capacity Asbestos Fibre Cement Corrugated Sheet, Flat Sheet, Accessories and Light Weight Fly Ash Block Plant acquired 15 acres. This land allotment is part of the scam that has tainted Bihar Industrial Area Development Authority (BIADA). It has emerged that Bihar's Environment Minister and Deputy Chief Minister Sushil Kumar Modi allotted the land for the four asbestos plants. The All India Students Association, Paryavaran Swasthya Suraksha Samiti and Asbestos Virodhi Nagrik Morcha are campaigning against these plants. Questions have been raised against these plants in Bihar Vidhan Sabha and even inParliament, but the state government remains unmoved.

Asbestos, banned in many countries, is still used widely across India and is part of a Rs 4,000 crore industry dominated by a score of companies who justify the use of asbestos as affordable roofing and claim that chrysotile asbestos can be safely manufactured and used without risks. These companies claim that the kind of asbestos used in India is not carcinogenic.

Globally, asbestos industry is on trial since the 1920s. So far 55 countries, including the European Union, have banned asbestos. In 2005, WHO and ILO passed a resolution seeking elimination of future use of chrysotile white asbestos. A 2010 report of the International Agency for Research on Cancer said, "Epidemiological evidence has increasingly shown an association of all forms of asbestos with an increased risk of lung cancer and mesothelioma" and that an estimated 125 million people are still exposed to it.

Here to attend the International Conference on "Emerging Trends in Preventing Occupational Respiratory Diseases and Cancers in Workplace," experts have warned India of the dangers of continuing with asbestos. "No matter what misinformation comes from Canada or the Indian asbestos industry, there is no doubt that chrysotile causes asbestosis and lung cancer," said Prof Arthur L Frank, Department of Environmental and Occupational Health, Drexel University School of Public Health, the USA.

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. If you (India) continue on your current path, you will multiply our death count by 100 times. That is 50,000 Indian workers dying every year from asbestos."


Experts and activists are exhorting the Commerce Ministry to desist from signing the "Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement" with Canada that allows import of Canadian asbestos to India. Incidentally, work is on to decontaminate the offices and homes of members of the Canadian House of Commons which have asbestos.

The government has stated publicly that it does not favour new asbestosplants in the country any more. "The Government of India is considering the ban on use of chrysotile asbestos in India to protect workers and the general population against primary and secondary exposure," a concept paper by the Ministry of Labour said in September 2011.

The Environment Ministry s Vision Statement on Environment and Human Health said, "Alternatives to asbestos may be used to the extent possible and use of asbestos may be phased out." The Ministry of Chemicals urged the government to disassociate itself from countries like Russia and Canada who derailed the international consensus thatcould have categorised chrysotile asbestos as a hazardous substance. Experts also suggest a compensation fund for asbestos victims that makes asbestos companies liable for knowingly exposing workers, consumers and citizens to asbestos fibres.

Ashestos Trade Data (2010)
Top Five Producers [Metric tonnes]
Russia 1,000,000
China 400,000
Brazil 270,000
Kazakhstan 214,000
Canada 100,000
Top Five Users [Metric tonnes]
China 613,760
India 426,363
Russia 263,037
Brazil 139,153
Indonesia 111,848


Even as India inches towards a position that it considers chrysotile asbestos a hazardous substance, setting up of new asbestos plants in Bhojpur, Vaishali, Maddubani and West Champaran in Bihar appears an anti-people move. Reportedly, such plants are coming up in Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Himachal Pradesh and Andhra Pradesh as well. Also, as per established legal procedure, all abandoned asbestos mines have to be closed

but Hyderabad Industry Ltd of the C K Birla Group has not closed its asbestos mines at Roro village at Chaibasa, West Singhbhum, Jharkhand, 30 years after the mines where shut down the mines. Thekiller dust remains air borne and continues to take its toll. Is there any legal relief for victims of white asbestos and the victims of abandoned asbestos mines in India?

Union Budget 2011-12 made an implied critical reference to asbestos by including it under Health Ministry s Rashtriya Swasthya Birna Yojana to cover the 'unorganised sector workers in hazardous mining and associated industries like asbestos etc

'Asbestos affectees are expecting that the government will take radical measures to phase out use, trade and manufacture of white asbestos in the country. The upcoming budget will reveal how sensitive the Government is towards addressing this environmental and occupational health crisis. Sanity demands that there be a moratorium on asbestos based hazardous industries.

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Gopal Krishna is convenor, ToxicsWatch Alliance and a public policy analyst.

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