Make India Asbestos Free

Make India Asbestos Free
For Asbestos Free India

Journal of Ban Asbestos Network of India (BANI). Asbestos Free India campaign of BANI is inspired by trade union movement and right to health campaign. BANI has been working since 2000. It works with peoples movements, doctors, researchers and activists besides trade unions, human rights, environmental, consumer and public health groups. BANI demands criminal liability for companies and medico-legal remedy for victims. For Details: krishnagreen@gmail.com

Tuesday, June 9, 2020

Letter to Chief Minister, West Bengal seeking stoppage of carcinogenic asbestos cement roofs for shelter amidst Amphan, Covid-19 pandemic


To

Hon'ble Chief Minister
Government of West Bengal
Kolkata

June 4, 2020

Subject- Request for stoppage of use of carcinogenic asbestos cement roofs for shelter amidst Amphan and Covid-19 pandemic 

Madam,

With reference to the disturbing news about doubling of prices of hazardous asbestos cement roofs for rebuilding houses, we wish to draw your attention towards the fact that as per World Health Organisation (WHO),all kinds of  asbestos are a health hazard. It is banned in some 70 countries, Unmindful of this, it continues to be manufactured and used amidst Amphan and  Covid-19 pandemic. The report states “Each 8×3 asbestos sheet cost Rs 530 earlier but is selling for Rs 650". The use asbestos sheets is an invitation to incurable deadly diseases because “All types of asbestos cause lung cancer, mesothelioma, cancer of the larynx and ovary, and asbestosis (fibrosis of the lungs). Exposure to asbestos occurs through inhalation of fibres in air in the working environment, ambient air in the vicinity of point sources such as factories handling asbestos, or indoor air in housing and buildings containing friable (crumbly) asbestos materials.”

(Reference: WHO, https://www.who.int/ipcs/assessment/public_health/asbestos/en/,

Covid, cyclone, lockdown: All lines blur in Sundarbans, Indian Express, Kakdwip, Namkhana, West Bengal, May 31, 2020, https://indianexpress.com/article/india/cyclone-amphan-sunderbans-west-bengal-6435093/).

In this regard WHO's Outline for the Development of National Programmes for Elimination of Asbestos Related Diseases merits your attention because it makes a case for stopping all asbestos based products to prevent the imminent public health crisis. It states "Exposure to asbestos causes a range of diseases, such as lung cancer, mesothelioma, and asbestosis (fibrosis of the lungs), as well as pleural plaques, thickening and effusions. There is also evidence that it causes laryngeal and possibly some other cancers.." (Reference: https://www.who.int/occupational_health/publications/elim_asbestos_doc_en.pdf?ua=1) The Vision Statement on Environment and Human Health (Para 4.3.1) of Union Ministry of Environment, Forests & Climate Change is also relevant. It reads: “Alternatives to asbestos may be used to the extent possible and use of asbestos may be phased out”.

(Reference: http://moef.gov.in/wp-content/uploads/2017/08/visenvhealth.pdf)

We submit that there are fibre substitutes that have been evaluated by WHO are listed in the Summary Consensus Report of WHO Workshop on Mechanisms of Fibre Carcinogenesis and Assessment of Chrysotile Asbestos Substitutes.

(Reference: http://www.who.int/ipcs/publications/new_issues/summary_report.pdf)

In Ashis Mitra - Versus - The State of West Bengal & Others Calcutta High Court, 2017 Order in Writ Petition (Civil). No. 14729 (W) of 2016, Hon’ble Calcutta High Court has recorded that “there is sufficient study material indicating that asbestos sheets used for roofing could cause cancer” and “various documents, issued by the World Health Organization (WHO), and other materials obtained from the Internet, that the exposure to asbestos including chrysotile causes lung cancer, mesothelioma and asbestosis.” It was contended by the petitioner that “the High Court should not continue to use these materials for roofing, especially after legislation in different parts of the world has been enacted on recognizing the potential health risk of asbestos to the citizens at large. Even in India several Acts recognized the fact that asbestos is a health-hazard.” The order dated  July 21, 2017 is attached.

Hon’ble Calcutta High Court’s order on carcinogenic-asbestos that has been used for roofing in the Hon’ble Court’s main building, this is to draw your kind attention towards a serious unprecedented environmental and occupational health crisis with regard to the unnoticed epidemic of asbestos related diseases in West Bengal in particular and in our country in general.

We submit that in Writ Petition (Civil). No. 14729 (W) of 2016, the Division Bench of Acting Chief Justice Nishita Mhatre and Justice Tapabrata Chakraborty has passed the verdict observing, “The High Court main building is undergoing repairs with the assistance of the Public Works Department (PWD) of the Government of West Bengal and other Authorities. When the entire renovation is undertaken, it is expected that the High Court and the PWD or, any other body entrusted with the renovation will ensure that the asbestos-sheets, which have been used for roofing, would be replaced by any other materials which are non-carcinogenic.”

We submit that prior to this when you were the Hon’ble Union Railway Minister the ministry had ordered removal of asbestos roofs from all railway buildings. It is noteworthy that the ministry has invited offers for “Procurement of Non-Asbestos “K” Type Composition Brake Blocks”. The offer has been issued by Director, Railway Stores (W) or and on behalf of Hon’ble President of India.

In a related development, in January 2020, the Kerala State Commission for Protection of Child Rights has said that no building, including madrasas, religious schools, and tutorials, in which children study should have an asbestos roof. In case any such building has an asbestos roof, the Local Self-government Department should not issue licence or building number to them, and should initiate action against them under the Kerala Panchayat Raj Act and the Kerala Municipalities Act. The commission order said asbestos was not conductive to the children’s health or comfortable environment in which they could study.It should not be used for school buildings and should be replaced urgently. (Reference: No asbestos roof for places where children study: panel, The Hindu, Thiruvanathapuram, January 04, 2020 https://www.thehindu.com/news/cities/Thiruvananthapuram/no-asbestos-roof-for-places-where-children-study-panel/article30473820.ece)

It is germane to take note of the recommendations of Kerala Human Rights Commission dated January 31, 2009. It made the following recommendations: 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.

We wish to draw your attention towards the recommendations of National Human Rights Commission in Case No: 693/30/97-98. Case No.693/30/97-98). The Commission recommended steps to "Replace the asbestos sheets roofing with roofing made up of some other material that would not be harmful to inmates."

We submit that in a reply dated July 5, 2012 Deputy Secretary, Labour Department, Government of West Bengal has enclosed the reply dated May 30, 2012 of R C Dutta, Director/Chief Inspector of Factories, Government of West Bengal wherein he status of asbestos factories its adverse impact in the State has been submitted.  In the submission it is reported that there are 4 units in the district of Paschim Medinipur (1) UAL Bengal (Prop. Utakal Asbestos) Village. Tungadhowa, Guptamani-Kultikiri Road (2) Ramco Industries Ltd., Village. Dewanmaro Ayma, P.O. Hariatara, (3) Neelachal Natural Resources Pvt Ltd., P.O. Manickpara and (4) Visaka Industries Vill., Chang sole, P.O. Saiyadpur. It reveals that “Six persons of UAL Bengal (Prop. Utakal Asbestos) having some respiratory ailments, diagnosed as suffering from Pulmonary Koch’s were treated and subsequently fit to join work in the non-dust area.” He discloses that in the Everest Industries Ltd., 1, Taratala Road, P.O. Garden Reach in the District of Kolkata “One person having some abnormality in X-Ray Chest, diagnosed as fibrotic lung disease (?) were made unfit and alternate placement facilities were provided.”  It has reported in the submission that the operation of Unit Sarbamangala Industries, 34 B, B.T. Road, Kolkata-700002 is closed for last two years. Its management has been asked to maintain the health records of the workers. It is reported that Mahendra Tubes Ltd. NH-31, Birpara Gairkata Road, Vill. P.O. Sakuajhara, Dist. Jalpaiguri is in irregular operation and the workers are not fixed and permanent. Its management has been asked to maintain the health records of the workers. With reference to J.D Jones Ltd. Howrah, it has been reported that at present it is having no process/work involved in asbestos handing. Its management has been asked to maintain the health records of the workers. The reply submits that “No case of compensation has been reported in the above units though alternate facility has been recommended for few workers in some units on medical ground”. We submit that this reply appears to constitute a blatant case of adoption of Ostrich policy the State Government in 2012. It is refusing to admit to emergence of asbestos related diseases in these factory units of the State.

We submit that the government agencies like Directorate General, Factory Advice Service and Labour Institutes (DGFASLI) took note of Prevalence of Asbestosis and Related Disorders in a Asbestos Fiber Processing Unit in West Bengal as early as in 1996. Reference: Prevalence of Asbestosis and Related Disorders in a Asbestos Fiber Processing Unit in West Bengal, http://www.dgfasli.nic.in/newsletter/jan_march_96.pdf

We submit that it has been estimated that one person dies from mesothelioma for every 170 tons of asbestos consumed. WHO estimates we have107,000 deaths worldwide per year from occupational exposure to asbestos.If non occupational exposure is added it reaches a figure of about 120,000deaths. Average world consumption/year 30-60 years ago was -- looks like3/2 of what it is now (2 million metric tons/year). Give India its share of that based on its share of global consumption. At 300,000 tons in 2013, that's about 18,000 deaths (15% of 120,000).  Asbestos diseases have a very long incubation period. So if you are exposed today to an asbestos fibre, you are likely to get the disease in next 10-35 years. Asbestos is like a time bomb to the lungs and Indians will suffer the most. If it is banned today that does not mean people will not suffer. Because of past usage people will continue to suffer from these diseases.

We submit that there is hardly any building in West Bengal which is asbestos free. It is high time efforts are initiated to decontaminate asbestos laden public and private buildings.

We submit that taking lessons from the industrial disaster of Bhopal, asbestos industry in Bengal should be made to pay heed to the way asbestos companies have gone bankrupt in the Western countries. They should be persuaded to join hands and create a compensation fund for victims. Dow Chemicals Company which refuses to own the liability for Bhopal disaster caused by Union Carbide Corporation (UCC) in India has owned the UCC’s asbestos related liabilities and announced a compensation fund of 2.2 billion dollars for the victims. In Europe, tycoons and ministers are facing criminal charges and imprisonment for their act of knowing subjecting unsuspecting people to killer fibers of asbestos. The future is no different for Indian culprits.

We submit that while India has technically banned mining of asbestos due deleterious impact on health, it is quite ironical that Union Government allows import of white chrysotile asbestos from countries like Russia, Brazil, Zimbabwe, Kazakhstan and others. Government should not allow itself to be misled by asbestos producers like Russia in this regard now that Canada has rightly stopped mining of white chrysotile asbestos almost like India due its “deleterious” impact on health. Meanwhile, on 24 August, 2017, Constitutional Supreme Court of Brazil decided that the use of all kinds of asbestos is unconstitutional. The President of the Brazilian Supreme Court observed, “In concern of the environment, if any doubts, it must be prohibited so that the rights for us today and tomorrow won’t be lost for the ones that come after us”. It is significant because Brazil is one of the key suppliers of asbestos besides Russia, Kazakhstan and China.

We also wish to draw your attention towards the verdict of five judges of Japan’s Supreme Court of February 17, 2015 that has upheld a ruling that found asbestos used at a plant of Kubota Corporation caused fatal mesothelioma in a man who lived near the plant and ordered the company to pay ¥31.9 million in damages to his relatives. The petitioners were relatives of Kojiro Yamauchi, who died at age 80 after working for two decades about 200 meters from the Kubota plant in Amagasaki, Hyogo Prefecture. His relatives and those of Ayako Yasui, who died at age 85 having lived about 1 km from the plant, sought damages from both Kubota and the government. In October, 2014 the Supreme Court ruled that the government was responsible for failing to protect workers from exposure at asbestos factories in Sennan, Osaka Prefecture. (Reference:http://www.japantimes.co.jp/news/2015/02/19/national/crime-legal/top-court-upholds-kubotas-liability-in-asbestos-death-case/#.VO3inSw8RkQ) It is noteworthy that unlike India, Russia, Kazakhstan and China, Japan has banned asbestos of all kinds of asbestos including white chrysotile asbestos. Nepal has become the first country in South Asia which has banned asbestos. Sri Lanka too had banned it but because of blackmail by Russia, it had to rescind its ban. It is relevant to recall that Indian Navy officials had rightly objected to presence of asbestos in Russian aircraft carrier Admiral Gorshkov which was inducted into the Indian Navy as INS Vikramaditya after asbestos decontamination.

During Emergency, the ruling party and its acolytes had proposed to put opposition leaders in jails which had asbestos roofs. It is recorded in the report of Judicial Inquiry Commission headed by Justice J. C. Shah. We submit that Union of India’s Budget 2011-12 had made reference to asbestos related diseases by including it under the Rashtriya Swasthya Bima Yojana to cover ‘unorganized sector workers in hazardous mining and associated industries like asbestos etc”.

We submit that the industry must be persuaded to phase out in two phases in West Bengal. In the first phase the goal must be to eliminate use of chrysotile asbestos and record the number of exposed workers and consumers in the country. In the second phase, the goal must be to create incentives for the use of safer materials, ensure, create a registry of asbestos laden buildings and victims of asbestos-related diseases and ensure decontamination of the former and compensation for the latter. There is an immediate need to conduct an audit of the current status of the victims of asbestos related diseases from the government hospital records in the country and make it mandatory for medical colleges to provide training for doctors so that they can diagnose diseases caused by occupational, non-occupational and environmental exposures to killer fibers and substances.

We submit that some typical asbestos-based materials include sound insulation infill, thermal insulation lagging, tape, rope, felts, blankets, mattresses, asbestos boards, gaskets and washers, drive belts/ conveyor belts, roofing sheets and slates, drain and flue pipes, rainwater goods, fascia boards, bath panels, ceiling tiles, toilet seats, cisterns, bitumen damp proof course, lining to walls, lab bench tops, extraction hoods and fume cupboards, brakes and clutches, cooling tower elements and others.

In such a context, we appeal to you to take note of:

·         Hon’ble Calcutta High Court’s order;

·        Resolutions of WHO and ILO (2005 and 2006 seeking elimination of future use of asbestos including chrysotile asbestos worldwide;

·      Need 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;

·       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;

·         The WHO estimates 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;
·         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;
·         Human biology is same everywhere if the asbestos is deemed hazardous in the developed countries; it must be deemed so in West Bengal too;

In view of the incontrovertible adverse health effects asbestos based plants and products should be phased out to protect the lives of present and future generations.

We take this opportunity to draw your immediate attention towards the fact that asbestos related diseases are also incurable despite this environmental clearances are still being given by the central environment ministry but health being a state subject, your government can act to safeguard the life of present and future generations by stopping it. All the groups working on human rights, labour rights, health rights and environmental justice will appreciate if you can intervene urgently in the matter of chrysotile asbestos as Kerala government acted in the case of Endosufan. Health is a state subject. In such a backdrop, government must stop manufacturing, procurement and use of all forms of asbestos including white asbestos.

In view of the above, we request you ensure that use of asbestos-cement roofs and other asbestos based products are prohibited to prevent preventable diseases and deaths.  It is your solemn duty to protect the residents of West Bengal from the exposure of fibers of chrysotile asbestos.

We will be happy to share reference documents and more information in this regard.

Thanking You

Yours faithfully
Gopal Krishna
ToxicsWatch Alliance (TWA)
Occupational Health India (OHI)
E-mail:krishnaruhani@gmail.com
Web:www.toxicswatch.org



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