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. Contact: Advocate Gopal Krishna, LL.M., Ph.D, krishnagreen@gmail.com

Tuesday, August 24, 2021

Legacy of Collegium Ramazzini Fellow, Dr. Morris Greenberg Survives: Barry Castleman

Dr. Morris Greenberg -- Remembrance


Dr. Morris Greenberg died peacefully on August 19, 2021. As UK Medical Inspector of Factories, he published a report of cases in the UK Mesothelioma Registry in 1974.  In addition to cases with occupational asbestos exposure as short as 3 weeks, one case included was a man whose only identified exposure was spending just one day sawing up asbestos sheets to make a chicken coop.  

In his work at the UK Factory Inspectorate, in publications continuing throughout his retirement, and in his willingness to be an activist and work with others for a world free of asbestos use, Morris Greenberg was an exemplar.  He wrote many papers analyzing historical events and showing where the authorities and industry had failed to protect the workers. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/?term=Greenberg%20M&cauthor_id=28913871&page=2 

In one paper, he recalled that London dock workers concerned about handling jute sacks of asbestos sought out the advice of renowned occupational health physician Donald Hunter in 1965.  Though Hunter supported their concerns, they were later lulled by reassurances from the port doctor and then trade union doctor Robert Murray (who would later go on to bankrupt asbestos activist Alan Dalton with a libel suit and testify in defense of T&N against asbestos victims).  Greenberg went on to show that the reassurances were not evidence-based and that existing data at the time and in decades since have shown that dockers were at increased risk of cancer.  

In 1997, the WHO Regional Office for Europe circulated draft reports “Asbestos and Health” and “Asbestos in Buildings.”  Dr. Richard Lemen, retired chief of the US National Institute of Occupational Health, raised concern that the reports were misleading and read like endorsements for using asbestos.  As controversy grew, WHO turned to Morris Greenberg to advise on the matter.  Though the “Asbestos and Health” report was modified by its author, Greenberg slammed the revision as containing elements unfitting in a WHO report.  Further criticism by union leaders and scientists including former IARC Director Lorenzo Tomatis led WHO headquarters to halt the report’s distribution in 1999.  A second edition of the report, much improved by the adoption of language from previous international reports, was published in 2000.  The “Asbestos in Buildings” report, whose atrocious draft advised local authorities to “de-dramatize the problem,” was never issued by WHO.

In 2008, the Collegium Ramazzini had just met in Carpi, Italy, and the periodic review of the Rotterdam Convention was scheduled to take place immediately afterward at the FAO in Rome.  Activists were coming to contest the opposition (by countries including Canada) to including chrysotile asbestos in the PIC list of substances covered by the convention's “prior informed consent” duty.  Scientists were needed to join the activists in trying to make a difference, where over 100 countries were represented.  Morris Greenberg (who was about 80 then) and Colin Soskolne agreed to come down with me on the train and spend several days in Rome, in case anybody wanted to argue about the epidemiology of chrysotile asbestos.  At one point, we joined a protest, holding large photographs of asbestos factory pollution in Asia.  [Pictures attached]

Morris Greenberg was a kind and decent man as well as a distinguished public health worker.

A Fellow of the Collegium Ramazzini practically since its founding in 1982 by Dr. Irving Selikoff and Cesare Maltoni, Dr. Greenberg was remembered with great affection by his colleagues and activists.  “A dear colleague and consummate gentleman” (Dr. Arthur Frank).  “Wise, deeply committed, and very dedicated.” (Dr. Phil Landrigan, former President of the Collegium)  “What a gentleman and scholar.  His cryptic sense of humor and his advocacy for worker health and safety were from his heart.  His contributions were many.”  (Dr. Richard Lemen)   “I remember his brilliant and biting wit, his scholarship and his human kindness. There won’t be another like him.  Grace, scholarship and humanity don’t come along very often.”  (Dr. Daniel Teitelbaum)  "A real mensch." (Dr. David Egilman)

Asbestos activists reacted with deep sadness to the passing of Morris Greenberg.  “He was such a wonderful man.” (Laurie Kazan-Allen, IBAS)  “His great contributions to public health and to end the man-made asbestos disaster will be remembered forever.”  (Linda Reinstein, ADAO)  “His work was dedicated to occupational justice across the globe which is an inspiration for countries like India where environmental-occupational health doctors are rare to find and required infrastructure is almost non-existent.”  (Gopal Krishna, BANI)

Morris Greenberg was also a great help to US lawyers representing asbestos victims, in their efforts to excavate the public health and corporate history of asbestos.  Gary Dimuzio wrote: “Morris, gentle giant of public and occupational health was unquestionably one of the major figures in occupational health including asbestos since the 1960s, he always fought for the ‘little guy’ even at the potential expense of his own career.  We all use his articles.  Despite advancing age and a fairly serious stroke several years ago, Morris was always willing to provide insights or help find an article or document that only he could find, as recently as just a few weeks ago.  He will be missed.”

Longtime US plaintiffs’ lawyer Conard Metcalf reacted, “ A great loss.  An incredible and enduring and powerful voice for workers and their families and of course for the science.”

By

Barry Castleman
--------------------------

MORRIS GREENBERG was Ramazzini Award recipient and Ramazzini Lecturer for 2011.  The Collegium Ramazzini issued this statement:

Morris Greenberg played a prominent role in occupational medicine in the United Kingdom over the past half century.  As Former HM Inspector of Factories and Former Senior Medical Officer, Division of Toxicology and Environmental Health in the UK Department of Health, he fought the power of industry throughout his career, dedicating himself to the health, safety, and well-being of workers.

Occupational medicine had become an academic discipline in the United Kingdom after the Second World War under the aegis of a few Universities and of the Medical Research Council. By 1970, the 110,000 factories covered by the 1879 Act had increased to 379,000 factories and the number of inspectors to 560, including 19 medical specialists, yet there had been little change to the organization.  Morris Greenberg participated in the realization of the Employment Medical Advisory Service Act of 1972, by which the Factory Inspectorate’s Medical Inspectors and some 1200 Appointed Factory Doctors were replaced by a national cadre of specialist physicians and nurses.  The whole health and safety apparatus was radically transformed, and Morris Greenberg was a key contributor in the process.

The newly reinforced Employment Medical Advisory Service collaborated with a number of academic units. Morris Greenberg was nominated as a founding member of the Council of the Royal Society of Medicine Occupational Health Section. When a Faculty of Occupational Medicine was inaugurated in the Royal College of Physicians London, to supplement the existing Society of Occupational Medicine, Morris Greenberg was elected to Fellowship. To the existing Diplomas in Industrial Health, academic units added the Master of Science degree, and the College of Physicians provided several levels of diploma, as well as maintaining a register of accredited doctors.

After retirement, Morris Greenberg was at liberty to speak out against the changes of government whose budgetary restraints reversed much of the progress he had helped to construct. Occupational medicine, whether academic, corporate, or private, is now in an uncertain state. He asked a rhetorical question in a paper published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine in 2002, The Rise and Fall of Occupational Medicine in the United Kingdom. “The first three quarters of the 20th century, before the golden age of Robens, threw up a number of UK worthies you would recognize as of international stature in the field of Occupational Medicine, including Oliver, Legge, Collis, Henry, Middleton, Merewether, Hunter, Schilling, and Gilson.  After 25 years of Robens, how many academics can you call to mind who can match them?  For that matter, how many academics have you come across prepared to alert politicians to Occupational Health problems, and to prick the consciences of the public?”

Indeed, it is Morris’ unique ability to “prick the conscience” of others that has made him such an invaluable member of the Collegium Ramazzini since 1983.  His devotion to the Collegium Ramazzini and the ideals for which it stands has provided a model for the next generation of physicians, practitioners and crusaders dedicated to the protection of workers and their health.

PHILIP J. LANDRIGAN, M.D. President
MORANDO SOFFRITTI, M.D. Secretary General
Carpi, October 29, 2011

 

Sunday, August 22, 2021

Doctor for Asbestos free world, Morris Greenberg is no more

One of the very earliest members of the Collegium Ramazzini, an independent academy in memory of the father of occupational medicine, Bernardino Ramazzini, Dr Morris Greenberg is no more. He died peacefully on August 19, 2021. He was a recipient of Ramazzini Award. Avi Greenberg informed that his grandfather is survived by his wife Gillian, his three children Susannah, Naomi and Daniel, his 11 grandchildren, and his 3 great grandchildren. Avi is a PhD Student in Prof. Itamar Simon's lab, Department of Microbiology and Molecular Genetics at Hebrew University Medical School, Jerusalem. 

In 1974, as Medical Inspector of Factories, UK, Dr. Morris Greenberg wrote a paper on the register of mesothelioma due to occupational asbestos exposure. He observed, "Overall in the study there were 38 cases (15.0% of all mesothelial tumours) lacking evidence of asbestos exposure. In this study the briefest occupational exposure to asbestos associated with a mesothelial tumour was three weeks, but if asbestos was a cause of mesothelioma it cannot be assumed that lesser exposures are safe." Most likely it is one of the earliest studies to underline that long duration of asbestos exposure is not a pre-condition for emergence of incurable asbestos related diseases.  Dr. Morris also served as senior Senior Medical Officer, Division of Toxicology and Environmental Health in the UK Department of Health. His work contributed to the enactment of UK's Employment Medical Advisory Service Act,1972. He was a founding member of the Council of the Royal Society of Medicine Occupational Health Section.

A Fellow of Collegium Ramazzini, Barry Castleman, author of Asbestos: Medical and Legal Aspects recalled, "In 2008, the Collegium Ramazzini had just met, and the periodic review of the Rotterdam Convention was scheduled to take place immediately afterward at the FAO in Rome. Activists were coming to Rome to contest the opposition to including chrysotile asbestos in the PIC list of substances covered by the convention's prior informed consent duty.  We needed some scientists to join the activists in trying to make a difference there.  Morris and Colin agreed to come down with me on the train and spend several days there, in case anybody wanted to argue about the lethality of chrysotile asbestos." Dr Morris would have been quite happy to see inclusion of chrysotile asbestos in the UN list of hazardous substances under Rotterdam Convention on Prior Informed Consent Procedure for certain Hazardous Chemicals and Pesticides in International Trade in his lifetime.  
(Photo: Dr. Morris Greenberg in hat with Dr. Barry Castleman)

In an article in American Journal of Industrial Medicine, he recalled how an inquiry from the UK in 1912 as to the health of Quebec asbestos miners was met by a denial of ill-health, but the loading of the premiums of asbestos workers in the 1930s indicated that, despite further reassuring health studies on Quebec miners, actuaries had data that was cause for serious concern. 

In Social History of Medicine, he wrote a chapter on "Knowledge of the Health Hazard of Asbestos Prior to the Merewether and Price Report of 1930" about the initial realization of the burden of ill health associated with occupational exposure to asbestos dust, and the need for environmental control, which according to him pre-dated the publication of the results of the survey by Merewether and Price in 1930. He held the view that there was sufficient evidence available prior to 1930 that should have led to preventive action. He observed, "The responsibility for this delay must be shared between manufacturers, workers' representatives, the Factory Inspectorate and Scientists involved in the relevant research." 

Notably, the Annual Report of the Chief Inspector of Factories in Great Britain for the year 1947 (published in 1949) was authored by the Chief Inspector,  UK, E. R. A. Merewether, a general practitioner who worked with an industrial engineer, C.V. Price, to publish the first epidemiological study of the asbestos industry in 1930. They examined 363 workers involved in opening, carding, stripping, grinding, spinning and weaving in asbestos textiles mills in the UK. They found that one in four of the workers had signs of a serious respiratory disease, paving the way for legislation. The findings were published in the US industrial medical journal- Journal of Industrial Hygiene in 1930.
In such a backdrop, writings of Dr. Morris underline the need for convergence between history of public health and medical science for preventive action against environmental and occupational diseases.

Towards the end of his life, he was dismayed by the uncertain state of occupational medicine. He wrote on The Rise and Fall of Occupational Medicine in the United Kingdom in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine. In the naked lust for profit by conscienceless body corporates, the plight of occupational health of workers is not accorded any priority by ruling parties who survive on the donations from these very undemocratic entities.
     
Ban Asbestos Network of India (BANI) salutes him and his work for the protection of public health. In November 2015, BANI co-signed a letter authored by Katherine Ruff, a noted Canadian human rights activist, with him to the Canadian Prime Minister seeking ban on asbestos. Subsequently, Canada banned asbestos. Canada has been one of the main suppliers of asbestos to India, which has banned its own asbestos mining due to harmful effects of asbestos mineral fibers. Dr Morris was familiar with the public health crisis in India in this regard. When he wrote in the matter of industry efforts to prevent asbestos ban in Pakistan, he recalled that Asbestos Cement Products Manufacturers of India like their Pakistani counterpart is part of the International Chrysotile Association, which represents the interest of the Chrysotile industry world over. His work was dedicated to occupational justice across the globe which is an inspiration for countries like India where environmental-occupational health doctors are rare to find and required infrastructure is almost non-existent. 

Monday, August 16, 2021

Indians saved from Brazilian White Asbestos, yet to be saved from Russian, Chinese & Kazakh ones

BANI welcomes Brazilian court’s immediate suspension of the extraction, exploration, processing, marketing, transport and export of asbestos cancerous mineral

India yet to implement 26 year old verdict of Supreme Court of India seeking adoption of fresh ILO resolution that seeks elimination of asbestos

 

Governments in India callous towards WHO resolution on elimination of incurable asbestos related diseases  


Eternit asbestos company announces stoppage of asbestos mining in Brazil



Ban Asbestos Network of India (BANI) welcomes the Brazilian court’s immediate suspension of the extraction, exploration, processing, marketing, transport and export of asbestos produced. The 25 page long decision of the court located in the Brazilian state of Goiás is consistent with the decision of the Brazilian Supreme Court. In 2017, decisions of the Brazilian Supreme Federal Court (STF) recognized the unconstitutionality of Article 2 of Federal Law No. 9,055/95, which allowed the extraction, processing, transportation, industrialization and export of asbestos of chrysotile variety. The order was communicated by Federal Public Prosecutor's Office on August 16, 2021. India is one of the key consumers of Brazilian asbestos. It is noteworthy that both the Brazilian decisions are consistent with the 24 page long verdict of Supreme Court of India in Consumer Education & Research Centre (CERC) v Union of India (1995) authored by Justice K Ramaswamy as part of 3-Judge Bench comprising of Chief Justice A M Ahmadi and Justice M.M. Punchhi.

 

Brazilian court’s decision has factored in the scientific knowledge about the harm of asbestos in all its varieties; the lack of safe limits for exposure to asbestos mineral; the existence of high risks of contamination not only for workers in the production chain, but also for their families, for the populations surrounding mines and factories and for consumers in general; and the technical impossibility of implementing control measures aimed at eliminating contact with the substance. The decisions of the Supreme Court had led to the shutdown of Sama's activities in Uruaçu in the Brazilian state of Goiás.

 

Brazil’s Federal Public Prosecutor's Office has obtained immediate suspension of activities of extraction, exploitation, processing, marketing, transportation and export of chrysotile asbestos by the company Sama S.A. Minerações Associadas, a subsidiary of Eternit S.A., headquartered in Minaçu (GO). The court’s decision implies  immediate suspension of the effects of authorizations from the National Mining Agency (ANM), granted through the National Department of Mineral Production (DNPM), for research, mining and processing of asbestos, granted to companies for exploration and processing of the carcinogenic mineral. The company Sama is one of the largest asbestos mining companies in the world, extracted and processed of asbestos for more than 40 years.  The order came from the Federal Court of Uruaçu in a public civil action.

 

In the aftermath of Brazilian Supreme Court’s ruling which banned the commercial exploitation of asbestos throughout the country, within the state of Goiás, Law no. 20,514 of July 16, 2019 was edited to authorize extraction and processing of asbestos from the chrysotile variety throughout the Brazilian territory. As a result, Eternit S.A. announced in February 2020 the resumption of asbestos mineral processing in Minaçu, through its subsidiary, Sama. 

 

Pursuant to the edited law Sama announced the resumption of excavations for the extraction of asbestos for export, based on state law on November 17, 2020. The company was already exploring, since February 2020, asbestos to “the United States, Germany, India, Indonesia, Malaysia and other Asian countries.” Notably, on November 29, 2017, by a majority verdict, the Brazilian Supreme Court prohibited the mining, processing, marketing and distribution of white chrysotile asbestos. The constitutional supreme court of Brazil decided by 8 votes against 2 that the Brazilian state of São Paulo has the right to forbid the production and selling of white chrysotile asbestos, a carcinogenic mineral fibre.  As many as 10 Brazilian states prohibited the use of this mineral fibre because of the incurable diseases caused by it prior to the verdict. The verdict extended the ban to all the 26 districts by declaring use of asbestos to be unconstitutional. On December 5, 2017, Eternit S.A. announced that it has suspended chrysotile asbestos mining operations at its Sama mine. On December 19, 2017, Justice Rosa Weber of Brazilian Supreme Court provided exemption to asbestos mining and manufacture in states where there was no ban on asbestos. On July 15, 2019, the Legislative Assembly of Goiás State approved the law which allowed Sama to resume mining for export only. On July 22, 2019, the National Association of Labor Attorneys appealed to the Supreme Court seeking suspension of Goiás State law. On November 17, 2020, Asbestos mining recommenced at the Sama Mine. It is evident that Justice Rosa Weber’s decision was indefensible.  

 

It was in this backdrop that José Ricardo Teixeira Alves, the Attorney of Anapólis, the author of the public civil action concluded that there was violation of the decisions of the Supreme Court and serious violation of national laws and the Federal Constitution, to the extent that it enabled white chrysotile asbestos extraction for export purposes. Located between two capitals, the federal capital Brasília and state capital Goiânia, Anapólis is a Brazilian municipality of the State of Goiás. As a consequence of the non-compliance with the court’s decision, the Federal Court fixed the application of a daily fine in the amount of five percent of the monthly income of the company when in activity.

 

It is indeed strange that members of the BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) group are refusing to learn from each other to safeguard the health of their citizens.  Brazil, a country which banned asbestos, has been exporting it to India. South Africa, which has banned asbestos, has been importing asbestos products from India. Russia and China refuse to pay heed to asbestos related laws in South Africa, Brazil and India. India has banned mining of asbestos but continues to export it from Russia and China.

 

According to a report of the government of India published in January 2020, imports of asbestos were 3,57,182 tonnes in 2017-18 against 3,10,592 tonnes in the previous year. Entire import was that of chrysotile asbestos. Imports of asbestos were mainly from Russia (63%), Brazil (21%) and Kazakhstan (16%). A total of 29,031 tonnes asbestos-cement products were also imported in 2017-18 as against 28,416 tonnes in the previous year. Imports were mainly from Thailand (89%) and China (3%). Besides above, asbestos-fibre of 3,57,182 tonnes was also imported during the year 2017-18 as compared to 3,10,592 tonnes in the previous year. Imports of asbestos-fibre were mainly from Russia (63%), Brazil (21%) and Kazakhstan (16%). Imports of asbestos fibre products were 4,479 tonnes during the year 2017-18 as compared to 5,227 tonnes in previous year. Imports of asbestos fibre products were mainly from Japan (34%), China and USA (15% each) and Thailand (8%). In addition to asbestos minerals, an unknown quantity of asbestos is traded within manufactured products, possibly including brake linings and pads, building materials, gaskets, millboard, yarn and thread.    

 

The report also reveals that India’s exports of asbestos increased substantially by 29% to 132 tonnes in 2017-18 as compared to 102 tonnes in the previous year. Exports were mainly to Bangladesh (more than 90%) and Nepal 6%. Exports of asbestos (fibre products) were at 35,812 tonnes in 2017-18 as compared to 33,973 tonnes in the previous year. Exports were mainly to the USA (26%), Egypt (8%), UAE (7%), Poland and Canada (3% each), Sri Lanka and South Africa (2% each). Export of asbestos (chrysotile) was one tonne during the year 2017-18 as compared to 26 tonnes in the preceding year. Exports of asbestos (others) increased to 131 tonnes during the year 2017-18 as compared to 76 tonnes in the preceding year. Exports of asbestos-cement products were 62,291 tonnes in 2017-18 as compared to 69,125 tonnes in the preceding year.  Exports of asbestos-cement products were mainly to UAE (34%), Qatar (18%), Nepal (15%), Saudi Arabia (7%) and Oman (4%)

 

It is apparent that governments in the USA, Poland, Canada, Sri Lanka, South Africa, Egypt, UAE, Bangladesh, Nepal,  Qatar and Saudi Arabia appear to be indifferent towards the recommendations of the World Health Organsiation like India.  

 

If WHO's recommendation inspires action on covid-19, why it's recommendation for elimination of asbestos related diseases due to white chrysotile asbestos not inspire action?  How is it scientific to trust and act as per WHO advice on covid-19 but not against all kinds of carcinogenic white chrysotile asbestos? The Supreme Court in Consumer Education & Research Centre (CERC) v Union of India endorsed ILO resolution against asbestos.

 

India's Supreme Court and high courts have consistently expressed their serious concerns regarding exposure to these carcinogenic mineral fibres and has asked the central and state governments to update their laws as per fresh resolution of the International Labour Organisation, which has sought elimination of future use of white chrysotile asbestos to safeguard human health. But the governments in India have not complied with its directions so far. Meanwhile, Bihar has become the first state in India to announce that it will not allow setting up of asbestos factories in the state and 22 asbestos factories owner, CK Birla Group’s Hyderabad Industries Limited (HIL), a member of Asbestos Cement Products Manufacturers Association (ACPMA) has entered non-asbestos, eco-friendly, autoclaved roofing solution. Fearing manslaughter cases, asbestos countries worldover are shifting to the no-asbestos sector. HIL observed, “The Asbestos business, which was contributing 80 per cent of revenue has now come down to 30 per cent, with rest of the 70 per cent from non-asbestos business.”  It is hoped that other members of ACPMA too will adopt HIL’s approach as well besides setting up a compensation fund for victims of asbestos related diseases.  

 

India’s most deprived and marginalised communities as many as 16.4 per cent in the rural areas and 20 per cent in the urban areas live and work under asbestos roofs. Some 79 percent of Dalits (200 million) live in such houses. The fact is that no private or public building in India is asbestos free and almost all water supply pipes in the country are made of asbestos cement. Asbestos is harmful in its entire life cycle. Significantly, First Schedule of Occupational Safety, Health and Working Conditions (OSHWC) Code, 2020 refers to Industries involving hazardous processes including manufacture, handling and processing of Asbestos and its products and its Third Schedule lists incurable Asbestosis as a Notifiable Disease. Given the fact that some 70 countries have banned human asbestos and human biology is the same everywhere, immediate steps are required in the supreme national interest to safeguard the health of present and future generations.

 

India imported 21 % of all its imported asbestos from Brazil. Following Brazilian court’s decision, there is a compelling logic for Union of India and State Governments to pay heed to the verdict of Supreme Court of India in the CERC case to update its laws in the light of ILO resolution of 2006 to eliminate all kinds of asbestos and related incurable and fatal diseases.


For Details: Gopal Krishna, Ban Asbestos Network of India (BANI), Mb: 091808966, E-mail: krishnagreen@gmail.com, Web: www.asbestosfreeindia.org   

 

Thursday, August 5, 2021

White Asbestos-a time bomb for lungs, larynx and ovaries


Asbestos is a proven carcinogen and banned in many countries. India has banned asbestos mining and trade in asbestos waste (dust and fibers) but it is yet to ban it's import, manufacture and use. The establishment in India has expressed its concern over the manufacture and use of this killer mineral but remain under the influence of the cartel of asbestos firms in practice at the behest of asbestos producers like Russia. Governments continue to give environmental clearance and No Objection Certificate (NOC) for asbestos based plants.

Villagers of Bihar's Bihiya, Bhojpur are up in protest. They want closure of the two asbestos plants in their neighbourhood. 

"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 Bihiya, Bhojpur villagers are asking. They are emboldened by the fact that Bihar Chief Minister larynx Kumar has promised in the State Assembly that he will not allow asbestos plants in Bihar. 

In July 2019, he said, "We are not using asbestos sheets in government projects&schemes, nor are we providing any incentive to promoters of asbestos factories. CM has promised to provide pucca houses to the poor without the harmful asbestos roof. 79 ℅ of 200 million Dalits in India live under asbestos roofs (Census 2011).

Villagers of Bihiya, Bhojpur have been complaining against the hazardous factories in their proximity that manufacture  white asbestos-cement products. These two plants have been set up in Bihiya in Bhojpur by Tamil Nadu based Ramco Industries Ltd. 

Although Bihar Government has promised ban on asbestos plants, asbestos based products including roofs are visible in Araria, Arwal, Aurangabad, Banka, Begusarai, Bhagalpur, Bhojpur, Buxar, Darbhanga, East Champaran (Motihari), Gaya, Gopalganj, Jamui

Jehanabad, Kaimur (Bhabua), Katihar, Khagaria, Kishanganj, Lakhisarai, Madhepura, Madhubani, Munger, Muzaffarpur, Nalanda, Nawada, Patna, Purnia (Purnea), Rohtas, Saharsa, Samastipur, Saran, Sheikhpura, Sheohar, Sitamarhi, Siwan, Supaul, Vaishali and West Champaran. Most of the asbestos based products are coming from other states. 

Despite Chief Minister's promise a 120,000 MT/Annum capacity Asbestos Cement Sheet Plant and a 200,000 MT/Annum capacity Asbestos Grinding Plant which were set up in Bihiya prior to his assurance continues to function despite violating all the relevant environmental laws and in spite of the fact that Bihar State Pollution Control Board (BSPCB) had cancelled its NOC. 

Asbestos, banned in many countries, is still used widely across India and is part of a cartel 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 some 70 countries, including the Nepal, Japan, Israel, South Africa and 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.

During an International Conference on "Emerging Trends in Preventing Occupational Respiratory Diseases and Cancers in Workplace," experts 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, former 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 Indian Commerce Ministry to desist from importing asbestos from Russia, Brazil, Kazakhstan and China. 

Union 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." But the Ministry continues to give clearance to asbestos based plants.  Government is yet to disassociate itself from countries like Russia  who derailed the international consensus that could have categorised chrysotile asbestos as a hazardous substance although it is a hazardous substance under the domestic law. It is yet to set up a compensation fund for asbestos victims. New laws in India recognize asbestos related diseases but the governments are yet to make asbestos companies liable for knowingly exposing workers, consumers and citizens to asbestos fibres. Government had promised to include asbestos victims under Health Ministry s Rashtriya Swasthya Birna Yojana but it is yet to happen. 

Given the fact that WHO's recommendations regarding covid-19 has been accepted, it is logical to expect that both Union Government and State Governments will pay heed to WHO's recommendations for phase out use, trade and manufacture of white chrysotile asbestos. 

Asbestos is a group of naturally occurring fibrous minerals with current or historical commercial usefulness due to their extraordinary tensile strength, poor heat conduction, and relative resistance to chemical attack. For these reasons, asbestos is used for insulation in buildings and as an ingredient in a number of products, such as roofing shingles, water supply lines, and fire blankets, as well as clutches and brake linings, gaskets, and pads for automobiles.

The main forms of asbestos are chrysotile (white asbestos) and crocidolite (blue asbestos). Other forms include amosite, anthophylite, tremolite and actinolite.

All forms of asbestos are carcinogenic to humans. Exposure to asbestos, including chrysotile, causes cancer of the lung, larynx, and ovaries, and also mesothelioma (a cancer of the pleural and peritoneal linings). Asbestos exposure is also responsible for other diseases such as asbestosis (fibrosis of the lungs), and plaques, thickening and effusion in the pleura.

Approximately half of the deaths from occupational cancer are estimated to be caused by asbestos. In addition, it is estimated that several thousand deaths annually can be attributed to exposure to asbestos in the home.

Many fibre substitutes for chrysotile asbestos assessed by WHO pose a relatively low hazard to human health, though, the carcinogenic hazard of some fibre substitutes was found to be high. However, there are many non-fibre low hazard materials that can substitute for chrysotile asbestos in various uses, such as conventional building materials.

The World Health Assembly resolution 58.22 on cancer prevention urges Member States to pay special attention to cancers for which avoidable exposure is a factor, including exposure to chemicals at the workplace and in the environment.

With resolution 60.26, the World Health Assembly requested WHO to carry out a global campaign for the elimination of asbestos-related diseases "…bearing in mind a differentiated approach to regulating its various forms - in line with the relevant international legal instruments and the latest evidence for effective interventions…". Cost-effective interventions for prevention of occupational lung diseases from exposure to asbestos are among the policy options for implementing the "Global Action Plan for the Prevention and Control of Non-communicable Diseases" (2013-2020), as endorsed by the Sixty-sixth World Health Assembly in resolution WHA66.10 in 2013.

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.

WHO, in collaboration with the International Labour Organization and other intergovernmental organizations and civil society, works with countries 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;

providing information about solutions for replacing asbestos with safer substitutes and developing economic and technological mechanisms to stimulate its replacement;

taking measures to prevent exposure to asbestos in place and during asbestos removal (abatement);

improving early diagnosis, treatment, and rehabilitation services for asbestos-related diseases;

establishing registries of people with past and/or current exposures to asbestos and organizing medical surveillance of exposed workers; and providing information on the hazards associated with asbestos-containing materials and products. 

There is a compelling logic for a moratorium on asbestos based hazardous industries and products. 

Is it not ironical that the "imported fiber" of carcinogenic white chrysotile asbestos is being advertised by asbestos companies in India given the fact that India has banned mining of all kinds of asbestos fibers because of its deleterious impact on human health? 


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