Hon'ble Chief Minister
Government of Kerala
Date: May 21, 2022
Subject: Need to make Kerala free from asbestos related diseases
With reference to the news item "Kerala ministers meet to discuss school fitness ahead of reopening" published in The Hindu on May 17, 2022 and the recommendation of Kerala Human Rights Commission dated 31 January, 2009 for ban on asbestos use in schools and decontamination of schools laden with asbestos, we wish to bring certain germane facts, documents and correspondence to your attention.
Having asbestos in the vicinity or anywhere is harmful to human health as exposure to these mineral fibers causes incurable diseases like lung cancer, ovarian cancer, mesothelioma and asbestosis. Although belated Kerala govt is taking a small step in the right direction. Asbestos of all kinds is banned in 70 nations. Health being a State subject under the Constitution, Kerala should become the first state to ban manufacture of asbestos based products, it's procurement and use in compliance with Supreme Court's verdict in Consumer Education Resource Centre v. Union of India, WHO's recommendation and ILO's resolution. Kerala should adopt scientific method for the disposal of asbestos as well. State government ought to emulate the 70 nations.
Pursuant to letter of Dr Barry Castleman, the author of "Asbestos:Medical and Legal Aspects" dated 15th July, 2010, telephonic conversation dated 13th July, 2010 with Industry Minister, Kerala, reply of 22th June, 2010 from the Director of Industries and Commerce to his letter to Minister of Industry, Kerala dated 18th January, 2010 and his conversations with Labor Minister, Kerala in the context of Kerala Human Rights Commission order dated 31st January, 2009 banning use of asbestos-cement construction materials in schools, hospitals, and other public buildings, we wish to draw your attention towards the New Delhi Declaration Seeking Elimination of cancer causing all forms of asbestos including chrysotile from India which was adopted and endorsed by eminent scientists and doctors on 24th March, 2011. The Declaration is given below. Dr Castleman’s first letter is also given below.
This Declaration was adopted at a Round Table which was organized immediately after the conclusion of International Conference on "Emerging Trends in Preventing Occupational Respiratory Diseases and Cancers in Workplace" at Maulana Azad Medical College that expressed grave concern about asbestos related diseases like lung cancer in the national capital. The Declaration is given below for your perusal and immediate consideration.
This is also to draw your attention towards the fact that Kerala has a state owned asbestos company, Kerala Asbestos Cement pipe Factory Limited. A study titled 'Risk factors of ovarian cancer in Trivandrum' of 2008 refers to asbestos exposure too in its research.
The delegates at the Round Table discussed the asbestos policy of Kerala. They discussed the order of Kerala Human Rights Commission (KHRC) banning use of asbestos materials. The delegates were eager to know about the status of enforcement of KHRC order.
The delegates were of the considered opinion that Kerala government should phase out manufacturing and use of asbestos while implementing the KHRC order in order to pursue a path of alternatives of asbestos as a building material.
These delegates shared their views and gave their valuable hand written notes so that it can be used in a credible way while strongly recommending the need for immediate ban on asbestos to Government of India, State Governments and the relevant ministries.
Dr Alec Farquhar as Managing Director, Occupational Health Clinics for Ontario Workers, Canada said, “We now have around 500 asbestos cancer cases every year in Ontario from a population of 13 million. If you (India) continue on your current path, you will multiply our death count by 100 times. That would be 50, 000 Indian workers dying every year from asbestos. In Ontario, we learned that safe use of asbestos is impossible. I urge you from the bottom of my heart, please do not make the same mistake as we made in Canada. Stop using asbestos and use a safe alternative.” Meanwhile, Canada has banned all kinds of asbestos.
Deeply disturbed by the state of affairs in India with regard to asbestos consumption, Professor Elihu D Richter MD MPH, Hebrew University-Hadassah School of Medicine, Israel said, “All form of asbestos kill. India should bury asbestos, not people. Here is a case for examining whether those countries which export asbestos to India are committing a crime against humanity, because they are engaging in willful neglect. India should not repeat the mistakes of going back some 70 years which will kill tens of thousands of workers and their families.” Richter called on experts in human rights to reframe the carcinogen as a human rights violation to ban asbestos.
“No matter what mis-information comes of Canada or the Indian asbestos industry about Chrysotile, there is no question that science has shown that Chrysotile causes asbestosis, lung cancer and mesothelioma. This is the conclusion of World Health Organisation. The International Agency for Research on Cancer, and other organizations that have no biases except for protecting people’s health,” said Prof. Arthur L Frank, PhD, Department of Environmental and Occupational Health, Drexel University School of Public Health, US.
Why does Canada apply strict measures domestically to protect the health of Canadians handling asbestos and yet exports asbestos to developing countries such as India, where the capacity to implement and monitor the application of similar precautionary measures is inadequate?, asked Dr. T.K. Joshi, Fellow, Collegium Ramazzini, Italy, an independent, international academy founded in 1982 by Irving J. Selikoff, Cesare Maltoni and other eminent scientists. The academy comprises of 180 internationally renowned experts in the fields of occupational and environmental health. The mission of the Collegium Ramazzini is to advance the study of occupational and environmental health issues and to be a bridge between the world of scientific discovery and the social and political centers which must act on the discoveries of science to protect public health. Notably, Canada avoids using asbestos in it was own country but exports it to India.
Prof (Dr) Qamar Rahman, Fellow of National Academy of Sciences, Dean, Integral University, Lucknow & former Deputy Director, Industrial Toxicology Research Centre, Lucknow asserted, “This is high time that Government of India should ban the use of asbestos in India. It has been proven scientifically that asbestos based articles such as roof ceilings, storage tanks will release fibers. The asbestos fibers will be the cause of exposure to our coming generations.”
“It is well known around the world that asbestos is hazardous to human health, and that there is no such thing as “safe use” of asbestos, just like there is no “safe cigarette”. The government of India would do better to aim for growth through development of safe industries, and to lower the prices of substitutes, rather than promote use of this hazardous substance,” opined Dr Yael Stein, MD, Unit of Occupational and Environmental Medicine, Hebrew University, Israel.
The conference was organised by Centre for Occupational Health, New Delhi supported by Union Ministry of Labour & Employment, ESI, DGMS and DGFASLI in collaboration with Drexel University, US at Maulana Azad Medical College, New Delhi. The conference was deeply concerned about asbestos related diseases and the alarming rise of asbestos in India. The Round Table was organized by Ban Asbestos Network of India (BANI), which has been working for asbestos free India.
BANI is a research based collective of concerned scientists, doctors, public health scholars, environmental researchers and journalists that has been campaigning for asbestos free India since 2000.
In short, we request you to take urgent steps on the following points:
• Create a Registry of Incurable Lung Cancers and Mesothelioma besides a registry of asbestos related diseases
• Start efforts to decontaminate asbestos laden buildings including schools and hospitals
• Create a building registry of those buildings and products which have asbestos.
• Include environmental and occupational health study in the medical education of all the 300 medical colleges in the state
• Stop Kerala Asbestos Cement pipe Factory Limited from manufacturing cancer causing asbestos based products
• Adequately compensate the victims of asbestos-related diseases, create a database of asbestos exposed people and victims as well besides providing legal and possible medical relief and taking preventive measures
• Review and rescind those policies which promote asbestos and asbestos based products in the state
Your Government has the solemn duty to safeguard the public health of present and future generations from the exposures of killer fibers of asbestos which are akin to a time bomb for the lungs. We would be quite happy to share more details about the asbestos related incurable diseases.
We will be happy to share more information in this regard.
Thanking you in anticipation
Gopal Krishna, LL.M., Ph.D
Ban Asbestos Network of India (BANI)
New Delhi Declaration
Seeking Elimination of all forms of Asbestos including Chrysotile from India
Date: 24 March, 2011
Recalling the Ban Asbestos Resolution of 2002, WHO Resolution of 2005 and ILO Resolution of 2006 seeking elimination of future use of asbestos of all forms, in the face of massive asbestos exposure underway in India;
Taking note of The White Asbestos (Ban on Use and Import) Bill, 2009 introduced in Rajya Sabha (Upper House of Indian Parliament) and the order of the Kerala State Human Rights Commission banning the use of asbestos in schools;
Considering the anti asbestos movement against 12 proposed asbestos plants in Bihar in face of massive people’s resistance;
Outraged at the Union of India’s Budget 2011-12’s callous reference to asbestos by including it under the Rashtriya Swasthya Bima Yojana to cover ‘unorganized sector workers in hazardous mining and associated industries like asbestos etc’ and on the other hand Bihar’s Deputy Chief Minister’s Budget is allocating land for 4 new asbestos plants;
Recognising the fact that enviro-occupational health infrastructure in India is weak or non-existent in the face of workers and consumers who are sick and dying from asbestos-caused cancer and other related diseases;
Endorsing The STATEMENT OF OBJECTS AND REASONS of The White Asbestos (Ban on Use and Import) Bill, 2009 introduced in the Indian Parliament that reads: “The white asbestos is highly carcinogenic even the World Health Organisation has reported that it causes cancer. It is a rare fibrous material that is used to make rooftops (roofing material) and break (brake) linings. More than fifty countries have already banned the use and import of white asbestos. Even the countries that export it to India prefer not to use it domestically. But in our country, it is imported without any restriction. Canada and Russia are the biggest exporters of white asbestos. In 2007, Canada exported almost Ninety five percent of the white asbestos it mined and out of it forty-three percent was shipped to India. It is quite surprising that our country is openly importing huge quantity of a product, which causes cancer. This is despite the fact that safer and almost cheap alternatives to asbestos are available in the country. Instead of importing a hazardous material, it will be better if we spend some money in research and development and use environment friendly product. In view of the above, there is an urgent need for a total ban on the import and use of white asbestos and promote the use of alternative material.”
Appreciating Supreme Court of India’s order of 21st January, 2011 that takes cognizance of the above mentioned Bill and the resolutions of ILO and WHO and seeks government to take immediate preventive steps;
Taking cognizance of the human rights violation involved in exposing people to killer asbestos fibers and how even if few asbestos fibre reach the right places, it causes irreversible damage leading to asbestosis, lung cancer or mesothelioma;
Considering Government of India’s role in preventing the listing of chrysotile asbestos as a hazardous product under the Rotterdam Convention, an International Agreement that requires that importing countries be warned of the risks associated with hazardous products is unbecoming of a nation of India’s stature. It is unconscionable that the government knowingly allows trades in a killer product that will cause death of hundreds of thousands of people in India in general and in Andhra Pradesh, Jharkhand, Gujarat, Bihar and Rajasthan in particular and elsewhere in the world;
Reminding the Government of India that there is incontrovertible evidence that creates a compelling logic for making India asbestos free;
Condemning the asbestos exporting countries liaison with the Indian asbestos industry to which Government is turning a blind eye who have unleashed a misinformation campaign about controlled use of asbestos products which is a fantasy;
Disapproving Ministry of Environment & Forests Experts Appraisal Committee on Industry for approving environmental clearance of asbestos plants;
Asserting the fact that so far some 55 countries have banned all forms of asbestos, and are already using alternative materials;
Underlining that almost 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;
We urge the Government to adequately compensate the victims of asbestos-related diseases, create a database of asbestos exposed people and victims as well besides providing legal and possible medical relief and taking preventive measures. We call on the government to create a mesothelioma registry and a building registry of those facilities which have asbestos. We seek inclusion of environmental and occupational health study in the medical education of all the 300 medical colleges in India
We recommend that the Government should start efforts to decontaminate asbestos laden buildings including schools and hospitals
We express shock at the instance countries like Canada using tax-payers money and Canadian embassies to actively promote the sale of asbestos around the world;
We appeal to the Government of India to put a ban on export, import, manufacturing, use and mining of all forms of asbestos including chrysotile (white) in India.
We call upon the Government of India, State Governments in general and Bihar Government in Particular besides Indian Ministry of Health, Ministry of Environment, Ministry of Commerce, Ministry of Labour, Ministry of Consumer Affairs and Ministry of Mines to initiate steps for an immediate ban on use, manufacture and trade of all forms of asbestos (including Chrysotile or White Asbestos).
Prof (Dr) Arthur Frank, Professor, Chair: Department of Environmental and Occupational Health, Drexel University School of Public Health, US, Email- email@example.com
Dr Aleck Farquhar, Managing Director, Occupational Health Clinics for Ontario Workers, Canada, E-mail- firstname.lastname@example.org
Professor Elihu D Richter MD MPH, Hebrew University-Hadassah School of Medicine, Israel, Eemail@example.com
Dr Yael Stein, MD, Unit of Occupational and Environmental Medicine, Hebrew University, Israel, E-mail- firstname.lastname@example.org
Dr Lyle Hargrove, Chairperson, Occupational Clinics for Ontario Workers, Canada, E-mail- email@example.com
Prof (Dr) Qamar Rahman, Fellow, National Academy of Sciences, India & former Deputy Director, Industrial Toxicology Research Centre, Lucknow E-mail- firstname.lastname@example.org
Dr. T.K. Joshi, Fellow, Collegium Ramazzini, Italy, E-mail- email@example.com
Dr Barry Castleman's Letter to Industry Minister, Government of Kerala
January 18, 2010
Hon. Elamaran Kareem
Minister of Industry
Dear Mr. Kareem,
I am a public health scientist and work with people around the world on public health efforts to prevent asbestos disease. Dr. MK Pandhe has been a key ally for years in trying to reverse India's disastrous expansion of asbestos use in construction. He advised me last month while I was in India that you would be receptive to hearing about this issue and what you and other leaders could do about it in Kerala.
I have also discussed this issue with Labor Minister PK Gurudasan and several members of his staff last month while I was in Kerala, and he was interested in taking action.
The Kerala Human Rights Commission has announced that schools, hospitals, and other public buildings shall no longer use asbestos-cement construction materials. This is consistent with the global recognition that asbestos dust inhalation causes cancer and a potentially fatal lung scarring disease, asbestosis. About 50 countries have banned asbestos, and the World Health Organization (WHO) has called for all countries to ban asbestos products. The widespread use of asbestos in construction materials in India is particularly dangerous, because of the impossibility of protecting the millions of construction workers and building occupants from the dust raised in construction, repair, renovation, and demolition. There is no safe threshold of exposure to airborne asbestos dust that is free from the risk of cancer. Mesothelioma, the "signal tumor" for asbestos exposure, has been widely reported in neighbors of asbestos plants and among family members who lived in the households of asbestos workers. http://www.who.int/
occupational_health/ publications/ asbestosrelateddiseases.pdf
The World Bank’s policy is to avoid asbestos in new construction and to use internationally recognized precautions if in-place asbestos has to be disturbed in Bank-funded construction projects. I was the consultant to the World Bank in drafting its Good Practice Note on asbestos published in May, 2009, and am currently a consultant to WHO. http://siteresources.
worldbank.org/EXTPOPS/ Resources/ AsbestosGuidanceNoteFinal.pdf
In contrast to most of India, Kerala uses very little asbestos, and the one asbestos-cement roofing factory in Kerala is state-owned. The factory is in a district next to the one you come from, I believe. This provides an extraordinary opportunity for Kerala to make public health advances. The state-owned plant can be converted to make non-asbestos fiber-cement. And Kerala can ban asbestos in construction materials, which for India account for over 90% of current asbestos use which is rising at 10 percent yearly.
As a consultant for the World Bank and WHO, one thing I have tried to do is assemble is a directory of companies offering alternative technology to asbestos-cement products. In the course of this, I have come into contact with people in South Africa who replaced asbestos with polyvinylalcohol (PVA) fibers and cellulose, a company in Brazil that uses polypropylene and cellulose instead of asbestos, and another firm in Italy that touts acrylic fibers as superior in replacing asbestos in fiber-cement. I would be glad to put you in touch with these people, so you can invite them to make proposals for conversion of the state-owned asbestos-cement plant in Kerala. These sources say that once a plant is converted, the products cost up to 10-12% more than asbestos products and have some superior properties (e.g., lighter, less brittle, improved nailability).
I can provide abundant additional information on any of the issues covered above but will end this letter here as a proposal to you for more detailed consideration of the matter. Please let me know if you are interested in this idea of substituting asbestos at the state-owned plant, and I will provide more information on people to contact, etc. The approach of avoiding asbestos through state procurement has already been recognized by the Kerala Human Rights Commission. This can be followed with a total ban on asbestos use in Kerala, with potentially enormous lifesaving value for the people of Kerala and all India.
With best wishes,
Barry Castleman, ScD