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.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

The Powder That Chokes

In November, 2007 PLANNING DEPARTMENT of GOVERNMENT OF RAJASTHAN prepared a COMPENDIUM OF ISSUES PENDING WITH GOVERNMENT OF INDIA which listed Prohibition on Asbestos Mining as one of the pending issues.

The compendium reads: "Government of India has prohibited renewal of and grant of fresh asbestos mining leases in the country, keeping in view the adverse effects on the health of those working in such mines. The Indian Bureau of Mines has carried out detailed studies and has prepared a report which has been submitted to the Government of India. In this report, it is mentioned that the mining operations do not affect the health of a worker exposed to these operations and by taking precautionary measures, it can be checked. Based on this Report, GOI may be requested to lift the ban on renewal of existing and grant of fresh asbestos mining leases in the country.
A meeting was held on 21.9.2004 whereas decision was taken to continue ban on new leasing and renewal of asbestos mining in Rajasthan."

"Rajasthan State has largest deposits of low grade asbestos and having largest production also. Looking to this, ban on asbestos shall not continue. In this regard, GOI has been again requested on 10.11.2004. The Govt. of India has been recently reminded on 25.7.06 to lift the ban on asbestos mining."

It refers to Action required:-Government of India may be requested to lift ban on grant and renewal of Asbestos mining.

It has prepared Possible Question for the Government of India to respond:-
1. Is it true that Indian Bureau of Mines have conducted study on the health hazards of asbestos mine workers of Rajasthan ?
2. If yes, what are the recommendations ? Is study recommends for lifting of ban on asbestos leasing ?
3. Is Govt. of India have intension to implement these suggestions and lift ban on leasing and renewal of leases asbestos ?
4. If so, when ?

It also gives the Name & Telephone No. of concerned Minister/Officer in Government of India who should be approach. Their names are as under:-
Joint Secretary, Ministry of Mines, Telephone No. 23384886
Name & Telephone No. of concerned officer in Government of Rajasthan: -
Shri N. P. Sharma, Dy. Secretary, Mines Department, Jaipur. Telephone No. 2227217(O), 2703036(R).

Note: Asbestos mines in India is taking its toll but there is criminal negligence towards the asbestos victims. In India, asbestos occurs in the states of Andra Pradesh, Rajashtan, Jharkhand, Karnataka, Tamilnadu and Manipur. (Most of the Indian asbestos deposits belong to the tremolite-actinolite variety. It occurs in tremolite-actinolite schists, amphibolites and metamorphosed basic and ultra
basic rocks. Jharkhand and Rajasthan were mainly enriched with tremolite followed by small amount of chrysotile.

In Andra Pradesh and Tamilnadu the amphibole variety is more abundant than the chrysotile variety. In Jharkhand, chrysotile asbestos occurs in Singhbhum districts associated with serpentinised dunites and peridodites and is usually between 3.1 to 6.2 mm long. Chrysotile asbestos fibers are short between 9.4 to 15.75 mm in length. Lakshmana mines in Cuddapah district in Andra Pradesh chrysotile fibers are between 0.076 to 0.152 mm in length2, 4–7).countries.

All forms of asbestos cause asbestosis, a progressive fiberotic disease of the lungs. All can cause lung cancer and malignant mesothelioma. In new developing industrial
nations like India the exposure are much higher and the potential for epidemics of asbestos diseases is great.

Singbhumi Ekta, a weekly from Chaibasa, published between January and August 1981, carried a press release from the late P. Mazumdar, the leader of the United Mine Workers Union (AITUC), which says that 30 workers from Roro mines had died of asbestosis. Sundaraw, a asbestos worker(PICTURE ABOVE) and others like him will also meet the same fate who are engaged in the mines at Pulivendala, Andhra Pradesh.


Shuchi Srivastava

Health norms be damned. India may lift the ban on asbestos mining.

Matter That Kills

• WHO estimates 90,000 people die annually due to asbestos-related occupational cancer.
• Experts aver that there are no safe levels of asbestos exposure.
• Not many aware that even normal wear and tear of asbestos carry health and environment hazards.
Around 40 countries the world over may have banned or set in motion steps to phase out the use of asbestos, a deadly carcinogenic mineral, yet India blithely moves in reverse gear.

The move to lift the asbestos mining ban defies global practices. The US has banned its use recently.

Unmindful of the health and environment concerns, the Centre is working overtime to lift a 20-year-old ban on asbestos mining. In 1986, it had directed all states to stop granting new mining leases for asbestos (including chrysotile) in view of the deleterious effect on the health of mine workers. In 1993, the government also stopped renewing existing mining leases.

Now it is set to do an about turn. "A gazette notification outlining our recommendations towards lifting the ban on mining chrysolite asbestos is currently under formulation. We expect it to go for cabinet approval early next year," says Kaushik Sarkar, deputy-director, Directorate General of Mines Safety (DGMS).

For the layman, asbestos is a generic term applied to certain naturally occurring fibrous minerals that came into use in over 3,000 products for their thermal resistance and immense tensile strength. Chrysotile, amosite and crocidolite are the most commonly used forms of asbestos. Chrysotile, deemed the safest, has 90 per cent market share. Asbestos's global reputation of being a proven human carcinogen has led to experts calling for a total cessation of its use. who estimates show that asbestos kills at least 90,000 people annually—about half of all occupational cancer deaths. Classified by EU as a category one carcinogen, experts aver there is no safe level of asbestos exposure. Once inhaled, the fibres get enmeshed in lung tissues, causing lung cancer, asbestosis and mesothelioma, which is a painful cancer of the chest wall lining.

The government volte-face signals the culmination of a debate that began in 1998 when the Ministry of Mines and Minerals (MOMM) asked the Indian Bureau of Mines (IBM) to assess the feasibility of lifting the ban on expansion of asbestos mining after assessing pollution levels in asbestos mines and processing plants in Rajasthan and Andhra Pradesh.

Based on the IBM report, the MOMM in March 2006 issued an advisory stating, "IBM has been asked to work out necessary safeguards in consultation with the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB), subject to which chrysotile asbestos mining can be permitted, so as to ensure workers' safety." Defending the decision, S.R. Roy, deputy controller of mines, IBM, says: "IBM is playing a facilitator's role between the DGMS and the CPCB, both of which have decided to reduce occupational exposure limits to all kinds of asbestos in the work environment from the earlier 2 fibre per cubic centimeter (f/cc) to 0.5 f/cc, although we believe the instrumentation required to measure this is quite expensive and could be difficult to implement." Adds Sarkar, "We feel the ban on chrysotile asbestos mining is illogical, especially as we allow large-scale asbestos imports from Canada and Russia for processing and manufacture into various products. So, if these units can be allowed to function under stringent safety rules, why can't we do the same while allowing local asbestos mining?"

Naturally, CPCB holds a different view. Says an official: "In principle, we have agreed with the DGMS to reduce exposure of the asbestos workers' to the global norm of 0.5 f/cc to 0.1 f/cc, but still have reservations about lifting the ban."

Qamar Rahman, senior scientist at the Lucknow-based Industrial Toxicology Research Centre, says: "On the basis of my own study and others conducted at the asbestos milling units, the ban on asbestos mining should not be lifted. Mining and processing are interrelated, and conditions need to be improved at both places simultaneously."

Rahman says that in the milling or grinding areas, fibre concentrations were high and workers didn't use gloves, masks or protective clothing. The primitive manual ways of grinding and housekeeping in the units was also very bad.

Local activists say the move to lift the mining ban is a blatant defiance of global benchmarks. Last month, the US Senate passed the Ban Asbestos in America Act. India, on the contrary, has slashed import duty from 78 per cent in 1995-96 to 25 per cent in 1999-2000.

As a result, the use of asbestos products for manufacture of pipes for water supply, sewage, irrigation and drainage system, textiles, laminated products, brake lining and jointing for automobiles, heavy equipment, fertilisers and thermal power plants continues unabated.

Global trade data reveals that in 2006, India imported around 3,06,000 metric tonnes (MT) of asbestos of which 1,52,820 MT was from Russia, 63,980 MT from Canada, 48,807 MT from Kazakhstan and 34,953 MT from Brazil. Ironically, while Canada doesn't allow domestic asbestos use, it is a major supplier.

Giving an industry perspective, Vivek Chandra Rao, GM, occupational health, Hyderabad Industries Ltd (HIL), a Birla group company, says: "The lifting of the ban does not mean that the industry will start using the indigenously mined asbestos, as we will first check the grade and quality versus the imported Canadian and Russian asbestos. Then there is the question of the volume available in our mines for our daily usage." HIL manufactures the 'Charminar' brand of corrugated asbestos cement sheets and has a marketshare of 22 per cent. Similarly, Everest Industries, with a 17 per cent marketshare in asbestos cement roofing, feels checking the quality is essential, as indigenous asbestos could also have high levels of adulteration.

With the asbestos industry employing about 8,000 workers, the main concerns are about health. "The health and safety legislation does not cover 93 per cent of workers in the unorganised sector, where asbestos exposures are very high," says Gopal Krishna, a veteran anti-asbestos activist. Not many are aware that even asbestos products like water pipes and roofing carry health risk as wind erosion besides normal wear and tear leads to disintegration of fibres, which can get lodged in the nose, mouth, throat, larynx or lungs. Says Rahman: "As these fibres are bio-persistent (stay in the body for years without changing) they can cause irreparable damage and cancer."

The government support of asbestos as a poor man's building material does not bode well, particularly when polyvinyl alcohol (PVA)—a man-made fibre—is available as a cheaper and less hazardous alternative. Activists allege that PVA import duties, now at around 71 per cent, hinder its acceptability as a replacement for asbestos in construction.

What the government hopes to achieve by going against the global tide remains unclear, but given asbestos's hazard potential, it should be ready to face the consequences.

Dec 03, 2007, Outlook


mediavigil said...


Asbestos stakeholders continue to expand their manufacturing operations in India despite the foreseeable repercussions of the hazardous exposures experienced throughout the sector. A paper (2005) entitled Occupational Asbestos Exposure and Predictable Asbestos-related Diseases in India predicts:

“a future occurrence of clinical asbestos-related diseases… in asbestos exposed workers from mining, milling, and manufacturing as well as in those with secondary exposures to asbestos-containing materials, including construction and maintenance workers, users of asbestos-containing consumer products, and the occupants of asbestos-containing buildings.”1, 2

The conclusions of co-authors Drs. Dave and Beckett are based on government reviews of industrial asbestos fiber concentrations which found levels:


of 200-400 f/ml in asbestos mills in Pullivendalla, Cuddaph, Andhra Pradesh;

of 10f/ml in two large-scale mechanized asbestos cement factories and 2-3 times higher than the PEL3 in an asbestos cement products factory;

100 times higher than the PEL in small-scale asbestos textile processing units;

6-8 times higher than the PEL in a large-scale asbestos textile and brake-manufacturing company.

It is believed that hazardous asbestos exposures experienced by up to 40,000 former and current workers could translate into an epidemic of asbestos-related disease:

“Because many asbestos workers start at an early age in India, and because relatively more women work in the asbestos industries, we anticipate the occurrence of asbestos-related diseases at relatively younger ages, and in higher proportions of women, than has been seen in some other countries.”

As other countries ban or restrict the use of asbestos, Indian officials are issuing planning permission in record time so that construction of new asbestos processing facilities can take place.4 On January 1, 2006, production began at an asbestos-cement factory in Rae Bareli, Uttar Pradesh in the north of India; the plant is located in the constituency of Sonia Gandhi. The manufacturers' intention is that the availability of locally produced asbestos-cement materials will lead to the replacement of traditional thatched roofs. Although production has started, medical check-ups for the workforce have not been completed nor has an independent agency been appointed to monitor workplace exposure levels, both of which are measures stipulated by the Supreme Court.

The factory is the latest venture of Visaka Industries, one of India's largest asbestos groups; the company also has asbestos-cement factories in Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, West Bengal and Karnataka. Two more plants will be commissioned within the next two years. The Chairman of Visaka Industries is G Vivekanand who is the son of the G Venkataswarmy, MP, Deputy Leader of the Indian Congress Parliamentary Party and a former Textile Minister. Chairman Vivekanand's brother is G Vinod, the Minister for Labour and Employment, Handlooms & Textiles in Andhra Pradesh. There is little doubt that Visaka executives have the ear of influential and powerful political figures in India.

January 14, 2006


1 Dave SK, Beckett WS. Occupational Asbestos Exposures and Predictable Asbestos-related Diseases in India. Am J. Ind. Med. 2005;48:137-143.

2 Research in the 1980s and 1990s by Dr. Qamar Rahman revealed that 7% of asbestos industry workers in Mohanganj, near Lucknow, Uttar Pradesh were suffering from asbestosis.

3 The current permissible exposure limit (PEL) is 1 fiber per ml (f/ml).

4 Environmental clearance was applied for by Visaka Industries for the Rae Bareli plant on May 2, 2005; final clearance was granted within 5 months. This is one of the fastest clearances processed by the Ministry of the Environment and Forests.

by Laurie Kazan-Allen


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