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, January 23, 2008

Hero Honda: India's first asbestos free two-wheeler

Hero Honda Motors Ltd makes half the two-wheelers in the country. Hero Honda is the World's No.1 two-wheeler manufacturing company having the trust of more than 5 million customers. The company is a joint venture of Hero Cycles of India and Honda Motor of Japan.

Pawan Munjal, managing director of Hero Honda says, .."There’s no legislation but 2 or 3 years ago, we’ve gone out and taken out all asbestos from our motorcycles and scooters. There’s no asbestos in our brake lining and clutch lining. While we’ve done that and replaced it with some other stuff – let’s say the brake, we’ve had to increase the size of the brake to get the same breaking strength – our cost has gone up. Same way with the clutch. So while you’re doing everything else, you’re also having to increase your costs because of other stuff. Safety, environment. Everyday there are new safety legislations coming in. Which is fine. We’re very much for all of these things. As I said, nobody asked us to do this asbestos thing, we did it ourselves. Because we care. Because we believe that we have this moral responsibility to the society, to the customer."

Saturday, January 19, 2008

Will India ever have asbestos-free automobiles?

Although Chairman of Tata group, Ratan Tata is yet to respond to the questions raised about his claims of so called People's Car- Nano that he launched at the ninth Auto Expo in New Delhi being environment friendly, it is germane to wonder about the possibility of asbestos free automobiles in India.

Tata Motors' vehicles are exported to over 70 countries in Europe, Africa, South America, Middle East, Asia and Australia. The company also has assembly operations in Malaysia, Bangladesh, Kenya, South Africa and Egypt. It claims that Tata Motors has led the Indian automobile industry's anti-pollution efforts through a series of initiatives in effluence and emission control. The company introduced emission control engines in its vehicles in India before the norm was made statutory. All its products meet required emission standards in the relevant geographies. Modern effluent treatment facilities, soil and water conservation programmes and tree plantation drives on a large scale at its plant locations contribute to the protection of the environment and the creation of green belts.

Ban Asbestos Network of India (BANI) has asked Ratan Tata to clarify whether this car and other automobiles that it manufacturers are asbestos free.

Tata Motors is India's largest and only fully integrated automobile company that was established in 1945. It began manufacturing commercial vehicles in 1954 with a 15-year collaboration agreement with Daimler Benz of Germany. Since 1969, the company's products have come out of its own design and development efforts.

It is India's largest commercial vehicle manufacturer with a 59-per cent market share and ranks among the top six manufacturers of medium and heavy commercial vehicles in the world.

Its product range covers passenger cars, multi-utility vehicles and light, medium and heavy commercial vehicles for goods and passenger transport. Seven out of 10 medium and heavy commercial vehicles in India bear the trusted Tata mark.

The company has over 130 models of light, medium and heavy commercial vehicles ranging from two tonnes to 40 tonnes, buses ranging from 12-seaters to 60 seaters, tippers, special purpose vehicles, off-road vehicles and defence vehicles.

The company's passenger car range comprises the hatchback Indica and the Indigo sedan in petrol and diesel versions. The Tata Sumo, its rural variant, the Spacio and the Tata Safari (the country's first sports utility vehicle) are the company's multi-utility offerings.

The Tata Indica, India's first indigenously designed and manufactured car, was launched by Tata Motors in 1999 as part of its ongoing effort towards giving India transport solutions that were designed for Indian conditions. Currently, the company's passenger cars and multi-utility vehicles have a 16-per cent market share.

In addition to the growth opportunities in the buoyant domestic market, the company is pursuing growth through acquisitions (it acquired Daewoo Commercial Vehicles, Korea, in 2003) and alliances (it has entered into a tie-up with MG Rover, UK, to supply 1,00,000 Indicas to be badged as City Rover) in other geographies.

It claims that it invests up to 1.3 per cent of its annual turnover on research and development, with an emphasis on new product / aggregates development and technology upgradation. Its Engineering Research Centre in Pune employs over 1,100 scientists and engineers and has India's only certified crash-test facility.

Asbestos laden Indian Automobiles

All cars and automobiles except Honda are asbestos laden in India. Sundaram Brake Linings Ltd, part of the TVS group had announced sometime back that it is working towards offering asbestos-free brake linings for the entire range of vehicles in India.

One cannot tell whether brake or clutch components contain asbestos simply by looking at them. For newer vehicles and parts, auto manufacturers, auto parts retailers and packaging information may be able to tell you whether or not your brake or clutch components contain asbestos. In India, even new vehicles are asbestos laden.

For older vehicles, or vehicles that have had brakes replaced, you may not be able to easily find out if the brake or clutch components contain asbestos.

Professional automotive technicians and home mechanics who repair and replace brakes and clutches may be exposed to asbestos dust. Brake and clutch dust can be seen when a brake disk, drum, clutch cover, or the wheel is removed from a car, truck, or other equipment. There are also many small dust particles that cannot be seen with the eye. If the brakes contain asbestos, the dust may contain asbestos fibers, which could be inhaled.

Friction materials are used in many forms. As used herein, the term "friction material" refers to a component of an assembly which is attached to a moving body

In India, preventing asbestos exposure among brake and clutch repair workers has not received any attention so far. Traditionally, brake materials contained a large amount of asbestos. Asbestos is a naturally occurring fiber material. It provided good green strength, flexural strength and compressive strength and was very stable at elevated temperatures. It also provided very good friction properties and is very inexpensive. Asbestos is not now favored due to the concern that improper handling during manufacture of the friction material could injure workers. As a result, the brake industry has been searching for a replacement for asbestos for a long time.

Asbestos-free friction materials in the automotive industry have been around for almost a decade but the same has not been adopted in India.

In use, the friction material is pressed against another member. Either the friction material or other member moves when the body moves such that pressing the friction material against the other member generates a frictional force which retards motion of the body or couples a motive force to the other member. For example, in a brake assembly attached to a car, a brake pad presses against a brake disc. The frictional force generated in the brake assembly retards motion of the car. As another example in a transmission assembly in a car, a clutch plate coupled to the wheels of the car is pressed against a clutch plate attached to the engine. The frictional force between the clutch plates couples motive force from the engine to the wheels making the car move.

The specific fillers and amounts used in any given brake material is generally a closely guarded-secret of the manufacturer. However, there are certain characteristics of brake materials which are generally measured and used for comparison to other materials.

The removal of asbestos from friction materials requires the identification of substitute brakes and systems and commercialization of new materials as well as the phaseout of asbestos materials.

Hazards of Asbestos Use

The removal of asbestos from friction materials has been necessitated by the recognition that asbestos, a naturally occurring mineral fiber that can cause serious health problems when inhaled into the lungs. If products containing asbestos are disturbed, thin, lightweight asbestos fibers can be released into the air. Persons breathing the air may breathe in asbestos fibers. Continued exposure can increase the amount of fibers deposited in the lung. Fibers embedded in the lung tissue over time may result in lung diseases such as asbestosis, lung cancer, or mesothelioma. Smoking increases the risk of developing asbestosis and lung cancer.

Ban Asbestos Network of India (BANI) has been campaigning for 100% asbestos free products in our country. Tata Motors is well placed to initiate the process of undertaking such measures. It is high time Indian government and automobile manufacturers took cognisance of the urgent need for replacement in automobile and truck brake systems. Such replacement would have a direct effect on friction materials used in automotive, truck, transit bus, and train brake systems, since many friction materials contain asbestos and would become safer.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Chrysotile industry shaping India's position for Prior Informed Consent Treaty

The next conference of the Parties to the Rotterdam Convention will be held from 27 to 31 October 2008 in Rome. Chrysotile asbestos will be on the agenda of COP-4 - as was agreed at COP-3. This treaty that is a result the efforts of United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) came into force on 24 February 2004. The text of the Convention was adopted on 10 September 1998 by a Conference of Plenipotentiaries in Rotterdam, the Netherlands.
Indian government irrespective of the ruling party has consistently colluded with asbestos interests. The full text is available at

At the Rotterdam Convention, 9-13 October 2006 held in Geneva, Switzerland, the third Conference of Parties (COP-3) to the Convention attended by 140 governments, UN agencies, intergovernmental organizations and non-governmental organisations failed to bring Prior Informed Consent (PIC) Treaty to apply to chrysotile asbestos, a known human carcinogen that represents 94 per cent of world’s asbestos.

The Indian delegation comprised of Naresh Dayal, Special Secretary, Ministry of Environment and Forests and Kumaresh C Misra, Joint Secretary, Ministry of Chemicals and Fertlisers joined countries including Canada, Ukraine and Kazakhstan to stop the listing of chrysotile asbestos.

The delegation was accompanied by Brig. A K Sethi, Executive Director of the Asbestos Cement Products Manufacturers Association and Ganeshan, General Manager, Excel Industries- the Endosulfan manufacturer, making Indian delegation, the only one with industry representatives sitting with the official delegation.

Although 95 per cent of the countries sought its inclusion, the COP-3 failed to list this and the decision to include it has been proposed in COP-4 in 2008.

The Indian delegation argued that the science behind the recommendation to list chrysotile asbestos was not categorical. It claimed that India was in thed process of studying on the hazards of pure chrysotile.

The objectives of the Convention are:

· to promote shared responsibility and cooperative efforts among Parties in the international trade of certain hazardous chemicals in order to protect human health and the environment from potential harm;

· to contribute to the environmentally sound use of those hazardous chemicals, by facilitating information exchange about their characteristics, by providing for a national decision-making process on their import and export and by disseminating these decisions to Parties.

The Convention creates legally binding obligations for the implementation of the Prior Informed Consent (PIC) procedure. It built on the voluntary PIC procedure, initiated by UNEP and FAO in 1989 and ceased on 24 February 2006.

Major Provisions:

The Convention covers pesticides and industrial chemicals that have been banned or severely restricted for health or environmental reasons by Parties and which have been notified by Parties for inclusion in the PIC procedure. One notification from each of two specified regions triggers consideration of addition of a chemical to Annex III of the Convention, Severely hazardous pesticide formulations that present a hazard under conditions of use in developing countries or countries with economies in transition may also be nominated for inclusion in Annex III.

There are 39 chemicals listed in Annex III of the Convention and subject to the PIC procedure, including 24 pesticides, 4 severely hazardous pesticide formulations and 11 industrial chemicals. Many more chemicals are expected to be added in the future. The Conference of the Parties decides on the inclusion of new chemicals.

Once a chemical is included in Annex III, a "decision guidance document" (DGD) containing information concerning the chemical and the regulatory decisions to ban or severely restrict the chemical for health or environmental reasons, is circulated to all Parties.

Parties have nine months to prepare a response concerning the future import of the chemical. The response can consist of either a final decision (to allow import of the chemical, not to allow import, or to allow import subject to specified conditions) or an interim response. Decisions by an importing country must be trade neutral (i.e., apply equally to domestic production for domestic use as well as to imports from any source).

The import decisions are circulated and exporting country Parties are obligated under the Convention to take appropriate measure to ensure that exporters within its jurisdiction comply with the decisions.

The Convention promotes the exchange of information on a very broad range of chemicals. It does so through:

· the requirement for a Party to inform other Parties of each national ban or severe restriction of a chemical;

· the possibility for Party which is a developing country or a country in transition to inform other Parties that it is experiencing problems caused by a severely hazardous pesticide formulation under conditions of use in its territory;

· the requirement for a Party that plans to export a chemical that is banned or severely restricted for use within its territory, to inform the importing Party that such export will take place, before the first shipment and annually thereafter;

· the requirement for an exporting Party, when exporting chemicals that are to be used for occupational purposes, to ensure that an up-to-date safety data sheet is sent to the importer; and

· labeling requirements for exports of chemicals included in the PIC procedure, as well as for other chemicals that are banned or severely restricted in the exporting country.

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Is “People’s Car” Asbestos Free?

Tata Motors has launched the people's car - Tata 'Nano.' The car will be available in several variants. Ratan Tata, Chairman, Tata Group said that the car is eco-friendly. So far, they have invested Rs 1,500-1,700 crore in the small car project. The car will comply with Bharat III & Euro 4 emission norms. He said that the car meets all safety standards including crash test, offset and side crash.

But it is not clear whether this “People’s Car” is asbestos free. In India, asbestos fibers are used in automobile brake pads and shoes. Almost all automakers still use asbestos brakes. World over since the mid-1990s, a majority of brake pads, new or replacement, have been manufactured instead with Aramid fiber (the same material used in bulletproof vests).

Besides consumers, most auto mechanics are just as ignorant about the asbestos threat but for the mechanics, ignorance can mean a painful death. Scientists are well aware of the cancer causing nature of asbestos. Asbestos containing brake linings and jointing used in automobiles. Automotive parts industry manufactures brake shoes. Those auto manufacturers who are conscious of hazards of asbestos exposure are using and manufacturing metallic brake shoes as a safer replacement. There is no surveillance to ensure that asbestos brakes carry the cancer warning labels.

It appears that some of the major auto makers are still selling asbestos-containing new vehicles and replacement brakes in India, even though they probably wouldn’t dare sell try to sell it to Europe, Japan, Australia and countries that have banned it.

India has a very disturbing situation where even new vehicles and replacement parts with asbestos continue to be sold. There is no reliable documentation about the working conditions or pollution at the plants where these asbestos products are made.

In a stark case of double standard, both asbestos free brakes and asbestos containing ones are being manufactured but the former is for export and latter is for domestic consumption.

Many brakes and clutches used in new and recent model automobiles do not contain asbestos. However, it has not been totally eliminated. Some reports have indicated that many mechanics and employees in the automotive repair shops as well as do-it-yourselfers are unaware that asbestos may be present in both old and replacement brakes and clutches. Asbestos is banned in over 40 countries and has given rise to an epidemic of asbestos related diseases such as lung cancer. Modern industry has no need of asbestos but asbestos industry is still expanding in India.

Tata Motors, India's largest truck maker launched the country's cheapest car today priced at 100,000 rupees ($2,500) . These trucks have never claimed to be asbestos free.

Thursday, January 3, 2008

Indian workers struggle to breathe thanks to Canadian asbestos

Muthuswamy Minayan works every day even though (as X-ray shows) he's
got a plaque buildup in his lungs that caus-es him to struggle for

AHMEDABAD, INDIA -- Mangabhai Patel rubs his hands on either side of
his chest and points to the pain that has left him breathless for the
last 11 years.

Patel has asbestosis, a breathing disorder caused by inhaling asbestos
particles. A former stonemason in a thermal power plant, Patel, 65,
used chrysotile asbestos fibres mixed in cement to repair cracks in
boilers for nearly 30 years.

The man's lung capacity has deteriorated so much that he is now forced
to breathe through a respirator for three hours a day. Patel said he
is counting his days, since his doctor isn't sure how much longer
Patel will live.

"Because of the dust in the air I breathe, I get cough," he said
through a translator.

"I am suffering from this disease. These companies, these countries
have caused me this disease. I'm asking them to treat me."
Patel is one of hundreds of factory and construction workers in the
state of Gujarat who are seriously ill from inhaling chrysotile
asbestos fibres on the job.

More than 120 workers have filed for compensation for asbestos-related
health problems through India's Supreme Court in Gujarat, a seaside
state where ships deliver chrysotile asbestos from Quebec before it is
sent to factories and manufacturing plants across India.

Much of the chrysotile asbestos used in Gujarat comes from Canada, and
dozens of Gujarati workers like Patel know colleagues who have died.
They have stacks of medical documents proving the tight feeling in
their chests is a result of a build-up of asbestos fibres in their

Canadian chrysotile asbestos accounts for about one-third of all
asbestos in India and is used to make everything from corrugated metal
roofing to water pipes.

Indian doctors estimate that at least 100,000 workers inhale
chrysotile asbestos fibres every day. Most workers don't wear masks
and are unaware of the hazards of working with the material.

Asbestosis and mesothelioma, a deadly form of cancer caused by the
fibres, are difficult to track, since it can take between 10 and 30
years for the inflammation or cancer to manifest in the lungs.

No one knows how many Indian workers are sick or how may have died as
a result of inhaling asbestos fibres.

"The rate at which workers are dying is noticeable," said Gopal
Krishna, an activist with the Ban Asbestos Network of India, a Delhi-
based non-governmental organization.

He is critical of Canada's role as an exporter of asbestos.

Chinna Chinnakannu holds a picture of his family. He says he is
willing to risk his health in order to provide for them.
"Here is a country that has a civilized persona, which is indulging in
the most uncivilized barbaric act of exposing workers (to asbestos)."

Winnipeg MP Pat Martin said by e-mail that Canada's affinity for
asbestos is based on the federal government's refusal to offend

"Not only is Canada's policy on asbestos morally and ethically
reprehensible, we go out of our way trying to block other countries
from banning asbestos. Honestly, Canada should hang its head in

Sitting outside a factory worker's home in Ahmedabad, Krishna snaps
photos of a dozen workers' medical assessments and scribbles notes to
add to his growing file. The workers have taken half a day off to meet
Krishna, with the hope someone can help them receive compensation for
their illness and help pay their medical bills.

Krishna said most of the men have inhaled asbestos dust from sawing
through cement or metal products that contain the fibres. Fewer than
30 workers in India have been formally compensated over the last
decade, and Krishna said the men sitting across from him will be lucky
to receive any money.

Krishna said workers often can't afford to quit their jobs, even
though doctors tell them continuing to work with asbestos will only
make their symptoms worse.

Although India imports chrysotile asbestos from Russia and Kazakhstan,
Krishna said it's Canada's slick pro-asbestos marketing campaigns that
keep the asbestos industry in business. Krishna said Canadians have
had scientific experts speak about the safety of the material for
years, without acknowledging that developing countries like India
don't have or enforce the same health and safety standards as the
western world.

Last year, India imported more than 63,000 metric tonnes of chrysotile
asbestos from Canada.

Muthuswamy Minayan holds up an X-ray of his lungs that shows the white
plaque that leaves him tired and out of breath. Minayan has pain on
either side of his chest every day, but still goes to work to support
his six sons.
"I didn't know. Just five years ago, I came to know the danger in it,"
he said, noting he has used a machine to saw ridges into metal sheets
that contain chrysotile asbestos for more than 25 years.

Despite evidence from Indian doctors and workers, Natural Resources
Canada maintains that chrysotile asbestos is safe and that it's up to
countries like India to ensure workers are protected.

A spokesperson from Natural Resources Canada said more than 93 per
cent of Canadian chrysotile asbestos is mixed with cement, which
prevents the release of asbestos fibres -- except when workers saw
through the cement.

The spokesperson said Canada provides information to importing
countries on how to manage the risks associated with chrysotile and
supports the work of the Chrysotile Institute, a non-profit
organization that promotes chrysotile and advocates for its safety.

"While implementation of domestic measures to ensure workplace health
and safety is a sovereign responsibility of importing countries,
Canada makes efforts to promote the 'controlled use' of chrysotile,"
the spokesperson said in an e-mail.

That's little comfort for Chinna Chinnakannu, 53, who is more
concerned with providing for his family than his own health.

Chinnakannu holds up a photo of his three daughters and one son.
They're the reason he still goes to work in a Gujarati cement factory
every day.

Although Chinnakannu knows the plaque in his lungs is getting worse
from continued exposure, he said he muscles through the pain to make a

"It's not about being happy, it's about compensation," Chinnakannu
said. "My focus is breadwinning. I have to get my daughter married and
take care of my son."

Second-hand sufferers

Although most of the victims of asbestosis are men who work in
asbestos manufacturing plants or construction, there are three
documented cases in the Gujarat area of women who have gotten sick
from inhaling asbestos fibres from their husband's clothes.

Savita Behn was diagnosed with asbestosis in 2003, even though she has
never set foot in a factory or construction site. Behn's husband works
in a cement factory and she said she used to inhale the dust from his
clothes when she did laundry every few days.

Today, Behn suffers from breathing problems and severe fatigue.
Walking or even eating, she said, leaves her exhausted.

"Because of breathlessness, I can't walk. (That's why) I'm sitting
like this."

By the numbers

* Canada exports chrysotile asbestos and other chrysotile products to
70 countries around the world. In 2006, these exports were worth $114

* About 1,900 people are employed in the asbestos industry in Canada.

* More than 40 countries, including Japan, Australia and the European
Union, have banned all imports of chrysotile asbestos.

* Canada continues to import chrysotile asbestos. In 2006, Canada
imported a total of $111 million worth of chrysotile asbestos products
including brake linings, corrugated metal sheets, paper and protective

Dec 28 2007

Blog Archive