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.

Sunday, March 9, 2008

Doctoring asbestos study to promote its use

Doctoring asbestos study to promote its use

Documents unearthed under the Right to Information Act reveal how industry added Rs. 16 lakh to the government's Rs. 44 lakh to commission a study by the National Institute of Occupational Health (NIOH) to "specifically indicate how technology has made working conditions [in asbestos factories] better."

The study is titled "Implementation of Rotterdam Convention on Prior Informed Consent Procedures — Study of Health Hazards/Environment Hazards Resulting from the Use of Chrysotile Variety of Asbestos in the Country." Chrysotile is popularly known as white asbestos.

Acknowledging the hazards from asbestos, Anbumani Ramadoss, Union Health Minister, informed Parliament: "…regarding asbestos, a lot of poor people use it. As regards the issue pertaining to banning of asbestos, as a health issue, the government certainly has not taken it up. It is an occupational hazard and people working in the asbestos factories are prone to lung cancer, but we are taking the enormity of the usage of asbestos. Mostly, poor people in the villages use it. Hence, I cannot take a decision on this issue."
Deadly fibre

The enormity of usage is no excuse to expose Indian workers and citizens to this deadly fibre. Without amendment to the existing import policy by the Union Ministry of Commerce and Industry for white asbestos, its consumption pattern is unlikely to change.

The study that has now been exposed through the Right to Information is supposed to be presented at the next meeting of the Chemical Review Committee of the Rotterdam Convention to rationalise its third veto against the U.N. action on white asbestos. It will also form the basis for India's domestic policy on the continued use of asbestos.

The next conference of the Parties to the Rotterdam Convention will be held from October 27 to 31, 2008 in Rome. Chrysotile asbestos will be on the agenda of Fourth Conference of Parties (COP-4) as was agreed at COP-3. This treaty, a result the efforts of the United Nations, came into force in February 2004. The text of the Convention was adopted in Rotterdam, the Netherlands. The Indian government, irrespective of the ruling party, has consistently colluded with asbestos interests.

The COP-3 of Rotterdam Convention held in Geneva, Switzerland, in October 2006 failed to bring the Prior Informed Consent (PIC) Treaty to apply to chrysotile (white asbestos), a known human carcinogen that represents 94 per cent of world's asbestos.

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 has consistently argued that the science behind the recommendation to list chrysotile asbestos was not categorical.

The minutes of the Review Committee obtained recently through the Right to Information Act, dated December 19, 2006, read: "The report will be finalised after due discussions with the asbestos industry." Another meeting minutes, dated April 18, 2007, report that "...the results of the study which was under way could not be shared [with public] till the same was finalised." Clearly, a scientific study that is finalised after discussions with the corporate interests is grossly conflict of interest ridden and deserves to be scrapped.

As per data released by the U.N. Statistics Division, India imported about 306,000 tonnes of asbestos in 2006. Of which, 152,820 tonnes was imported from Russia and 63,980 tonnes from Canada.

Made-to-order science

The rising consumption is a result of a made-to-order science that gets exposed by the documents that show how the Union Ministry of Chemicals, acting in collusion with the asbestos industry, is manufacturing science to back its pre-determined position to fight global regulation on the killer fibre by reiterating that 'controlled and safe use' of white asbestos is acceptable both to the white asbestos industry and the Indian government.

Dr. Barry Castleman, an expert on asbestos who was in India in December 2007, commented: "Anyone who says there's a controlled use of asbestos in the Third World is either a liar or a fool."

Sunday, Mar 02, 2008

The Hindu

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Chrysotile in India: Truth Held Hostage

The title of this article is taken from an editorial written by Dr. Sanjay Chaturvedi which appeared in the Indian Journal of Community Medicine.1 In that paper, Dr. Chaturvedi revealed how strategies used by global asbestos stakeholders to suppress data, mislead the public and manipulate national governments are being used to good effect in India to create a climate in which the use of chrysotile asbestos is increasing. The asbestos-cement (ac) industry in India is a multibillion dollar industrial sector which is growing by 9% a year: “Rising revenue and increasing manufacturing capacity of all major asbestos players make asbestos a 'good investment' in share market according to financial analysts and advisers.”

The dire consequences of asbestos use in India were detailed in Annie Zaidi's Frontline expose: Killer Mineral published on-line this month (October 2006).2 Zaidi cites a report issued by the Supreme Court's Committee of Technical Experts on the health of workers at the Alang ship-breaking yard which found that 16% of them suffered from asbestosis. Similar results have been found by other investigations:


in 2004, the Occupational Health and Safety Centre, Mumbai reported that 22% of the workers from the ac factory belonging to Hindustan Composites (Ghatkopar) had asbestosis;

another 2004 research project commissioned by the Labor Ministry and carried out by the Central Labor Institute (Mumbai) of at-risk asbestos workers reported similar findings as did research undertaken by the Industrial Toxicology Research Centre (ITRC).3

Despite all that is known about the hazardous nature of chrysotile, India continues to import it in vast quantities. Journalist Zaidi wryly comments that although India imports raw asbestos, it is unable to export asbestos material as “nobody is willing to buy. Not even Canada, which accounts for more than 70 per cent of our imports, will risk buying asbestos-laden roofing, clutch plates, or textiles.” The asbestos lobby in India has many friends in the Government who have introduced measures to give asbestos a significant competitive price advantage over safer products. Ravi Agarwal, Director of Toxics Link, explains that:

“The import duty on asbestos dropped from 78 per cent in 1992 to 15 per cent in 2004. the government clearly has no plans to phase it out. Incidentally, such duty benefits aren't extended to other products that might serve as substitutes, such as poly-vinyl alcohol.”

Researchers have identified hundreds of asbestos victims from West Bengal, Rajasthan, Jharkhand, Andhra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu. Anecdotal evidence suggests that the level of asbestosis amongst power station workers throughout India is also high. Despite an order by the Supreme Court that the Government must check all power plants, no action has been taken by the Labor Ministry. Groups such as Ban Asbestos India and Kalyaneshwari, a Kolkata-based NGO, are calling for a national ban on all asbestos use and imports. The payment of compensation for asbestos-related disease and the maintenance of at-risk registers for exposed workers remain fantasies in a country which, while paying lip-service to ILO conventions and recommendations, continues to promote and endorse the use of the “killer fiber.”

by Laurie Kazan-Allen


1 Chaturvedi S. Editorial – Chrysotile in India: Truth Held Hostage. Indian Journal of Community Medicine. 2006: 31:1-2.

2 Zaidi A. Killer Mineral. Frontline. Volume 23- Issue 20: October 7-20, 2006.

3 In a paper by Raghonath Manwar: Asbestos and its Ill Effect on Human Health, he describes a survey of an ac unit in Faridabad which found that 7% of the workers had asbestosis and 58% showed some signs of lung changes; another survey at a Mumbai ac plant revealed that 28% had advanced asbestosis. Manwar estimates “ at least one third of workers in asbestos industries are suffering from asbestosis.”

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