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.

Monday, March 10, 2008

Objection Letter to Ministry of Chemicals on Asbestos Industry Study


Shri V.S.Sampath

Shri Kumaresh Chandra Misra
Joint Secretary

Shri P.V. Rajeev Sebastian
Economic Advisor

Shrimati Harmeet S. Singh

Mr. P. S. Singh
Dy. Secretary

Department of Chemicals and Petrochemicals
Ministry of Chemicals and Fertiliser
Shastri Bhawan, Dr Rajendra Prasad Marg
New Delhi 110 001
10th March 2008

Subject: Objection to the Ministry of Chemicals & Fertilisers-Asbestos Industry sponsored study- Implementation of the Rotterdam Convention on the Prior Informed Consent Procedures-Study of Health Hazards/Environment Hazards resulting from use of Chrysotile variety of asbestos in the Country.

We are writing to voice our strong objections to the above mentioned study commissioned by the Ministry of Chemicals & Fertilisers to National Institute of Occupational Health and part sponsored by the Asbestos Industry.

We understand that the study has been commissioned keeping in mind the proposed inclusion of chrysotile asbestos in the PIC procedure in the upcoming 4th Conference of Parties (October 2008) of the Rotterdam Convention and would also be presented at the Chemical Review Committee (CRC) of the Convention in March 2008. As we understand, this study will form India’s position on chrysotile asbestos in the Convention as well as its domestic policy on the substance.

While it’s a rational step to conduct a scientific assessment prior to taking an informed decision at an international forum, we would like to point out that throughout the World, there is a growing consensus that exposure to all types of asbestos—including chrysotile—is fatal. This understanding is shared by the International Labour Organisation, the World Health Organisation’s International Agency for Research on Cancer, the International Programme on Chemical Safety, the European Union, the Collegium Ramazzini, the International Social Security Association, the World Trade Organisation, the International Commission on Occupational Health, the International Federation of Building and Woodworkers, the International Metalworker’s Federation and governments of over 40 countries and scores of independent scientists.

Therefore, we find it rather perplexing that the Ministry had decided to reinvent the wheel by conducting a new study rather than reviewing and taking into consideration the existing scientific evidences and credible opinions.

In India, it is believed that over 100,000 workers are getting exposed to asbestos fibres every year. There have been independent studies done, especially of workers exposed to chrysotile asbestos, which have conclusively shown that workers exposed to this substance have been diagnosed with asbestosis. For instance, number of cases of asbestosis and lung cancer has been detected amongst workers in Hindustan Composites Limited (Ghatkopar factory, Mumbai), Digvijay Cements (Ahmedabad factory), Ahmedabad Electricity Corporation (Ahmedabad) and so on.

As for the industry argument of “controlled use” and “how technology has made working conditions better”, these are myths long discredited by the scientific community across the globe and national governments. In its 2001 decision, World Trade Organisation while upholding asbestos ban in France had soundly rejected the “controlled use” argument. In its 95th Session of the International Labour Conference in June 2006, International Labour Organtisation adopted a resolution for the elimination of all forms of asbestos from future use as the only way forward for protecting workers. It passed this resolution “Considering that all forms of asbestos, including chrysotile, are classified as known human carcinogens by the International Agency for Research on Cancer, a classification restated by the International Programme on Chemical Safety (a joint Programme of the International Labour Organization, the World Health Organization and the United Nations Environment Programme)”.

We find the present study highly problematic on the following grounds:

1. Conflict of Interest: From information obtained by us under the Right To Information Act 2005, we find that not only is the study is being part sponsored by the asbestos industry, its representatives are also part of the review committee meetings.
2. Industry Consultation: In almost every meeting of the review committee, the conditionality for industry consultation prior to finalization of the study report is emphasized:
i. “The report will be finalized after due discussions with the asbestos industry.”-Minutes of the meeting of Review Committee dated 19.12.2006
ii. “After submitting the draft report, NIOH will organize a national workshop to discuss the findings with the relevant industry stakeholders and based on the feedback the final report will be prepared” – Letter from Under Secretary to the Government of India, Dept. of Chemicals and Petrochemicals, Ministry of Chemicals and Fertilisers to Director, NIOH in a letter dated 24/4/2006
3. Doctoring of the report: A copy of the report on a study of Everest Industries
obtained from NIOH under RTI showed “about 32% of the workers with
impaired lung function. The major abnormality was restrictive type.”- Minutes of
the meeting of Review Committee dated 14.9.2006. The Review Committee has
decided that “S. Ganesan of ICC (Indian Chemical Council) and NIOH
representatives will redraft/re-word the Kolkata report keeping in view the
international sensitivities.”- Minutes of the meeting of Review Committee dated
4. Independent scientists, who had seen the NIOH survey of Everest Industries
factory in Kolkata, had sent letters to the Union Minister of Chemicals and
Fertilisers in 2007 stating: “…the proposed NIOH studies will not achieve the
objective of detecting the health effects of asbestos and are thus a waste of
valuable resources. It is also my opinion that Indian workers are being
needlessly exposed to asbestos and the only prudent solution is to ban its
production and use.”
5. Industry Science: Not only is the industry being consulted on the study, it is also providing the science for it. There is no way of
knowing the extent to which the industry data will be selective, and
without knowing that it is impossible to confirm whether industry's
input to the study will be truly representative of industry's actual
experience and knowledge.
6. Moreover the scientific data being provided by the industry to the government is highly questionable. A case in point is the study - Understanding Chrysotile Asbestos: A New Perspective Based Upon Current Data by a freelance toxicologist Dr D.M. Bernstein. Dr Bernstein is known for doing “industry-sponsored science” and has often attended international scientific meetings to advocate the “innocence” of chrysotile.
7. Denial and Secrecy: For a study which would form the basis for the Indian government’s position on asbestos at home and internationally, and have a large implication on public health, especially for workers handling asbestos, it has been closely guarded from trade unions, public interest groups and even the Indian Parliament. Meanwhile, the industry is being consulted at every step of the way. Even the information unearthed under RTI Act was selective. It appears that there is a systematic effort to stonewall all requests for information about the study.

From the partial information that we have received from the Ministry under the RTI Act, we have strong reasons to believe that this study is a travesty of what is considered credible science. The fact that it is sponsored, reviewed, and vetted by those who stand to gain or lose from its findings makes it absolutely unethical. Besides, the secrecy surrounding its outcomes makes it suspect in the public eye. We strongly believe that if this study is presented at the CRC and COP 4 of Rotterdam Convention, it will hold no water in the scientific and international community and will be a matter of great embarrassment and shame for India. This study needs to be immediately scrapped. India should form its position based on existing credible scientific data and opinions and experiences of trade unions/labour-health groups in a transparent manner and not be influenced by corporate interest. Please remember that this study will seal the fate of millions of workers handling this substance and will have far reaching implications on national public health. The only way forward is to ban the production and use of all forms of asbestos in the country. And ensure that safe alternatives are put in place, which will address the issues of health, livelihood and economic implications of banning asbestos.

Thanking you.

Sincerely,dorsed by:
H. Mahadevan, All India Trade Union Congress
PK Ganguly, Centre for Indian Trade Unions
V Srinivasan, Chennai Metropolitan Constructions and Unorganised Worker’s Union
Ravi Mohite, Krantikari Kamgar Union
Ashim Roy, New Trade Union Initiative
Subhash Bhatnagar, Nirman Mazdoor Panchayat Sangam
Sanjay Singhvi, Trade Union Centre of India
Gopal Krishna, Ban Asbestos Network of India
Madhumita Dutta, Corporate Accountability Desk-The Other Media
Raghunath Manwar, Occupational Health and Safety Association
Pralhad Malwadkar, Occupational Health and Safety Centre
Jagdish Patel, People’s Training Research Centre

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