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.

Friday, March 28, 2008

South Africa prohibits Use, Manufacturing, Import and Export of Chrysotile Asbestos*

Indian Environment & Labour Ministries admit collusion with chrysotile asbestos industry

New Delhi 28/3/2008: South Africa has joined some 50 countries in the prohibition of asbestos. It was the fifth largest supplier of chrysotile asbestos.

South African Environmental Affairs and Tourism Minister Marthinus van Schalkwyk has announced that the use, manufacture and processing of asbestos will be prohibited in South Africa with immediate effect. The Regulations for the Prohibition of the Use, Manufacturing, Import and Export of Asbestos and Asbestos Containing Materials will be promulgated on 28 March and will take effect immediately, said the minister during a media briefing on 27 March. The regulations form part of the South African Environment Conservation Act 1989. Ironically, India's Environment Protection Act, 1986 promotes continued use.

India is one of the largest consumers of chrysotile asbestos. A February 2008 Confederation of Indian Industry (CII) survey that tracks and records the performance of the manufacturing sector, rated asbestos cement in the high growth category among others. What is not being recorded is the high growth rate of asbestos victims in India. This is being done in a studied manner as a classic case of Ostrich policy under the influence of Russian and Canadian governments amid reports of 10, 000 asbestos deaths per year in US and asbestos related disease epidemic in Europe.

Ban Asbestos Network of India (BANI) appreciates the role of South African government in safeguarding the health of its citizens. But the contrast in India is quite noteworthy, following the revelations that showed how Chrysotile Asbestos Industry has dictated government's national and international asbestos policy both Union Ministry of Environment and Forests headed by the Prime Minister and Union Ministry of Labour & Employment informed Rajya Sabha and Lok Sabha that "Out of a total of Rs. 59.66 lacs allocated for the study by Ministry of Chemicals and Fertilizers, the Asbestos Cement Products Manufactures Association has contributed Rs. 16 lacs" on March 20, 2008 and March 17, 2008 respectively.

It seems clear from the admission in the parliament that the Press Release of Union Commerce Ministry against the verdict of Appellate Body of World Trade Organisation that upheld chrysotile asbestos ban in France (European Community) soundly rejecting the "controlled use" and safe use argument of the Canadian asbestos industry was dictated by the Chrysotile Asbestos Industry.

In its 95th Session of the International Labour Conference on 14th 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)".

The fact remains, without amendment in the existing Import Policy of Ministry of Commerce for chrysotile asbestos, the asbestos consumption pattern is unlikely to change. The Ministry continues to promote exposure of Indian citizens while protecting the interest of the Russian and the Canadian chrysotile asbestos industry.

Such callousness on the part of the Indian central and state governments and the political parties have sealed the fate of millions of workers and consumers that are exposed to this killer fiber with far reaching adverse 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.

Under the South African government's order, now the employers are required to draw up a register of all asbestos containing materials, conducts a risk assessment, educate and inform employees, protect employees from exposure to asbestos and conduct regular dust and health surveillance. No such provision exists in India.

"A grace period of 120 days will be allowed for any person or merchant who is currently dealing in asbestos or asbestos containing materials to clear their stocks," said the South African Environment Minister. The main objectives of the new regulations is to prohibit the use, processing or manufacturing, of any asbestos or asbestos-containing product unless it can be proven that no suitable alternative exists.

South Africa will now prohibit the import or export of any asbestos or asbestos containing product, and will also stop the import of any asbestos or asbestos containing waste material. In India, export and import of asbestos waste is banned but it has not been enforced as is evident from the manner which some 53 asbestos waste laden ships are languishing in Alang awaiting Indian Supreme Court's order. In India, it is estimated that 30 workers are dying every day due to asbestos exposure.

BANI appeals to the Indian government to take lessons from the countries that treat the health of its citizens as national interest and above blind corporate interest. It is high time prohibition of asbestos consumption and a national register of asbestos products and its victims is announced.

Out of several million workers exposed to asbestos in India, less than 30 have been compensated so far. The reasons for such a small number are: refusal by management sponsored studies to grant medical certifications to workers suffering from occupational diseases, lack of training for doctors in diagnosis of occupational lung diseases, deliberate misdiagnosis by doctors of asbestosis as either chronic bronchitis or tuberculosis.

While ban on asbestos is a must, safe removal of asbestos from public, private buildings and other places would be long drawn and arduous process besides the compensation and rehabilitation of asbestos victims.

*Note: Asbestos is a generic term, referring usually to six kinds of naturally occuring mineral fibres. Of these six, Chrysotile asbestos is used more commonly. It accounts for almost 90 per cent of the asbestos used in the industry. All types of asbestos including Chrysotile asbestos tend to break into very tiny fibre, almost microscopic. In fact, some of them may be up to 700 times smaller than human hair. Asbestos fibres are virtually indestructible. It has been widely used inconstruction and insulation materials - it has been used in over 3,000 different products.

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