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.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Misinformation campaign of Canadian govt & white asbestos companies

Note: Some 50 countries have banned asbestos, a killer fiber. Asbestos consumption is rising dramatically in India even as U.S. Senate passed Ban Asbestos in America Act on October 4, 2007 unanimously. Countries like Russia, Canada, Kazakhstan and Brazil continue to produce, trade and promote this ticking time bomb in India. The Russian Federation has also been found to be exporting asbestos industry waste to India. Research is showing asbestos epidemics across the globe even in countries where it is currently banned, as the consequence of past exposure.

Stories of the toll asbestos takes on people are yet to hit the headlines in India as has been the case in US, Europe, Australia and Japan. The recent UN statistics indicates that India imported roughly 306,000 MT of asbestos in 2006. Out of which 152, 820 MT was imported from Russia, 63, 980 MT from Canada, 48, 807 MT from Kazakhstan and 34, 953 MT from Brazil.

Asbestos production and marketing started in the Urals at the start of the 19th century. By the onset of World War I, Russia was the world’s second biggest asbestos producer, although well behind Canada. In 1975, Soviet Russia overtook Canada as the world’s leading asbestos producer. Russia remains the leading world asbestos producer. The country’s principal asbestos mine (Uralasbest) was privatized and was owned by new Russian capitalists. It was even declared
bankrupt in 1997 but it resumed its activities afterwards.

There has virtually been no debate on asbestos either under the Soviet regime or since. Following the banning of asbestos in the European Union, the Vladimir Putin government did set up a panel of experts to give an opinion on a possible Russian asbestos ban. The panel’s report is an impassioned defence of asbestos use. The pro-Russian asbestos lobby like their counterparts in Canada, Zimbabwe and Brazil too claim that it holds relatively little danger for health.

The Russian authorities continue to deny the health havoc wrought by asbestos. Russian media, civil society and academia must sensitize the Russian citizens to desist from exporting asbestos to gullible Indians.

Currently mining of all kinds of asbestos (Blue, Brown and White [chrysotile] Asbestos) is banned in India. Trade in asbestos waste is also banned. Besides all other forms of asbestos other than chrysotile asbestos (White Asbestos) is prohibited in India. While white asbestos mining is currently banned in India, its import, export or use in manufacturing is permitted.

In September 2007, Independent Peoples Tribunal (IPT) on the World Bank Group (WBG) was presented with evidence of Bank officials suggesting how it finances huge infrastructure projects all over the world including India despite this there is no formal restrictions on the use of asbestos-cement (A-C) sheets and pipes in these projects. Over 90 percent of all asbestos used today is in A-C sheets and pipes, and this production is concentrated in poor countries.

Ban Asbestos Network of India (BANI) called for urgent action in India and elsewhere to end the needless slaughter caused by this environmental and occupational health catastrophe. The 4-day IPT was held from 21 –24 September at Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi.

It was demanded, “The World Bank should adopt a formal policy of forbidding asbestos in all of its projects and require the use of safer substitute construction materials. Such substitution is feasible as shown by the bans in more than 40 countries.. The World Bank should also adopt best practice guidelines for the minimization of asbestos exposures in projects where in-place
asbestos materials are disturbed by renovation or demolition activities.” It has called upon the World Bank to support the asbestos action program just started by the WHO and use its influence and leverage to press for cessation of asbestos use all over world.

The report of World Bank environmental official Robert Goodland, "Sustainable Development Sourcebook for the World Bank Group's Extractive Industries Review:Examining the Social and Environmental Impacts of Oil, Gas, and Mining" (3 December, 2003). Policy options for asbestos (p. 141) included, "5. The WBG should work with the rest of the UN system to foster a global ban on asbestos."

The voice of asbestos victims has been totally disregarded by Indian political parties of all hues both in the states and at national level unlike US and Europe. Indian homes are often built of asbestos cement roofs, and people cut their own windows and doorways. The occurrence of asbestos-related diseases, including mesothelioma, lung cancer and asbestosis, is growing out of control. Studies estimate that during the next decade, in India victims will die of an asbestos related disease at the rate of 30 deaths per day.

BANI has been asking the Indian government to disassociate itself from the Russian and Canadian asbestos lobby and take lessons from the nations that have banned this fiber to safeguard its workers and citizens.

A new monograph, "India's Asbestos Time Bomb" exposes the blatant lies being told in the Canadian government's paper about the safe use of asbestos in India.

Kathleen Ruff wrote:

In a recent Canadian government paper from the federal Dept. of Natural Resources promoting chrysotile asbestos as a blessing to people in poor countries and attacking Rotterdam, WHO, ILO and "worker groups with vested interests" as misguided and lacking objectivity about the safety of chrysotile asbestos.

The report is a brilliant example of the politicization of science for commercial benefit.

Below are two places where the report refers to India.

"In India, a major consumer of chrysotile and producer of chrysotile-based products, many improvements have been achieved and are ongoing in work practices and new regulations since the Ministry of Environment and Forests' policy on the manufacture of chrysotile-based products was finalized in March 2003. Under the new policy, the chrysotile-cement industry, in collaboration with the regulatory agency, is working to improve working conditions by eliminating the manual handling and opening of chrysotile fibre bags; fully automatic debagging systems are currently being implemented throughout the manufacturing process."

"India, a major consumer of chrysotile fibres, strongly opposed the addition of chrysotile to the list of substances subject to the PIC procedure at the third Conference of the Parties. India stated that the epidemiological studies cited by the European Union, Chile, and Australia in drafting the Decision Guidance Document in support of the submission for listing chrysotile all pertained to the use of mixed fibres consisting predominantly of amphibole varieties. India
claimed that numerous other epidemiological studies concluded that chrysotile fibres alone, used in the manufacturing of chryso-cement products, did not substantially increase the incidence of lung cancer. It was further mentioned that in India, crocidolite, which caused most of the
lung-related diseases in the western part of the country, has been banned since 1994."

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Asbestos scare shines light on lack of government funding for victims

Note:It is noteworthy that like India, Canada doesn't specifically track asbestos-related disease, nor are there any national foundations or associations devoted to the problem. Both the countries seem to be working at the behest of Russian government and asbestos industry. There is not much help out there for anyone affected by the carcinogen.

OTTAWA - As debris rained down on scores of houses during last week's explosion at a propane plant in Toronto, no one was thinking about asbestos contamination.

They are now - and critics are warning there is not much help out there for anyone affected by the carcinogen. Canada doesn't specifically track asbestos-related disease, nor are there any national foundations or associations devoted to the problem.

Toronto parents and were outraged after asbestos from the explosion was found in a playground where children continued to play days after the incident.

But many hope the incidents will expose the lack of government funding and resources available to Canadians.

"I think if the Canadian public really knew the extent of harm that asbestos has caused, I think there would be an outrage over what the federal government is doing," said Jim Brophy, global asbestos expert.

As the former director of the Occupational Health and Safety Clinics for Ontario Workers, Brophy says his group registered a new patient with an asbestos disease four out of five working days last year alone.

"I cannot describe to you the public health epidemic that unfolded before us and is still happening," he said.

The post-explosion asbestos contamination in Toronto is not an isolated incident, as the cancer-causing substance is continuously being uncovered across the country.

Workers are currently removing chrysotile asbestos-the type still mined in Canada-from the Parliament buildings as part of a $1-billion renovation project.

It is estimated there are still hundreds of thousands of homes throughout Canada still containing Zonolite insulation, a product found to be tainted with asbestos and identified as a health hazard by Health Canada in 2004.

The flame retardant qualities of many forms of asbestos made it a popular choice of building material for decades.

As a result, virtually all public buildings constructed prior to 1980 contain some form of asbestos.

For years, the U.S. and much of Europe have monitored cases of asbestos-related illnesses, but there is no centralized system in Canada.

"We're probably the only industrialized country not tracking the extent of the disease and its impact on our society," said Brophy.

The Canadian Cancer Society says asbestos - including chrysotile - is associated with an increased risk of lung cancer and other diseases, but says it is not aware of any government funded resources.

Health Canada insists on graphic health warnings on tobacco products to warn Canadians about the risks of smoking, but Alastair Sinclair, spokesman for Health Canada, confirmed the department is not involved with any funding for public resources associated with asbestos and related health risks.

Support groups and public education resources are not easily found in Canada and some critics say they know why.

Canada is the third largest exporter of chrysotile asbestos worldwide and has continuously blocked efforts by the UN to list chrysotile as a hazardous substance.

Pat Martin, NDP MP and former asbestos miner, says the government's long-standing overseas promotion of asbestos is what's keeping the health risks under wraps.

"Certainly the government will not support anything that may be viewed as critical of asbestos when they're the chief cheerleaders for the asbestos industry," said Martin.

The Chrysolite Institute, an organization dedicated to promoting chrysotile asbestos use "under safe conditions", continues to receive money from the federal government.

According to Martin, it is this kind of backward funding that is leaving Canadians in the dark about asbestos.

"Our irrational affinity for asbestos has stalled diagnostics, research and advocacy for asbestos-related disease," he said.

August 14, 2008


Thursday, August 14, 2008



Canada is a major supplier of asbetsos to India

A U.N. Convention (the Rotterdam Convention) that protects developing countries from severely hazardous chemicals and pesticides is on its death bed due to obstruction by Canada.

Canada has obstructed the Convention by refusing to allow chrysotile asbestos to be listed as a hazardous substance, even though the Convention’s expert scientific body has repeatedly called for its listing, pointing out that it meets every scientific and legal criterion in the Convention.

Listing would mean that asbestos exporting countries, such as Canada, would have to obtain prior informed consent before they could export asbestos to developing countries.

"Canada is putting the integrity of the Rotterdam Convention in jeopardy in order to protect its failing asbestos industry," said Dr. Kapil Khatter, President of the Canadian Association of Physicians for the Environment. “We in Canada have this right. Why is our government denying this right to people in developing countries? Are their lives not equally valuable?”

Canada has been the lead country to block the listing of asbestos by denying consensus with the support of Kyrgyzstan, Iran, India, Ukraine and Peru. 99% of asbestos exported around the world today is chrysotile asbestos.

“Canada’s obstruction has made the Convention unworkable,” said Kathleen Ruff, former director of the B.C. Human Rights Commission. “It has forced U.N. officials to circulate proposals to re-write the Convention with a complex system of dual standards and exemptions, which would be a disaster. It would gut the Convention and put commercial interests ahead of human health. This is not what Canadians want.”

It is no more a secret that politicians in Canada, Russia and India are working in tandem with the chrysotile asbestos industry to willfully expose uninformed workers and consumers to killer fibers by cooking scientific and medical studies, said Gopal Krishna, Ban Asbestos Network of India (BANI).

The expert committee’s recommendation to list chrysotile asbestos will be put forward one more time at a crucial Conference in Rome October 27-31. U.N. officials and many others fear that Canada will once more refuse to allow asbestos to be listed, causing a crisis for the survival of the Convention.

“This is a tragedy for public health, a victory for the asbestos lobby and an ignoble reflection on Canada, said Geoffrey Tweedale, joint author of Defending the Indefensible: The Global Asbestos Industry and Its Fight for Survival.

“95% of Canada’s asbestos is exported to developing countries, where it is handled by workers with few protections,” said Barry Castleman, an internationally respected occupational health expert. “Canada is immorally creating a public health catastrophe in these countries”

“We call on the Canadian government to stop blocking the Convention and allow chrysotile asbestos to be listed,” said Fe de Leon, Researcher of the Canadian Environmental Law Association.


Kathleen Ruff, 250-847-1848,

Dr Kapil Khatter, 613-864-9591,

Barry Castleman, 301-933-9097,

Gopal Krishna, Ban Asbestos Network of India (BANI)New Delhi, Mb: 9818089660,

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Chief Justice of India KG Balakrishnan has withdrawn himself from the Ghaziabad provident fund scam case, allegedly involving some UP judicial officers, certain judges of the Allahabad High Court and a Supreme Court judge.

The CJI recused himself after the Indian chapter of Transparency International challenged his administrative decisions related to the scam probe. The corruption watchdog is seeking a "through and unfettered" probe by the CBI into the scam.

Two petitions related to the sensational case, in which the CJI's Bench had on July 17 issued notices to the Centre and the UP Government on the plea for a CBI probe, is now listed for hearing on August 1 before another Bench headed by Justice
BN Agrawal. The Ghaziabad Bar Association has filed the second case.

Senior advocate Shanti Bhushan had on the last date pointed out on behalf of Transparency International that the CJI could not hear a petition challenging his own administrative decisions relating to the scam probe. Bhushan had said SC Secretary General VK Jain had written to Ghaziabad SSP that he should prepare a questionnaire for examining the Judges of the higher judiciary allegedly involved in the scam for prior vetting. The questionnaire would form the basis of the probe.

Terming it as "unheard of", Bhushan had said there could not be different sets of procedures for judges and other people involved in a corruption case.

The CJI had clarified that the petition did not challenge his administrative decision, inasmuch as its prayer related only to judicial officers (subordinate court judges) while his decision was with regard to Allahabad High Court Judges. He had made it clear that if the petitioner changed its prayer so as to mean the judges of the higher judiciary, he would not hear it. The prayer has since been changed.

According to SC ruling in the Veeraswami case, an HC or SC judge cannot be proceeded against in a criminal case without the CJI's prior permission. In view of this ruling, the Ghaziabad SSP had sought the CJI's permission for probe against judges of the higher judiciary.

July 29, 2008

No safety gear, Bangladeshis risk lives at ship-breaking yards

Note: Massive exposure to asbestos in Bangladeshi,Pakistani and Indian ship-breaking yards is a matter of fact. But governments have turned a blind eye and have demonstrated unpardonable callousness towards these most vulnerable workers in the world.

Workers use primitive hammers, axes and acetylene flames to extract some 1.8mt of steel per annum

Kadamrasul / Bangladesh: Bangladeshi workers dismantling ships and recycling its parts say they know their jobs are dangerous, but they have no better options to feed their families.

At least 10 workers were killed in mishaps and explosions on board ships while they were being dismantled over the past year, to raise the toll to more than 1,000 since 1996, police say.

About 30,000 workers, only a few wearing boots and almost none with helmets, work in some 22 ship-breaking yards in Bangladesh to dismantle around 80 giant, out-of-service ocean-going vessels and oil-tankers annually.

However, ship-breaking officials say the death rate was much higher during the initial stage of the Bangladesh shipbreaking industry in the early 1980s, and awareness, precautions and training have subsequently reduced casualties.

As a precaution every scrapped oil tanker must sail to the yard from the port of origin with empty and open reservoirs, so lingering chemicals and residues get neutralized naturally through ventilation, said a ship-breaker, who declined to be named.

“Besides accidents, shipbreaking workers are prone to many diseases including cancer, ulceration, sterility and deafness,” Akhtar Hossain Chowdhury, a teacher of dermatology in the Chittagong Medical College Hospital, said.

“We risk our lives here only to support our families, because hazard-free regular employment is not easily available,” said Mohammad Malek, a ship-breaking worker at a yard at Kadamrasul, near the Chittagong port.

“For every 12 hours of work contractors pay each of us 300 taka (Rs184)”, barely sufficient to meet daily needs, he said.

The workers use primitive hammers, axes and acetylene flames to extract some 1.8 million tonnes (mt) of steel per annum, against Bangladesh’s needs of 3mt. The rest of its demand is met by imports.

“As the industry is vital for us we have taken steps to reduce mishaps, by imparting training and creating awareness,” said A.K.M. Shafiqullah, director general of Bangladesh’s department of shipping. The department is the leading authority issuing permission for importing, beaching and dismantling scrapped ships.

Bangladesh, which has no iron ore, prefers the metal from the ships as prices of steel billets rose to $1,000 (Rs42,000) a tonne recently in the world market, up 40% over the last year.

Though ship-breaking and other hazardous work is banned in the West, firms there still send disabled ships to poor countries for scrapping and for recycling of parts.
“For example, engines of scrapped ships are reimported by some western countries for reuse,” Kamaluddin Ahmed, owner of ship-breakers Arefin Enterprise, said.

Bangladesh’s 800 steel re-rolling mills consume all the metal retrieved from scrapped ship to produce construction rods and roofing sheets, said Ahmed, also a vice-president of the Bangladesh Ship-breakers Association.

Ship-breaking is the most dangerous among all recycling jobs in Bangladesh, including of batteries in which workers can receive serious acid burns, says Quamrul Islam Chowdhury, a noted Bangladeshi environmentalist.

“They (Bangladeshis) take up the risky job, often knowing the deadly consequences, because they have no other way to beat abject poverty,” said Abul Momen, a columnist and a political and social analyst.

He said the government should adopt a national policy to protect and develop the 1 billion taka a year industry as soon as possible.

Similar sentiments came from Larry Maramis, United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) country director for Bangladesh.

In a report following a study on ship-breaking conducted in 2004, UNDP said: “The huge task of dismantling ships is done manually in Bangladesh, with basic protection like helmets, gloves or goggles not provided to the workers.”

A senior official of the shipping ministry, who declined to be named, said the government would soon announce a policy to safeguard workers while boosting the industry.

Nizam Ahmed / Reuters

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