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.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Asbestos use in Russia, US & India

Leading producers of asbestos in the world are Russia, Canada, China, Brazil, Kazakhstan and Zimbabwe.

Orenburg region, one of Russia’s donor regions, channels 63% of local proceeds into the federal budget. Its Governor, Alexei Chernyshov recently visited New Delhi.
He claimed that positive socio-economic development trends in Orenburg are facilitated by a sustained recovery in all production sectors.As to relations with India, between 2003-2007, the foreign trade turnover between the Orenburg and India soared almost 5.4 times to reach $22.4 million. Foreign trade patterns are dominated by exports. A $21.7 million foreign trade surplus was posted in late 2007.

The Orenburg Region mostly exports metallurgical equipment manufactured by the engineering concern ORMETO-YUMZ, asbestos from Orenburg Minerals company, rolled sheet steel from Urals Steel company, and defence industry products from the Strela Production Association to India.

The Orenburg is one of the largest regions in the Russia and is part of the Volga Federal District. Its area is 124,000 square kilometers, and the population is 2,119,000. Regional boundaries are within both Europe and Asia. The Orenburg has over 2500 mineral deposits, extracting 75 different minerals. The region’s economy is heavily involved in global trade with over 80 different import-export partners.

There are six mined minerals that can be loosely defined as part of the asbestos “family.” These are: actinolite, amosite, anthophyllite, chrysotile, crocidolite, and tremolite. Different products contain different minerals. For example, Kent brand cigarettes used crocidolite in their “Micronite” filters from 1952 to 1956. These minerals are found throughout the world, but asbestos is mostly mined in Russia, China, and Kazakhstan. The first known asbestos-related death goes back as far as 1906, when scientists and researchers began to notice that asbestos mining towns contained large numbers of lung problems and early deaths.

Its use continued to be prevalent, especially during World War II. At Hampton Roads, Virginia, a large shipbuilding area, asbestos was used to line boilers, wrap pipes, and cover turbine and engine parts. It has been estimated that for every thousand workers, 14 died of asbestos related illnesses. Mesothelioma, an asbestos related cancer, is seven times higher in the Hampton Roads area than it is nationally. Asbestos was used in the first 40 floors of the World Trade Center. After the attack of 9/11, one of the particles which contaminated the air in lower Manhattan was asbestos.

Asbestos has been banned for use in construction projects in the European Union, Australia, New Zealand, and Japan. However, the United States continues to allow asbestos in construction, just as the rapidly growing countries of India and China where it is most commonly used for roofing and walls of homes. The Environmental Protection Agency issued the Asbestos Ban and Phase Out Rule in 1989. This was overturned in 1991 in the Corrosion Proof Fittings v. U.S. Environmental Agency, ensuring that asbestos will continued to be used, albeit in trace amounts.

There are many known substitutes for asbestos, including fiberglass, and stone- and glasswool insulation. Organic fibers have been incorporated in many products by companies that used to produce asbestos-cement products. While many sectors continue to use asbestos, many fire departments and the space agency have begun to use plybenzimidazole (PBl) fibers. This synthetic has a high melting point and will not ignite. Lastly, asbestos can be recycled into silicate glass, commonly used in the fabrication of semiconductor devices, but is defined as a hazardous waste in landfills.

When asbestos reaches the lungs, there is a chance the person who inhaled the particles will develop mesothelioma. This type of cancer is not caused by anything other than asbestos exposure and kills one of every one million people. While this number may not seem that high, the fact remains that a known dangerous product like asbestos is still in use with government's consent.

Gopal Krishna

Landmark Asbestos Meeting in Russia

by Olga Speranskaya and Laurie Kazan-Allen

On August 1, 2008, the first impartial discussions on asbestos took place in Russia at a roundtable organized by Eco-Accord, a Moscow-based NGO,1 and Volgograd-Ecopress Information Center. The title of the event was: Chrysotile Asbestos: Problems of Its Production and Application in Russia and Elsewhere.2 The roundtable was the culmination of months of research and discussions by Eco-Accord whose representatives had grown increasingly concerned about the impact asbestos was having in Russia. Whilst plans for the meeting were being made, the organizers received a request that the (Russian) Chrysotile Association and other pro-chrysotile organizations be permitted to participate in the proceedings. Hoping to engender a frank and open exchange of views, these requests were granted.

Thirty delegates attended the 7 hour round table; half of those present were asbestos lobbyists,3 “trade unionists” from asbestos-cement factories and industry-sponsored researchers and doctors. Other attendants included representatives from Russian NGOs and the media. The framework for the discussions focused on several key points:

goals and objectives of the meeting;
presentations by the speakers;
global asbestos problems;
Russian asbestos scenario;
asbestos waste and pollution;
occupational health and medical treatment in the Russian asbestos industry;
international consensus and agreements on asbestos-related issues including the Rotterdam Convention;
conclusions and recommendation.

Although exposure to chrysotile asbestos has been linked to a range of diseases by international researchers, data on the incidence of these diseases in Russia are lacking; few epidemiological studies of mesothelioma incidence have been conducted. 4 “It is absolutely clear,” said one speaker, “that Russian studies of the health impact of asbestos exposure should be carried out nationwide. Furthermore,” he added, “there is an urgent need to set up a national mesothelioma register.”

NGO representatives at the meeting expressed concern over exposures experienced by people employed in asbestos-cement factories and tradesmen, such as roofers, who work with asbestos-cement products. While a representative from the Blokhim Institute of Carcinogenesis of the Russian Academy of Medical Sciences stated that there may be a risk to workers or citizens who drill or break asbestos-cement sheets, representatives of the Chrysotile Association insisted that asbestos-cement handling operations are absolutely safe as “bonded asbestos,” so they said, “loses it carcinogenic properties.” According to Sergei Koshansky from Ekaterinburg there are adequate data to prove that “under controled conditions the use of chrysotile asbestos is completely safe”; he also maintained that some of the so-called “safer alternatives” are more dangerous than chrysotile. While one asbestos company director said that in the last 30 years there had never been a case of asbestos-related disease in his factory, a medical director from another asbestos company in the same region said that the incidence of disease amongst at-risk workers at his factory was not inconsequential. Speakers stressed the appallingly low level of public awareness which exists in Russia about the health hazards relating to asbestos exposure. The pollution caused by the liberation of airborne fibers from the industrial processing of asbestos has also been widely ignored5 as has the reuse of asbestos debris and asbestos-containing construction waste by individuals and businesses.

Although there had appeared to be an initial consensus that diseases linked to exposure to chrysotile asbestos included asbestosis, bronchial carcinoma (lung cancer) and malignant mesothelioma (asbestos cancer of the pleura or peritoneum), as the day proceeded the representatives of the Chrysotile Association became increasingly agitated about the possibility of a conference declaration highlighting the cancer risk posed by chrysotile. Industry spokesmen claimed that there was sufficient statistical data to prove that chrysotile was safe; any evidence to the contrary was, they shouted, part of a global conspiracy to ruin the chrysotile industry. Bringing the meeting to an abrupt end, the industry lobbyists refused to continue the talks and threatened legal action should a consensus document be publicized mentioning the cancer risk. Accusing the conference organizers of being ill-informed, industry lobbyists repeatedly insisted that “chrysotile could be used safely under strict controls.”

Throughout the day, the behavior of the industry delegates was ill-tempered, their body language combatative and their views rigid. By the end of the day, it was obvious that the organizers' hopes for an open dialogue had been dashed; the meeting was clearly at an end when the industry representatives began shouting and throwing accusations of foreign-bias at the NGO participants who were, so they said, “hirelings of the West.”

Ms. Elena Vasilieva from Volgograd-Ecopress, a co-organizer of the August 1 event, was dismayed at the outcome of the day's events:

“Since last year, our group has been studying the global asbestos issue and educating ourselves on the various facets. We were very much looking forward to sitting down with other stakeholders in order to establish how we could protect our fellow citizens from what is an acknowledged hazard. Instead of participating in a constructive debate, we were subjected to insults and baseless accusations. We will not be bullied into submission by individuals more concerned with commercial interests then with the health and safety of Russian citizens. We will continue to work with like-minded colleagues in Russia and abroad to eradicate the tragedy of asbestos-related disease.”

1See the website of Eco-Accord, the Center for Environment and Sustainable Development:

2 In September 2007, within the context of the World Social Security Forum (Moscow), a session entitled Asbestos: Preserving the Future and Coping with the Past was held. That this session was put on the agenda for a meeting in Russia, the heartland of global asbestos production, was a testament to the integrity and bravery of the organizers from the International Social Security Association, a Swiss-based body. Participants at the asbestos workshop were shocked by the aggressive and obstructive behaviour of the asbestos lobby. The August 1, 2008 session was the first Russian-initiated event on asbestos and, as such, did not have the backing of a major international agency or come under the protection of the (Russian) Ministry of Health and Social Development.

3 The Chrysotile Association was represented on August 1 by: Victor Ivanov, Executive Director, Vladimir Galitsin, Deputy Executive Director and Denis Nikitin, Public Relations Manager.

4 Epidemiological studies of the incidence of mesothelioma have only been conducted in: Asbest, Ekaterinburg, the Republic of Karelia and Sverdlovsk Oblast.

5 The Vovzhskiy Technical Asbestos Products Plant emits 6.5 tonnes of asbestos-containing dust every year.

Source: International Ban Asbestos Secretariat

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