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.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Canada's Quebec health experts are "a little gang of Talibans", accuses Quebec's asbestos industry


November 25, 2009

Ban on asbestos mining leases not lifted as yet: Indian Minister of Mines

Canada's Quebec health experts are "a little gang of Talibans", accuses Quebec's asbestos industry

New Delhi/Ottawa: On November 24, 2009, Union Minister of Mines, B.K. Handique informed the Lok Sabha (Lower House of Indian Parliament) that an S&T Project titled ‘Study of Pollution level in Asbestos Mines and processing plants in Rajasthan’ was undertaken by Indian Bureau of Mines (IBM), a subordinate office of the Ministry. The Study recommended that subject to imposition of safeguards on pollution level in work environment, the ban imposed on grant and renewal of mining leases and expansion of mining may be lifted. In a written reply in the Lok Sabha, Handique said, recommendations of the Study have been examined in consultation with all stake holders. Some stake holders have suggested that asbestos mining can be permitted with appropriate safeguards. IBM in consultation with Central Pollution Control Board and Directorate General of Mines Safety has been asked to work out these safeguards which have not been finalized yet. At present the ban on grant/renewal of mining leases of asbestos has not been lifted. This might entail lifting of ban on mining of both chrysotile (white) and amphibole asbestos.

In 2008, Canada's $100-million asbestos industry exported 175,000 tonnes of chrysotile. Some of the biggest importers include India. Notably, The White Asbestos (Ban on Use and Import) Bill, 2009 introduced in the Indian parliament states, “The white asbestos is highly carcinogenic even the World Health Organisation has reported that it causes cancer. It is a rare fibrous material that is used to make rooftops and break linings. More than fifty countries have already banned the use and import of white asbestos. Even the countries that export it to India prefer not to use it domestically. But in our country, it is imported without any restriction. Canada and Russia are the biggest exporters of white asbestos. In 2007, Canada exported almost Ninety five percent of the white asbestos it mined and out of it forty-three percent was shipped to India. It is quite surprising that our country is openly importing huge quantity of a product, which causes cancer. This is despite the fact that safer and almost cheap alternatives to asbestos are available in the country. Instead of importing a hazardous material, it will be better if we spend some money in research and development and use environment friendly product. In view of the above, there is an urgent need for a total ban on the import and use of white asbestos and promote the use of alternative material.”

Medical experts working for the Canada's provincial Quebec government's National Public Health Institute (INSPQ) are "a little gang of Talibans", charges Bernard Coulombe, president of the Jeffrey asbestos mine, located in the town of Asbestos, Quebec.

Coulombe is hoping to sign a deal with investors to open up a new underground asbestos mine in Asbestos, Quebec in 2010. The present open-pit Jeffrey mine has run out of asbestos and is no longer operating. The underground mine is 90% complete.and would tap into a large new asbestos deposit, thus giving the industry a new 50-year lease on life.

The INSPQ opposes its own government's policy of increased use of chrysotile asbestos (the only form of asbestos sold commercially in the world today), citing increasing numbers of asbestos-related deaths in Quebec, particularly among construction workers. Coulombe claims that chrysotile asbestos can be safely used and that it has caused no harm to workers in Quebec since 1970. The INSPQ dismisses this view as lacking any scientific credibility, thereby jeopardizing new investment and attracting the ire of Coulombe.

The asbestos industry has not attacked the Canadian Medical Association, the Canadian Cancer Society, the World Health Organisation, the Canadian Labour Congress, who have all said that chrysotile asbestos must be banned. Instead, the industry has targetted Quebec public servants, who are unable to defend themselves and are vulnerable to political pressure from their employer.

Gopal Krishna of Ban Asbestos Network of India (BANI), a coalition of environmental health, labour and human rights groups notes that Indian government needs to recognize that this is a major health crisis in India which is ongoing and still increasing in numbers every year. Workers and consumers in India are dying from asbestos-related diseases that were exposed anywhere from, say, 15 to 30 or 40 years ago and all Indians are being exposed daily in face of total absence of enviro-occupational health infrastructure.

"One of the favourite tactics of the asbestos industry is misinformation and bullying; these make a toxic combination," said Dr Fernand Turcotte, Professeur Emeritus of Public Health at the Faculty of Medicine, Université Laval.

Fifteen health professionals , who work for Quebec public health agencies and/or are professors from the University of Montreal, Laval University and Sherbrooke University, recently issued a public statement challenging the misinformation put out by the asbestos industry and calling for an end to the mining, use and export of asbestos.

"People across Canada and around the world, who are trying to end the tragedy of asbestos-caused disease and death, owe a big debt of gratitude to the courage and integrity of Quebec's health professionals for blowing the whistle on the asbestos industry," said John Bennett, Executive Director, Sierra Club Canada.

"It is incomprehensible that Quebec's Premier Charest and Prime Minister Harper are supporting the dangerous nonsense put forward by the asbestos industry and rejecting credible scientific organisations, such as the Canadian Medical Association, the Canadian Cancer Society and the World Health Organisation, who have all called for asbestos to be banned," said Dr Kapil Khatter, President of the Canadian Association of Physicians for the Environment.

"We are calling on Premier Charest and PM Harper to do the right thing and put public health ahead of self-serving political games," said Kathleen Ruff, senior human rights advisor for the Rideau Institute.


Gopal Krishna, 9818089660,

Dr Kapil Khatter, (613) 864-9591,

John Bennett, (613) 291-6888,

Dr Fernand Turcotte, (514) 389-1240,

Kathleen Ruff, (250) 847-1848,

[1] Le Soleil, le 18 novembre 2009

[2] La Presse, le 16 septembre 2009

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