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.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Hazardous for Quebeckers, safe for Indians

Note: Indian and the Canadian government must resist corporate influence of the chrysotile (white) asbestos industry and support the listing of chrysotile asbestos as a hazardous product under the UN's Rotterdam Convention on the Prior Informed Consent Procedure for Certain Hazardous Chemicals and Pesticides in International Trade as a first step at the next meeting of the Parties to the Rotterdam Convention. And as a next step, initiate efforts to ban its mining, manufacturing and its trade.

Parties to the Rotterdam convention on trade in dangerous chemicals have again failed to include chrysotile asbestos onto a list of 39 harmful substances that cannot be exported without the receiving country's consent at the fourth meeting of the Conference of the Parties (COP 4) in Rome during 27 to 31 October 2008. Now the matter of listing chrysotile in the Prior Informed Consent (PIC) list would come up at the fIfth meeting of the Conference of the Parties (COP 5) in Geneva, Switzerland during 20 June-24 June 2011.

Québec's Premier Jean Charest does not support social services and concessions for workers. Bill 30 which was designed by the Québec's Charest government for the purpose of meeting the expectations of the big employer association unmindful of the interest of workers. The Bill 30 was challenged in the court arguing that it violates the provisions of Québec and Canadian Charters of Rights and Freedoms, as well as internationally recognized principles of freedom of association. Bill 30 was a direct attack on our working conditions and union rights. Decentralizing a large part of the collective agreement to the local level puts into question the gains made by unions in 40 years this would adversely affect the bargaining power of workers for their health and social services.

Gopal Krishna

Asbestos: Hazardous for Quebeckers, safe for Indians?

January 1, 2010
India Abroad

Quebec Premier Jean Charest (in picture) is leading a business delegation to India starting January 30. Some groups are gearing up to ask him questions about his support to the export of asbestos to India.


Exposure to chrysotile asbestos causes lung cancer. Though it is not illegal, asbestos is no more used in Canada and building owners are forced to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars to get rid of asbestos when they demolish their buildings. Yet, the Canadian government has not banned its export, saying Ottawa the necessary precautions in its use.

Recent debate about the last operating asbestos mine in Canada and media reports featuring hazardous plants in India have now brought the focus back on the issue.

Quebec-based LAB Chrysotile, which has the last operating asbestos mine in Canada, exports to companies in India, including to Eagle Asbestos in Ahmedabad. The Canadian Broadcasting Corporation in June filmed the interior of Eagle’s plant, where asbestos was left exposed.

The Toronto Star published a three-page report in its December 20 issue. The report, ‘Canada’s booming asbestos market’quotes LAB Vice President Jean-Marc Leblond as saying they have blacklisted five to 10 Indian companies and Eagle is one of them. ‘They have been denied asbestos fiber for failing to comply with safe practices, exposing the frailty of the controlled use directive,’ he was quoted as saying.

The report also names several Indian manufacturers of asbestos products: Lok Sabha member of Parliament from Peddapalle, Andhra Pradesh, Gaddam Vivekanand, who reportedly controls 25 percent of asbestos production in India, has seven factories in various parts of the country and will open an eighth in Orissa in 2010.

The report also said there are instructions on the package asbestos-related products — printed only in English and French — asking workers to use ventilation and dust control equipment when the fiber is being handled, to repair damaged bags immediately, and to clean dust from clothing with approved vacuum equipment.

In India, asbestos is used instead of tin sheets for their sturdiness and there are 36 products made from asbestos — from rope to cloth to pipeline insulation. Kathleen Ruff, co-coordinator of the Rotterdam Convention Alliance (in picture), which represents environmental and health organizations around the world, told India Abroad that health has got nothing to do with Canadian government’s export policy. “It is a highly political issue related to votes in the asbestos mining region of Quebec,” she said.

Ruff said environmental scientists have written to Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper asking him to acknowledge the clear scientific evidence that asbestos has created a public health disaster in Canada and that it is indefensible for Canada to export it to other countries telling them it is a safe, attractive product.

‘Wherever asbestos has been used, it has left behind a legacy of disease and suffering, which is why no industrial country uses it any longer and it is so important to the industry to sell asbestos to developing countries and countries in economic transition,’ the scientists said.

Ruff says experts recently wrote to Harper reminding him about the United Nations Rotterdam Convention that Canada ratified in 2002, giving countries a legally binding right to be informed about, and to refuse, hazardous chemicals and pesticides. The convention’s expert scientific body also recommended that Chrysotile asbestos, banned already by over 40 countries, be put on the list of hazardous chemicals.

In their letter, the experts caution: ‘If a double standard system of exemptions is created, the global right to know about hazardous chemicals and pesticides will be destroyed and Canada will have played the lead role in its death.’

Ruff said it is only those countries that export asbestos (like Russia, Kirghizstan, and Canada) and a country with a powerful asbestos-products industry (like India), which defy all the independent science and pretend that asbestos can be safely used.

“The sad part is that,” Ruff explained, “in industrialized Western countries, billions of dollars are being spent to remove asbestos from buildings. In Quebec, the government is spending millions of dollars to remove asbestos from schools and hospitals and public buildings. We no longer use it in Canada because we know it is deadly. Instead we export it to India and other countries, telling them it can be safely used.”

Quebec Premier Jean Charest is leading a business delegation to India starting January 30. Some groups are gearing up to ask him questions about his support to the export of asbestos to India.

Note: Charest does not support social services and concessions for workers.

Monday, December 28, 2009

Killer Asbestos Companies Enjoy Govt Protection

Indian asbestos companies are following the path of the scandal of the James Hardie asbestos company. As a consequence huge number of people who die from asbestos diseases continues to rise, and will do so for another decade. On 27 November 2007, Australian political campaigner, Bernie Banton, died at his home after having suffered asbestosis, mesothelioma and Asbestos-Related Pleural Disease (ARPD). Banton contracted these diseases after working for James Hardie asbestos compnay for 6 years. He was the public face of asbestos victims in Australia and was closely involved in the negotiations between James Hardie, unions and governments from 2004 to 2007.

Russia, Canada, Kazakastan and others have been exporting asbestos fibers to India. Exposure to asbestos is encountered in the form of asbestos mining, asbestos cement industries, asbestos processing unit and during renovation and demolition of old asbestos cemented roof, modern electrical and mechanical appliances wherte it is found. Construction workers, electricians, vehicle mechanics and other workers in the building trades are exposed to asbestos. India exports and imports asbestos to other countries. Transport of the hazardous material on road and roadside residents all are vulnerable to this uncommon disease. Workers and consumers cmplain of shortness of breath, persistent and productive cough due to pulmonary fibrosis can show up many years after the asbestos exposure.

This leaflet published by UK's Health and Safety publications titled "Asbestos kills: Protect yourself! You are more at risk than you think" which is aimed at people working in the building or maintenance trades, e.g. electricians, plumbers, joiners or heating and ventilation engineers captures the hazards aptly. It explains the risks of working with asbestos and what one should do to protect oneself.

The paid misleading advertorial above was published in The Times of India on 17 December, 2009 and earlier 20 November, 2009 as an excercise in misinformation campaign has been severely criticised by all sane sections within the society. It was on 17 December that a three day International Conference on "Preventing Emerging Occupational and Environmental Risks in South Asia and Beyond" commenced.

It was sad to not that at the conference it was admitted by A K Agarwal, Additional Secretary, Directorate General of Health Services that none of the 300 medical collages in India have teh capacity to deal with asbestos related diseases.

In India, no one has the Asbestos Removalist or Asbestos building Demolition Licence.

Quebec' Premier Jean Charest is coming to India on January 30, 2010 to promote the sale of Quebec products in India, such as asbestos. His mission in India is set from January 31 to February 6, 2010. India is one of the biggest customers of Canadaian asbestos (white asbestos or chrysotile asbestos). Despite asbestos bans in many Western countries and the fact that Canadians spend millions each year to safely remove the substance from buildings - including Parliament Hill - Canada remains a world leader in asbestos exports.

One does not know as to who all would be able to speak to him, if one get an opportunity, one can ask a question about why is he supporting asbestos export to India, when Quebec itself doesn't use it and is paying millions of dollars to remove it from Quebec's schools, hospitals and public buildings, and when leading Quebec health experts have called for Quebec's mining and export of asbestos to be stopped.

India's state human rights commission of Kerala has ruled that exposing humans to asbestos is human right violation. Also ask him about his reaction to the Ban White (Use & Import) Bill, 2009 which is pending in the Indian parliament.

In the Union Budget 2009-10, the governmment has increased the excise duty incidence on cement products from 4% to 8%. The excise duty on goods in which not less than 25% by weight of fly ash or phospho-gypsum or both have been used, has been increased from 4% to 8%. In India, the frontline players use fly ash in excess of 25% by weight in asbestos cement roofints, and hence, Excise duty rate on Asbestos Sheets has been doubled to 8% from 4%.

Friday, December 25, 2009

वक्त आ गया है एस्बेस्टस बैन करने का !

Time Has Come for Asbestos Ban!

Does India too needs to ban asbestos? Several countries of the world have banned asbestos and very soon UN headquarters would become asbestos free. Some 2 billion dollars are being spent for the makeover of the UN headquarters which entails complete removal of asbetsos by 2014.

World over some 40 countries along with WTO has accepted that safe and controlled asbestos use of asbestos is not possible. Based on US and European studies, it is estimated that every day 30 people are dying of asbestos related diseases. The only way to save oneself is to impose ban on it.

वक्त आ गया है एस्बेस्टस बैन करने का !

नई दिल्ली।। क्या भारत को भी अब एस्बेस्टस पर बैन लगा लेना चाहिए? दुनिया भर के कई देशों ने जहां एस्बेस्टस पर बैन लगाया है वहीं अब न्यू यॉर्क में यूनाइटेड नैशंस का हेडक्वाटर भी जल्द ही एस्बेस्टस फ्री हो जाएगा। 2 बिलियन डॉलर की राशि से हेडक्वाटर का मेकओवर किया जा रहा है इसमें वहां इस्तेमाल हुए एस्बेस्टस को भी पूरी तरह हटा दिया जाएगा। इस रिनोवेशन प्रोजेक्ट के 2014 तक पूरा होने की उम्मीद है।

दुनिया भर के करीब 40 देशों सहित वर्ल्ड ट्रेड ऑर्गनाइजेशन ने यह माना है कि एस्बेस्टस का सुरक्षित और नियंत्रित इस्तेमाल मुमकिन नहीं है। अमेरिकन और यूरोपियन स्टडी के अनुसार हर रोज एस्बेस्टस से होने वाली बीमारी के कारण 30 लोगों की मौत हो रही है। इससे बचाव का एकमात्र उपाय इस पर बैन ही है। हमारे देश में ज्यादातर सरकारी इमारतें, रेलवे स्टेशन, बस स्टैंड, स्कूल की छत एस्बेस्टस की बनी हुई है। वॉटर सप्लाई, सीवेज, ड्रेनेज के लिए इस्तेमाल होने वाले पाइप, पैकेजिंग मटीरियल, गाड़ियों के ब्रेक क्लच, ब्रेक शू सहित हजारों चीजों में एस्बेस्टस का इस्तेमाल हो रहा है। कई रिसर्च और सरकारी अध्ययनों से साबित हुआ है कि एस्बेस्टस से लंग कैंसर का खतरा बढ़ जाता है। एस्बेस्टस का एक भी फाइबर अगर फेफड़ों तक पहुंच जाए, तो इससे हुए नुकसान की भरपाई नहीं हो सकती।

2003 में तत्कालीन स्वास्थ्य और संसदीय कार्यमंत्री सुषमा स्वराज ने संसद को बताया कि अहमदाबाद स्थित नैशनल इंस्टिट्यूट ऑफ ऑक्युपेशनल हेल्थ की स्टडी से यह साफ है कि किसी भी प्रकार के एस्बेस्टस के लंबे समय तक संपर्क में रहने से एस्बेस्टोसिस, लंग कैंसर और मीसोथीलियोमा का खतरा हो सकता है।

अमेरिका के जाने माने पब्लिक हेल्थ एक्सपर्ट डॉ. अर्थुर फ्रेंक का कहना है कि भारत में एस्बेस्टस डिजीज इसलिए दिखाई नहीं देती क्योंकि यहां का पब्लिक हेल्थ सिस्टम एस्बेस्टस संबंधी बीमारियों को रेकॉर्ड नहीं करता। वह कहते हैं कि एस्बेस्टस के विकल्प इस्तेमाल किए जाने चाहिए जो पहले से ही मौजूद हैं।

टाटा मेमोरियल हॉस्पिटल के डॉ. जॉर्ज करिमुंडेकल ने एस्बेस्टस से होने वाली बीमारी की भयावहता का जिक्र करते हुए बताया कि अब तक उनके हॉस्पिटल में मीसोथीलियोमा और लंग कैंसर के 127 मरीजों की पहचान हुई और इलाज किया गया। वह कहते हैं कि उनके हॉस्पिटल में ही हर साल 5-6 केस एस्बेस्टस संबंधी बीमारियों के आते हैं और लंग कैंसर के कुल केस में 1 परसेंट मीसोथीलियोमा के होते हैं जो कि एस्बेस्टस से होने वाली एक लाइलाज बीमारी है।

यह भी गौर करने वाली बात है कि 36 केसों में से केवल 3 केस में ही पीड़ित एस्बेस्टस इंडस्ट्री से जुड़े हुए थे यानी सेकंड एक्सपोजर में भी बीमारी के पूरे चांस हैं। सियोल नैशनल यूनिवर्सिटी के डॉ. दोमयुंग पेक (Domyung Paek) ने बताया कि साउथ कोरिया ने 2007 में एस्बेस्टस बैन कर दिया था जो इस साल से प्रभाव में आया है और अभी एस्बेस्टस कंपनसेशन लॉ पास करने की प्रक्रिया चल रही है।

24 Dec 2009, 1724 hrs IST,नवभारत टाइम्स
पूनम पाण्डे

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Government must make India Asbestos Free

Press Release

Government must make India Asbestos Free

New Delhi/22/12/2009: “The reason no asbestos diseases are visible in India is because somehow Indian public health system does not record the asbestos related diseases, this won’t work in India. It needs substitutes for asbestos which are readily available”, said Prof (Dr) Arthur Frank, a renowned public health expert from US.

The victims of Asbestos diseases from Maharshtra, Andhra Pradesh, Rajasthan and Gujarat narrated their story of horrendous working conditions, concealing of the hazards of working with asbestos, delayed diagnosis, misdiagnosis and absence of legal remedy for their incurable diseases.

Calling for a ban on asbestos of all kinds, Dr George Karimundackal from Tata Memorial Hospital presented 127 cases of mesothelioma and lung cancers which his hospital has diagnosed and treated from 1985 to 2008 stating how most cases came at a terminal stage. He concluded that his hospital receives 5-6 cases of asbestos diseases every year and 1 % of all lung cancer cases are mesothelioma, an incurable asbestos disease. Notably, only 3 in 36 of the cases had a history of exposure from asbestos industry which implied that there is prevalence of secondary exposure to consumers as well.

A round table conference organised by Occupational and Enviornmental Health Network of India on issues related to Asbsestos use in India was held on 21st December, 2009 at India International centre Annexe. There were around 40 participants. The participants included workers on the ground, trade unions, various NGOs, Govt research institutes, NHRC, doctors and experts from other countries.

Dr Qamar Rehman, a well known toxicologist and emeritus scientist ITRC presented the key note address and pointed out that “We need to ban asbestos. We need to compensate the workers, which is the only way to phase out asbestos and get justice for the workers.”

Dr Domyung Paek from Seoul National University informed that South Korea has banned asbestos in 2007 which came into effect from 2009 and is in the process of passing Asbestos Compensation Law 2009.

The potential of Ban White Asbestos (Use and Import) Bill, 2009 which has been introduced in the Rajya Sabha, the Central Pollution Control Board study seeking all workers to be employed permanently and Railway Ministry’s steps in taking asbestos roofs away from platform was taken note of. Not just domestic consumption, but we are exporting asbestos products to other countries like Bhutan.

Dr Barry Castleman, an authority on asbestos medical and legal issues adviced India to adopt alternatives of asbestos and referred to World Bank’s good practice notes, how WHO is assisting countries to eliminate asbestos diseases and ILO’s 2006 resolution calling for banning asbestos of all kinds including white asbestos.


Saturday, December 19, 2009

White Asbestos Industry & ‘Prostitute’ Scientists Rebuked

For Immediate Release

White Asbestos Industry & ‘Prostitute’ Scientists Rebuked

Health Experts, Labour Ministry & Delhi Govt Express Grave Concern about Asbestos Diseases

Misleading Advertorials of Industry Disapproved

New Delhi/19/12/2009: The commercial tactics of the asbestos industry are very similar to those of the tobacco industry.

At a Global Conference presentation after presentation environmental and occupational health experts from some 15 countries called for elimination of the burden of disease and death that is caused worldwide by exposure to asbestos. All forms of asbestos including white asbestos (chrysotile asbestos) are occupational and environmental hazards of catastrophic proportions. The profound tragedy of the asbestos epidemic is that all illnesses and deaths related to asbestos are entirely preventable.

Collegium Ramazzini based in Italy and one of the co-organizers of the conference has stated that safer substitutes for asbestos exist, and they have been introduced successfully in many countries. The grave hazards of exposure to asbestos and the availability of some safer substitute materials have led a growing number of countries to stop trade in asbestos.

Experts took note of the advertorial by the Asbestos Cement Products Manufacturer's Association published in a newspaper (attached relevant ad of The Times of India, 17 December, 2009), which coincided with the inauguration of the conference and debunked the misleading claims and disapproved the attempts by the industry to hide behind government agencies like Directorate General, Factory Advice Service and Labour Institutes (DGFASLI), which took note of Prevalence of Assbestosis and Related Disorders in a Asbestos Fiber Processing Unit in West Bengal as early as in 1996.

Officials from the Labour Ministry who were present at the conference joined Prof Arthur Frank and Dr Barry Castleman, both well known asbestos experts in dismissing industry references to absence of asbestos diseases in India as junk science. Besides courts, Press Council of India and Advertising Standards Council of India should take suo motto notice of such manifestly misleading advertisements which refer to poison as non-poison. Newspapers should be wary of such irresponsible and immoral advertising.

Scientists at the conference noted that the health consequences of the use of asbestos in contemporary industrial society have been amply documented in the international scientific literature. The toll of illness and death among asbestos workers in mining, construction and heavy industry is well known. The risks from toxic exposures affect not only those who work with asbestos, but also their families and neighbours (from material on clothing or plant emissions), users of products that contain asbestos and the public at large.

All forms of asbestos cause asbestosis, a progressive, fibrotic disease of the lungs. They can all cause lung cancer and malignant mesothelioma. Debdas Mukerjee from US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) noted that Asbestos has been declared a proven human carcinogen and scientists who say anything to the contrary are like prostitutes because they manufacture scientific study to endorse unethical industry interests. International Agency for Research on Cancer of the World Health Organization and ILO has also called for elimination of asbestos of all forms. The preponderence of scientific evidence to date demonstrates that chrysotile (white asbestos) also causes cancer, including lung cancer and mesothelioma. Russian and
Canadian chrysotile is associated with mesotheliomas and lung cancers.

The experts repeatedly urged government of India to harbour no illusions about the “controlled use” of asbestos because there is no realistic alternative to a ban. Moreover, even the best workplace controls cannot prevent occupational and environmental exposures to products in use or to waste. The trend of alarming rise in the consumption of asbestos in India in hospitals, schools, homes and commercial buildings now resemble those that existed in the industrialized countries before the dangers of asbestos were widely recognized.

The conference entitled "Preventing Emerging Occupational and Environmental Risks in South Asia and Beyond" was organized by Centre for Occupational & Environmental Health (New Delhi), Collegium Ramazzini (Italy), and Drexel University, School of Public Health, Philadelphia, supported by Union Ministry of Labour and Employment, Government of India, and WHO, SEARO at capital’s Maulana Azad Medical College.

Katja Radon from Germany informed that the social system in Germany are geared to provide pension to asbestos victims and their families besides compensation and the public health system provides universal coverage. Takehiko Murayama from Japan provided a historical review of asbestos industrialization, hazard identification and legal measures and Andrew Watterson from UK asked Indian public health experts, trade unions and civil society organizations to be part of a Global Occupational Cancer Prevention Campaign. Efforts to Ban Asbestos and Promote Safer Substitutes for Asbestos Products: Barry Castleman, USA. Hemantha D. Wickramatillake from Sri Lanka underlined a need for a South Asian Forum for Occupational and Environmental Health Researchers.

The grave health hazards of asbestos are entirely preventable. The health risks of asbestos exposure are unacceptable. Indian health experts and officials admitted the almost complete absence of occupational and environmental health infrastructure and the cancer registry of the country of does not record occupational cancers.

For Details: Gopal Krishna, Ban Asbestos Network of India (BANI), Mb: 9818089660,

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Kerala to Consider Ban on Asbestos?

Kerala Labor Minister, P K Gurudasan has been positive about the idea of doing something in his state with regard to making it asbestos free. He was speaking to Dr Barry Castleman, a well known authority on asbestos issue. Dr Castleman held press conferences to highlight the necessity of banning of asbestos in India during his recent visit to Kerala.

Gurudasan also handles the portfolios of Employment and Training, Rehabilitation, Factories and boilers, Insurance Medical Services, Industrial Tribunals, Excise, Cashew Industry and Labour Courts.

Public health researchers have warned that the harmful and deadly effects that asbestos fibres may cause have been seriously underestimated in India.

Asbestos industry accused of spreading misinformation

Nov 30, 2009, The Hindu

NEW DELHI: Environmentalists here have accused the asbestos industry of having launched a “misinformation campaign” in newspapers.

“We will be registering a complaint with the Press Council of India and the Advertising Standards Council of India against this campaign to ensure that the common man does not get influenced and is aware of the dangers of using asbestos,” said Gopal Krishna of Ban Asbestos Network of India (BANI).

He added that the advertisements were against all ethics as it does not talk about the dangers associated with asbestos use.

“Almost every international health agency of repute including World Health Organisation, International Labour Organisation, and International Agency for Research on Cancer, Occupational Safety and Health Administration, National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health and American Cancer Society agree there is no safe level of asbestos exposure.

We have been campaigning against use of asbestoses and trying to ensure that there is enough awareness about it. While we can’t stop people from advertising we can ensure that the common man knows about the ill-effects of asbestoses,” noted a release issued by the group.

The Union Government is yet to issue a complete ban on use of asbestoses in the country but some Sates have taken a proactive stand against asbestoses. “Even the International Agency for Research on Cancer reconfirmed that all commercial asbestos fibres cause lung cancer and mesothelioma.”

Asbestos free schools

Down To Earth

Paving the way for a complete ban on asbestos and its products, Kerala Human Rights Commission said “exposing Indians to asbestos is a human rights violation”. It asked the state government to phase out asbestos roofs from all schools and replace them with country tiles. The ruling was in response to a petition that said roofing school buildings with asbestos is hazardous to children’s health. Ban Asbestos Network of India has appealed to the National Human Rights Commission to adopt the Kerala Human Rights Commission’s order with immediate effect.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Disasters of Bhopal, Asbestos & Compensation

Had compensation in the case of Bhopal disaster been paid at the same rate that asbestosis victims where being awarded in US courts by defendant including Union Carbide Corporation (UCC) – which mined asbestos from 1963 to 1985 – the liability would have been greater than the $10 billion the company was worth and insured for in 1984.

In 2002, Dow Chemicals set aside $2.2 billion to cover potential liabilities arising from Union Carbide's American asbestos production.

In 2004, Johns-Manville Corp, Asbestos producing company paid $500 million to people affected by asbestosis, a lung disease.

In the fall of 2001, steel from the ruins of the World Trade Center was exported to India apparently without first being tested for contamination from asbestos and heavy metals present in the twin tower debris.

Aggressive marketing of asbestos continues in developing countries as a result of restrictions being placed on its use in developed nations due to the well-established link between asbestos products and respiratory diseases. India has become a major consumer of asbestos.

Mining, production and use of asbestos in India is very loosely regulated despite the health hazards.

Reports have shown morbidity and mortality from asbestos related disease will continue in India without enforcement of a ban or significantly tighter controls.

Quebec government holding onto health report into link between asbestos and cancer

By Andy Blatchford, 2 Dec, 2009

MONTREAL — For eight months, the Quebec government has been holding on to a report that explores the link between asbestos-related cancer and Canada's only community that still mines the substance.

The study is believed to be the first Canadian research to look at asbestos-related cancer in a specific region, examining the risk of disease in and around Thetford Mines, Que. Quebec's public health institute delivered the completed report to regional officials and the provincial Health Department in March.

But the study, and its potentially alarming conclusions, still hasn't been made public. Officials say that will finally happen this month.

"It's very unusual," said a source affiliated with the public health institute who is aware of the report, but did not co-author it.

"The time it's taking now is a little abnormal."

The mining of asbestos is an intensely sensitive issue in Quebec, where it provides around 400 jobs at the province's one remaining mine.

The industry fiercely defends Quebec asbestos - also called chrysotile - and deems the product perfectly safe as long as precautions are followed.

The material, recognized for its heat-and fire-resistant qualities, was widely used in Canada and around the world between the 1950s and the '70s, often as insulation.

Several countries, especially poorer ones, still import asbestos from Canada despite numerous studies linking it to health hazards, including cancer.

Cases of such illness appear to be on the rise. Mesothelioma, a lethal cancer linked to asbestos in over 80 per cent of cases, killed 32 per cent more Canadians in 2005 than in 2000, according to the most recent national figures available from Statistics Canada.

Dozens of Canadian health experts signed a letter Wednesday to federal Health Minister Leona Aglukkaq, demanding that she tighten the country's asbestos exposure limits for workers, which they say are 10 times higher than any Western country.

Since it takes 25 to 40 years after exposure for many asbestos-related diseases to surface, experts predict the death toll will continue rising for years as Canada experiences the lingering effects of its asbestos boom.

They say the situation will likely be far worse in developing countries that still heavily use Canadian exports.

Despite asbestos bans in many Western countries and the fact that Canadians spend millions each year to safely remove the substance from buildings - including Parliament Hill - Canada remains a world leader in asbestos exports.

For decades, the children of Thetford Mines used to scale the local tailings piles, many of which are as tall as a house.

In winter, locals would toboggan down the dirt mounds with their kids, who affectionately referred to them as "The Asbestos Dumps."

"People are being exposed to measurable levels - we're talking about non-workers here, children and people playing in those tailings," the source said.

"What is the level of the risk? I have no idea. . . They've been exposed for decades."

The study was commissioned by regional health authorities in November 2007 following the release of conflicting reports on the threat of asbestos fibres present in the Thetford Mines environment.

After the studies were released, Philippe Lessard, the public health director responsible for Thetford Mines, promised an "in-depth analysis" before making any declarations to the public about the risk of asbestos exposure in the community.

In a November 2007 statement, Lessard's Chaudiere-Appalaches public health authority said he would inform citizens as soon as he was up to speed on the results of the study.

When asked whether it's normal for health authorities to hang on to a report for so long, a spokesman for the agency replied that this isn't a typical study.

"This type of report is not ordered every day, either, so the norm is difficult to establish," said Pierre-Luc Levesque.

He said the Chaudiere-Appalaches agency will make the report public by Dec. 15.

By that time, the provincial legislature will have stopped for its winter holidays and Premier Jean Charest will be in Europe for the climate-change summit in Copenhagen and a side trip Russia.

Levesque declined to share any of the report's findings. When asked, he wouldn't say if the results show that locals are currently at risk.

"We will give this type of information to the population during the beginning of December," he said.

A spokeswoman for Quebec's public health institute says the reviewing process usually takes 60 days, but can take up to eight months under provincial law before the results must be released.

She stresses that the provincial authority fulfilled its responsibilities by delivering the report to the local agency in the spring. Now it's up to the Chaudiere-Appalaches agency to release it, she says.

"It shouldn't be long because it should already be out there," said Nathalie Hudon, adding that the release date was recently extended from Nov. 15.

The provincial government, the Bloc Quebecois and the federal Conservatives all support the asbestos industry's claims that the product can be used safely.

The riding that surrounds Thetford Mines is represented by federal Public Works Minister Christian Paradis.

In 2008, Canada's $100-million asbestos industry exported 175,000 tonnes of chrysotile - almost all of it to developing nations.

Many of Canada's biggest customers are in the developing world, including India, Indonesia and Bangladesh, where industry critics say few - if any - safety precautions are taken.

Since some asbestos-related diseases take 25 to 40 years to emerge, health experts predict major health ramifications in these countries over the coming decades.

In Canada, asbestos-related diseases are the No. 1 workplace killer, striking not only retired miners, but former ship builders and constructions workers.

Across Canada, the number of reported new cases annually of the deadly asbestos-related cancer known as mesothelioma shot up 67 per cent over a decade and a half - from 276 to 461 - according to the most recent federal figures.

The Canadian Press

The Times of India says, "Our executive and judiciary have badly let down the victims of the Bhopal gas tragedy, the worlds worst industrial disaster. The meagre compensation paid, that too badly delayed, and the fact that not one individual has been punished despite clear evidence of shocking negligence make that clear. But merely beating our breasts about it wont do. If we are to redeem ourselves in the eyes of the world and of our own people and prove that human life and safety is not cheap in this country, two things must be done. The criminal cases meandering along for 25 years must be vigorously pursued and the guilty brought to book. As for the victims claim for more compensation, the shameful settlement with Union Carbide can perhaps no longer be reopened. But the government, which negotiated that deal, must make good the loss to victims resulting from its gross underestimation of their numbers initially. Or else, India will appear a banana republic."

Criminal Cases

Pending in lower courts; non-bailable warrant against Carbide chairman Anderson since 1992. Anderson was arrested on Dec 7, 1984 in Bhopal, bailed out within hours, flown to Delhi in state govt plane and allowed to flee the country

Health Status

Total hospital visits by gas victims (2008): 2 million (6,000 per day)

Suffering From

Breathing distress, gastro-intestinal problems, menstrual irregularities, spontaneous abortions, neurological problems, immunological disturbances , susceptibility to infections, chromosomal abnormalities, chronic conjunctivitis, trachoma and early age cataract, anxiety and neurotic disorders, psychological trauma, proneness to muscular weakness

Carbide Got Away Real CHEAP

Uphaar Tragedy (1997): Families of dead awarded Rs 15-18 lakh each, injured got Rs 1 lakh each in 2003 court decision. 9% interest for 6 years elapsed in the court case

Exxon Valdez Oil Spill (1989): Exxon paid $860 million, including interest, to 38,000 people for oil spill in Alaska

Philip Morris (2001): Court asked cigarette giant to pay $3bn to a smoker suffering terminal cancer who claimed he wasn't warned of the dangers of smoking

MTBE (2008): Chevron, BP and 10 other oil companies paid $423 million to water suppliers in US for contaminating groundwater with chemical methyl tertiary butyl ether (MTBE). MTBE is a member of a group of chemicals commonly known as fuel oxygenates. Oxygenates are added to fuel to increase its oxygen content.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

‘Asbestos dust is highly cancerous’

KOCHI: Asbestos continues to be rampantly used in India, China and a few other countries despite the grave health hazards that it poses, Barry Castleman, environmental consultant and anti-asbestos activist said.

Addressing the media at the Ernakulam Press Club on Friday, he said that asbestos dust is highly cancerous. “This is a public-health catastrophe. The European Union and countries like South Korea, South Africa, Argentina and most States in Brazil have banned asbestos. Apart from inhabitants of houses built using asbestos, construction workers, architects etc., fall prey to the hazards. They stand a high chance of contracting cancer after a few years of exposure to the substance, he said. The U.S. alone accounts for around 3,000 deaths each year due to asbestos-induced cancer. There is urgent need to regulate asbestos manufacturers. Human rights agencies have demanded curbs on asbestos use in schools and hospitals. “There are many alternatives to asbestos, which are just around 10 per cent costlier. Still, it is used in the construction sector and the brake linings of many vehicles,” he said.

The Hindu

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