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, October 13, 2010

Despite asbestos risk, ship-breaking still a viable industry

Despite asbestos risk, ship-breaking still a viable industry in Bangladesh

In late September, news came from Dhaka, Bangladesh that the State Minister for Environment and Forest, Hasan Mahmud, and the national government were in the midst of finalizing a policy to ensure that the ship-breaking industry would operate without polluting the environment. To prevent the elimination of the ship-building industry, which Mahmud claims will turn Bangladesh into a “market for foreign ironmongers,” the government is hoping to establish a separate zone for this industry.

Ruling Awami League lawmaker and Chief of the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Labour and Employment Ministry, M. Israfil Alam, however, believes that ship-breaking is an extremely hazardous and polluting industry and is demanding its immediate closure. Israfil supported his demands by citing the High Court in Hyderabad, India ban on all ship scrapping.

“Our High Court gave some directives for the ship breaking yards but the owners seldom comply with those directives. They are making our environment more vulnerable by bringing in abandoned ships loaded with asbestos which is very harmful for public health,” said Israfil, who is entirely correct about the danger of asbestos within the shipbuilding and breaking industry.

Asbestos is a naturally occurring yet carcinogenic mineral long used in shipbuilding. Long term exposure to asbestos is known to cause asbestosis, lung cancer and mesothelioma, a rare cancer of the lining of the chest and abdomen and the organs contained therein. Asbestos is most dangerous when it is disturbed, causing it to break and crumble, which in turn releases toxic fibers into the air that can be easily inhaled.

If they do not wear the proper protective gear and the industry is not properly regulated, ship-breakers are at a very high risk of breathing asbestos on a daily basis and contracting the oftentimes fatal pleural mesothelioma, a cancer of the lining of the lungs. However, Minister Mahmud insists that all importers require clearance certificates that the ships do not carry any harmful substances and that the government is “now working on how to dismantle the vessels and ensure safe and hazard free environment at the same time.”

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