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.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Stop Killer Asbestos Fiber based Plants in Sri Lanka


His Excellency
President Mahinda Rajapaksa
Government of Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka

Subject-Stop Killer Asbestos Fiber based Plants in Sri Lanka


I wish to draw your attention towards the news item "Committee to assess asbestos hazards" (13 May, 2011, Daily News), online petition seeking "Ban Use Of Lung Cancer Causing Asbestos in Sri Lanka and SARC Nations" endorsed by 113 people and "news item "BOI venture with Sigiri Roofings "published Daily News (7 August, 2009) and the misinformation campaigns like "Asbestos roofing sheet industry rejects "cancer causing" fears". I also seek your attention towards the resolutions of WHO and ILO seeking elimination of future use of all forms of asbestos passed in 2005 and 2006 respectively.

I welcome the possibility of Sri Lanka becoming the second Asian country after Japan to ban asbestos of all kinds after the consideration by Erudite Committee led by Dr Charitha Herath, Chairman, Central Environment Authority (CEA) of the world trends to abandon the use of asbestos due to their confirmed negative impacts and its prohibition in most of the industrialzed countries. This message is copied to globally recognised experts on enviro-occupational health effects of asbestos exposures in the health, medical and legal fields.

On behalf of South Asian Ban Asbestos Network (SABAN)and Ban Asbestos Network of India (BANI), I appreciate the formation of the Erudite Committee to ascertain the incurable diseases caused by asbestos in the aftermath of the verdict of ILO, WHO and WTO Appellate Body against the killer fibers of asbestos. Most of the northern countries have banned asbestos. It is high time Southern countries followed the path shown by Japan by taking steps to make their countries asbestos free.

It is well established in the medical community that asbestos is a carcinogen, meaning it can cause cancer since early 1950s. It was absolutely established that asbestos is a carcinogen by 1965. Despite this companies like Union Carbide Corporation (UCC) that caused world's worst industrial disaster in Bhopal, India and members of Chrysotile Asbestos Cement Products Manufacturers Association (CACPMA), Asbestos Cement Products Manufacturers Association (ASCMA) have been playing word games avoided telling their customers that asbestos was a carcinogen. The same is being done by Shri S.A. Bhimaraja, Chairman, Tamil Nadu based Nibhi Industries (Pvt) Ltd, formerly Vice-Chairman Asbestos Cement Products Manufacturers Association of India (ASCMA) and formerly President, Ramco Industries. Industrialists like Shri Bhimaraja ignore Indian Environment Ministry’s 19 page Vision Statement on Environment and Human Health (Para 4.3.1, page 12) which reads: “Alternatives to asbestos may be used to the extent possible and use of asbestos may be phased out” and the fact that mining of asbestos is banned in India on health grounds besides ban on trade in asbestos waste (dust and fibers). This statement is available on Ministry’s website. Although it is quite ironical and sad that India is yet to ban manufacture and use of asbestos products.

I submit that Shri Bhimaraja has signed an investment agreement with Sigiri Roofings for a project to manufacture fibre roofing sheets and accessories by setting up a state-of-the-art manufacturing plant at Tharawilluwa, Battulu Oya in the Puttalam district. It likely to help manufacture around 7,500 metric tons monthly and its commercial operation was to commence in March 2010. The fact is that the fiber roofing sheets will be manufactured by using asbestos fibers which is banned in over 55 countries. I am aware of Shri Bhimaraja's asbestos factory in Gidha village, Bhojpur, Bihar, India that is facing villagers opposition.

I submit that there is global awareness about the adverse effects of asbestos fibers. It affects everyone from the person mining it to the ultimate consumer. Clinical reports show that asbestosis, mesothelioma and lung cancer can show up even 25 to 40 years after exposure to asbestos.

I submit that like elsewhere, in our country too, all cases of mesothelioma, an aggressive asbestos-related cancer are linked to asbestos exposure. All the medical colleges in India must teach that most cases of mesothelioma are related to enviro-occupational asbestos exposure that often occurred decades earlier in industries heavily dependent on asbestos-based products. These industries include construction, automobile repair and shipbuilding.

It is a glaring fact that the members of Chrysotile Asbestos Cement Products Manufacturers Association (CACPMA), Asbestos Cement Products Manufacturers Association (ASCMA) and other industries based on killer fibers of asbestos are knowingly exposing workers, their families and consumers.

While the medical and financial relief (compensation) for the illness of workers, their families and consumers must be borne by the companies in question, in South Asia because of political patronage members of both CACPMA, ASCMA and others have escaped liability and have not been made accountable for deaths and diseases being caused by their products.

I submit that there are many factors that influence a person’s life expectancy. Mesothelioma, a asbestos related incurable disease is typically diagnosed in the late stages because it displays no serious symptoms before then. When diagnosed in the late stages, the average life expectancy is 8 months.

I submit that your government must identify and assist those who suffer from mesothelioma and other asbestos related diseases because they have the right to pursue financial compensation besides providing free legal consultation to present and potential victims and their families.

I submit that in an order dated January 21, 201, Hon’ble Supreme Court’s bench of Chief Justice of India Justice S.H. Kapadia, Justice K.S. Panicker Radhakrishnan and Justice Swatanter Kumar has observed in para 15, “the Government has already presented the Bill in Rajya Sabha. The statement of objects and reasons of this Bill specifically notices that the white asbestos is highly carcinogenic and it has been so reported by the World Health Organisation. In India, it is imported without any restriction while even its domestic use is not preferred by the exporting countries.” Rajya Sabha is the Upper House of Parliament of India.

The Bench of Chief Justice of India notes, “Canada and Russia are the biggest exporters of white asbestos. In 2007, Canada exported 95% of the white asbestos, it mined out of which 43% was shipped to India. In view of these facts, there is an urgent need for a total ban on the import and use of white asbestos and promote the use of alternative materials. The Bill is yet to be passed but it is clearly demonstrated that the Government is required to take effective steps to prevent hazardous impact of use of asbestos.”

I wish to inform you that the World Health Organization (WHO) has issued a new factsheet on asbestos: It re-iterates that the most efficient way to eliminate asbestos-related
diseases is to stop the use of all types of asbestos and specifically states that its strategy is particularly targeted at countries still using chrysotile asbestos. The factsheet notes that “more than 107 000 people die each year from asbestos-related lung cancer, mesothelioma and asbestosis resulting from occupational exposure.”

I submit that the work of WHO and International Labour Organization (ILO) must be taken cognisance of by your Government in its efforts towards elimination of asbestos-related diseases “by recognizing that the most efficient way to eliminate asbestos-related diseases is to stop the use of all types of asbestos and by providing information about solutions for replacing asbestos with safer substitutes and developing economic and technological mechanisms to stimulate its replacement.”

I wish to draw your attention towards the New Delhi Declaration Seeking Elimination of cancer causing all forms of asbestos including Chrysotile from India which was adopted and endorsed by eminent scientists and doctors on 24th March, 2011. This happened at a Round Table which was organized immediately after the conclusion of International Conference on "Emerging Trends in Preventing Occupational Respiratory Diseases and Cancers in Workplace" at Maulana Azad Medical College, India that expressed grave concern about asbestos related diseases like lung cancer in the national capital.

The delegates at the Round Table discussed the asbestos policies in South Asia. These delegates shared their views and gave their valuable hand written notes so that it can be used in a credible way while strongly recommending the need for immediate ban on asbestos.

I wish to submit that during a visit to New Delhi in March 2011, Dr Alec Farquhar, Managing Director, Occupational Health Clinics for Ontario Workers, Canada said, “We now have around 500 asbestos cancer cases every year in Ontario from a population of 13 million. In Ontario, we learned that safe use of asbestos is impossible. I urge you from the bottom of my heart, please do not make the same mistake as we made in Canada. Stop using asbestos and use a safe alternative.” The situation in Sri Lanka with a population of about 20 million is bound to be worse.

I submit that Professor Elihu D Richter MD MPH, Hebrew University-Hadassah School of Medicine, Israel said, “All form of asbestos kill.” Prof. Richter too was in New Delhi in March 2011.

It must be noted that “...there is no question that science has shown that Chrysotile causes asbestosis, lung cancer and mesothelioma. This is the conclusion of World Health Organisation. The International Agency for Research on Cancer, and other organizations that have no biases except for protecting people’s health,” said Prof. Arthur L Frank, MD, PhD, Department of Environmental and Occupational Health, Drexel University School of Public Health, US. He has 40 years of experience in dealing with asbestos diseases and he was in India to make a presentation at an International Conference on Occupational Health.

I submit that Collegium Ramazzini, a Italy based independent, international academy founded in 1982 by Irving J. Selikoff, Cesare Maltoni and other eminent scientists has called for the elimination asbestos of all kinds.

Presenting her views, Prof (Dr) Qamar Rahman, fellow of National Academy of Sciences, Dean, Integral University, Lucknow & former Deputy Director, Industrial Toxicology Research Centre, Lucknow asserted, “The asbestos fibers will be the cause of exposure to our coming generations.” This merits your immediate attention.

It may noted that the conference was organised by Centre for Occupational Health, New Delhi supported by Union Ministry of Labour & Employment, ESI, DGMS and DGFASL in collaboration with Drexel University, US at Maulana Azad Medical College, New Delhi from 22-24 March, 2011.

The conference was deeply concerned about asbestos related diseases and the alarming rise of asbestos.

I also wish to draw your attention 5th Conference of the Parties (COP5) to the UN's Rotterdam Convention on the Prior Informed Consent Procedure for Certain Hazardous Chemicals and Pesticides in International Trade to be in Geneva wherein the fate of Chrysotile asbestos and some other chemicals will be be decided. The objective of the Rotterdam Convention “is to promote shared responsibility and cooperative efforts among Parties in the international trade of certain hazardous chemicals in order to protect human health and the environment from potential harm.”

In order to meet its objective, COP5 of Rotterdam Convention will consider the inclusion in Annex III of chrysotile asbestos under agenda item 5 c during the meeting scheduled for June 20-24, 2011.

It is noteworthy that the inclusion in Annex III does not equate to a prohibition of trade. It imposes requirements on exporting nations to provide basic information to consumers and customers environmental health hazards due to certain hazardous chemicals and pesticides in international trade.

I wish to inform you that there has been several attempts to include chrysotile asbestos (White Asbestos) on the prior informed consent list have failed due to the influence of asbestos producing countries who are compelled by their companies led by Quebec based Canadian companies who have succeeded in preventing any action on chrysotile asbestos being taken.

I submit that discussions on chrysotile asbestos at the COP 4 of Rotterdam Convention in 2008 took a decision to examine its listing at COP5 in June 2011. It is well known around the world that asbestos is hazardous to human health, and that there is no such thing as “safe use” of asbestos, just like there is no “safe cigarette”. It would do better to aim for growth through development of safe industries, and to lower the prices of substitutes, rather than promote use of this hazardous substance, opined Dr Yael Stein, MD, Unit of Occupational and Environmental Medicine, Hebrew University, Israel. This clearly underlines that white asbestos or chrysotile asbestos is a health hazard which is essentially what COP5 is to decide in Geneva.

In such a backdrop, in short, I request you to recommend steps on the following points:

· Urge Government of Sri Lanka to Support Listing of Chrysotile (White Asbestos) in the PIC List of Rotterdam Convention

· Deny Consent to Establish to hazardous asbestos factory units in Sri Lanka

· Create a Registry of Incurable Lung Cancers and Mesothelioma besides a registry of asbestos related diseases

· Start efforts to decontaminate asbestos laden buildings including schools and hospitals

· Create a building registry of those buildings and products which have asbestos.

· Include environmental and occupational health study in the medical education of all the medical colleges in Sri Lanka

· Stop procurement of cancer causing asbestos based products in Sri Lanka

· Adequately compensate the victims of asbestos-related diseases, create a database of asbestos exposed people and victims as well besides providing legal and possible medical relief and taking preventive measures

I would be quite happy to share more details about the asbestos related incurable diseases.

Yours Sincerely

Gopal Krishna
Ban Asbestos Network of India (BANI)
South Asian Ban Asbestos Network (SABAN)
New Delhi
Mb: 09818089660, 07739308480

Prime Minister's Office, Government of Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka
Ministry of Labour Relations, Government of Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka
Dr Charitha Herath, Chairman, Central Environment Authority (CEA), Government of Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka
Dr. Hemantha D. Wickramatillake, Fellow , Collegium Ramazzini, Italy
Dr C. K. Shanmugarajah, Director, Env. & Occupational Health, Ministry of Health, Government of Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka
Dr Shelton Chandrasiri, Provincial Director of Health Services, Uva Province, Sri Lanka
Dr Nida Besbelli, International Programme on Chemical Safety (PHE/PCS), WHO HQ, Geneva
Dr Kalpana Balakrishnan, Associate Professor & Head, Environmental Engineering Cell, Sri Ramachandra Medical College, Chennai, India
Dr Gerry Eijkemans, Occupational Health Programme, WHO HQ, Geneva
Dr Cherian Varghese, NPO, Office of WR-India
Prof (Dr) Arthur Frank, Professor, Chair: Department of Environmental and Occupational Health, Drexel University School of Public Health, US,
Dr Aleck Farquhar, Managing Director, Occupational Health Clinics for Ontario Workers, Canada,
Professor Elihu D Richter MD MPH, Hebrew University-Hadassah School of Medicine, Israel
Dr Yael Stein, MD, Unit of Occupational and Environmental Medicine, Hebrew University, Israel
Dr Lyle Hargrove, Chairperson, Occupational Clinics for Ontario Workers, Canada
Prof (Dr) Qamar Rahman, Fellow, National Academy of Sciences, India & former Deputy Director, Industrial Toxicology Research Centre, India
Dr. T.K. Joshi, Fellow, Collegium Ramazzini, Italy
Dr Barry Castleman, Author, Asbestos: Medical and Legal Aspects
Prof. (Dr) Sanjay Chaturvedi, Faculty of Medical Sciences, University of Delhi, New Delhi, India
Editor-in-Chief, Daily News, Sri Lanka

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