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.

Friday, January 21, 2022

Banned in 70 nations, India continues to import and export asbestos

Misguided by a discredited conflict of interest ridden study admittedly co-funded by white chrysotile asbestos companies and undertaken by National Institute of Occupational Health, Ahmedabad, India continues to import  asbestos to the tune of  3,61,164 tonnes in 2019-20. It's important decreased by only 1% as against 3,64,105

tonnes in the previous year. The statement "Almost entire import was that of chrysotile asbestos" made in the Indian Minerals Year Book 2020 published in November 2021 reveals that India is importing small amount of non-chrysotile asbestos as well. The imports of chrysotile asbestos were mainly from Russia (85%), Brazil, Kazakhstan & Hungary (3% each), and Poland & South Africa (2% each). A total of 25,009 tonnes asbestos-cement products were also imported in 2019-20 as against 29,358 tonnes in the previous year. These imports were mainly from Thailand (93%) and Indonesia (4%). Besides above, asbestos-fibre of 3,60,839 tonnes was also imported during the year 2019-20 as compared to 3,63,902 tonnes in the previous year. 

The data reveals that despite Brazilian Supreme Court's landmark verdict declaring use of asbestos to be unconstitutional, it is exporting it to India not realising that human biology is same everywhere-what is poisonous for Brazilians and some 70 countries cannot be non-poisonous for Indians. It also brings to light the fact although South Africa, Hungry and Poland have banned asbestos, they continue to export it to India. 

The imports of asbestos fibre products were 3,580 tonnes during the year 2019-20 as compared to 4,425 tonnes in previous year. The imports of asbestos fibre products were mainly from China (31%), Japan (23%) and Denmark (12%). The 2020 report points out that in addition to asbestos minerals, an unknown quantity of asbestos is traded within manufactured products, possibly including brake linings and pads, building materials, gaskets, millboard, yarn and thread. 

It is noteworthy that exports of asbestos decreased substantially to 1,001 tonnes in 2019-20 as compared to 1,112 tonnes in the previous year. The exports were mainly to Bangladesh (92%) and Sri Lanka 7%. The exports of asbestos (fibre products) were at 43,310 tonnes in 2019-20 as compared to 41,677 tonnes in the previous year. The exports were mainly to USA (24%), UAE (7% ), Egypt (6%) and Nepal, Canada, Sri Lanka and Kenya (3% each). The exports of asbestos (chrysotile) were at 997 tonnes during the year 2019-20 as compared to 1090 tonnes in the preceding year. The exports of asbestos (others) decreased to 5 tonnes during the year 2019-20 as compared to 22 tonnes in the preceding year. The exports were solely to Nepal. The exports of asbestos-cement products were 91,100 tonnes in 2019-20 as compared to 67,352 tonnes in the preceding year. The exports of asbestos-cement products were mainly to UAE (36%), Nepal (26%) and Qatar (11%). These countries ought to act to protect the health of their present and future citizens. It is clear that despite banning asbestos, Canada and Nepal continue to import asbestos and asbestos based products. 

Some 70 countries have banned all kinds of asbestos including white chrysotile asbestos. World Health Organisation has recommended elimination of all kinds of asbestos and asbestos based products. India has banned mining of all kinds of asbestos because of it's harmful impact on human health. It has been established that safe and controlled use of asbestos is impossible. India has banned trade in asbestos waste ( dust and fibers) and it's use in ships but it continues to trade raw asbestos, asbestos based products  India continues to manufacture and use asbestos based products. This shows that asbestos producers like Russia have overwhelmed India's Ministries of Commerce & Industry and Chemicals. As a consequence no building or vehicle in India is free of carcinogenic asbestos mineral fibers. It is evident that Union and State Governments have failed to resist the influence of asbestos traders and merchants to protect the health of present and future citizens including Presidents, Prime Ministers, Chief Ministers, judges, soldiers and children. 

Tuesday, January 18, 2022

Hazardous Chrysotile Asbestos and Occupational Safety, Health & Working Conditions Code

The three Schedules under Occupational Safety, Health and Working Conditions (OSHWC) Code 2020 refer to hazardous asbestos, banned in 70 nations. It also refers to asbestosis, an incurable disease. 

The report of Planning Commission of India's Working Group on Occupational Safety and Health (Tenth Five Year Plan) revealed that hazardous substances like asbestos which have a potential to cause serious occupational diseases such as asbestosis. It pointed out substantial prevalence of occupational health disorders amongst the workers such as Asbestosis. The prevalence rate for Asbestosis was reported to be 7.25%. 

The Vision Statement of Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change recommends phase out of chrysotile asbestos saying, "Alternatives to asbestos may be used to the extent possible and use of asbestos may be phased out." th/visenvhealth.pdf 

The Concept Paper of Union Ministry of Labour presented at Fifth India-EU Seminar states, "The Government of India is considering the ban the mining and use of chrysotile asbestos in India to protect the workers and the general population

against primary and secondary exposure to Chrysotile form of asbestos".
Reference: 20note.pdf  (It seems Labour Ministry has removed this URL under the influence foreign asbestos producers like Russia and asbestos product manufacturers) 

In such a backdrop, it is strange that, the list of 427 hazardous chemicals/substances does not mention asbestos in Sub-Schedule-I of Schedule I &  the list of 179 toxic chemicals in Sub-Schedule-3 of Schedule-II under OSHWC (Bihar) Rules, 2021.

But sub-schedule-15 of Schedule-III deals with "Handling and Processing of Asbestos, Manufacture of any Article of Asbestos and any Process of Manufacture or otherwise in which Asbestos is used in any Form" under the OSHWC (Bihar) Rules. 

It is apparent that asbestos is not mentioned in the list of hazardous chemicals because Indian government's continued opposition to listing of carcinogenic chrysotile asbestos in the UN 's Prior Informed Consent (PIC) list under UN's Rotterdam Convention on PIC Procedure for Certain Hazardous Chemicals and Pesticides in International Trade along with governments of Pakistan, Russia, Kazakhstan, Zimbabwe, Cuba, Kyrgyzstan.  In 2011, India had supported it's inclusion in the UN list of hazardous substances but under the influence of asbestos producers like Russia it reversed it's stance later on. 

The Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) has informed that major health hazards of asbestos include cancer of lung, mesothelioma of pleura and peritoneum and specific fibrous disease of lung known as asbestosis. All types of asbestos fibers are responsible for human mortality and morbidity. Studies have been carried out at National Institute of Occupational Research, an Institute of ICMR, Ahmedabad which show that workers when exposed to higher workplace concentration of asbestos fiber have higher incidence of interstitial lung disease and pulmonary function impairment. Directorate General Factory Advice Service and Labour Institutes, (DGFASLI) under Ministry of Labour & Employment has intimated data of workers suffering from Asbestosis in factories registered under the Factories Act, 1948.As per the information provided by DGFASLI, it is informed that 21 no. of Asbestosis cases were reported in Gujarat in 2010 and 2 cases in Maharashtra in the year 2012.

As per the provisions of the Factories Act, 1948 and rules framed thereunder, manufacture, handling and processing of Asbestos and its products is declared as Hazardous Process. Further, Govt. of India has prepared Schedule XIV- ‘’Handling and Processing of Asbestos, Manufacture of any Article or Substance of Asbestos and any other Process of Manufacture or otherwise in which Asbestos is used in any Form’’ as a Dangerous Operation under section 87 of the Factories Act,1948. This Act has been subsumed under the OSHWC Code, 2020.

Further, the Govt. of India by notification in official Gazette has reduced the permissible level of Airborne Asbestos fibers in work environment 20.1fiber/cc.

The Ministry of Mines informed that the Grant of fresh mining leases and renewal of existing mining leases for Asbestos are presently banned in the country on Health Grounds.

This was stated by the Union Minister for Health and Family Welfare in a written reply to the Lok Sabha. 

In such a context, it is unbecoming of India's scientific stature to adopt inconsistent and indefensible position with regard to complete elimination of chrysotile asbestos and chrysotile based products. 

Gopal Krishna

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