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, March 24, 2024

ToxicsWatch Alliance welcomes total import ban on White Chrysotile Asbestos by USA after 35 years

India has banned mining of White Chrysotile Asbestos, not its trade, manufacture, use


Who compelled India to buy asbestos laden property in Washington D.C.?


ToxicsWatch Alliance (TWA), a member of Ban Asbestos Network of India (BANI) welcomes total import ban on White Chrysotile Asbestos, a mineral fiber that causes laryngeal cancer, lung cancer, mesothelioma, and ovarian cancer by USA under the the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) which was amended in 2016. The new TCSA law provides the US Environment Protection Agency (USEPA) with more authority to restrict or ban commercial chemicals. The chrysotile asbestos ban is the first rule under the amended toxic chemical safety law. Unlike India which has imposed a partial ban on White Chrysotile Asbestos, US Environmental Protection Agency has announced that it is banning import of White Chrysotile Asbestos for all of the purposes for which these mineral fibers is used. 


 “The science is clear. There is simply no safe level of exposure to asbestos”, asserted Michael Regan, the 16th Administrator of USEPA, in a press conference while announcing the decision. Empowered by the amendment in TCSA, Washington, DC based US Environment Protection Agency (USEPA) has gone beyond its 35 years old 55 page long regulation dated July 12, 1989,  which had prohibited “the future manufacture, importation, processing, and distribution in commerce of asbestos in almost all products”under Section 6 of the Toxic Substances. Control Act (TSCA), 1976. But this 1989 prohibition was overturned by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit on October 25, 1991. Sadly, the Court decision was not appealed by the US President George H.W. Bush administration.


It is because of the tireless altruistic work of Washington, D.C based Asbestos Disease Awareness Organization (ADAO) and public health scholars like Dr. Barry Castleman, the author of Asbestos: Medical and Legal Aspects, Prof. Arthur L. Frank and Prof. David Michaels, the author of Doubt is Their Product: How Industry's Assault on Science Threatens Your Health that made the USEPA  to announce the final Part 1 rule prohibiting the importation and use of one type of white chrysotile as a significant step towards safeguarding the public health of present and future citizens of USA. Linda Reinstein, co-founder and president of ADAO has underlined that the rule has limited scope because it addresses only one of the six conditions. As a next step, the USEPA must restrict importation and use of five other recognized asbestos fibers, namely, crocidolite, amosite, anthophyllite, tremolite, and actinolite. She said,“Users of raw asbestos and asbestos-containing brake blocks and gaskets in the chlor-alkali, brake block, chemical and refining sectors will finally be required to transition to non-asbestos technology, but we are alarmed that the rule allows an unnecessarily long transition period and creates inconsistent compliance deadlines for certain asbestos users, which will allow dangerous exposure to chrysotile asbestos to continue for years to come.”


Drawing on press release issued by US EPA on its rule to ban asbestos in diaphragm-cell chlor-alkali plants and in imported gaskets and brake parts, Dr. Castleman said, "The rule says nothing about the most widely produced asbestos products in the world today, asbestos-cement sheets and pipes, as EPA was not able to identify A-C product use in the US (the last US plant making A-C pipe closed in 1992). The sole use of asbestos fiber imported into the US in recent years was for diaphragms in plants making chlorine.  Of the 8 remaining plants using asbestos, 5 will convert to non-asbestos diaphragms and 3 will convert to membrane cell technology.  EPA will allow 5 years for the conversion to non-asbestos diaphragms and allow up to 12 years for the last plant to be converted to membrane cells.  The rule also phases out asbestos gaskets for most uses in 2 years and brake parts in 6 months. The rule, which has some excessive delays for its application, could be delayed further by legal challenges." 


Responding to the announcement by US EPA, Prof. Frank said, "The new ban- really only a partial one in many ways- is a modest step forward but much still need doing here in the US. India, too, is proving a difficult place to move forward on protecting people from asbestos." 


The victims of asbestos-related diseases are a community of the same fate. It is estimated that 50, 000 Indians are dying of incurable asbestos-related diseases every year. In the US, more than one million US citizens have died from preventable asbestos-caused diseases during 1991-2021.The ruling parties and governments of USA and India must put public health before naked lust for profit, without being constrained by questionable electoral finance from asbestos based companies.    


The announcement by USEPA was made on March 18, 2024.TWA and BANI hope that India will impose a total ban on trade, manufacture and use of deadly mineral fibers of White Chrysotile Asbestos. BANI has been working for making India free from asbestos and asbestos related disease since April 2002 with limited success. TWA and BANI urge USEPA to desist from allowing long phase-out periods for some specific asbestos users and from permitting five other types of asbestos mineral fibers, drawing lessons from some 70 countries which have banned asbestos of all kinds.


Notably, Dr. S. Jaishankar, Union Minister of External Affairs informed parliament on February 9, 2023 that "There were asbestos concerns "with regard to  Indian property in Washington D.C. It posed a challenge in preparing it for use as an Indian Cultural Centre.”  It seems someone took India for a ride by selling a hazardous asbestos laden building in Washington D.C. An inquiry must be ordered by the government to ascertain who compelled India to buy asbestos laden property in Washington D.C. 


There is a compelling need for both the USA and India to enact a comprehensive ban on trade, manufacture and use of all six kinds of asbestos to pave the way for a future free from the tragedy of asbestos-related diseases.

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