Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Madhya Pradesh village sees "slow death" of hundreds of asbestos victims caused by now closed British, Belgian subsidiary

Children amidst asbestos dumping site in Kymore
By Our Representative
Nirmala Gurung, a former school teacher and headmistress in a secondary school, lived near a factory in a big village, Kymore, in Madhya Pradesh which has been making chrysotile or white asbestos products for over 30 years. The factory was previously a subsidiary of the British company Turner, and Newall PLC and the Belgium company ETEX (Eternit).
Nirmala was diagnosed with parenchymal asbestosis in 2016. “During the dry season dry asbestos dust particles even blew into the class rooms”, she says, adding, “Parents and children used to come into the classroom covered with dust. The owners and workers in the UK and Belgium certainly knew about the hazards of asbestos but did not inform the community.”
Parenchymal asbestosis is a lung disease caused by exposure to substantial amounts of asbestosis dust that can quickly lead to lung cancer. In the United Kingdom, it is recorded that thousands of people die from asbestos-related lung cancer every year, decades after its use was stopped.
“I have seen many victims dying slowly and painfully. It’s really horrible to watch a healthy person turn into a skeleton”, she says.
Wanting the future generation to be saved from the deadly disease, she insists, “The first and foremost there is a need for the proper treatment of the asbestos wastage which the factory dumped in the surrounding populated area. Asbestos must be banned and those suffering from asbestos diseases should be compensated.”
On November 27, 2017, Nirmala will be one of the many victims of occupational diseases who will be speaking in front of hundreds of people at the United Nations Forum on Business and Human Rights in Geneva. The UN body is the largest global gathering of people interested in ensuring that there is a proper remedy for human rights violations caused by corporations. This year over 2,000 people, including victims, NGOs and corporations will attend. 
Asbestos on surface of village street
Situated some 300 km from Madhya Pradesh capital Bhopal, Kymore attracted the attention of health rights NGOs, who organized medical camps in the village in 2013. Over 400 people have so far been been diagnosed and compensated with asbestos-related diseases from a Trust Fund set up after the bankruptcy of Turner and Newall in 2001. 
“The process is on-going, but many will have died without ever knowing that they were affected. Up until 1996, the factory dumped asbestos waste in the surrounding area, including on private land”, says health rights NGO Occupational & Environmental Health Network of India (OENHI), adding, “The factory would dump asbestos waste on 600,000 square metres of land adversely affecting 3000 people, who lived around the site.”
ETEX sold its subsidiary to an Indian company in 2001, shortly before asbestos production was completely banned in Belgium. Now, says OENHI , “Everest Industries Limited is one of India’s largest asbestos-product producers, with 5 factories around India. There are around 250 people working in the factory, who are mostly contract labour.”
Situated in Vijayraghavgarh tehsil in Katni district in central Madhya Pradesh, Kymore has population of around 20,000 people. It houses a cement factory and has marble and bauxite mines, too.
An environmental report by a Canadian company, ECOH, commissioned by the community, found that there was one million tonnes of asbestos-contaminated surface soil in two different sites around the factory; at some places there was 70% asbestos concentration in the soil. Its estimate suggested that it would cost at least $52 million to remediate the site.

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