Skip to main content

Scientists warn of sharp rise in asbestos use in India, whose imports rose by 186% between 2006 and 2012

An anti-asbestos meet in Delhi
By Ashok Shrimali*
In a letter to three Union ministers – Ghulam Nabi Azad (health), Sis Ram Ola (labour and employment) and Jayanthi Natarajan (forests and environment) – over 200 scientists and 100 labour and health organizations from 36 countries have expressed their “deep concerns” regarding efforts currently underway to promote the use of chrysotile asbestos in India, despite its known adverse impact on health. The letter has been written ahead of a pro-asbestos meet organised in Delhi on December 3-4.

Organised by the International Chrysotile Association, which represents the interests of the global asbestos industry, together with the Asbestos Cement Product Manufacturers’ Association of India, the meet will be held in New Delhi to promote use of chrysotile asbestos in India to put forward the claim that scientific research shows that chrysotile asbestos can be safely used.
“This claim is utterly false”, the letter says, adding, “The world scientific community has overwhelmingly concluded that chrysotile asbestos causes deadly diseases, such as asbestosis, mesothelioma and lung and other cancers, and that it cannot be safely used. The International Agency for Research on Cancer and the World Health Organization have called for an end to all use of chrysotile asbestos in order to prevent further tragic epidemics of asbestos-related diseases.”
The letter says, “To name just a few leading organisations, the World Federation of Public Health Associations, the International Commission on Occupational Health, the International Social Security Association, the Union for International Cancer Control (representing 770 member organisations in 155 countries, including the Indian Cancer Society and the Cancer Aid and Research Foundation of India), the International Trade Union Confederation (representing 175 million workers in 151 countries), the Collegium Ramazzini, the Joint Policy Committee of Societies of Epidemiology and the Indian Association of Occupational Health have all called for an end to the use of chrysotile asbestos”.
The letter points out, “Chrysotile asbestos represents 95 per cent of all asbestos used over the past century and today represents the entirety of the asbestos trade. In every country in which it has been used, chrysotile asbestos has left behind a legacy of terrible human suffering and billions of dollars of economic costs for health care and compensation for victims and for removal of deteriorated asbestos from buildings. For this reason, the World Bank recommends against the use of chrysotile asbestos.”
The letter underlines, “The International Chrysotile Association is a lobby organisation, based in Quebec, Canada and headed by Jean Leblond, a long-time salesman for the Quebec asbestos mines. The Association has been condemned by medical experts in Quebec and around the world for putting forward deadly, deceptive misinformation that will cause suffering and loss of life for years to come.”
The letter adds, “Not a single reputable scientific agency in the world supports the claim put forward by the International Chrysotile Association and the Asbestos Cement Product Manufacturers’ Association that chrysotile asbestos can be safely used. In the face of the demand by Quebec and other health experts to end its export of asbestos, the Quebec government last year closed down the last asbestos mines in Quebec. Quebec and the rest of Canada virtually stopped using asbestos many years ago.”
However, the letter regrets, “because of the long latency period for asbestos-related diseases, 70 per cent of deaths from occupational disease in Quebec continue today to be caused by asbestos. In the face of the public health disaster caused by asbestos, 54 industrialized countries have banned any use of asbestos. Other countries, such as the United States and Canada simply stopped using it. Consequently, the asbestos industry, in order to ensure its continued profits, is aggressively targeting Asian countries for sales.”
In fact, it reveals, “Just six Asian countries – China, India, Indonesia, Vietnam, Thailand and Sri Lanka – now represent 70 per cent of world asbestos consumption. While the asbestos industry pretends that asbestos is widely used, in fact, just eight countries represent 87 per cent of global consumption: China, India, Brazil, Indonesia, Russia, Vietnam, Thailand and Sri Lanka.”
As for India, the letter says, it “imports more asbestos than any other country on the planet, with imports having risen from 2,53,382 tonnes in 2006 to 4,73,240 tonnes in 2012, an increase of 186 per cent. These vast amounts of asbestos, being placed in homes and schools across India, are a deadly time bomb that will go on causing suffering and deaths for decades to come, as well as causing a financial drain on India. While Russia and Brazil reap the profits of exporting asbestos, it is India that will pay the price in human suffering and in financial costs.”
“While there is no systematic monitoring and reporting of asbestos related diseases (ARD) in India, 225 cases of mesothelioma, a rare form of cancer found in people exposed to all forms of asbestos fibres, have been reported by the Indian cancer registry, the Gujarat Cancer Institute and the Tata Cancer Institute. Independent studies in Mumbai, Madhya Pradesh and Jharkhand of former asbestos product manufacturing factory/mine workers have identified over 500 cases of asbestosis, some of whom have also been compensated for contracting ARD due to work related exposure”, the letter emphasizes.
It adds, “New data being collected by independent health organisations show diseases amongst family members of workers due to secondary and environmental exposures. Several legal cases are pending in labour and civil courts in Gujarat, Maharashtra and Rajasthan. As a result of increased use of asbestos in Asia, Dr GV Le, Dr K Takahasi et al have warned: ‘A surge of ARD in Asia should be anticipated in the coming decades. Asian countries should not only cease asbestos use but also prepare themselves for an impending epidemic of ARD’.”
“In order to promote its false claim that chrysotile asbestos can be safely used, the International Chrysotile Association financed a paper to be written by Dr David Bernstein, who has worked for decades for the tobacco industry and for the asbestos industry. Dr Bernstein will present his paper, Health Risks of Chrysotile Revisited, supporting use of chrysotile asbestos, at the New Delhi conference”, the letter says.
It insists, “A New York court has recently ruled that a number of scientific papers written by Dr Bernstein, financed by an asbestos products company, were intended to cast doubt on the capability of chrysotile asbestos to cause cancer, and constituted potential crime-fraud. When he testified in court on behalf of an asbestos company, Dr Bernstein admitted to the judge that not a single scientific body anywhere agreed with his views on chrysotile asbestos. The asbestos industry is concerned to protect its profits. Our concern is the protection of public health.”
Urging the Government of India to support the recommendation of the World Health Organization and the worldwide, the letter concludes, “reputable scientific community and ban the use of any asbestos in India in order to prevent further unnecessary suffering and death. We urge you to join the vast majority of countries in the world who have adopted an enlightened policy, based on the overwhelming scientific evidence, to ban all use of asbestos in order to protect public health for generations to come. We would be happy to provide our support to you in any way that might be useful. Please do not hesitate to call upon us.”
---
*Gujarat-based social activist

Comments

TRENDING

NYT seeks UN intervention, says: Modi turning autocratic, talks absurd on Kashmir

By Our Representative
In what appears to be a scathing reply to Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s much-publicized “New York Times” (NYT) article on Mahatma Gandhi titled “Why India and the World need Gandhi”, NYT’s powerful editorial board has said, Modi “didn’t address” the Kashmir issue in his United Nations (UN) speech, calling his assertion at the Houston rally a few days – that revoking the constitutional clause on Kashmiri autonomy meant “people there have got equal rights” with other Indians – “absurd”.

Ceramic worker dies: 20,000 workers in Thangadh, Gujarat, 'risk' deadly silicosis

By Our Representative
Even as the country was busy preparing for the Janmashtami festival on Saturday, Hareshbhai, a 46-year-old ceramic worker from suffering from the fatal lung disease silicosis, passed away. He worked in a ceramic unit in Thangadh in Surendranagar district of Gujarat from 2000 to 2016.
Hareshbhai was diagnosed with the disease by the GCS Medical College, Naroda Road, Ahmedabad in 2014. He was found to be suffering from progressive massive fibrosis. He is left behind by his wife Rekha sister and two sons Deepak (18) and Umesh (12),
The death of Hareshbhai, says Jagdish Patel of the health rights group Peoples Training and Research Centre (PTRC), suggests that silicosis, an occupational disease, can be prevented but not cured, and the Factory Act has sufficient provisions to prevent this.
According to Patel, the pottery industry in the industrial town of Thangadh has evolved for a long time and locals as well as migrant workers are employed here. There are abou…

Gujarat's incomplete canals: Narmada dam filled up, yet benefits 'won't reach' farmers

By Our Representative
Even as the Gujarat government is making all out efforts to fill up the Sardar Sarovar dam on Narmada river up to the full reservoir level (FRL), a senior farmer rights leader has said the huge reservoir, as of today, remains a “mirage for the farmers of Gujarat”.
In a statement, Sagar Rabari of the Khedut Ekta Manch (KEM), has said that though the dam’s reservoir is being filled up, the canal network remains complete. Quoting latest government figures, he says, meanwhile, the command area of the dam has been reduced from 18,45,000 hectares (ha) to 17,92,000 ha.
“According to the website of the Sardar Sarovar Narmada Nigam Ltd, which was last updated on Friday, while the main canal, of 458 km long, has been completed, 144 km of ranch canals out of the proposed length of 2731 km remain incomplete.
Then, as against the targeted 4,569 km distributaries, 4,347 km have been constructed, suggesting work for 222 km is still pending. And of the 15,670 km of minor canal…

Cess for Gujarat construction workers: Spending less than 10%; no 'direct help' to beneficiaries

By Our Representative
While the Gujarat government’s Building and Other Construction Workers Welfare Board, set up in 2004, as of March 31, 2019, has collected a total cess of Rs 2,097.62 crore from the the builders, it has spent less than 10% -- Rs 197.17 crore. And, as on May 31, 2019, the total cess collection has reached Rs 2,583.16 crore, said a statement issued by Bandhkam Majur Sagathan general secretary Vipul Pandya.
Pointing out that just about 6.5 lakh out of 20 lakh workers have been registered under the board, Pandya said, vis-à-vis other states, Gujarat ranks No 13th in the amount spent on the welfare of the construction workers, while 11th in the amount collected.
And while the builders are obliged to pay just about 1% of the total cost of their project, the calculation of the cess is flawed: It is Rs 3,000 per square yard; accordingly, Rs 30 per square yard is collected. “Had the cess been collected on the real construction cost, it would have been at least Rs 7,000 cr…

Why nobody objected to Gautam Gambhir, Sunny Deol in t-shirt, jean?: Activists

By Our Representative
Mimi Chakraborty and Nusrat Jahan’s excitement on their first day as MPs was overshadowed by a barrage of sexism over their ‘non- sanskari’ outfits, a group of civil society activists have said in a statement. According to Aarushi Nigam, Divya Kaushik, Riya Sharma, Ruman Ganguly, and Anulekha Agarwal, both Bengali actors and first-time MPs "were certainly excited to take them on when they posted pictures from their new workplace on social media."
Hit by misogynistic comments, the activists say, "Their choice of workwear – jeans and a white button-down shirt for Mimi, a wine-coloured peplum suit for Nusrat – was the first and last word on their political competence for many."
“You’re not on vacation”, “they have mistaken Parliament for Kolkata’s Nicco Park or City Centre”, “this is not a photo studio, this is a place where you should fight for people’s rights and legislate”, “keep some respect towards your Bengali society” were some of the &quo…

132 Gujarat citizens, including IIM-A faculty, others declare solidarity with Kashmiris

Counterview Desk
A week after it was floated, 132 activists, academics, students, artists and other concerned citizens of Gujarat, backed by 118 living in different parts of India and the world, have signed a "solidarity letter" supporting the people of Jammu and Kashmir (J&K), who, it claims, have been silenced and held captive in their own land. The signatories include faculty members and scholars of the prestigious Indian Institute of Management-Ahmedabad (IIM-A).

Amit Shah 'wrong': Lack of transparency characterized bank frauds, NPAs, jobs data

Counterview Desk
India's senior RTI activists Nikhil Dey, Anjali Bhardwaj, Venktesh Nayak, Rakesh Reddy Dubbudu, Dr. Shaikh Ghulam Rasool, Pankti Jog and Pradip Pradhan, who are attached with the National Campaign for Peoples' Right to Information (NCPRI), have said that Union home minister Amit Shah's claim that the Government of India is committed to transparency stands in sharp contrast to its actual actions.