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Campaign 'victory': Bihar considers ban on asbestos, carcinogenic to humans

Counterview Desk
In a major victory for anti-asbestos campaigners, the Bihar government has said that it is considering an immediate ban on use of asbestos&based products of all kinds in the state. Speaking in the state assembly, Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar insisted on the need to taking a strong policy decision against carcinogenic asbestos factories.
A communication, meanwhile, has been forwarded  to the health secretary by Kumar, referring to concerns of Dr Gopal Krishna, who heads the Ban Asbestos Network of India (BANI) "on hazardous asbestos factories to the health department." Krishna said that the health department should looking into the demand for the creation of a register of victims of asbestos related diseases.
He added, the government should also create a register asbestos laden buildings and products in general and a probe on the health status of workers, their families and communities linked to and in proximity of the two units of asbestos factories in Bihiya, Bhojpur, run by Tamil Nadu based Ramco Industries Limited.
Krishna, who also represents Toxics Watch Alliance (TWA), even as appreciating Kumar's announcement in the state assembly that the Bihar Government will not allow construction of carcinogenic asbestos factories, in his letter to Kumar said that the death toll of children in Muzaffarpur reveals "unsafe and hazardous asbestos roofing material "contributed to deterioration of their health."

Text of Krishna's letter to Bihar CM:

Greetings from Ban Asbestos Network of India (BANI)-ToxicsWatch Alliance (TWA)!
This is to express our deep sense of appreciation for declaring in the State Assembly that Bihar Government will not allow construction of carcinogenic asbestos factories in the state on July 1, 2019. This announcement of yours is a vindication of the anti-asbestos struggle by villagers of Muzaffarpur, Vaishali and Bhojpur. BANI-TWA has been part of this struggle for safeguarding public health.
We submit that the death toll of children in Muzaffarpur has revealed that asbestos cement sheets are quite unhealthy building materials. The fact remains children did not die specifically because of it but this unsafe and hazardous roofing material surely contributed to deterioration of their health.
We submit that your observation with regard to carcinogenic white chrysotile asbestos mineral fiber is consistent with what is published on National Health Portal (NHP), Centre for Health Informatics (CHI), National Institute of Health and Family Welfare (NIHFW), Ministry of Health and Family Welfare (MoHFW), Government of India.
The National Health Portal states that “All forms of asbestos (chrysotile, crocidolite, amosite, tremolite, actinolite and anthophyllite) are in use because of their extraordinary tensile strength, poor heat conduction, and relative resistance to chemical attack. Chemically, asbestos minerals are silicate compounds, meaning they contain atoms of silicon and oxygen in their molecular structure.
All forms of asbestos are carcinogenic to humans. Exposure to asbestos (including chrysotile) causes cancer of the lung, larynx, and ovaries, and also mesothelioma (a cancer of the pleural and peritoneal linings). Asbestos exposure is also responsible for other diseases such as asbestosis (fibrosis of metimes associated with aching or transient sharp pains in the chest.” Hon’ble Supreme Court has recorded that “whenever asbestos fibres are used for insulation and other purposes, the possibility of asbestosis among workers due to inhalation of asbestos fibres cannot be ruled out” (Supreme Court, 2005). It noted that these materials are highly dangerous to human health, if inhaled or if contacted with skin surface.
We wish to also draw your attention towards what Government of India’s National Health Portal states: “The burden of asbestos-related diseases is still rising, even in countries that banned the use of asbestos in the early 1990s. Because of the long latency periods attached to the asbestos related diseases, stopping the use of asbestos now will result in a decrease in the number of asbestos-related deaths only after a number of decades. There is no safe use of asbestos and no safe limits set by WHO, ILO (International Labour Organization)”.
It discloses that “the prevalence of asbestosis in four cement factories (Ahmadabad, Hyderabad, Coimbatore and Mumbai) varied from 3% to 5%” and “In asbestos textile industry prevalence of asbestosis was 9% in workers having less than 10 years exposure, in contrast to the reported average duration of over 20 years” (National Health Portal, Government of India).
We submit that in a reply to the Parliament, Union Minister of Health and Family welfare stated that “The Ministry of Mines has 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” (Union Ministry of Health and Family welfare, 2014).
He also shared the findings of the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR), Union Ministry of Health and Family welfare which 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….”
Prevalence of asbestosis in four cement factories (Ahmadabad, Hyderabad, Coimbatore and Mumbai) varied from 3% to 5% and in textile industry it was 9%
This has been shared by the Union Minister for Health and Family Welfare in a written reply to the Parliament and released by Press Information Bureau, Government of India. This reply corroborates your observation in the State Assembly.
We commend the fact that you have factored in the lessons from the bitter protests of villagers led to the cancellation of asbestos based factories in Bhojpur, Muzaffarpur, Vaishali, West Champaran and Madhubani in Bihar. But the factories in Bhojpur’s Bihiya have managed to get relief from Hon’ble Patna High Court on a grossly procedural ground of violation of natural justice.
This procedural error ought to be rectified and the operation of the two units of an asbestos company must be stopped. Its operation is a case of environmental health lawlessness. It has dumped hazardous asbestos waste in the agricultural fields and has been spewing toxic asbestos dust at night. It has violated every specific and general condition which has been stipulated in the environmental clearance and the No Objection Certificate.
It may also be noted that when a worker died in this factory, his family was given a compensation of Rs 5,000. The factory seemed to have own the patronage of Bhojpur administration by donating asbestos roofs to it for its parking.
This situation creates a compelling logic for medical investigation of the health status of the village and temple communities living in the vicinity of these units and the workers of these two factories owned by the same company. The probe can reveal the extent of asbestos related diseases in this area.
Given the fact that all asbestos based products have a life-span, it is natural that all asbestos based products are potential asbestos wastes. This state of sad affairs is crying for attention. At present Indian railways is removing asbestos cement roofs from all the railway stations and platforms in Bihar and in other parts of the country but it is not being disposed of in a scientific and safe manner. It is currently lying on railway platforms including at Patna Junction. This is endangering the health of all unsuspecting passengers.
In view of the above, we submit that Bihar government must consider putting an end to the use of the of all kinds of asbestos products that is being used and encountered daily, because none of the schools, offices, legislatures, courts, hospitals, automobiles, private and public buildings in our state are asbestos free.
It must impose ban on procurement of asbestos based products, create a register of asbestos laden buildings and victims of asbestos related diseases besides setting up a compensation fund for them. It also creates a need to create a Master Plan for decontaminating all asbestos laden buildings including legislative and judicial buildings.
Therefore, it is necessary to initiate preventive action in order to protect present and future generations from the silent killer which is akin to a time bomb. It is also necessary to withdraw fake cases against anti-asbestos villagers and activists in Muzaffarpur and Vaishali. We will be glad to share more relevant information against asbestos of all forms including white asbestos (chrysotile) as well.

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