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India saved from 'unsafe' Brazilian asbestos, but not ones from Russia, China, Kazakhstan

By Gopal Krishna* 

Ban Asbestos Network of India (BANI) welcomes the Brazilian court’s immediate suspension of the extraction, exploration, processing, marketing, transport and export of asbestos produced. The 25 page long decision of the court located in the Brazilian State of Goiás is consistent with the decision of the Brazilian Supreme Court.
In 2017, decisions of the Brazilian Supreme Federal Court (STF) recognized the unconstitutionality of Article 2 of Federal Law No. 9,055/95, which allowed the extraction, processing, transportation, industrialization and export of asbestos of chrysotile variety. The order was communicated by Federal Public Prosecutor's Office on August 16, 2021.
India is one of the key consumers of Brazilian asbestos. It is noteworthy that both the Brazilian decisions are consistent with the 24 page long verdict of Supreme Court of India in Consumer Education & Research Centre (CERC) v Union of India (1995) authored by Justice K Ramaswamy as part of 3-Judge Bench comprising of Chief Justice AM Ahmadi and Justice MM Punchhi.
Brazilian court’s decision has factored in the scientific knowledge about the harm of asbestos in all its varieties; the lack of safe limits for exposure to asbestos mineral; the existence of high risks of contamination not only for workers in the production chain, but also for their families, for the populations surrounding mines and factories and for consumers in general; and the technical impossibility of implementing control measures aimed at eliminating contact with the substance. The decisions of the Supreme Court had led to the shutdown of Sama's activities in Uruaçu in the Brazilian state of Goiás.
Brazil’s Federal Public Prosecutor's Office has obtained immediate suspension of activities of extraction, exploitation, processing, marketing, transportation and export of chrysotile asbestos by the company Sama S.A. Minerações Associadas, a subsidiary of Eternit SA, headquartered in Minaçu (GO). 
The court’s decision implies immediate suspension of the effects of authorizations from the National Mining Agency (ANM), granted through the National Department of Mineral Production (DNPM), for research, mining and processing of asbestos, granted to companies for exploration and processing of the carcinogenic mineral. 
The company Sama is one of the largest asbestos mining companies in the world, extracted and processed of asbestos for more than 40 years. The order came from the Federal Court of Uruaçu in a public civil action.
In the aftermath of Brazilian Supreme Court’s ruling which banned the commercial exploitation of asbestos throughout the country, within the state of Goiás, Law No 20,514 of July 16, 2019 was edited to authorize extraction and processing of asbestos from the chrysotile variety throughout the Brazilian territory. As a result, Eternit SA announced in February 2020 the resumption of asbestos mineral processing in Minaçu, through its subsidiary, Sama.
Pursuant to the edited law Sama announced the resumption of excavations for the extraction of asbestos for export, based on state law on November 17, 2020. The company was already exploring, since February 2020, asbestos to “the United States, Germany, India, Indonesia, Malaysia and other Asian countries.” Notably, on November 29, 2017, by a majority verdict, the Brazilian Supreme Court prohibited the mining, processing, marketing and distribution of white chrysotile asbestos.
The constitutional supreme court of Brazil decided by 8 votes against 2 that the Brazilian state of São Paulo has the right to forbid the production and selling of white chrysotile asbestos, a carcinogenic mineral fibre. As many as 10 Brazilian states prohibited the use of this mineral fibre because of the incurable diseases caused by it prior to the verdict. The verdict extended the ban to all the 26 districts by declaring use of asbestos to be unconstitutional.
On December 5, 2017, Eternit SA announced that it has suspended chrysotile asbestos mining operations at its Sama mine. On December 19, 2017, Justice Rosa Weber of Brazilian Supreme Court provided exemption to asbestos mining and manufacture in states where there was no ban on asbestos.
On July 15, 2019, the Legislative Assembly of Goiás State approved the law which allowed Sama to resume mining for export only. On July 22, 2019, the National Association of Labor Attorneys appealed to the Supreme Court seeking suspension of Goiás State law. On November 17, 2020, Asbestos mining recommenced at the Sama Mine. It is evident that Justice Rosa Weber’s decision was indefensible.
It was in this backdrop that José Ricardo Teixeira Alves, the Attorney of Anapólis, the author of the public civil action concluded that there was violation of the decisions of the Supreme Court and serious violation of national laws and the Federal Constitution, to the extent that it enabled white chrysotile asbestos extraction for export purposes.
Located between two capitals, the federal capital Brasília and state capital Goiânia, Anapólis is a Brazilian municipality of the State of Goiás. As a consequence of the non-compliance with the court’s decision, the Federal Court fixed the application of a daily fine in the amount of five percent of the monthly income of the company when in activity.
It is indeed strange that members of the BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) group are refusing to learn from each other to safeguard the health of their citizens. Brazil, a country which banned asbestos, has been exporting it to India. 
South Africa, which has banned asbestos, has been importing asbestos products from India. Russia and China refuse to pay heed to asbestos related laws in South Africa, Brazil and India. India has banned mining of asbestos but continues to export it from Russia and China.
According to a report of the government of India published in January 2020, imports of asbestos were 3,57,182 tonnes in 2017-18 against 3,10,592 tonnes in the previous year. Entire import was that of chrysotile asbestos. Imports of asbestos were mainly from Russia (63%), Brazil (21%) and Kazakhstan (16%).
India’s most deprived and marginalised communities, 16.4% in rural areas, 20% in  urban areas, live and work under asbestos roofs
A total of 29,031 tonnes asbestos-cement products were also imported in 2017-18 as against 28,416 tonnes in the previous year. Imports were mainly from Thailand (89%) and China (3%). Besides above, asbestos-fibre of 3,57,182 tonnes was also imported during the year 2017-18 as compared to 3,10,592 tonnes in the previous year. Imports of asbestos-fibre were mainly from Russia (63%), Brazil (21%) and Kazakhstan (16%).
Imports of asbestos fibre products were 4,479 tonnes during the year 2017-18 as compared to 5,227 tonnes in previous year. Imports of asbestos fibre products were mainly from Japan (34%), China and USA (15% each) and Thailand (8%). 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.
The report also reveals that India’s exports of asbestos increased substantially by 29% to 132 tonnes in 2017-18 as compared to 102 tonnes in the previous year. Exports were mainly to Bangladesh (more than 90%) and Nepal 6%. Exports of asbestos (fibre products) were at 35,812 tonnes in 2017-18 as compared to 33,973 tonnes in the previous year.
Exports were mainly to the USA (26%), Egypt (8%), UAE (7%), Poland and Canada (3% each), Sri Lanka and South Africa (2% each). Export of asbestos (chrysotile) was one tonne during the year 2017-18 as compared to 26 tonnes in the preceding year. Exports of asbestos (others) increased to 131 tonnes during the year 2017-18 as compared to 76 tonnes in the preceding year.
Exports of asbestos-cement products were 62,291 tonnes in 2017-18 as compared to 69,125 tonnes in the preceding year. Exports of asbestos-cement products were mainly to UAE (34%), Qatar (18%), Nepal (15%), Saudi Arabia (7%) and Oman (4%).
It is apparent that governments in the USA, Poland, Canada, Sri Lanka, South Africa, Egypt, UAE, Bangladesh, Nepal, Qatar and Saudi Arabia appear to be indifferent towards the recommendations of the World Health Organsiation like India.
If WHO's recommendation inspires action on Covid-19, why it's recommendation for elimination of asbestos related diseases due to white chrysotile asbestos not inspire action? How is it scientific to trust and act as per WHO advice on covid-19 but not against all kinds of carcinogenic white chrysotile asbestos? The Supreme Court in Consumer Education & Research Centre (CERC) v Union of India endorsed ILO resolution against asbestos.
India's Supreme Court and high courts have consistently expressed their serious concerns regarding exposure to these carcinogenic mineral fibres and has asked the central and state governments to update their laws as per fresh resolution of the International Labour Organisation, which has sought elimination of future use of white chrysotile asbestos to safeguard human health. But the governments in India have not complied with its directions so far.
Meanwhile, Bihar has become the first state in India to announce that it will not allow setting up of asbestos factories in the state and 22 asbestos factories owner, CK Birla Group’s Hyderabad Industries Limited (HIL), a member of Asbestos Cement Products Manufacturers Association (ACPMA) has entered non-asbestos, eco-friendly, autoclaved roofing solution.
Fearing manslaughter cases, asbestos countries world over are shifting to the no-asbestos sector. HIL observed, “The asbestos business, which was contributing 80 per cent of revenue has now come down to 30 per cent, with rest of the 70 per cent from non-asbestos business.” It is hoped that other members of ACPMA too will adopt HIL’s approach as well besides setting up a compensation fund for victims of asbestos related diseases.
India’s most deprived and marginalised communities as many as 16.4 per cent in the rural areas and 20 per cent in the urban areas live and work under asbestos roofs. Some 79 percent of Dalits (200 million) live in such houses. The fact is that no private or public building in India is asbestos free and almost all water supply pipes in the country are made of asbestos cement.
Asbestos is harmful in its entire life cycle. Significantly, First Schedule of Occupational Safety, Health and Working Conditions (OSHWC) Code, 2020 refers to Industries involving hazardous processes including manufacture, handling and processing of asbestos and its products and its Third Schedule lists incurable Asbestosis as a Notifiable Disease.
Given the fact that some 70 countries have banned human asbestos and human biology is the same everywhere, immediate steps are required in the supreme national interest to safeguard the health of present and future generations.
India imported 21% of all the asbestos from Brazil. Following Brazilian court’s decision, there is a compelling logic for Union of India and State Governments to pay heed to the verdict of Supreme Court of India in the CERC case to update its laws in the light of ILO resolution of 2006 to eliminate all kinds of asbestos and related incurable and fatal diseases.
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*Ban Asbestos Network of India (BANI)

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