India campaign against asbestos continues

The struggle to ban asbestos continues with some successes but against the backdrop of massive pollution and contamination continuing, and strong resistance by many companies to having bans on the mining, importation and use of asbestos.

Rajastan: Ministry suggests lifting ban on asbestos mines
The Minister of Mines and Development of India North Eastern Region, Shri B.K. Handique has said that a "Study of Pollution level in Asbestos Mines and processing plants in Rajasthan’ was undertaken by Indian Bureau of Mines. The Study recommended that subject to imposition of safeguards on pollution level in work environment, the ban imposed on grant and renewal of mining leases and expansion of mining may be lifted.
Some industry groups have said that asbestos mining can be permitted with appropriate safeguards. Tha Indian Bureau of Mines in consultation with Central Pollution Control Board and Directorate General of Mines Safety has been asked to work out these safeguards which have not been finalized yet. At present the ban on grants and renewals of asbestos mining leases has not been lifted. More Information here.

Indian federal parliament to consider Ban Asbestos Law
In the face massive asbestos exposure underway in India, the recent ban on asbestos laden US ship, The White Asbestos (Ban on Use and Import) Bill, 2009 introduced in Rajya Sabha and the ban asbestos order of the Kerala State Human Rights Commission, environment, labour, human rights and health groups appeal to the Prime Minister and to all the parliamentarians to ensure that manufacture, use and trade of asbestos is banned in India. Details of the bill here.

The industry is acting as merchants of death even as workers and consumers are routinely being exposed to deadly asbestos fibers. Notably, worker protections and enviro-occupational health infrastructure are weak or non-existent in India. The silence of the government in the face of workers and consumers who are sick and dying from asbestos-caused cancer is deafening. The parliament must act to stop the government from protecting the corporate criminals of the asbestos industry who are hiding behind manifest immoral patronage of the government.

Even the countries that export it to India prefer not to use it domestically. But in our country, it is imported without any restriction. Canada and Russia are the biggest exporters of white asbestos. In 2007, Canada exported almost Ninety five percent of the white asbestos it mined and out of it forty-three percent was shipped to India.

t is quite surprising that our country is openly importing huge quantity of a product, which causes cancer. This is despite the fact that safer and almost cheap alternatives to asbestos are available in the country. Instead of importing a hazardous material, it will be better if we spend some money in research and development and use environment friendly product. In view of the above, there is an urgent need for a total ban on the import and use of white asbestos and promote the use of alternative material.”

Taking cognizance of the human rights violation involved in exposing people to killer asbestos fibers, Kerala State Human Rights Commission has noted that exposing consumers to asbestos fibers of all kinds including chrysotile constitutes violation of human rights in its order dated 31st January, 2009.

Civil society groups have consistently been drawing the urgent attention of the governments towards a serious unprecedented environmental and occupational health crisis with regard to unnoticed asbestos epidemic in the country.

Even if one asbestos fibre reaches the right place, it causes irreversible damage - leading to asbestosis, lung cancer or mesothelioma.

Thirty deaths are caused per day from asbestos-related diseases as per estimates based on US and European studies.

In such a context, Indian, Russian and Canadian government’s role in preventing the listing of chrysotile asbestos as a hazardous product under the Rotterdam Convention, an International Agreement that requires that importing countries be warned of the risks associated with hazardous products is condemnable. It is unconscionable that Canadian government knowingly exports a killer product that will kill thousands of people in India with the consent of the Indian government. As long as Indian, Russian and Canadian government continues to support, they would be and they must be deemed as one of the biggest violators of human rights on earth and unfit to be part of the rest of the civilized countries who have banned asbestos industry.

Human rights, environmental, public health and labour groups are shocked to note that instead of banning asbestos, the Canadian government uses tax-payers dollars and Canadian embassies to actively promote the sale of asbestos around the world. Working in tandem with the asbestos producing countries, Indian government has been making the asbestos products artificially cheaper to the detriment of its owns citizens.

Indian and the Canadian government must resist corporate influence of the chrysotile (white) asbestos industry and support the listing of chrysotile asbestos as a hazardous product under the UN's Rotterdam Convention as a first step at the next meeting of the Parties to the Rotterdam Convention. And as a next step, initiate efforts to ban its mining, manufacturing and its trade.

More information: Ban Asbestos Network of India.
BANI is engaged in responding to public health crisis due to mining, manufacturing, use, and import of all forms of asbestos including Chrysotile. As part of a global anti-toxic activists’ coalition, BANI is fighting to ensure asbestos free ship-breaking. Asbestos is a commercial term for six fibrous minerals of which chrysotile (white asbestos), the fibrous form of serpentine, is the form of asbestos which is mostly used now. BANI was founded by public health and environmental health researchers and activists in 2002.