Of Russian And Canadian Asbestos Rising In India
By Gopal Krishna
13 November, 2007
is a proven human carcinogen (a substance that causes cancer). Lack
of health surveillance of asbestos exposed workers and consumers is
an invitation to disaster from wholesale public exposure, especially
babies and infants in India. Some 45 countries have banned this killer
fiber. Asbestos consumption is rising dramatically in India even as
U.S. Senate passed Ban Asbestos in America Act on October 04, 2007 unanimously.
Asbestos is banned in Europe since 1 January 2005.
But countries like Russia,
Canada, Kazakhstan and Brazil continue to produce, trade and promote
this ticking time bomb in India. The Russian Federation has also been
found to be exporting asbestos industry waste to India. Research is
showing asbestos epidemics across the globe even in countries where
it is currently banned, as the consequence of past exposure.
Stories of the toll asbestos
takes on people are yet to hit the headlines in India as has been the
case in US, Europe, Australia and Japan. The recent UN statistics indicates
that India imported roughly 306,000 MT of asbestos in 2006. Out of which
152, 820 MT was imported from Russia, 63, 980 MT from Canada, 48, 807
MT from Kazakhstan and 34, 953 MT from Brazil.
It is noteworthy that International
Conference on trade unions & chrysotile asbestos in Moscow (25-27
April, 2007) issued an appeal to World Health Organisation opposing
the “WHO Policy on elimination of asbestos-related diseases”
in favour of controlled use of chrysotile asbestos. The appeal concluded
saying, “We are sure that chrysotile must not be banned for the
sake of health and social welfare of hundreds of millions of people
in the world (especially in developing countries), who suffer and prematurely
die from having no shelter and clean water. A wide use of low-cost chrysotile-cement
products is necessary to resolve this problem” ignoring the WHO
finding that no safe level can be proposed for asbestos use because
a threshold is not known to exist.
Asbestos production and marketing
started in the Urals at the start of the 19th century. By the onset
of World War I, Russia was the world’s second biggest asbestos
producer, although well behind Canada. In 1975, Soviet Russia overtook
Canada as the world’s leading asbestos producer. Russia remains
the leading world asbestos producer. The country’s principal asbestos
mine (Uralasbest) was privatized and was owned by new Russian capitalists.
It was even declared bankrupt in 1997 but it resumed its activities
There has virtually been
no debate on asbestos either under the Soviet regime or since. Following
the banning of asbestos in the European Union, the Vladimir Putin government
did set up a panel of experts to give an opinion on a possible Russian
asbestos ban. The panel’s report is an impassioned defence of
asbestos use. The pro-Russian asbestos lobby like their counterparts
in Canada, Zimbabwe and Brazil too claim that it holds relatively little
danger for health. The Russian authorities continue to deny the health
havoc wrought by asbestos. Russian media, civil society and academia
must sensitize the Russian citizens to desist from exporting asbestos
to gullible Indians.
Currently mining of all kinds
of asbestos (Blue, Brown and White [chrysotile] Asbestos) is banned
in India. Trade in asbestos waste is also banned. Besides all other
forms of asbestos other than chrysotile asbestos (White Asbestos) is
prohibited in India. While white asbestos mining is currently banned
in India, its import, export or use in manufacturing is permitted.
In September 2007, Independent
Peoples Tribunal (IPT) on the World Bank Group (WBG) was presented with
evidence of Bank officials suggesting how it finances huge infrastructure
projects all over the world including India despite this there is no
formal restrictions on the use of asbestos-cement (A-C) sheets and pipes
in these projects. Over 90 percent of all asbestos used today is in
A-C sheets and pipes, and this production is concentrated in poor countries.
Ban Asbestos Network of India (BANI) called for urgent action in India
and elsewhere to end the needless slaughter caused by this environmental
and occupational health catastrophe. The 4-day IPT was held from 21
–24 September at Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi.
It was demanded, “The
World Bank should adopt a formal policy of forbidding asbestos in all
of its projects and require the use of safer substitute construction
materials. Such substitution is feasible as shown by the bans in more
than 40 countries.. The World Bank should also adopt best practice guidelines
for the minimization of asbestos exposures in projects where in-place
asbestos materials are disturbed by renovation or demolition activities.”
It has called upon the World Bank to support the asbestos action program
just started by the WHO and use its influence and leverage to press
for cessation of asbestos use all over world.
The report of World Bank
environmental official Robert Goodland, "Sustainable Development
Sourcebook for the World Bank Group's Extractive Industries Review:
Examining the Social and Environmental Impacts of Oil, Gas, and Mining"
(3 December, 2003). Policy options for asbestos (p. 141) included, "5.
The WBG should work with the rest of the UN system to foster a global
ban on asbestos."
The voice of asbestos victims
has been totally disregarded by Indian political parties of all hues
both in the states and at national level unlike US and Europe. Indian
homes are often built of asbestos cement roofs, and people cut their
own windows and doorways. The occurrence of asbestos-related diseases,
including mesothelioma, lung cancer and asbestosis, is growing out of
control. Studies estimate that during the next decade, in India victims
will die of an asbestos related disease at the rate of 30 deaths per
Indian government should
disassociate itself from the Russian and Canadian asbestos lobby and
take lessons from the nations that have banned this fiber to safeguard
its workers and citizens.
The author is an environment
and health analyst . Efirstname.lastname@example.org
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