MAC: Mines and Communities

India Update

Published by MAC on 2006-09-09

India Update

9th September 2006

Although most Northern countries long ago banned toxic levels of lead being added to paints (the US did so in 1978), a new study reveals that such products are being widely marketed in India, China and Malaysia.

Around half the samples tested by a four-nation scientific team contained lead levels thirty times the maximum permitted in the US. In around half the samples tested, lead concentrations were thirty times above the minimum safety level

""It's absolutely incomprehensible that paint manufacturers - particularly large companies with plentiful resources - would knowingly distribute a product that can be dangerous to people," comments Scott Clark, the team's leader.

Another foreign ship, laden with asbestos, has been allowed to dock for break-up in Gujarat, even though a high-level scientific committee has - finally - ruled that the world's deadliest industrial product has been taking a deadly toll on Indian ship-breakers.

The Andaman and Nicobar islands are slowly recovering from the devastating tsunmai which struck 18 months ago; now villagers are protesting the threats posed by stone quarries.

Villagers against polluting quarries

The Light of Andamans. Issue 39

9th September 2006

Port Blair: Residents of Birchganj, Prothroepur and Austinabad have lodged a strong protest to the chief secretary, deputy commissioner, and the secretary, environment and forests, SANE etc. about the pollution spread all around by stone quarries and crushing industries in the villages adjoining Corbyne's Cove quarry.

Constant blasting, non-stop movement of heavy trucks carrying stone products, raising dust 18 hours a day and the crushing units dotted along the road make life hell for the residents of the areas. RCC buildings in Birchganj and adjoining villages have developed cracks, plasters have started peeling off, people have developed respiratory problems and any amount of cleaning would not rid them of dust. It is a virtual hell for the people of the area.

Constant blasting till late at night had disturbed the sub-strata and wells and streams have gone dry. The orchards and plantations on top of the Birchganj hills have started withering effecting considerable crop loss to the land owners.

Complaints were lodged earlier also. But the contractor lobby is too powerful for the simple villagers. No complaint registers on the authorities, lament the villagers.

All the attempts to draw the attention of the authorities have failed so far. On enquiry, Mr. Rishikesh, Senior Scientific Officer II of Pollution Control headed by Dr. V. Krishna Murthy, Director & Member Secretary, had nothing concrete to offer. He said that the department had just received the joint petition of the villagers and it was 'under process'.

'The Light of Andamans', in its issue of April 08, 2006, had come out with a graphic report on the environmental havoc created by thirty-five quarries operating within an area of approximately three square kilometres. There is an international school right on top of the hill.

In support of their charges against the polluting industry, the villagers have enclosed a copy of The Light of Andamans' issue of April 08, in the hope that the administration would respond positively this time.

Environmental Experts Urge Global Lead Paint Ban


24th August 2006

Environmental and occupational health experts at the University of Cincinnati, UC, have found that India, China and Malaysia still produce and sell consumer paints with dangerously high lead levels, even on products intended for use by children such as painted playground equipment.

Researchers from four countries say that this lead-based paint production poses a global health threat, and a worldwide ban is urgently needed to avoid future public health problems.

The first study to show that new paint in many unregulated Asian countries greatly exceeds U.S. safety levels, the report appears in the early online edition of the journal "Environmental Research," September 2006.

Linked to impaired intellectual and physical growth in children, lead is a metal used to improve the durability and color luster of paint used in homes and other buildings and on steel structures, such as bridges.

Lead is also found in some commonly imported consumer products, including candy, folk and traditional medications, ceramic dinnerware, and metallic toys and trinkets. In 1978, the United States restricted lead content in paint after determining that people, especially young children, were being poisoned by environmental exposures to the metal. Many Third World countries, says Scott Clark, PhD, did not follow suit, and continue to manufacture and sell lead-based paints that would be prohibited in the United States and in some other countries.

Clark headed a two year study involving researchers from four countries. The scientists found that more than 75 percent of the consumer paint tested from countries without controls on lead paint - representing more than 2.5 billion people - had levels exceeding U.S. regulations.

By contrast, in Singapore, which enforces the same lead restriction on new paint as the United States, lead levels were significantly lower.

"Paint manufacturers are aggressively marketing lead-based paints in countries without lead content restrictions," says Clark, professor of environmental health at UC. "In some cases, companies are offering the same or similar products, minus the lead, in a regulated country."

"There is a clear discrepancy in product safety outside the United States," he adds, "and in today's global economy, it would be irresponsible for us to ignore the public health threat for the citizens in the offending countries, as well as the countries they do business with."

The scientific team analyzed 80 consumer paint samples of various colors and brands from India, Malaysia, China and Singapore to determine the amounts of lead in the samples and compare them with U.S. standards.

About 50 percent of the paint sold in China, India and Malaysia had lead levels 30 times higher than U.S. regulations. In contrast in Singapore, which has well-enforced regulations, only 10 percent of paint samples were above U.S. regulations, the highest being six times the U.S. limit.

"Lead-based paints have already poisoned millions of children in the United States and will likely cause similar damage in the future as paint use increases in Asian countries and elsewhere," he says. "Our findings provide stark evidence of the urgent need for an effective worldwide ban on the use of lead-based paint."

"We've known for years that there are good substitutes for lead in paint," he said, "so it's absolutely incomprehensible that paint manufacturers - particularly large companies with plentiful resources - would knowingly distribute a product that can be dangerous to people."

Clark says some lead-contaminated items intended for use by children, such as painted playground equipment, are manufactured in countries with limited to zero government regulation on lead in consumer products.

Although American brand paints were not available for purchase in this study, several U.S. multinational paint companies are among the top-selling paints in Asia and some Asian paint companies have arrangements with U.S. companies.

Collaborators in this study include Rebecca Clark and Sandy Roda of UC, Krishna Rampal, MD, of the University Kebangsaan Malaysia, Venkatesh Thuppil, PhD, of the National Referral Center for Lead Poisoning Prevention in India, and Chin Chen of the Occupational Safety and Health Center at Singapore Polytechnic.

It's official: Asbestos is crippling Alang workers

Indian Express

5th September 2006

For the first time, an official committee has acknowledged that asbestos is taking its toll on the ship-breakers in Alang, Gujarat, and what's needed are sweeping reforms in their working conditions and detailed guidelines for dismantling ships and handling the waste.

The report says that almost one in six workers (16% of the workforce that handles asbestos) could be suffering from an early stage of asbestosis, an irreversible lung condition that could lead to lung cancer. In addition to this, the report highlights how the "fatal accident rate" in Alang is almost six times that in the mining industry, considered to be the most unsafe.

Set up by the Supreme Court last February — while it was hearing the Clemenceau case — the 12-member Committee of Technical Experts, headed by Prodipto Ghosh, Secretary, Ministry of Environment and Forests, has submitted its 200-page report to the Supreme Court last week.

Though there have been several committees on Alang, this is the first one that says that ship-breaking can — and should — be conducted in an "environmentally sound'' manner following augmentation and upgradation of facilities.

According to the report, a copy of which is with The Indian Express, the experts have rolled out a detailed roadmap for upgrading the Alang shipyard operations and have highlighted alarming facts related to exposure to asbestos. Until now, the Government has denied any such link.

The committee commissioned the National Institute of Occupational Health to carry out a study of the health status of ship-breaking workers in Alang, specially those engaged in removal of asbestos. Besides radiological examinations, NIOH examined health records of workers available with Directorate of Industrial Safety and Health (Gujarat).

"The X-ray examination showed linear shadow on 15 of 94 workers occupationally exposed to asbestos, These were consistent with asbestosis but could be caused by other lung conditions. All of these were cases of easly asbestosis and not associated with pulmonary function abnormalities''.

Most of these workers had worked for less than 10 years. Normally, it takes more than 10 years for full-blown asbestosis to develop but its onset is hastened with higher levels of exposure. In ships brought for breaking, free asbestos is usually present as thermal insulation of boilers and floor tiles. When this asbestos is removed, its particles become air-borne and attack the lungs.

Based on these findings, the report calls for further investigation of the cases and careful follow-up with High-Resolution Computerised Tomography which is a better diagnostic tool than radiography for asbestosis.

This isn't the only problem. According to the report, the accident rate in Alang is much higher than the national average. Data on fatal accidents during the last 10 years show an average annual incidence of fatal acidents in ship breaking to be 2 per 1000 workers while the figure for the mining industry (considered to be the most unsafe) is 0.34 per 1000.

The report says that the Supreme Court directives in 1995 for asbestos-exposed workers should be followed and all "stakeholders," including medical professionals need awareness and training on health issues related to asbestos exposure. Alang is a 10-km ship-breaking yard in Gulf of Cambay in Gujarat. It is one of the largest in the world _in 1998, there were 300 ships per year and the yard had 35,000 workers, mainly migrants from Orissa, Bihar and Madhya Pradesh. With a lull in ship-breaking activity — largely because of heightened environmental scrutiny—business in Alang is down to 100 ships and 5,000 workers. Even today, it provides indirect employment to about a lakh people.

The spotlight has been on Alang since December last year when the French aircraft carrier Le Clemenceau was headed for dismantling. After reports of large quantities of asbestos and PCBs, the ship was recalled by the French government.

A few months later, another large commercial ocean liner Blue Lady has been sold to an Alang ship breaker and the dismantling work has just begun.

7-step clean-up

The report recommends:
• Procedure for assesment of hazardous waste and its verification before the ship beaches.
• Detailed guidelines for anchoring, beaching and breaking.
• Mandatory dismantling and recycling facility managment plan for all ships.
• Landfills for dealing with waste like oil or PCBs.
• Monitoring of air, sea and sediment quality
• An industry review committee to monitor progress
• Range of measures for workers' welfare

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