MAC: Mines and Communities

Asbestos Factory In Rae Bareli

Published by MAC on 2006-01-15
Source: Toxics Watch

Asbestos Factory in Rae Bareli

As a matter of fact asbestos is the generic term for a number of naturally occurring fibrous minerals. Commercially, the most important of these are the white, blue, and brown varieties, otherwise known as chrysotile (serpentine asbestos), crocidolite, and amosite. Blue and brown varieties of asbestos are banned in India.

Sonia Gandhi's constituency Rae Bareli got a new asbestos unit in January 2006. The asbestos cement plant is located at Kandarvan village. This factory which produces 10,000 tonnes of asbestos roofing sheets belongs to the Hyderabad based Visaka Industries, one of the key players in asbestos industry.

The very fact that this toxic plant has been allowed in Rae Bareli is quite significant for it signals support to the hazardous asbestos industry at the highest political level. This support to the continued use of asbestos, a killer fiber used in over 3,000 products is alarming because it continues to devastate workers and consumers, although the extent of the tragedy remains largely uncovered in India.

It was in view of the deleterious effect of asbestos on the health of the workers, the central government ordered the state governments in 1986 not to grant any new mining lease for asbestos in the country. In June 1993, the central government stopped the renewal of existing mining leases of asbestos. This ban does not apply to use, manufacture, export and import of asbestos. Besides the consumers, workers employed in the cement-asbestos factories also suffer from the exposure to asbestos. Its incubation period is long, it takes as long as 25 to 30 years for the fibers to make their presence felt in the human body but by then it is incurable.

*International Scenario: *Stories of the toll asbestos takes on people are yet to hit the headlines in India as been the case in US, Europe, Australia and Japan. In US for instance, the death toll is estimated to be 10, 000 per year due to past exposure. Research is showing asbestos epidemics across the globe.

The International Labour Organization (ILO) said in January 2006 that asbestos is still the No.1 carcinogen in the world in its report titled "Asbestos: the iron grip of latency." It adds, the dumping of asbestos on developing countries will "prove to be a health time bomb in these countries in 20 to 30 years' time." Jukka Takala, Director of the ILO InFocus Programme SafeWork, issued the report.

*Indian Scene: *Unmindful of this on 29 April, 2005 Dr Dasari Narayana Rao, the Union Minister of State for Coal and Mines in a written reply in the Lok Sabha said that the study of Indian Bureau of Mines, "has recommended that the ban imposed on grant and renewal of mining leases and expansion of mining may be lifted" in utter disregard to the views of exposure victims, informed recommendations of public sector medical experts, and mounting evidence of an asbestos disease epidemic emerging in developed countries. **

It is not difficult to notice why the entire political establishment wears blinkers when it comes to acknowledging the fact that currently some 40 countries have banned all forms of asbestos including chrysotile (white asbestos) due to health hazards. With asbestos firms being owned by politicians or the state itself, the government seems to be following a classic ostrich policy. G Vivekanand, Chairman of Visaka Industries is son of Congress leader G Venkataswamy who is deputy leader of Congress in Lok Sabha and a former Union Textile Minister.

What else can explain the discredited claims of 'safe use' of asbestos by the industry and the virtually blasphemous statement to Parliament on 27 February 2006 by Namo Narain Meena, the Minister of State for Environment saying, "No complaints have so far been received regarding its carcinogenic content and its hazard to health and environment"?

There are sane voices in government too, but these have been exceptions. It is noteworthy that the then Union Health Minister informed Parliament on 18 August 2003 that: "Studies by the National Institute of Occupational Health (NIOH), Ahmedabad, have shown that long-term exposure to any type of asbestos can lead to the development of asbestosis, lung cancer and mesothelioma."

*Scientific and Medical Evidence Calls for asbestos ban: *In an August 2005 paper published in American Journal of Industrial Medicine, titled "Occupational Asbestos Exposure and Predictable Asbestos-related Diseases in India," Dr S K Dave, Senior Deputy Director, NIOH concludes, "Based on knowledge of past and current exposures to asbestos in industry, we can predict a future occurrence of clinical asbestos-related diseases-pleural
changes, pulmonary fibrosis, bronchogenic carcinoma, and diffuse malignant mesothelioma."

He wrote that these cases of asbestos related disease are expected to occur in asbestos exposed workers from mining, milling, and manufacturing as well as in those with secondary exposures to asbestos-containing materials, including construction and maintenance workers, users of asbestos-containing consumer products, and the occupants of asbestos-containing buildings.

Corroborating this Dr Qamar Rahman, a senior scientist with Industrial Toxicology Research Centre (ITRC), Lucknow says, "Since 1984, environmental monitoring and health surveys have led to in-depth studies in asbestos based industries in India have highlighted an occupationally vulnerable worker population."

Given the fact that Italy and the entire Europe have banned asbestos, one can be sure that Sonia Gandhi owns an asbestos free house in Italy. It would be heartening if she promises asbestos free houses in India in general and Rae Bareli in particular as well. The May 8, 2006 election in her parliamentary constituency is an appropriate time for her to announce her Government's plan to ban this poisonous mineral fiber. This will reassure her voters
about her concerns about their well-being. The rationale to permit mining, manufacturing and use of asbestos instead of banning it is quite hollow.

Gopal Krishna, (Toxics Watch, Delhi) 6-13 May, 2006, Sahara Time

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