MAC: Mines and Communities

India: Ban On Indigenous Chrysotile Asbestos Mining Lifted

Published by MAC on 2009-03-11
Source: Gopal Krishna, Counter Currents

New Delhi: Despite the asbestos disease epidemic in US, Europe, Australia, Japan, South Africa and elsewhere, a recent document titled " HUMAN HEALTH RISK ASSESSMENT STUDIES IN ASBESTOS BASED INDUSTRIES IN INDIA " by Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB), Union Ministry of Environment Forests, has failed to recommend a ban on asbestos.

The study was undertaken by the Industrial Toxicology Research Centre, Lucknow for the CPCB. The political patronage enjoyed by the industry is an open secret. It is clear from the document that the ban on indigenous chrysotile asbestos mining has been lifted.

Ban Asbestos Network of India (BANI) has written letters to the President, Vice President, National Human Rights Commission and the Defence Minister drawing their urgent attention 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.

It has drawn their attention to the order of Kerala Human Rights Commission that has ruled that exposing Indians to asbestos is a human rights violation. This paves the way for the eventual complete ban on asbestos and its products. On January 31, 2009, the Commission ruled that the government should take steps to phase out asbestos roofing from all schools in the state.

BANI has requested these authorities to act immediately in public interest to ensure that use of the of all kinds of asbestos products is stopped because it is being used and encountered daily, because none of the schools, offices, legislatures, courts, hospitals, automobiles, private and public buildings in our country are asbestos free in our country. It has sought a Register of asbestos handlers and victims and award a compensation of at least Rs 20 lakh for the asbestos victims among other things.

According to the 2008 report of the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Science and Technology, Environment and Forests, "A technical person in the Gujarat State Pollution Control Board spares 1.77 days to monitor an industry in a year...while in Maharashtra the person spends only 1.23 days a year. This includes time taken on travelling."

The Committee's Report on the Functioning of Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) is must set the alarm bells ringing. Underlining the malaise that afflicts CPCB the Parliamentary Committee agrees with the Supreme Court's monitoring committee on hazardous waste observation that 77 per cent chairpersons and 55 per cent member secretaries in State Pollution Control Boards are not qualified enough to hold the post.

How handicapped our environmental regulatory bodies have become is best illustrated in the manner in which asbestos is allowed to be used in the country despite the fact that some 50 countries have banned it and even International Labour Organisation and World Health Organisation call for its elimination. Even World Trade Organisation upheld the right of Europe to ban this incurable cancer causing killer fiber. In case of asbestos, a carcinogen, India has no policy to discourage its use in textiles, building materials, insulation and brake linings in automobiles.

Since the import of asbestos is cheaper than any of its alternatives like poly venyl alcohol, there is no economic incentive to shift to cleaner production. There are alternatives within India also, like natural cellulose fibre, and a lot of research has been done on it, but there is little budget to promote it in the market. The situation with regard to monitoring of occupational health concerns arising from the ongoing manufacturing of asbestos products is no different. In fact it is worse. The manner in which one of the world's most vulnerable work forces in the asbestos and ship breaking industry is compelled to work in degrading, dangerous and highly exploitative conditions, is a case of outrageous barbarism with active connivance of the government.

When the world is preparing and planning to get rid of all forms of asbestos, it makes us look stupid in India to be still importing it and lifting the ban on chrysotile asbestos mining, we should devote our scarce resources to prevent the impending disaster by phasing it out as soon as we can. Safer substitute materials for white asbestos are available; they should be considered for use.

It is high time Government of India took note of ongoing asbestos exposures of citizens, consumers and workers and took immediate remedial measures. .

In the foreword to the CPCB report, J. M. Mauskar, the ex-officio Chairman of the CPCB and Joint Secretary, MoEF writes, "Asbestos is mainly used for manufacturing asbestos-cement sheets, asbestos-cement pipes, brake lining, clutch lining, asbestos yarn & ropes, gaskets & seals etc. Organised asbestos industrial units are mostly using imported chrysotile variety of asbestos. The indigenous asbestos is mostly used by the unorganized sector. This report provides detailed information on human risk of asbestos exposure and its health effects. The study includes asbestos monitoring at work environment, characterization and toxicity of indigenous asbestos, occupational and personal histories of workers, their clinical examinations, lung function tests and chest radiological examinations. It appears from the present investigation that unorganized units have poor industrial hygiene conditions. The report also recommends various preventive measures to reduce the risk of workers exposed to asbestos.

Underlining the risk, it makes the following recommendations that end up promoting mythical safe and controlled use of asbestos, in order to safeguard the asbestos industry's lust for profit at any human cost. In the light of the study, the following recommendations that are tantamount to lip service in the absence of complete ban have been made to reduce the human risk of asbestos exposure and its health hazard:

1. All the workers should be provided with medical surveillance by the employer. Medical surveillance programme should consist of the following:
• Pre- employment medical surveillance
• Periodic medical examination
• Medical examination at cessation of employment
• Maintenance of medical records; and
• Health education

Medical examination record should be maintained and stored for a period of 10 years following the termination of employment, or for 40 years after first day of employment, whichever is later.

The Medical Doctor appointed for examining the workers should be trained in Occupational Health. This will facilitate early detection of occupational related diseases in the workers.

In order to comply with the recommendations contained in IS:11451-1986, employer should stop existing practice of employment of temporary, contract workers or daily wage workers.

2. The Ministry of Mines had decided to continue the ban on mining of amphibole variety of asbestos. By the time this ban is implemented in totality, following measures are required to be taken by the asbestos milling units of Rajasthan:
• Preferably complete plant machinery requires to be redesigned with proper engineering controls to reduce asbestos fibre emission.
• Manual handling of asbestos should be reduced to minimum.
• Fugitive emissions generated needs to be controlled.
• Asbestos bearing stones should be stored in a covered shed to avoid fugitive emission.
• All material transfer point should be connected to dust extraction system.

3. Floor should be cleaned by vaccum cleaner only.

4. Workers likely to get exposed to asbestos should wear protective clothing and respiratory equipment.

5. The asbestos based product manufacturing industries should operate and maintain the air pollution control devices properly so as to comply with the emission standards of 0.2 fibre / cc for asbestos fibre and 2 mg / Nm3 for total dust. The monitoring should be carried out regularly and data should be submitted to State Pollution Control Board and Central Pollution Control Board.

6. The asbestos fibre concentration at work place should not exceed 1 fibre / cc, as per Factories Act, 1948.

7. The asbestos based units should get asbestos fibre monitoring done on regular basis.

8. All the organized and unorganized industries should ensure good house keeping practices to reduce the asbestos exposure.

9. Work place asbestos standards should be brought down from 1 fibre cc to 0.1 fibre cc under the Factories Act, 1948 to reduce the risk of asbestos exposure.

10. Workers should be given education about the risk associated with asbestos dust exposure, potential health effects, etc.

11. Display board should be provided showing the hazards associated with asbestos and recommended precautionary measures.

Although some 60 countries have recognized that safe and controlled use of asbestos of all kinds is not possible and have banned it, CPCB under tremendous influence of the asbestos industry recommends standards even at the risk of sounding ridiculous in the comity of nations.

It has come to light through Right to Information application, and admitted in the parliament by the Minister concerned, that the studies conducted by the national occupational health institute are being funded by the chrysotile asbestos industry. The recent CPCB document refers to Project Advisory Committee members whose suggestions were deemed valuable but nowhere in the document does one find the names of these members. One would not be surprised if these members, who facilitated the lifting of ban on mining of chrysotile asbestos and influenced the study to recommend continued use and manufacture, were representatives from the chrysotile asbestos indus try.

For Details: Gopal Krishna, Ban Asbestos Network of India (BANI), Mb: 9818089660
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