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Why India should ban use of mercury based dental amalgam like EU

Written By Gopal Krishna on Tuesday, May 30, 2017 | 10:12 PM

Union Minister of Health & Family Welfare
Government of India
New Delhi

Subject-Why India should ban use of mercury based dental amalgam like EU

This is to draw your attention towards a recent decision by European Union to phase out usage of mercury based dental amalgam among children and pregnant women.  Taking cognizance of incontrovertible scientific and medical evidence and given the fact that India being a signatory to Minamata Convention against mercury pollution, there is a compelling logic for the central and state governments to completely ban them.  It is noteworthy that around 30% of approximately 50-55% of Indians who face tooth decay need dental filling at some stage. This makes them vulnerable to exposure of highly hazardous heavy metal like mercury.
We submit that the medical belief that the placenta protects the foetus from toxins in the bloodstream, which is indeed the case with most chemicals have been given a burial. In the case of methylmercury, the placenta removes it from the mother's bloodstream and concentrates the chemical in the foetus. Thus, the disease manifested its congenital form. 
We submit that mercury has toxic effects on the nervous, digestive and immune systems, and on lungs, kidneys, skin and eyes. Mercury is considered by WHO as one of the top ten chemicals or groups of chemicals of major public health concern. People are mainly exposed to methylmercury, an organic compound, when they eat fish and shellfish that contain the compound. 

Given the fact that elemental and methylmercury are toxic to the central and peripheral nervous systems, inhalation of mercury vapour can produce harmful effects on the nervous, digestive and immune systems, lungs and kidneys, and may be fatal. The inorganic salts of mercury are corrosive to the skin, eyes and gastrointestinal tract, and may induce kidney toxicity if ingested.

We submit that neurological and behavioural disorders may be observed after inhalation, ingestion or dermal exposure of different mercury compounds. Symptoms include tremors, insomnia, memory loss, neuromuscular effects, headaches and cognitive and motor dysfunction. Mild, subclinical signs of central nervous system toxicity can be seen in workers exposed to an elemental mercury level in the air of 20 μg/m3 or more for several years. Kidney effects have been reported, ranging from increased protein in the urine to kidney failure. 
It is noteworthy that Mercury is an element that cannot be destroyed; therefore, mercury already in use can be recycled for other essential uses, with no further need for mercury mining. Mercury use in artisanal and small-scale gold mining is particularly hazardous, and health effects on vulnerable populations are significant. Non-mercury (non-cyanide) gold-extraction techniques need to be promoted and implemented, and where mercury is still used safer work practices need to be employed to prevent exposure.
We submit that the adoption of UN's Minamata Convention on Mercury to protect human health and the environment from anthropogenic emissions and releases of mercury and mercury compounds is relevant with regard to mercury based dental amalgam. Mercury is a persistent pollutant. 
It persistence can gauged from the fact that addition of even 0.9 grams of mercury, that is, one minuscule fraction (1/70th) of a teaspoon is enough to contaminate a 25-acre lake, rendering fish contaminated and unsafe to eat. The maximum contaminant level for mercury in drinking water is 2μg/L ( .000002 g/L). [1 g = 1,000,000 μg].
It is noteworthy that just one drop of mercury can poison enough water to fill 10 big tanker trucks which has 89,000 gallons of water. (1 gallon = 3.8 liters). Exposure to mercury – even small amounts – may cause serious health problems, and is a threat to the development of the child in utero and early in life. 
The UN treaty opened for signature by countries on 10 October 2013, at a Diplomatic Conference in Kumamoto, Japan. The continued release of mercury into the environment from human activity, the presence of mercury in the food chain, and the demonstrated adverse effects on humans made the governments to agree to the Minamata Convention on Mercury. The Convention obliges government Parties to take a range of actions, including mercury emissions to air and to phase-out certain mercury-containing products. 
We submit that a teaspoon of mercury and a teaspoon of water are of the same volume but not the same weight. Density of Mercury is 13.534 g/cm3. There is about 20 drops per cm3. It is not realized as yet that just 1 teaspoon of mercury can poison all the water a family of 4 would use in 63 years.
The treaty got its name from Minamata a city in Japan where Chisso Corporation opened a chemical factory in 1908. The chemical reaction used to produce the acetaldehyde used mercury sulfate as a catalyst. A side reaction of the catalytic cycle led to the production of a small amount of an organic mercury compound, namely methylmercury. This highly toxic compound was released into Minamata Bay from the start of production in 1932 until 1968, when this production method was discontinued. Local public health office in the city discovered an "epidemic of an unknown disease of the central nervous system" in 1956. The city government formed the Strange Disease Countermeasures Committee. The disease later became known as Minamata disease. From around 1950 onward, cats had been seen to have convulsions, go mad and die. Crows had fallen from the sky, seaweed no longer grew on the sea bed and fish floated dead on the surface of the sea. On November 12, 1959, the Ministry of Health and Welfare's Minamata Food Poisoning Subcommittee published its results sating "Minamata disease is a poisoning disease that affects mainly the central nervous system and is caused by the consumption of large quantities of fish and shellfish living in Minamata Bay and its surroundings, the major causative agent being some sort of organic mercury compound." Some 2,265 victims have been officially certified of Minamata disease of which some 1,784 of have died and over 10,000 people have received financial compensation till 2001 from Chisso Corporation in Japan. 
We submit that Government of India should initiate a program to phase out use of non-essential mercury-containing products and implement safe handling, use and disposal of remaining mercury-containing products. Mercury is contained in many products, including batteries, measuring devices, such as thermometers and barometers, electric switches and relays in equipment, lamps (including some types of light bulbs), dental amalgam (for dental fillings), skin-lightening products and other cosmetics and pharmaceuticals.
World Health Organization has been providing guidance on identifying populations at risk from mercury exposure, tools to reduce mercury exposure, and guidance on the replacement of mercury-containing thermometers and blood pressure measuring devices in health care. It is promoting the sound management and disposal of health-care waste and has facilitated the development of an affordable, validated, non-mercury-containing blood pressure measuring device. 

We submit that so far regulatory agencies in India have failed to protect the food chain from the criminal poisoning seem to waiting for a formal announcement of Minamata like disaster to react. 

In view of the above, we urge you to ban use of mercury based dental amalgam in India to safeguard public health of present and future generations. 

Warm regards
Dr Gopal Krishna
ToxicsWatch Alliance (TWA)
Mb: 08227816731, 09818089660
Web:  toxicswatch.org

Govt betrays consumers, public health, workers, environment & human rights by opposing listing of white chrysotile asbestos as hazardous substance at the UN Meet

Written By Gopal Krishna on Sunday, May 07, 2017 | 11:00 PM

Public Statement
Indian Govt betrays consumers, public health, workers, environment & human rights by opposing listing of white chrysotile asbestos as hazardous substance at the UN Meet 

Government’s position contrary to domestic laws

Cabinet Committee on Economic Affairs deciding position on Asbestos does not include Ministers of Consumer Affairs, Health, Labour, and Environment

Govt ignored views expressed by environment minister, Health Minister & States on hazards of asbestos and incurable asbestos related diseases

Govt must take action against white chrysotile asbestos to protect public health and human rights instead of waiting for outcome of next meeting of UN’s Rotterdam Convention in 2019

Taking an inconsistent position disregarding public health and human rights of Indians, India joined Russia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Zimbabwe and Syria to block listing of hazardous white chrysotile asbestos, the killer fiber in the UN list at the UN Meet that concluded on 5 May in Geneva. The 8th Conference of the Parties to the UN’s Rotterdam Convention on the prior informed consent procedure for certain hazardous chemicals and pesticides in international trade (COP8) failed to make any progress on democratic right of people to be protected from hazardous substances. The listing of white chrysotile asbestos in the UN list of hazardous substances helps in better protection of public health and environment. In an act of betrayal of gnawing public interest cause, India took a position which is contrary to its own domestic law on hazardous white chrysotile asbestos at the UN Meet. The next UN meeting on the issue will happen in 2019.

Given the fact that Cabinet Committee on Economic Affairs, Government of India does not include Ministers of Consumer Affairs, Health, Labour, and Environment, it was apprehended that concerns related to consumers, public health, workers, and environment is likely to be disregarded. This apprension has turned out to be true. Government failed to pay heed to the opinion expressed by Union environment minister and Union Health Minister.

Asbestos diseases have a very long incubation period. So if you are exposed today to an asbestos fibre, you are likely to get the disease in next 10-35 years. Asbestos is like a time bomb to the lungs and Indians will suffer the most. If it is banned today that does not mean people will not suffer. Because of past usage people will continue to suffer from these diseases. It is clear that lack of documentation and lack of environmental and occupational health infrastructure does not mean lack of victims of asbestos related diseases.

Union Environment Minister has said, “Since the use of asbestos is affecting human health, its use should gradually be minimised and eventually end. As far as I know, its use is declining. But it must end.”

In a written reply Union Minister of Health and Family Welfare has informed the Parliament on the subject of Asbestos Related Diseases saying: “The Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) has informed that major health hazards of asbestos include cancer of lung, mesothelioma of pleura and peritoneum and specific fibrous disease of lung known as asbestosis. All types of asbestos fibers are responsible for human mortality and morbidity. Studies have been carried out at National Institute of Occupational Research, an Institute of ICMR, Ahmedabad which show that workers when exposed to higher workplace concentration of asbestos fiber have higher incidence of interstitial lung disease and pulmonary function impairment. Directorate General Factory Advice Service and Labour Institutes, (DGFASLI) under Ministry of Labour & Employment has intimated data of workers suffering from Asbestosis in factories registered under the Factories Act, 1948.As per the information provided by DGFASLI, it is informed that 21 no. of Asbestosis cases were reported in Gujarat in 2010 and 2 cases in Maharashtra in the year 2012.”  

The reply of the Union Minister of Health and Family Welfare further reads: “As per the provisions of the Factories Act, 1948 and rules framed thereunder, manufacture, handling and processing of Asbestos and its products is declared as Hazardous Process. Further, Govt. of India has prepared Schedule XIV- ‘’Handling and Processing of Asbestos, Manufacture of any Article or Substance of Asbestos and any other Process of Manufacture or otherwise in which Asbestos is used in any Form’’ as a Dangerous Operation under section 87 of the Factories Act,1948. The Ministry of Mines has informed that the Grant of fresh mining leases and renewal of existing mining leases for Asbestos are presently banned in the country on Health Grounds.” This was stated by the Union Minister for Health and Family Welfare in a reply to the Lok Sabha.

This reply is consistent with the observation of World Health Organisation (WHO) saying, " All types of asbestos cause lung cancer, mesothelioma, cancer of the larynx and ovary, and asbestosis (fibrosis of the lungs). Exposure to asbestos occurs through inhalation of fibres in air in the working environment, ambient air in the vicinity of point sources such as factories handling asbestos, or indoor air in housing and buildings containing friable (crumbly) asbestos materials." It underlines that several thousands of deaths can be attributed to other asbestos-related diseases, as well as to non-occupational exposures to asbestos.

It is quite shameful that Indian delegation disregarded the views of Health and Environment Ministry and ignored the 105 page long Indian Government’s Environmental Impact Assessment Guidance Manual for Asbestos Based Industries.  The relevant part of the Manual reads: “All workplaces where asbestos dust may cause a hazard is to be clearly indicated as an asbestos dust exposure area through the use of a well-displayed sign, which identifies the hazard and the associated health effects” for workers’s education. It also states, “Pictorial warning signs and precautionary notices for asbestos and products containing asbestos are to be made” for the protection of consumers from “hazard and the associated health effects.”

Government allowed itself to be overwhelmed by the influence of the four asbetsos producers of the world who produced 1,799,700 metric tons of chrysotile asbestos in 2015 (Russia - 1,100,000 tons, Brazil- 310,000 tons, China-210,000 tons and Kazakhstan 179,700 tons) who seem to have given themselves the power to determine whether or not Indians have the right of Prior Informed Consent. In a bizzare situation, it is being implied by them this right exists only if the hazardous white chrysotile asbestos industry allows it to be exercised.

Government failed to protect itself from the unhealthy influence of Asbestos Cement Products Manufacturers Association (ACPMA) and the asbestos producing countries which are patrons of ACPMA.

Government failed to note that Asbestos is listed as a hazardous substance under Part II of Schedule-I of the Manufacture, Storage and import of Hazardous Chemical Rules under the Environment (Protection) Act, 1986 provides the List of Hazardous and Toxic Chemicals. This list has 429 chemicals. Asbestos is at the serial no. 28 in the list. This Rule and the list are available on the website of Union Ministry of Environment & Forests. Indian position should have been in keeping with government’s “Inventory of Hazardous Chemicals Import in India” that lists ‘asbestos’ at serial no. 26 as one of the 180 hazardous chemicals in international trade which is imported in India. It would be scandalous if Indian delegation took a position inconsistent with the Manufacture, Storage, and Import of Hazardous Chemicals (MSIHC) Rules.

Notably, even under Factories Act, 1948, the List of 29 industries involving hazardous processes is given under Section 2 (cb), Schedule First, asbestos is mentioned at serial no. 24.  The Act defines "hazardous process" as “any process or activity in relation to an industry specified in the First Schedule where, unless special care is taken, raw materials used therein or the intermediate or finished products, bye-products, wastes or effluents thereof would--(i) cause material impairment to the health of the persons engaged in or connected therewith, or (ii) result in the pollution of the general environment”.  This leaves no doubt that asbestos is a hazardous substance.

It has been observed that promoters of white chrysotile asbestos like ACPMA manage to get themselves planted in the Indian delegation and seem to prevail on the government representatives take a position against human health and the environment and to put profit of the asbestos industry before gnawing public health concerns.

It must be recalled that on June 22, 2011 Indian delegation led by Ms. Mira Mehrishi, Additional Secretary, had supported the listing of Chrysotile asbestos as a hazardous chemical substance at the fifth meeting on Rotterdam Convention amidst standing ovation. Ban Asbestos Network of India (BANI) and ToxicsWatch Alliance (TWA) had taken the opportunity of congratulating the government but the about turn on later occasions under the corrupting influence ACPMA was a sad let down. The same deleterious forces have prevailed at the COP 8 too.

Government should pay heed to a precedent-setting decision dated April 2, 2013 delivered by the Israel's High Court of Justice that rejected a petition on against a law placing substantial financial responsibility on a company to clean up asbestos waste. The order observed, “In recent years, countries throughout the world have been required to deal with different dilemmas related to protecting the quality of the environmental.  A substantial portion of these dilemmas involve, among other things, legal, economic and ethical considerations. Amongst these dilemmas, the removal of hazardous waste – the matter at the heart of the present appeal – is a subject that demands significant attention.  Asbestos, in particular, has proved itself to be efficient and strong, suitable for many uses.  However, it has become clear with time that its ability to cause damage immeasurably outweighs its potential benefits.  Since the 20th century, different states have dealt with this matter of how to clean up the environment from asbestos, and onthe questions of who to impose the responsibility and who to require to pay for the implementation.  Consequently, I have found it appropriate to first turn our perspective on the relevant legal regimes in a few key countries beyond our borders.”  It ruled that "To conclude, the survey presented (of various international legal perspectives) indicates various and complimentary components.  In all instances it appears a consensus has been established, certainly so with regards to materials hazardous by their very nature such as asbestos, that substantial responsibility is to be imposed on the pollutant."

Government must pay attention to the verdict of five judges of Japan’s Supreme Court dated  February 17, 2015 that has upheld a ruling that found asbestos used at a plant of Kubota Corporation caused fatal mesothelioma in a man who lived near the plant and ordered the company to pay ¥31.9 million in damages to his relatives. The petitioners were relatives of Kojiro Yamauchi, who died at age 80 after working for two decades about 200 meters from the Kubota plant in Amagasaki, Hyogo Prefecture. His relatives and those of Ayako Yasui, who died at age 85 having lived about 1 km from the plant, sought damages from both Kubota and the government. In October, 2014 this Supreme Court ruled that the government was responsible for failing to protect workers from exposure at asbestos factories in Sennan, Osaka Prefecture.
Government should examine that the official record which shows that  three cases of asbestos related diseases i.e. Mesothelioma have been reported from among the workers of employed in the factory of Hyderabad Industries Limited, Sanathnagara, Hyderabad in Andhra Pradesh. These workers have died due to the disease. These workers were: 1) N Chandra Mouli, 2) Sher Khan and 3) ama Chandraiah. This was revealed in an affidavit filed by T Narayana Reddy, Special Officer Office of Advocate-on-record, Andhra Pradesh Legal Cell, New Delhi in the Supreme Court. This company in question may be asked to file a report on total number of workers employed by it and their health status including a report about the three above mentioned workers.

It is also a matter of official record that National Institute of Occupational Health (NIOH), Ahmedabad, Gujarat recommended compensation for two workers employed in Gujarat Composites Limited who were certified to be suffering from asbestosis. This has been revealed in a reply given by Government of Gujarat. A letter of Chief Inspector of Factories, Gujarat State dated December 24, 2002 in the matter of execution of the order of Supreme Court in Writ Petition (Civil) No. 206 of 1986 categorically reveals that two workers of Gujarat Composites Ltd were confirmed for Asbestosis, an incurable lung disease by NIOH. The workers were (1) Hazarilal Manraj and (2) Sahejram B Yadav. The letter recommended compensation of Rs 1 lakh as per the Court order but till date the same has not been given. This and many such cases conclusively establish the hazards from asbestos. Influence of the asbestos industry becomes quite obvious when Government turns a blind eye to such glaring official facts.  This is also a clear case of contempt of court by the asbestos based company. It may be noted that Gujarat Composite Ltd (formerly named Digvijay Cement Company) appears to be attempting to hide behind myriad corporate veils by changing names and by outsourcing its work. The official letter demonstrates that white chrysotile asbestos is a hazardous substance which causes asbestos related incurable diseases.    

It is noteworthy that Secretary, Medical Education & Research, Chandigarh Administration which has categorically informed National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) that “a. White Asbestos (Chrysotile Asbestos) is implicated in so many studies with the following diseases:-Mesothelioma (Cancer of Pleura), Lung Cancer, Peritoneal Cancer, Asbestosis, And also consider as cause of following cancers:- Ovarian Cancer, Laryngeal Cancer, Other Cancer b. Diseases are produced in the person involved in Asbestos Industry.” It states that “No. of cancer deaths due to asbestos requires further large scale study from India”. It informs, “It is definitely harmful material, causing cancer and other related diseases.”

It quotes from Pulmonary Medicine journal saying, “Asbestos is a set of six naturally occurring silicate minerals exploited commercially for their desirable physical properties. However, it has been proved beyond doubt that Asbestos is hazardous to humans. White asbestos has been found to have causal relationship with various diseases like pulmonary asbestosis, lung cancer and mesothelioma leading to deaths of thousands of people every year.”

The communication of Chandigarh Administration concludes saying, “Hence, use of white asbestos should be completely banned in India also and the same may be replaced by some safe alternative material.” Chandigarh Administration has realized the public health consequences of exposure to fibers of asbestos.

The Assistant Labour Commissioner, Union Territory, Chandigarh has referred to para 16 of the judgment of Supreme Court dated January 21, 2011 passed in Writ Petition (Civil) No.260 of 2004 wherein directions of January 27, 1995 in the Writ Petition (Civil) No. 206 of 1986 is required to be strictly adhered to.  It further states, “In terms of the above judgement of this Court as well as reasons stated in this judgement, we hereby direct the Union of India and States to review safeguards in relation to primary as well as secondary exposure to asbestos keeping in mind the information supplied by the respective States in furtherance to the earlier judgement as well as fresh resolution passed by the ILO. Upon such review, further directions, consistent with law, shall be issued within a period of six months from the date of passing of this order.”  As to ‘fresh resolution passed by the ILO’, it is noteworthy that “A Resolution concerning asbestos was adopted by the International Labour Conference at its 95th Session in 2006. Noting that all forms of asbestos, including chrysotile, are classified as human carcinogens by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), and expressing its concern that workers continue to face serious risks from asbestos exposure, particularly in asbestos removal, demolition, building maintenance, ship breaking and waste handling activities, it calls for: – the elimination of the future use of asbestos and the identification and proper management of asbestos currently in place as the most effective means to protect workers from asbestos exposure and to prevent future asbestos-related diseases and deaths.” 

In a letter dated May 29, 2012, Joint Secretary, Government of Uttarakhand has referred to a document Medline Plus Trusted Health Information for You, U.S. National Library of Medicine and the prescription of National Institutes of Health (NIH) highlighting the Treatment stating: “There is no cure. Stopping exposure to asbestos is essential.”

It is not surprising that Union Ministry of Labour’s concept paper declares, "The Government of India is considering the ban on use of chrysotile asbestos in India to protect the workers and the general population against primary and secondary exposure to Chrysotile form of Asbestos. The Concept paper of the Central Government notes, "Asbestosis is yet another occupational disease of the Lungs which is on an increase under similar circumstances warranting concerted efforts of all stake holders to evolve strategies to curb this menace". 

It has been estimated that one person dies from mesothelioma for every 170 tons of asbestos consumed. WHO estimates we have107,000 deaths worldwide per year from occupational exposure to asbestos. If non occupational exposure is added it reaches a figure of about 120,000 deaths. Average world consumption/year 30-60 years ago was -- looks like3/2 of what it is now (2 million metric tons/year). Give India its share of that based on its share of global consumption. At 300,000 tons in 2013, that's about 18,000 deaths (15% of 120,000). 

Government failed to insulate Indian delegation from undue and motivated industry influence to ensure that they are not made to act like parrots of commercial interests. In matters like exposure from carcinogenic fibers of asbestos these officials must be made to factor in far reaching implications for public health before defending the indefensible hazardous asbestos industry. The day is not far when officials who are members of the Indian delegation too will be held liable for their acts of omission and commission as is happening in more than 50 countries that have banned all kinds of asbestos. The representatives of asbestos industry association has been undermining India’s stature among the global scientific community for long.

It is now clear that Government failed to resist the influence of foreign interests. It failed to ensure that public health interest triumphs over immoral, unethical and myopic commercial considerations of foreign asbestos producers to defend India’s supreme interest. The manufacturers in India can easily shift to non-asbestos materials for manufacturing and some of them have started to move in that direction in South India.   

Government should recognize that Environmental Impact Assessment Guidance Manual for Asbestos Based Industries, the Terms of Reference (TOR) that is awarded by the Experts Appraisal Committee (EAC), Industrial Project, Union Ministry of Environment & Forests for Chrysotile asbestos based roofing factory asks the project proponent to prepare a “Health Management Plan for Mesothelmia, Lung cancer and Asbestosis related problems in asbestos industries” revealing its hazardous nature. 

COP 8 demonstrated that for the time being in this conflict between Truth Versus Profit, the latter has prevailed. It does not behove the stature of India to take untruthful and unscientific position displaying unpardonable callousness towards concerns of consumers, public health, workers, environment and human rights. India should learn from countries that have banned asbestos of all kinds including white chrysotile asbestos. These countries are:  1) Algeria, 2) Argentina, 3) Australia, 4) Austria, 5) Bahrain, 6) Belgium, 7) Brunei, 8) Bulgaria,  9) Chile, 10) Croatia, 11) Cyprus, 12) Czech Republic, 13) Denmark, 14) Egypt, 15) Estonia, 16) Finland, 17) France, 18)  Gabon, 19) Greece, 20) Germany, 21) Gibraltar, 22) Hungary, 23) Honduras, 24) Iceland, 25) Iraq, 26) Ireland, 27) Israel, 28) Italy, 29) Japan, 30) Jordan, 31) Kuwait, 32) Latvia, 33) Luxembourg, 34) Lithuania, 35) Mauritius, 36) Mozambique, 37) Malta, 38) Netherlands, 39) New Caledonia, 40) New Zealand, 41) Norway, 42) Oman, 43) Portugal, 44) Poland, 45) Qatar, 46) Romania, 47) Saudi Arabia, 48) Sweden,  49) Switzerland, 50) Serbia, 51) Seychelles, 52) Slovakia, 53) Slovenia, 54) South Africa, 55) South Korea, 56) Spain, 57) Turkey, 58) Uruguay and 59) United Kingdom.

Given the fact that Indian domestic laws recognize white chrysotile asbestos as hazardous, the Government need await the outcome of next meeting of UN’s Rotterdam Convention in 2019 in this regard to take actions to make India asbestos free. Indian laws include asbestos in the list of hazardous substances but tremendous influence of commercial interests has forced the Indian delegation to take a position which is diametrically opposite of domestic laws.

Government should take steps to rectify the blunder it has committed by immorally and illegitimately denying right to know about hazardous substances to present and future Indians. It should factor in views of health and environment ministers to pave the way for creating a future which is free of incurable hazardous asbestos related diseases.    

For Details: Dr Gopal Krishna, Ban Asbestos Network of India (BANI)-ToxicsWatch Alliance (TWA), Mb: 08227816731, 09818089660E-mail-1715krishna@gmail.com, Web: www.asbestosfreeindia.org, toxicswatch.org

Gask leak in national capital makes students ill, inquiry ordered

Written By Gopal Krishna on Saturday, May 06, 2017 | 6:00 AM

A gas leak from a Tughlakabad container depot in National Capital Territory of Delhi. It is believed to be leakage of Chloromethyl Pyridine, a toxic chemical used in manufacturing of pesticides. Some 300 students of Rani Jhansi school have been exposed around seven in the morning hours when students complained about irritation in their eyes. Initially, some 27 students were admitted in Batra hospital, 53 in ESI hospital and 5 in Apollo hospital and some 25 in Hamidia hospital but later some 100 students have been admitted in different hospitals.  Notably, Tughlakabad container depot has been infamous for transport of  waste oil which is a hazardous waste in the past. It has been the subject matter of the hazardous waste case in Supreme Court.  

Delhi Government has ordered an inquiry into the incident. ci Union Health Minister who is not a member of Cabinet Commitee on Economic Affairs (CCEA) has sent his prayers to those affected. Union Environment Minister who is also not a member of CCEA is yet to come into the picture. It is the decisions of supreme decision making body like CCEA that sets priorities with regard to industrial activity in the country. Such incidents reminds people of the lessons from the industrial disaster of Bhopal which underline the need to ban trade in hazardous chemicals and hazardous waste. It is not a coincidence that Indian delegation at a UN Meeting in Geneva that concluded on 5 May took the untenable position that India can manage foreign hazardous waste because it has the technology and welcomed waste dumping.  This incident of the leak demonstrates the emptiness of such claims.   

The public health crisis caused by such leaks can be traced to lax licensing, clearances and weak regulatory and compliance monitoring procedures.The institutional accountability for such leaks must be fixed and those who are guilty must be made to face punitive measures to ensure that defaulters do not go scot free. The responsibility of Tughlakabad container depot must be assessed to ascertain the root cause of the leak. It is hoped that the findings of the inquiry into incident will see the light of the day within a week. It must be remembered that Madhya Pradesh Government has got the report of the judiciary inquiry commission into the Bhopal disaster but it is reluctant to make it public. Such approach does not inspire confidence in government's orders with regard to inquiry. 

Why India should support Ban Amendment to UN’s Basel Convention on Transboundary Movement of Hazardous Wastes and Their Disposal to prevent dumping of toxic waste

Written By krishna on Sunday, April 30, 2017 | 7:40 PM

ToxicsWatch Alliance (TWA)


Shri Bishwanath Sinha
Joint Secretary       
Union Ministry of Environment, Forests & Climate Change
Government of India
Subject: Why India should support Ban Amendment to UN’s Basel Convention on Transboundary Movement of Hazardous Wastes and Their Disposal to prevent dumping of toxic waste 


With reference to
the invitation from Union Ministry of Environment, Forests & Climate Change seeking comments and suggestions on matters of the Basel Convention (BC), Rotterdam Convention (RC) and Stockholm Convention (RC) and with regard to an inconsistent position taken by one of the Indian delegates at the thirteenth meeting of the Conference of the Parties (COP) to the UN’s Basel Convention (BC COP13) on Transboundary Movement of Hazardous Wastes and Their Disposal, we submit the following:
1.      We are distressed to learn that on the opening day of the BC COP13 India’s official delegation shocked the UN Meeting with its statement in opposition to UN accord to stop the flow of hazardous wastes from developed to developing countries like India. This is akin to opposing Hon’ble Prime Minister’s Clean India Mission and is in violation of Hon’ble Supreme Court’s verdict in Writ Petition (Civil) No.657 of 1995;
2.      We have learnt that Dr Sonu Singh, one of the official delegates from our country gave a speech crticising the Ban Amendment to Basel Convention on Transboundary Movement of Hazardous Wastes and Their Disposal.  He lowered the stature of India and its scientific community by claiming that the Ban Amendment is contrary to sustainable consumption and the circular economy as well as the Sustainable Development Goals.  He made a bizaare claim that India allows imports of hazardous waste under careful conditions and this is part of its national strategy. India was the ONLY country which made such a statement. How can he make claims about non-existent services and infrastructure to deal with their hazardous waste and other wastes in the absence of required infrastructure like laboratories, treatment facilities and land in the country which can be used for testing samples of imported waste and treatment and landfills? Our India cannot be turned into a land of landfills for foreign hazardous wastes. Unless all the waste that is generated in our own country has been treated and disposed of in an environmentally sound manner how can hazardous waste import be permitted?;  
3.      This is an admission that trade in hazardous waste will happen in a business as usual manner unmindful of Hon’ble Prime Minister’s Clean India Mission and Hon’ble Court’s verdict. This position is inconsistent with National Environment Policy that includes strategies for cleanup of toxic and hazardous waste dump legacies, developing a national inventory of such dumps, an online monitoring system for movement of hazardous wastes and taking legal measures for addressing emergencies arising out of transportation, handling, and disposal of hazardous wastes. All other Parties who spoke at CoP 13 voiced their very strong support for the Ban Amendment. This delegates’s position is inconsistent with our Hon’ble Prime Minister’s Clean India Mission as well;
4.      According to the verdict of Hon’ble Court, “Hazardous Wastes are highly toxic in nature.  The industrialization has had the effect of generation of huge quantities of hazardous wastes.  These and other side effects of development gave birth to principles of sustainable development so as to sustain industrial growth. The hazardous waste required adequate and proper control and handling.  Efforts are required to be made to minimise it.  In developing nations, there are additional problems including that of dumping of hazardous waste on their lands by some of the nations where cost of destruction of such waste is felt very heavy.  These and other allied problems gave birth to Basel Convention.”  This verdict has been given in Writ Petition (Civil) No.657 of 1995. The Convention was made part of its order by the Hon’ble Court due to alarming situation created by dumping of hazardous waste, its generation and serious and irreversible damage, as a result thereof, to the environment, flora and fauna, health of animals and human beings. Hon’ble Court took cognizance of dumping of hazardous wastes in Indian waters as violation of Article 14 and 21 of the Constitution of India. It is evident from it that the position of this Indian delegate betrays his ignorance about the issue;
5.      We wish inform you that such motivated attempts have attracted widespread criticism from environment, public health groups and even the Confederation of Indian Industry (CII) when hazardous wastes and hazardous materials and recyclable materials was being made synonymous. by redefining "hazardous waste" as "hazardous material" in a manifest act of linguistic corruption. It is noteworthy that in a study, Associated Chambers of Commerce & Industry (ASSOCHAM) also recommended ban on trade in hazardous wastes. Two members of Hon’ble Court's own monitoring committee on hazardous wastes have also raised objections They who are complicit in promoting hazardous waste dumping in our country are doing so at the behest of hazardous waste traders. Their role needs to be probed; 
6.      We wish to draw your attention towards the fact that European Union has fully implemented the Basel Ban in its Waste Shipment Regulation, making it legally binding in all EU member states. Norway and Switzerland have similarly fully implemented the Basel Ban in their legislation.  In the light of the blockage concerning the entry into force of the Ban amendment, a “Country-led Initiative” (CLI) was launched which was adopted at COP10 of the Basel Convention on Transboundary Movement of Hazardous Wastes and Their Disposal, the opponents of the Ban Amendment agreed to stand down and not to publicly fight against it anymore. Such statement from the Indian delegate in question is quite at variance with India’s Clean India Mission which is so dear to our Hon’ble Prime Minister;
7.      We are quite disgusted to hear this delegate making an unscientific claim saying that the Basel Ban Amendment works against Sustainable Development Goals. How can he be allowed to make baseless claims to the effect that India’s technology is infallible to import of hazardous wastes. Such statements are contrary to India’s public health and exposes India’s insensitivity towards environmental health. It is unbecoming  of India’s statuture to take such a position at a UN meeting. This is not the way to make Clean India Mission sucessful as desired by our Hon’ble Prime Minister;
8.      We wish to draw your attention towards Basel Convention’s very clear and simple definition of waste: wastes are materials which are disposed of, or intended to be disposed of, or required to be disposed of, to the environment”. Hon’ble Court’s verdict has directed the Union of India to incorporate the Basel list in the existing Rules and had actively argued for expanding the list of prohibited items for import;
9.      We submit that the position ariculated by our delegate is in complete contrast to the revised EU Waste Shipment Regulations, to which all EU member nations need to comply. The new EU rules now require a tracking document to accompany shipments of non-hazardous materials designated as waste, including recyclables. But the scrap industry feels that the complexity of information required by the new EU rules was totally illogical, complaining that it did not offer clear environment benefit. If senior officials endorse this anti-India position of Dr Singh then it amounts to a formal announcement that India is welcoming globalisation of the toxic hazardous waste and it arrival in Indian waters. India should call for the development of guidance to aid countries to help prohibit efforts to reclassify hazardous waste as non-waste in an exercise of circuitous defintition. Hazardous waste exporters from rich countries have been consistently seeking to export toxic scrap to India and likewise, there has been a similar trend amongst businesses in the India to import such waste. This is being done despite the fact that National Environment Policy acknowledges how "Environmental factors are estimated as being responsible in some cases for nearly 20 percent of the burden of disease in India";
10.  We urge you to review the position taken by Dr Sonu Singh and articulate Government of India’s intention to ratify the Ban Amendment to Basel Convention on the Control of Transboundary Movements of Hazardous Wastes and Their Disposal. India missed the opportunity of ratifying it before the Twelfth Conference of the Parties held in Geneva during 4-15 May, 2015.
11.  We submit that India must take a principled stand in tune with the main principles of this UN treaty which are: transboundary movements of hazardous wastes should be reduced to a minimum consistent with their environmentally sound management; hazardous wastes should be treated and disposed of as close as possible to their source of generation; and hazardous waste generation should be reduced and minimized at source. This position of Dr Singh is contrary to these principles and stands in manifest contrast with its position in 1992.
12.  You may recollect that by decision III/1, of September 22, 1995, at COP-3, the Third meeting of the Conference of the Contracting Parties to the above Convention that took place in Geneva in September 1995, adopted an Amendment to the Convention. This bans the export of hazardous wastes for final disposal and recycling from rich countries to poorer countries. This Article reads as follows: “Instruments of ratification, approval, formal confirmation or acceptance of amendments shall be deposited with the Depositary. Amendments adopted in accordance with paragraphs 3 or 4 [of article 17 of the Convention] shall enter into force between Parties having accepted them on the ninetieth day after the receipt by the Depositary of their instrument of ratification, approval, formal confirmation or acceptance by at least three-fourths of the Parties who accepted them or by at least two thirds of the Parties to the protocol concerned who accepted them, except as may otherwise be provided in such protocol. The amendments shall enter into force for any other Party on the ninetieth day after that Party deposits its instrument of ratification, approval, formal confirmation or acceptance of the amendments.” The Ban Amendment has not entered into force despite the fact that 89 parties have accepted it becasue that requires ratification by 3/4 of the member states to the Convention as per Article 17.5. So far, the Parties of the Basel Convention have not been able to agree as to whether this would be three fourth of the Parties that were Party to the Basel Convention when the Ban was adopted, or three fourth of the current Parties of the Convention. This amendment was to enter into force following ratification by 62 parties as per Article 17 (5) of the Convention. Ban Amendment needs ratification of only 12 more members for it to come into force. We submit that the parent treaty, the Basel Convention has been ratified by 183 countries;
13.  Under the influence of countries like USA, Germany, United Kingdom, Australia, Canada, South Korea and Japan in general and U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the world’s largest business federation representing the interests of more than 3 million businesses, International Chamber of Commerce, US Institute of Scrap Recycling Industries and Bureau of International Recycling (BIR), the international trade federation representing the world’s recycling industry, India’s position  have faced continued dilution. These countries and interests never wished Convention, Ban Amendment and compliant Rules to come into force;
14.  As part of Clean India Mission, our Government should try to regain its original stance of being a strong opponent of the international waste trade and an ardent supporter ban on toxic waste exports from the world’s richest countries to less industrialized ones. Government of India should recollect its position at the First Conference of Parties to the Basel Convention in Piriapolis, Uruguay, from 3-4 December, 1992. Shri A. Bhattacharja, Head of the Indian delegation who pleaded with industrialized countries to stop exporting hazardous waste. “You industrial countries have been asking us to do many things for the global good — to stop cutting down our forests, to stop using your CFCs. Now we are asking you to do something for the global good: keep your own waste.” Government of India was firm even at the Second Basel Convention Conference of Parties, in March 1994 and advocated ban on all hazardous waste exports from the world’s most  industrialized countries, the members of the Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) to non-industrialized countries like India. It was only in 1995 that Government of India revised its position at the Third Basel Conference of Parties in September 1995 under the harmful influence of representatives of the US and Australia. This led to an Indian delegate announcing that it was reconsidering its position on the Basel Ban as a consequence of the regressive statement of Shri Kamal Nath, the then Union Minister of Environment & Forests who averred, “We are against environmentally unfriendly recycling. We are not against the movement of waste, provided the recipient has adequate equipment, facility and the proper process to deal with it.” This was a direct assault on intent of Basel Convention. It was the first nail in the coffin. Consequently, India did not ratify the ‘Ban Amendment’ to the Basel Convention, which could have stopped the import of hazardous waste and stopped India from becoming a leading dumping ground;
15.  We submit that US Government and ICC have been instrumental in outwitting the UN ban on hazardous waste trade through bilateral Free Trade Agreements between countries. In one of its position paper on the Basel Convention, ICC has even called for the ban on hazardous waste to be stopped by the World Trade Organization (WTO) because it is trade disruptive. This undermines the customary environmental law principles. It is noeowrthy that Wikileaks has revealed how the US Government ensured that the same Shri Kamal Nath was not made the Commerce Minister again for his position in WTO negotiations in a different context;
16.  To safeguard our country’s environmental security and maritime security, India should not allow itself to be misled by hazardous waste traders who are blinded by their lust for profit at any human and environmental cost. In any case the truth about who all were immorally, unethically and unpatriotically complicit with merchants of death, the hazardous waste traders and who all defended public health will not remain hidden for long. It is high time the present Government disassociated itself from the regressive legacy and adopted its glorious legacy to safeguard India’s supreme national interest and the health of present and future generations;
In view of the above facts, before the UN meeting ends on May 5, Government should articulate its support for Ban Amendment and ratify it in order to save India from becoming the dumping ground of rich countries which are transferring harm becasue they want to protect their own environment and public health. The review of Dr Sonu Singh’s position provides a chance to recover the lost ground and re-adopt our 1992 position and ask the rich countries to “keep your own waste” for global common good. We earnestly appeal to you to ensure that foreign toxic waste does not flow in the veins and arteries of present and future Indians.  
Thanking you in anticipation
Warm Regards
Dr Gopal Krishna
ToxicsWatch Alliance (TWA)
Mb: 08227816731, 09818089660
Shri Anil Madhav Dave, Union Ministry of Environment, Forests & Climate Change
Shri Nripendra Misra, Principal Secretary to Prime Minister
Shri Pradeep Kumar Sinha, Cabinet Secretary          
Shri Ajit Doval, National Security Advisor   
Shri Arvind Panagariya, Vice Chairman, Vice-Chairman, Niti Aayog
Shri Ajay Narayan Jha, Secretary, Union Ministry of Environment, Forests & Climate Change

We may admire what he does, but we despise what he is."-referring to humans who act mechanically on instructions -------Wilhelm von Humboldt, 1792
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