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Misinformation campaign of Canadian govt & white asbestos companies

Written By Gopal Krishna on Friday, August 22, 2008 | 8:41 AM

A recent Canadian government's paper from the federal Department of Natural Resources once again promotes chrysotile asbestos. It is criticising Rotterdam Convention on Prior Informed Consent (PIC) Procedure for Certain Hazardous Chemicals and Pesticides in International Trade as an international treaty that lacks objectivity about the safety of chrysotile asbestos.

This report quite like the recent asbestos studies of India's National Institute of Occupational Health is a brilliant example of the politicization of science for commercial benefit.

Below are two paragraphs where the Canadian paper refers to India.

"In India, a major consumer of chrysotile and producer of chrysotile-based products, many improvements have been achieved and are ongoing in work practices and new regulations since the Ministry of Environment and Forests' policy on the manufacture of chrysotile-based products was finalized in March 2003. Under the new policy, the chrysotile-cement industry, in collaboration with the regulatory agency, is working to improve working conditions by eliminating the manual handling and opening of chrysotile fibre bags; fully automatic debagging systems are currently being implemented throughout the manufacturing process."

"India, a major consumer of chrysotile fibres, strongly opposed the addition of chrysotile to the list of substances subject to the PIC procedure at the third Conference of the Parties. India stated that the epidemiological studies cited by the European Union, Chile, and Australia in drafting the Decision Guidance Document in support of the submission for listing chrysotile all pertained to the use of mixed fibres consisting predominantly of amphibole varieties. India
claimed that numerous other epidemiological studies concluded that chrysotile fibres alone, used in the manufacturing of chryso-cement products, did not substantially increase the incidence of lung cancer. It was further mentioned that in India, crocidolite, which caused most of the
lung-related diseases in the western part of the country, has been banned since 1994."

A new monograph, "India's Asbestos Time Bomb" exposes the blatant lies being told in the Canadian government's paper about the safe use of asbestos in India.

Here is the real story of asbestos trade and use in India.

Some 50 countries have banned asbestos, a killer fiber. Asbestos consumption is rising dramatically in India even as U.S. Senate passed Ban Asbestos in America Act on October 4, 2007 unanimously. 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.

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 afterwards.

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 day.

BANI has been asking the Indian government to 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.
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