Utkal Asbestos Company fails to convince Vaishali villagers opposing asbestos factory
SDO expressed concern about imminent water scarcity due to industrial activity in agricultural land
Patna/Mahuwa, Vaishali/New Delhi, September 29, 2012: As per the order of District Magistrate (DM), Vaishali, Bihar in the matter of opposition to the proposed white asbestos based plant of Utkal Asbestos Limited (UAL) company, members of Khet Bachao Jeevan Bachao Jan Sangarsh Committee (KBJBJSC) comprIsing of villagers of Kanhauli Dhanraj Panchayat of Goraul block and representatives of the UAL met again in the office of Sub Divisional Officer (SDO), Mahuwa, Vaishali on September 28, 2012 to discuss the grievances against the lung cancer causing factory. This was the second tripartite meeting was necessitated by villagers Mahadharna of June 14, 2012 against the plant. A similar meeting was held on June 30, 2012.
The reply of KBJBJC to the response of their letter to DM in the matter of UAL’s proposed Asbestos factory at Vaishali’s Chaksultan Ramppur Rajdhari near Panapur in Kanhauli Dhanraj Panchayat addressed to DM was given to SDO.
On behalf of UAL, Dr S P Vivek Chandra Rao, the advisor of Asbestos Cement Products Manufacturers Association had unsuccessfully attempted to respond to KBJBJC’s letter to DM dated June 30, 2012. Dr Rao has singled out 15 issues out of our comprehensive submission to respond, the same is being replied as under in order:
1. The fact of ban on asbestos mining has not been disputed by him. The fact is mining of asbestos of all kinds, trade in asbestos waste (dust & fibers) is banned in India. In June 1993, central government stopped the renewal of existing mining leases of asbestos. The mining activity was banned by Union Ministry of Mines. It is strange that while mining of asbestos is banned in our country due to adverse health impact, the same is being imported from Russia, Canada and other countries. It may be noted that Canada has a no home use policy and it is investing to decontaminate its built environment of asbestos.
2. The recent victory of the political party which has announced closure of asbestos mine in Quebec, Canada which is one of the key suppliers of India once again vindicates the logic that compelled more than 50 countries to ban use of asbestos of all kinds. Consequently, Canadian Government has also been forced to announce chrysotile asbestos (white asbestos) as a hazardous substance on September 4, 2012.
3. It is not disputed that “55 countries have banned asbestos”. The major concern created by exposures to “low” concentrations of asbestos is the risk of mesothelioma, for which no threshold exists. It is clear that there no safe level at which asbestos can be used.
4. It is not disputed that “WHO says, chrysotile is also carcinogenic”. In a letter to Bihar Chief Minister, Deputy Chief Minister and District Magistrate, Vaishali, Fernanda Giannasi, a well known Brazilian labor inspector for the Regional Labor and Employment Superintendence in São Paulo (Ministry of Labor and Employment) wrote “I am a manager of the state asbestos program to eradicate the asbestos. For almost 30 years, I have inspected industrial plants in my state of São Paulo where 172 companies declared using asbestos, out of which 170 have already changed the technology for asbestos-free enforcing the state law and we have followed all these changes and respective improvements for the worker’s safety and health and of course for the general public health.” She added, “It is scientifically and medically established that asbestos is a fibrous mineral that is known to cause cancer in humans, in all its forms, origins and types, according to the most important scientific academies and national and international health institutions. A vast medical literature produced over the course of the 20th century sustains the thesis that there is no safe way to work with asbestos or use products that contain it, and that the best way to eliminate diseases caused by this mineral fiber is to ban it.” World Health Organization (WHO) and the International Labor Organization (ILO), among others that have been working to eliminate the “health catastrophe of the 20th century,” given the serious is the epidemic nature of the diseases caused by asbestos.
5. The fact of what the text book says is not disputed. The abstract of a paper titled ‘Asbestos-An Important Public Health Hazard’ published for the National Convention of Chemistry Teachers and National Seminar on “Emerging Trends in Green Chemistry during October 15-17 2011 that is recognized with a message from Nitish Kumar, Chief Minister, Bihar. In the abstract of paper, it is stated that as early as “In 1935 first time, Lynch Smith described a lung carcinoma in a patient with asbestosis (fibrosis of the lung caused by the inhalation of asbestos dust). A large number of clinical, epidemiologic, and experimental studies established carcinogenic effect of different types of asbestos fibers on various tissues and organs, both in humans and in experimental animals. Inhalation is major source of exposure in humans.” It also noted that “its (asbestos) diffusion in the occupational and general environment causing a lot of health hazards even cancer.” This even was recognized by International Union of Pure and Applied Chemistry (IUPAC) and United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) as part of The International Year of Chemistry 2011. Villagers expressed the hope that the Chief Minister will take cognizance of the scientific facts which was brought to his attention from the chemistry teachers through the convention and seminar organized by Department of Chemistry, AN College, Patna.
6. WHO says, “One in every three deaths from occupational cancer is estimated to be caused by asbestos. In addition, it is estimated that several thousand deaths annually can be attributed to exposure to asbestos in the home.” Source: http://www.who.int/mediacentre/factsheets/fs343/en/index.html
UAL failed to satisfy the villagers. Its EIA report fails mention asbestos hazards to villagers. The consultant of the EIA report has admitted that “Construction site has a potential hazardous environment”. It also admits, “Asbestos fiber will be used in the plant as a raw material is hazardous in nature, the industry will give information to the workers on hazards associated with asbestos”.
7. It cannot be disputed that the concept paper by Union Ministry of Labour has revealed at the two-day 5th India-EU Joint Seminar on “Occupational Safety and Health” on 19-20th September, 2011 that "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." It has noted that "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". The document is readily available at http://www.labour.nic.in/lc/Background%20note.pdf)
8. On July 6, 2011, India's National Human Rights Commission has issued notices to the central and state governments asking the status of victims of asbestos. It took note of an estimate that suggests that some 50, 000 people are likely to die annually in India based on what is going on in Ontario, Canada.
9. US Environment Protection Agency says, “No safe exposure threshold (with respect to for inhaling asbestos fibers) has been established, but the risk of disease generally increases with the length and amount of exposure.”
Ref:http://yosemite.epa.gov/R10/OWCM.NSF/0/1892d33bca669504882566d700671e50?OpenDocument The same is reiterated by WHO at http://whqlibdoc.who.int/hq/2006/WHO_SDE_OEH_06.03_eng.pdf
10. As to PILs in the Supreme Court and Patna High Court. The paragraph 15 of Supreme Court order referred to in the order of High Court and the related paragraph 14 read as under:
14. In the matter relating to secondary exposure of workers to asbestos, though the grounds have been taken in the Writ Petition without any factual basis, again in the Rejoinder filed to the counter affidavit of respondent No.37, this issue has been raised by the petitioner in detail. In the earlier judgment of this Court in the case of Consumer Education and Research Centre (supra), hazards arising out of primary use of asbestos were primarily dealt with, but certainly secondary exposure also needs to be examined by the Court. In that judgment, the Court had noticed that it would, thus, be clear that diseases occurred wherever the exposure to the toxic or carcinogenic agent occurs, regardless of the country, type of industry, job title, job assignment or location of exposure. The diseases will follow the trail of the exposure and extend the chain of the carcinogenic risk beyond the work place. In that judgment, the Court had also directed that a review by the Union and the States shall be made after every ten years and also as and when the ILO gives directions in this behalf consistent with its recommendations or conventions. Admittedly, 15 years has expired since the issuance of the directions by this Court. The ILO also made certain specific directions vide its resolution of 2006 adopted in the 95th session of the International Labour Conference. It introduced a ban on all mining, manufacture, recycling and use of all forms of asbestos. As already noticed, serious doubts have been raised as to whether `controlled use' can be effectively implemented even with regard to secondary exposure. These are circumstances which fully require the concerned quarters/authorities in the Government of India as well as the State Governments to examine/review the matter in accordance with law, objectively, to achieve the greater health care of the poor strata of the country who are directly or indirectly engaged in mining or manufacturing activities of asbestos and/or allied products.
15. As already noticed above, the Government has already presented the Bill in Rajya Sabha. The statement of objects and reasons of this Bill specifically notices that the white asbestos is highly carcinogenic and it has been so reported by the World Health Organisation. In India, it is imported without any restriction while even its domestic use is not preferred by the exporting countries. Canada and Russia are the biggest exporters of white asbestos. In 2007, Canada exported 95% of the white asbestos, it mined out of which 43% was shipped to India. In view of these facts, there is an urgent need for a total ban on the import and use of white asbestos and promote the use of alternative materials. The Bill is yet to be passed but it is clearly demonstrated that the Government is required to take effective steps to prevent hazardous impact of use of asbestos. Thus, both the High Court and the Supreme Court take note of the resolution of WHO and ILO which seek elimination of all forms of asbestos.
11. As to NHRC’s notice to Government of Bihar, the notice was sent to Chief Secretary, Government of Bihar on 6th July 2011. The NHRC’s press release about the notice is available at http://nhrc.nic.in/disparchive.asp?fno=2334
12. It is not disputed that “Asbestos Cement waste is hazardous”. It is one of the 64 heavily polluting industries under Red Category by Union Environment & Forests Ministry. In fact, commerce in asbestos waste (dust & fibers) is banned in India under Hazardous Waste Management Rules, 2008 under Environment Protection Act, 1986.
13. It is not disputed that the study by National Institute of Occupational Health (NIOH), Ahmedabad was funded by the asbestos industry. It is beyond comprehension as to how such a study claim to be ‘independently conducted by scientists’. If this is an independent study what else is doctored study. In effect, this study on occupational health impact of asbestos exposure was of the industry, for the industry and by the industry.
14. EIA report of UAL has stated that construction environment is hazardous. The fact is it is hazardous to the health of both the villagers and the workers. The villagers committee had given a 33 page written submission in Hindi to the District Magistrate through SDO with annexures comprising of scientific and medical opinions. Villagers have explained how fake public hearing and faulty environmental clearnce happened by blatant factual misrepresentation. A total of 4 pages as against more than 300 pages of EIA were given to the villagers. The EIA report referred to agricultural land as barren land. When UAL representative and EIA consultant was asked to explain, the consultant replied that by barren he meant vacant land. Their submission creates a compelling logic against the construction of such heavily polluting plants.
15. As to the dumping of asbestos laden hazardous waste material from the debris of collapsed World Trade Centre (WTC) in India which Dr Rao disputed. The fact is Ranveer Jaidka’s factory in Mandi Gobindgarh, Punjab was one of the several factories that bought the debris of the twin towers after the 9/11 terrorist attacks. “The WTC (World Trade Center) material was great. High-rise buildings use good quality steel,” he says, adding that many factories in Mandi Gobindgarh had bought it as per a report of April 22, 2010 in a business news paper.
On behalf of the UAL, Dr Rao claimed that import of hazardous waste is banned. This is not true. Under Rule 23 of Hazardous Wastes (Management, Handling and Transboundary Movement) Third Amendment Rules, 2008 refers to the “Responsibilities of Authorities” which is specified in its Schedule VII that provides the List of Authorities and Corresponding Duties” wherein it is mentioned that Directorate-General of Foreign Trade constituted under the Foreign Trade (Development and Regulation) Act, 1992 has a duty to“Grant License for import of hazardous wastes”.
It may be noted that Union Environment Ministry’s 19 page Vision Statement on Environment and Human Health (Para 4.3.1) on page 12 which reads: “Alternatives to asbestos may be used to the extent possible and use of asbestos may be phased out”. This merit serious consideration and the same is available. Source: moef.nic.in/divisions/cpoll/envhealth/visenvhealth.pdf.
TWA urges Bihar Government public interest to be undermined by an asbestos factory owner who is more interested in defending the financial interests of a powerful asbestos industry rather than in protecting public health. It was present at both the September 28 and June 30, 2012 meetings.
Villagers handed over to Sub Divisional Officer (SDO), Jyoti Kumar a Hindi translation of Dr Barry Castleman’s letter to District Magistrate along with the original. In a letter to Vaishali District Magistrate, Jitendra Srivastava, Dr. Castleman, a globally recognized foremost authority on medical and legal aspects of asbestos, who has worked with WHO, World Bank and Pan American Health Organisation, wrote, “Strong local opposition to the construction of the asbestos plant in Vaishali is supported by the official statements of the World Health Orgainsation, the International Labour Organisation, and the World Bank calling for an end to asbestos products use…Even the World Trade Organisation has supported national asbestos bans and rejected arguments for ‘controlled use of asbestos’ as unrealistic.” In his letter, Dr Castleman mentions, ‘At a hearing in Brasilia on August 31, 2012, the public prosecutor excoriated the asbestos industry as purely profit-oriented, saying that vast liabilities had been created and left for society to pay; he closed by saying the export of asbestos to poor Asian countries was “environmental racism”.’ KBJBJSC also gave their point wise response to 15 specific issues singled out by Dr Rao on behalf of UAL. The SDO inquired about the agitation against a similar plant in Bhojpur due to water scarcity caused by two asbestos plants in Bihiya. He expressed his worry about the imminent water crisis in the area.
Taking cognisance of threats to life and public health; more than 50 countries have banned production, use, manufacture and trade of the hazardous mineral fiber, ASBESTOS. These countries are: Algeria, Czech Republic, Iceland, Malta, Seychelles, Argentina, Denmark, Ireland, Mozambique, Slovakia, Australia, Egypt, Israel, Netherlands, Slovenia, Austria, Estonia, Italy, New Caledonia, South Africa, Bahrain, Finland, Japan, Norway, Spain, Belgium, France, Jordan, Oman, Sweden, Brunei, Gabon, South Korea, Poland, Switzerland, Bulgaria, Germany, Kuwait, Portugal, Turkey, Chile, Greece, Latvia, Qatar, United Kingdom, Croatia, Honduras, Lithuania, Romania, Uruguay, Cyprus, Hungary, Luxembourg and Saudi Arabia. All the 27 countries of European Union have banned it.
Villagers submitted that it is reasonable to ask you to initiate concrete steps for permanent closure of the construction of the manufacturing unit of asbestos based products in Vaishali.
For Details: Ajit Kr Singh, Khet Bachao Jeevan Bachao Jan Sangharsh Committee (KBJBJC), Vaishali, Mb: 08002903995, E-mail: email@example.com
Gopal Krishna, ToxicsWatch Alliance Mb: 08002263335, 09818089660 E-mail:firstname.lastname@example.org Web: toxicswatch.blogspot.com, banasbestosindia.blogspot.com