Inclusion of White Chrysotile Asbestos in the UN List of hazardous substances postponed, to be considered again at Rotterdam Convention’s COP 8
Govt must Make India Asbestos Free by rectifying irrationality of banning mining of asbestos but continuing its trade
INDIA’S INVENTORY OF HAZARDOUS CHEMICALS IMPORT INCLUDES “ASBESTOS”, LIST OF BANNED HAZARDOUS WASTES INCLUDES WASTE ASBESTOS (DUST AND FIBERS)
Documents on hazardous substances like White Chrysotile Asbestos and incurable diseases must be made available in Indian languages
May 15, 2015: Following opposition by Russia, Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan and Zimbabwe to the listing of White Chrysotile Asbestos , UN Rotterdam Convention’s Seventh Conference of Parties (COP7) agreed to postpone the issue of its inclusion for consideration by COP8. Unlike these countries, Inventory of Hazardous Chemicals Import in India prepared by Union Ministry of Environment & Forests, Government of India lists 'Asbestos' at serial no. 26 as one of the 180 hazardous chemicals imported in India.
In a bizarre act while Government of India has technically banned asbestos mining, it continues to allow import and export of asbestos. "In view of the deleterious effect of asbestos mining on health of the workers, the government has ordered the State governments in 1986 not to grant any new mining lease for asbestos (including Chrysotile variety) in the country" as per Government of India’s letter with reference no. 7/23/84-AM-III/AM-VI dated 09.07.1986, Government must make India asbestos free by rectifying the irrationality of banning mining of asbestos but continuing its trade.
Incidentally, United Nations Committee of Experts on the Transportation of Dangerous Goods classifies Chrysotile Asbestos in Hazard Class and Packing Group, UN number 2590, Class 9 – Miscellaneous dangerous goods and articles. Its International Maritime Dangerous Goods (IMDG) Code is UN No: 2590: Class or division 9.
Notably, all the forms of asbestos including Actinolite asbestos, Anthophyllite, Amosite asbestos, Crocidolite and Tremolite are already in the PIC list except White Chrysotile Asbestos. While there is a genral prohibition on production, importation, commercialization and use of Asbestos fibres Amphiboles forms (Crocidolites, Amosite, Actinolite, Tremolite, Anthophyllite) and products formulated on its basis but India gives "Consent to import only subject to specified conditions" for Anthophyllite. Ban Asbestos Network of India (BANI) has been struggling to ensure its inclusion of all kinds of asbestos in the Convention’s hazardous substances list.
The inclusion of Chrysotile Asbestos in Annex III to the Rotterdam Convention on the Prior Informed Consent (PIC) Procedure for Certain Hazardous Chemicals and Pesticides in International Trade was on the agenda of its CoP 7. It was part of matters related to the implementation of the Convention through consideration of chemicals for inclusion in Annex III to the Convention through UN document no. UNEP/FAO/RC/COP.7/11. The chemicals in the PIC list are clearly divided into two groups: industrial chemicals and pesticides. Parties make import responses for each chemical and the responses are published in the PIC Circular. The criteria for listing a chemical in Annex III are contained in Annex II of the Convention.
In accordance with articles 5 and 7 of the Convention, the Chemical Review Committee (CRC) at its second meeting recommended the listing of chrysotile asbestos in Annex III to the Convention, approved the text of a draft decision guidance document on chrysotile asbestos (UNEP/FAO/RC/COP.7/11/Add.1, annex) and decided to forward the recommendation and the draft decision guidance document to the Conference of the Parties for consideration.
At its third meeting, the Conference of the Parties deliberated on the inclusion of chrysotile asbestos in Annex III to the Convention and, by paragraph 2 of decision RC-3/3, decided that the requirements set out in article 5, including the criteria set out in Annex II to the Convention as referenced in paragraph 6 of article 5 of the Convention, the requirements set out in paragraph 1 of article 7 of the Convention and the requirements set out in the first sentence of paragraph 2 of Article 7 of the Convention on the process for listing in Annex III to the Convention, had been met. The Conference of the Parties, however, did not reach consensus on whether to list chrysotile asbestos and, by paragraph 1 of decision RC-3/3, decided to further consider the amendment of Annex III to the Rotterdam Convention to include chrysotile asbestos at its fourth meeting.
At its fourth and fifth meetings, the Conference of the Parties deliberated on the inclusion of chrysotile asbestos in Annex III to the Rotterdam Convention, but was not able to reach consensus. At the fifth meeting of the Conference of the Parties, the contact group on candidate chemicals prepared a draft decision on follow-up action by the Chemical Review Committee on the listing of chrysotile asbestos. As the chemical was not listed, the Conference of the Parties agreed to annex the draft decision to the report of the Conference on the work of its fifth meeting for possible consideration at a future meeting (UNEP/FAO/RC/COP.5/26, annex IV).
Following discussions at its sixth meeting, the Conference of the Parties decided, given the lack of consensus, to include further consideration of the listing of chrysotile asbestos in Annex III to the Convention on the agenda of its seventh meeting (UNEP/FAO/RC/COP.6/20, para.79).
At CoP 7, the proposed action included parties to satisfy themselves that all the requirements for listing in Annex III have been met after considering the recommendation of the CRC to make chrysotile asbestos subject to the prior informed consent procedure and accordingly to list the chemical in Annex III to the Convention. Following which they were supposed to decide to amend Annex III to the Convention to list Chrysotile Asbestos, the industrial chemical. It was also supposed to decide that this amendment to enter into force for all parties on 15th September 2015 after approving the draft decision guidance document on chrysotile asbestos. But the proceedings did not proceed as proposed.
On 14th May, 2015, COP7 considered the inclusion of chrysotile asbestos in Annex III of the Convention (UNEP/FAO/RC/COP.7/11) but owing to opposition from interested parties like the Russia, Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan and Zimbabwe, the issue of listing of chrysotile asbestos has been deferred yet again for consideration by CoP8.
The obligations of the Convention on responsible trade fall on those exporting countries that are Parties to the Convention. The Convention requires countries to strengthen their own chemicals management infrastructures and enforcement mechanisms. The Convention includes final regulatory actions (bans or severe restrictions) where the action was taken for the purposes of human health OR environmental reasons but mere listing does not lead to ban. The inclusion of chemicals in Annex III is not an invitation for Parties to ban their use. The purpose of the prior informed consent procedure is to allow countries to make their own informed decisions on future imports of the chemical depending on their own needs, circumstances and uses of the chemical. However, if a Party decides not to allow any future import of a PIC chemical, then they must also ensure that any domestic manufacture and use of the chemical is banned. Imports of the chemical from non-Parties to the Convention should also not be allowed.
As at 31 October 2014, there were 154 parties to the Convention. During the reporting period (June 2013 to December 2014), four States- Afghanistan, Cambodia, Sao Tome and Principe and Indonesia acceded to or ratified the Convention.
The substances listed in the Annex III include Alachlor, Aldicarb, Aldrin, Azinphos-methyl, Binapacryl, Captafol, Chlordane, Chlordimeform, Chlorobenzilate, DDT, Dieldrin, Dinitro-ortho-cresol (DNOC) and its salts (such as ammonium salt, potassium salt and sodium salt), Dinoseb and its salts and esters, EDB (1,2-dibromoethane), Endosulfan, Ethylene dichloride, Ethylene oxide, Fluoroacetamide, HCH (mixed isomers), Heptachlor, Hexachlorobenzene, Lindane (gamma-HCH), Mercury compounds, including inorganic mercury compounds, alkyl mercury compounds and alkyloxyalkyl and aryl mercury compounds, Monocrotophos, Parathion, Pentachlorophenol and its salts and esters, Toxaphene (Camphechlor), Tributyl tin compounds, Dustable powder formulations containing a combination of benomyl at or above 7%, carbofuran at or above 10% and thiram at or above 15%, Methamidophos (Soluble liquid formulations of the substance that exceed 600 g active ingredient/l), Methyl-parathion (Emulsifiable concentrates (EC) at or above 19.5% active ingredient and dusts at or above 1.5% active ingredient), Phosphamidon (Soluble liquid formulations of the substance that exceed 1000 g active ingredient/l), Actinolite asbestos, Anthophyllite, Amosite asbestos, Crocidolite, Tremolite, Commercial octabromodiphenyl ether (including Hexabromodiphenyl ether and Heptabromodiphenyl ether), Commercial pentabromodiphenyl ether (including tetrabromodiphenyl ether and pentabromodiphenyl ether), Perfluorooctane sulfonic acid, perfluorooctane sulfonates, perfluorooctane sulfonamides and perfluorooctane sulfonyls, Polybrominated Biphenyls (PBBs), Polychlorinated Biphenyls (PCBs), Polychlorinated Terphenyls (PCTs), Tetraethyl lead, Tetramethyl lead and Tris (2,3 dibromopropyl) phosphate.
The list includes all forms of asbestos except white chrysotile asbestos.
The seventh meeting of the Conference of the Parties to the Rotterdam Convention (RC COP-7) was held from 4th to 15th May, 2015 simultaneously with the twelfth meeting of the Conference of the Parties to the Basel Convention (BC COP-12) and the seventh meeting of the Conference of the Parties to the Stockholm Convention (SC COP-7). The meetings included joint sessions among two or three of the conferences of the parties on joint issues. The theme for the meetings of the conferences of the parties to the Basel, Rotterdam and Stockholm conventions was ‘From science to action, working for a safer tomorrow’.
In many countries, there are general provisions that do not allow the use or importation of any chemical that is not registered or approved. India should adopt such provisions and consider applying them to white chrysotile asbestos.
Ban Asbestos Network of India (BANI) is a collective of researchers and social workers working for environmental and occupational health justice in general and for elimination of asbestos of all kinds from trade and use. It is struggling for just compensation for victims of primary and secondary exposure, decontamination of asbestos laden buildings and products and advocating adoption of non-hazardous alternatives to killer fibers of asbestos. It isn’t structurally associated with the transnational alliances working for asbestos free world. It is involved in struggling for a safe working and living conditions for workers in the asbestos based industries, ship breaking industry, construction industry, defence industry and other businesses. BANI’s work is independent public interest research and advocacy work with grass root organizations for safeguarding health of present and future generations.
BANI demands strict implementation of occupational health surveillance scheme through pre employment health examination and periodic health examination in industries where is possibility of exposure to airborne asbestos. Such scheme for health surveillance must include exposure data at each pertinent work place, periodical examination of workers, X-ray examination for radiological changes, lung function test for restrictive disorder and clinical examination for early detection of signs of asbestosis. These tests must be recorded for pre-employment, periodic surveillance and at cessation of employment. Occupational health surveillance must be carried out by occupational physician or chest physician trained in occupational medicine. The occupational health surveillance program must be drawn for all the employees potentially exposed to asbestos dust and it is to be provided free of cost.
BANI demands maintenance and storage of medical records for period of 15 years following the termination of employment or for 40 years after first day of employment, whichever is later by employers, government agencies and workers organizations. The medical records must be maintained covering the details of pre-employment examination, the periodical medical examinations, medical examination done at other times, if any and the medical examinations conducted at cessation of employment and further follow-up examinations, where done.
BANI demands that individual employees’ occupational exposure profile to asbestos, specific work practices, and preventive measures including plan for management of asbestos related diseases prescribed must be recorded.
BANI will continue to work for the inclusion of white chrysotile asbestos in the UN list. Its efforts have led to inclusion of asbestos in the Inventory of Hazardous Chemicals Import in India and inclusion of Waste Asbestos (Dust and Fibers) in the list of Hazardous Wastes Prohibited for Import and Export under Schedule VI of Hazardous Wastes (Management, Handling and Transboundary Movement) Rules, 2008 under the Environment (Protection) Act, 1986. Its efforts led to the finding that 16 % workers in the shipbreaking industry occupationally exposed to asbestos.
Notably, “Buying asbestos is buying akin to buying cancer. I will get asbestos removed from my residence. The ache of asbestos hazards is worse than the ache of unemployment” said Awadesh Narain Singh, Chairman, Bihar Legislative Council, in a speech available on www.youtube.com
The Report of Working Group on Occupational Safety and Health, Xth Five Year Plan, Planning Commission observed that the workers are also exposed to a host of hazardous substances, which have a potential to cause serious occupational diseases such as asbestosis. It revealed substantial prevalence of occupational health disorders amongst the workers such as Asbestosis. The prevalence rate for Asbestosis was reported to be 7.25%.
The Vision Statement of Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change recommends phase out of chrysotile asbestos saying, "Alternatives to asbestos may be used to the extent possible and use of asbestos may be phased out."
The Concept Paper of Union Ministry of Labour presented at Fifth India-EU Seminar states, “The Government of India is considering the ban the mining and use of chrysotile asbestos in India to protect the workers and the general population against primary and secondary exposure to Chrysotile form of Asbestos.”
Under Indian 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.
Irrespective of the outcome of the CoP 7 given the fact that domestic laws are intact, it is high time Prime Minister intervened to ensure that Union Ministry of Chemicals and Fertilizers and Union Ministry of Commerce and Industry are not overwhelmed by Asbestos Cement Products Manufacturers Association, a so-called not for profit organization, involved in persuading government representatives to give priority to the profit of the indefensible asbestos industry and to undermine public health concerns of present and future generations.
As usual the working language for the UN conference was Arabic, Chinese, English, French, Russian and Spanish. BANI demands that documents related to hazardous substances, whose exposure entails matters of life and death must be made available in Indian languages as well for greater public awareness, participation and action.
For Details: Gopal Krishna, Ban Asbestos Network of India (BANI)-ToxicsWatch Alliance (TWA), Mb: 08227816731, 09818089660, Efirstname.lastname@example.org, Blog:banasbestosindia.blogspot.in Web: www.toxicswatch.org