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Enviro-occupational health crisis in shipbreaking & asbestos industry

Written By mediavigil on Tuesday, April 07, 2009 | 5:33 AM

A Round Table on occupational and environmental health in the shipbreaking and asbestos industry in the emerging national and international scenario at Indian Social Institute, New Delhi on 25 March, 2009 began with the screening of a famous documentary "IRONEATERS".

In the first half the Round Table it took stock of the occupational and environmental health aspects in the proposed UN's International Maritime Organization (IMO) international treaty on ship breaking, Indian Comprehensive Code on Shipbreaking and the recent order of the Bangladesh High Court and their implications for India. It also deliberated on the ongoing illegal beaching of some 125 ships in Alang. It attempted to uncover the state of affairs involving migrant casual workers, shipbreakers, cashbuyers, ship owners and ship owning countries culminating in Alang and emerging in Europe and other developed countries as a possible source of radioactive steel products.

The current goings on in this specific area of hazardous waste trade is happening even as parliamentary elections are underway. A new UN treaty to regulate or avoid regulation (of secondary steel production) is about to adopted under the manifest influence of shipowners at the upcoming International Maritime Organisation (IMO) meeting in Hongkong in the second week of May, 2009 to replace Basel Convention with reference to ship breaking/ship recycling.

The connivance of ship owning European countries like Germany, Spain and now IMO at their behest besides Indian Ministry of Shipping & others is quite stark in promoting & attempting to legitamize illegal traffic of obsolete & hazardous waste laden ships. They are out to ensure that the status quo of ongoing contamination of Alang beach & the adjoining community remains unchanged because it appears to them
that the marine environment and the most vulnerable workforce and villagers over here are "under polluted" and their interests and collateral damages can be bypassed for the greater common good.

In the second half the Round Table deliberated on the alarming rate of increase in the consumption of asbestos products, recent Kerala Human Right Commission's order on Asbestos, a new asbestos document by Union Ministry of Environment Forests and Asbestos liabilities of U.S. based company Asarco (formerly known as American Smelting and Refining Company) which is being bought over by London-listed Vedanta Group subsidiary Sterlite Industries wherein the agreement between Sterlite
Industries and Asarco involves Sterlite Industries assuming operating liabilities, but not legacy liabilities for asbestos and environmental claims for ceased operations. Earlier, Asarco had filed for bankruptcy protection in 2005 after it was sued for $1 billion over environmental clean-up and asbestos claims.

Unlike in Indian asbestos companies who are enjoying manifest immoral and unpardonable political patronage even U.S based Dow Chemicals Company has set aside $2.2 billion to address future asbestos-related liabilities arising out of its acquisition of the Union Carbide Company. It dwelt on asbestos and corporate accountability issue in the shipping industry as well. The fact remains Dow has not addressed the issue of its Bhopal liability in India as yet.
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