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Labour Ministry Seeks Asbestos Free India

Written By Krishna on Saturday, December 10, 2011 | 4:08 AM

Press Release

Labour Ministry Seeks Asbestos Free India, Ministry of Mines, Environment Ministry, Ministry of Chemicals & NHRC Support it

Commerce Ministry under Asbestos Industry’s Influence

Compensation Fund for Victims of Asbestos Exposure Demanded

New Delhi, 10/12/2011-Union Government is publicly revealing that it does not favour new asbestos plants in the country. There is a compelling logic emerging for pre-existing asbestos based plants to shift to non-asbestos based building materials.

"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". A concept paper by Union Ministry of Labour revealed this at the two-day 5th India-EU Joint Seminar on “Occupational Safety and Health” on 19th and 20th September, 2011. (Reference: http://www.labour.nic.in/lc/Background%20note.pdf)

Union Commerce Ministry should resist asbestos industry’s influence in public interest and desist from signing the "Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement" (CEPA) with Canada that allows the export of cancer causing Canadian asbestos to India. The New Democratic Party (NDP) of Canada, the official Opposition party has revealed the efforts of Canadian Prime Minister, Stephen Harper government’s to eliminate trade tariffs on exports of lethal Canadian asbestos to India. “It is a disgrace that the Harper government has opposed the global effort to ban this substance,” NDP said in a release dated December 5, 2011. (Reference: http://www.ndp.ca/press/harper-government-plans-to-increase-asbestos-exports-to-india)

It is noteworthy that work is underway in the Canadian House of Commons to decontaminate offices and houses of Members of Parliament that contain asbestos. The offices are being decontaminated because asbestos is carcinogenic and harmful to human health. Will members of Indian National Congress led United Progressive Government, CCEA and Commerce Minister, Anand Sharma reveal whether they want the asbestos roofs in their own houses and offices to be made of carcinogenic chrysotile asbestos (white asbestos)?

Union Commerce Ministry should pay heed to what Union Environment Ministry’s Vision Statement on Environment and Human Health (Para 4.3.1) that reads: “Alternatives to asbestos may be used to the extent possible and use of asbestos may be phased out”. (Reference:http://moef.nic.in/divisions/cpoll/envhealth/visenvhealth.pdf)

It should respond to National Human Rights Commission (NHRC)‘s notice issued to it. NHRC issued a notice to the Secretaries of Ministries of Chemical Fertilisers, Environment and Forest, Health and Family Welfare, Industry and Commerce, Labour and Chief Secretaries of all the States/Union Territories in the matter of incurable asbestos related diseases on July 6, 2011.
(Reference: http://nhrc.nic.in/dispArchive.asp?fno=2334)

Government of India should also set up a compensation fund to provide compensation to the asbestos victims by making asbestos companies liable for knowingly exposing workers, consumers and citizens to asbestos fibers. It may be noted U.S., Dow Chemicals Company has set aside $2.2 billion in compensation fund to address future asbestos-related liabilities arising out of acquisition of Union Carbide Corporation (UCC) and its Indian investments in 1999. If Dow can assume responsibility for asbestos-induced illnesses among victims in USA, why then it should deny responsibility towards the victims of Bhopal and its continuing toxic legacy. UCC formerly made products containing asbestos, and UCC once mined asbestos for sale to customers. The mine of the UCC was sold in 1985. Hundreds of thousands of people have sued asbestos companies that made products containing asbestos. Many manufacturers of asbestos-containing products are bankrupt as a result of asbestos litigation.

Commerce Ministry appears to be pretending ignorance about Ministry of Chemicals’ position whereby Government of India rightly disassociated itself from countries like Russia and Canada on June 22, 2011 who derailed the international consensus that categorizes chrysotile asbestos as a hazardous substance under the UN’s Rotterdam Convention on the Prior Informed Consent Procedure for Certain Hazardous Chemicals and Pesticides in International Trade. Thus, India has taken a position that it considers chrysotile asbestos as a hazardous substance. Now it should take the next logical step and phase out asbestos use. Government of India should take immediate steps to ban this killer fiber to save the present and future citizens of the country from incurable lung diseases.

In such a backdrop, setting up of news asbestos plants in Bhojpur, Vaishali, Maddubani in Bihar is quite a anti-people step. Such new plants are coming up in UP, MP, Himachal Pradesh, Andhra Pradesh and other states as well. State Governments and central government should take immediate step to save people from incurable lung diseases. There should be a moratorium on asbestos based hazardous industries.

The World Health Assembly Resolution 58.22 on cancer prevention urges Member States to pay special attention to cancers for which avoidable exposure is a factor, including exposure to chemicals at the workplace. In 2005, with Resolution 60.26, the World Health Assembly requested WHO to carry out a global campaign for the elimination ofasbestos-related diseases.

The resolution of the 95th Session of the International Labour Conference of ILO in June 2006 stated, "Considering that all forms of asbestos, including chrysotile, are classified as known human carcinogens by the International Agency for Research on Cancer, a classification restated by the International Programme on Chemical Safety (a joint Programme of the International Labour Organization, the World Health Organization and the United Nations Environment Programme), it resolves that: (a) the elimination of the future use of asbestos and the identification and proper management of asbestos currently in place are the most effective means to protect workers from asbestos exposure and to prevent future asbestos-related diseases and deaths; and (b) the Asbestos Convention, 1986 (No. 162), should not be used to provide a justification for, or endorsement of, thecontinued use of asbestos."

Is Commerce Ministry listening? Are state governments and union government concerned about asbestos exposures and the glaring public health crisis in the absence of environmental and occupational health infrastructure in the country?

For Details: Gopal Krishna, ToxicsWatch Alliance (TWA),
E-mail: krishna1715@gmail.com, Web: toxicswatch.blogspot.com,
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