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Grave health hazards from exposure to asbestos fibers

Written By Krishna on Thursday, April 19, 2012 | 11:13 PM


Shri A L Jarhad
District Collector
District Magistrate

Subject-Grave health hazards from exposure to asbestos fibers


This is to draw your attention towards the fact that Union Government is publicly revealing that it does not favour new asbestos plants in the country. "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, "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).

I wish to inform you about the Union Environment Ministry’s Vision Statement on Environment and Human Health (Para 4.3.1). It 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). The grave health hazards from exposure to asbestos fibers is not limited to workers alone. It poses a huge threat to consumers of asbestos based products, to the general public and those living in the vicinity of asbestos based plants.

I submit that National Human Rights Commission (NHRC)‘ has sent a notice to Chief Secretary, Maharashtra in the matter of incurable asbestos related diseases on July 6, 2011. (Reference: http://nhrc.nic.in/dispArchive.asp?fno=2334)

I submit that Union Ministry of Chemicals, Government of India has 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. India has taken a position that it considers chrysotile asbestos (white asbestos) as a hazardous substance.

I submit that 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 of asbestos-related diseases. (Reference: http://www.who.int/mediacentre/factsheets/fs343/en/index.html)

I submit that 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, the continued use of asbestos." (Reference: http://www.ilo.org/wcmsp5/groups/public/---ed_norm/---relconf/documents/meetingdocument/wcms_gb_297_3_1_en.pdf)

I submit that Bureau of Indian Standards (BIS)'s 'Guidelines for safe use of products containing asbestos' is outdated. There are grave concerns about asbestos exposures resulting in public health crisis world over that has compelled 55 countries to ban use of asbestos. In the absence of environmental and occupational health infrastructure in our country, the passivity of the state government cannot be deemed acceptable. Bureau of Indian Standards (BIS) should be asked to re-examine the 'Recommendations for safety and health requirements relating to occupational exposure to asbestos' besides examining non-occupational exposure to asbestos and standards for asbestos related material like asbestos cement sheets, asbestos cement pressure pipes and joints, asbestos cement flat sheets, asbestos cement building boards, asbestos cement cable conduits and troughs etc.

I wish to draw your attention towards ”New Delhi Declaration Seeking Elimination of all forms of asbestos including chrysotile from India that was adopted and endorsed by eminent scientists and doctors on 24th March, 2011 at a Round Table which happened immediately after the conclusion of International Conference on “Emerging Trends in Preventing Occupational Respiratory Diseases and Cancers in Workplace”. The conference was organised by Centre for Occupational Health, New Delhi supported by Union Ministry of Labour & Employment, ESI, DGMS and DGFASL in collaboration with Drexel University, US at Maulana Azad Medical College, New Delhi from 22-24 March. The conference was deeply concerned about asbestos related diseases and the alarming rise of asbestos in India.

I submit that sounding the alarm bells for Indians, Dr Alec Farquhar, Managing Director, Occupational Health Clinics for Ontario Workers, Canada said in a written statement, “We now have around 500 asbestos cancer cases every year in Ontario from a population of 13 million. If you (India) continue on your current path, you will multiply our death count by 100 times. That would be 50, 000 Indian workers dying every year from asbestos. In Ontario, we learned that safe use of asbestos is impossible. I urge you from the bottom of my hear, please do not make the same mistake as we made in Canada. Stop using asbestos and use a safe alternative.”

I submit that deeply disturbed by the state of affairs in India with regard to asbestos consumption, Professor Elihu D Richter MD MPH, Hebrew University-Hadassah School of Medicine, Israel said in a written statement, “All form of asbestos kill. India should bury asbestos, not people. Here is a case for examining whether those countries which export asbestos to India are committing a crime against humanity, because they are engaging in willful neglect. India should not repeat the mistakes of going back some 70 years which will kill tens of thousands of workers and their families.” Richter called on experts in human rights to reframe the carcinogen as a human rights violation to ban asbestos.

I submit that “No matter what mis-information comes of Canada or the Indian asbestos industry about Chrysotile, there is no question that science has shown that Chrysotile causes asbestosis, lung cancer and mesothelioma. This is the conclusion of World Health Organisation. The International Agency for Research on Cancer, and other organizations that have no bisases except for protecting people’s health,” opined Prof. Arthur L Frank,PhD, Department of Environmental and Occupational Health, Drexel University School of Public Health, US at the conference.

I submit that delegates like Dr T K Joshi asked, "why does Canada apply strict measures domestically to protect the health of Canadians handling asbestos and yet exports asbestos to developing countries such as India, where the capacity to implement and monitor the application of similar precautionary measures is inadequate?" Dr. T.K. Joshi is a Fellow, Collegium Ramazzini, Italy, an independent, international academy founded in 1982 by Irving J. Selikoff, Cesare Maltoni and other eminent scientists. The academy comprises of 180 internationally renowned experts in the fields of occupational and environmental health. The mission of the Collegium Ramazzini is to advance the study of occupational and environmental health issues and to be a bridge between the world of scientific discovery and the social and political centers which must act on the discoveries of science to protect public health.

I submit what Prof (Dr) Qamar Rahman, fellow of National Academy of Sciences, Dean, Integral University, Lucknow & former Deputy Director, Industrial Toxicology Research Centre, Lucknow said at the conference. She asserted, “This is high time that Government of India should ban the use of asbestos in India. It has been proven scientifically that asbestos based articles such as roof ceilings, storage tanks will release fibers. The asbestos fibers will be the cause of exposure to our coming generations.”

I submit that “It is well known around the world that asbestos is hazardous to human health, and that there is no such thing as “safe use” of asbestos, just like there is no “safe cigarette”. The government of India would do better to aim for growth through development of safe industries, and to lower the prices of substitutes, rather than promote use of this hazardous substance,” according to Dr Yael Stein, MD, Unit of Occupational and Environmental Medicine, Hebrew University, Israel.

I submit that Lyle Hargrove, Chairperson, Occupational Clinics for Ontario Workers, Canada informed, “I believe that it is real Black mark on my Canada for exporting ASBESTOS to India. We have cities devastated by Asbestos Manufacturing in the sixties and 70s. Workers were dying from Asbestos diseases and others were Sick including people that work in the plants, their family was getting sick as well. I demand that Canada quit exprting Asbestos to India and quit mining in Quebec. Asbestos is too dangerous to work with and I believe there is no safe level.”
In view of the above, Maharshtra Government ought to stop such hazardous plants to save residents of the state from incurable lung diseases. There should be a moratorium on asbestos based hazardous industries and steps should be taken to phase out asbestos use and take immediate steps to ban this killer fiber to save the present and future citizens of the state and the country.

I will be happy to share more documents and academic papers to enable to take a considered view of the emerging public health crisis due to expsoure from killer fibers of asbestos of all kinds including whiet asbestos.

Thanking You

Yours Sincerely
Gopal Krishna
Ban Asbestos Network of India (BANI)
ToxicsWatch Alliance (TWA)
New Delhi
Phone: +91-11-2651781, Fax: +91-11-26517814
Mb: 9818089660


Shri, Prithviraj Chavan, Hon'ble Chief Minister, Government of Maharashtra
Smt Valsa Nair Singh, Environment Secretary, Government of Maharashtra
Shri Hemant Panchal, Member, Ban Asbestos Network of India (BANI), Dahanu, Maharashtra
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