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Move to Lift Ban on Asbestos Mining condemned due to incurable lung diseases caused by asbestos fibers

Written By Krishna on Monday, November 26, 2012 | 1:15 AM

Press Release

Move to lift ban on asbestos mining by Ministry of Mines after Labor and Environment Ministry’s announcement to ban asbestos condemned  

Ministries of Commerce, Finance & Rural Development should stop their patronage to asbestos industry    

New Delhi November 26, 2012: Public health and environmental groups condemned the Union Ministry of Mines’ move to lift ban on asbestos mining after Labor and Environment Ministry’s announcement to ban asbestos. ToxicsWatch Alliance (TWA) has written to the Union Minister of Mines urging him to desist from causing public health disaster by lifting technical ban on asbestos mining. The letter is attached.

It is quite sad that Union Minister of Mines, Dinsha Patel in a written reply to a question in Lok Sabha informed the Parliament that they are about to lift the ban on mining of asbestos after the finalisation of guidelines for mining leases of asbestos.

It is high time Union Minister of Mines, Dinsha Patel took note of the what Union Ministry of Labour revealed that 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" at page no. 28 of its attached concept paper at the two-day 5th India-EU Joint Seminar on “Occupational Safety and Health” during 19-20 September, 2011.  The paper is attached.

Union Minister of Mines should desist from allowing asbestos mining in the light of what is stated at page no. 12 of the Vision Statement on Environment and Health of Union Ministry of Environment & Forests that reads: "Environmental epidemiological studies are required to be carried out near to industrial estates and hazardous waste disposal sites to estimate the extent of health risks including from asbestos. Alternatives to asbestos may be used to the extent possible and use of asbestos may be phased out." The document is attached is at available at http://moef.nic.in/divisions/cpoll/envhealth/visenvhealth.pdf

It is noteworthy that Rajasthan Government had withdrawn its request for lifting of ban on asbestos mining. This exercise by Union Minister of Mines appears to be influenced by the asbestos miners lobby from Andhra Pradesh. At present there is a moratorium on grant/renewal of asbestos mines as per a letter of Government of India dated July 9, 1986. Ban Asbestos Network of India (BANI) had given both oral and written submission in response to invitation from the Ministry of Mines. It had cited international and national precedents to persuade the Ministry from succumbing to pressure from the asbestos miners of Andhra Pradesh.

It may be noted that the liability for asbestos related diseases remain a huge issue in the entire developed world leading to bankruptcy of hundreds of companies due to compensation money they have to pay to victims of asbestos related deaths and ailments. Dow Chemicals Company has set up a asbestos compensation fund of 2.2 BILLION US Dollars for the asbestos related liability of Union Carbide Corporation which is now its subsidiary in the aftermath of the Industrial Disaster of Bhopal.    

Due to growing awareness about asbestos related incurable occupational and non-occupational diseases caused by the exposure to its lung cancer causing fibers, villagers of Marwan Block in Muzaffarpur, Bihar have stopped the construction of a asbestos based cement plant. Following unprecedented resistance of the villagers of Marwan Block, the Chief Minister’s Secretariat ordered an inquiry into it in the backdrop of police firing and lathi charge. The plant has been closed now. Bihar State Human Rights Commission announced that the plant has been wound up. The villagers of Vaishali, Bihar and Sambalpur, Odisha too have stopped asbestos based plants from being set up.  

It is germane to note that Terms of Reference (TOR) that was awarded by the Experts Appraisal Committee, Industrial Project, Union Ministry of Environment & Forests to the project proponents for white asbestos based factories state that they should prepare a “Health Management Plan for Mesothelioma, Lung cancer and Asbestosis related problems in asbestos industries.” Till date this has not been done. Union Ministry of Health has informed the Parliament that exposure to asbestos causes incurable diseases like Mesothelioma, Lung cancer and Asbestosis.

Besides these, paragraph 14, 15 and 16 of the attached Hon'ble Supreme Court's order dated January 21, 2012 to assess the response of International Labor Organization (ILO). The ILO's resolution of June 2006 which is mentioned in the Hon'ble Court's order attached as well for ready reference.  
It is relevant for mines ministry to recollect the sad legacy of undivided Bihar, the unpardonable act of vanishing hazardous companies and the asbestos mines in places like Roro Hills in Chaibasa, West Singhbhum. The death toll and the disease burden that has emerged due to this abandoned asbestos mine must be ascertained because it would provide valuable lessons in preventive medicine. The Roro hills is infamous for an abandoned asbestos mine.  It is estimated that nearly 0.7 million tons of asbestos waste mixed with chromite-bearing host rock lies scattered here and in 25 years no study has been conducted to assess the fate of this hazardous waste dumped improperly on top of Roro hills. The waste material extends several meters down slope spreading into the paddy fields on the foothills of Roro. About 40 centimeters of thick silty waste of crushed rocks is spread over the paddy fields and poisoning the local residents.

There is a need for an official health survey of 14 villages around the Roro hills and the former workers of the Roro asbestos mines by your ministry. There is a link between the asbestos exposures and several adverse health effects such as shortness of breath indicating respiratory ailments.

The local newspaper clippings from Singbhumi Ekta, a weekly from Chaibasa, published between January and August 1981, include a press release from the late P. Mazumdar, the leader of the United Mine Workers Union, affiliated to All India Trade Union Congress (AITUC) states that 30 workers from Roro mines had died of asbestosis. You may ascertain the fate of ex-workers from the Roro mines from Roro and Tilaisud villages. The Roro mines were closed down in 1983 after Hyderabad Asbestos Cement Products Ltd. (now known as Hyderabad Industries Limited) decided that they were no longer profitable even at the cost of human health in general and workers health in particular.

These developments merit the attention of Sudhanshu Pandey, Joint Secretary who is responsible for Environment and Labour in the Union Ministry of Commerce as well because his ministry is promoting asbestos trade from Russia, Canada, Brazil and other asbestos producers.

The Union Ministry of Chemicals took the right step on June 21, 2011 when it disassociated India from Canada and other asbestos producing countries in order to get white asbestos listed in the UN list of hazardous materials.  The Union Ministry of Railways is working to make all railway platforms in India asbestos free.  Although Union Ministry of Finance has announced that asbestos related diseases will be covered under Rashtriya Swasthya Bima Yojana (National Health Insurance Scheme) it is hardly sufficient in the absence of environmental and occupational infrastructure. It is high time P Chidrambaram, Union Finance Minister withdrew fiscal incentives given to the asbestos industry since 1983 to discourage use of cancer causing asbestos based products in favor of safe alternatives of asbestos fibers.

The patronage given to asbestos industry from ministries of Commerce, Finance & Rural Development should be stopped to save the public health of present and future generations by taking cognizance of the considered views of ministries of Labour and Environment who favour ban on the killer fibers of asbestos.  It is quite shocking that Union Rural Development Ministry has been providing deadly asbestos roofs to the poor under Indira Awas Yojna unmindful of the violations of the human rights of the poor. So far Ministry of Mines has been aligned with ministries of labour and environment in its realization of incurable diseases caused by asbestos fibers.       

ToxicsWatch Alliance (TWA), a research and advocacy group that works on the impact of hazardous industries like asbestos industry urges Government of India to coordinate its own wisdom available in ministries of labour and environment and announce the ban on asbestos of all kinds the way more than 50 countries including Australia, Japan and South Korea have done.

For Details: Gopal Krishna, Convener, ToxicsWatch Alliance (TWA), Mb: 9818089660, Email:krishna1715@gmail.com, Web: toxicswatch.blogspot.com

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