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WHO calls for ban on all forms of asbestos to avoid health catastrophe

Written By Krishna on Saturday, December 08, 2012 | 7:53 AM

Press Release

WHO calls for ban on all forms of asbestos to avoid health catastrophe 

Incurable diseases from asbestos dust fibers as fatal as AIDS, Union Labour Secretary

DGFASLI reveals 36 out of 1000 workers suffer from asbestos related diseases

Government urged to pursue continued technical ban on asbestos mining 
New Delhi, Dec 8, 2012: On the concluding day of the 3-day International Meet on Climate, The Workplace and the Lungs," World Health Organisation (WHO) called for ban on all forms of asbestos to avoid health catastrophe because all types of asbestos cause lung cancer, mesothelioma, cancer of the larynx and ovary, and asbestosis (fibrosis of the lungs). 

In the presentations Ms Lesley Onyon and Prof. Ivan Ivanov of WHO underlined that “the most efficient way to eliminate asbestos-related diseases is to stop the use of all types of asbestos”. The officials from WHO suggested solutions for replacing asbestos with safer substitutes and developing economic and technological mechanisms to stimulate its replacement. They recommended measures to prevent exposure to asbestos in place and during asbestos removal (abatement) and improvement in early diagnosis, treatment, social and medical rehabilitation of asbestos-related diseases and to establish registries of people with past and/or current exposures to asbestos. Both Ms Lesley Onyon and Prof. Ivan Ivanov made their presentations during the conference on December 8 and December 7.  

In his valedictory address, Union Labour Secretary, Dr Mrutunjay Sarangi expressed worry about incurable diseases caused by past exposure to asbestos dust fibers which are as fatal as AIDS.

Praavesh Jugnundan, the Physician from Occupational Health Clinics for Ontario Workers Inc. categorically stated that there is no treatment for asbestos related diseases and the damages to the lungs are irreversible. It causes a horrible death from a horrible disease because the victim cannot breath. He dies of suffocation. In order to get rid of exposure, one has to get rid of asbestos. Since controlled use of asbestos is not working. We have to eliminate asbestos.   

Prof. Carol Rice, Department of Environmental Health, University of Cincinnati, USA underlined that the relationship between asbestos exposure and disease has been well documented.

Earlier, in her presentation Dr Linda S Birnbaum, Director, National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences and National Toxicology Program, USA stated that asbestos fibers and all commercial forms of asbestos are human carcinogens. Increased rates of mesothelioma, a rare cancer of the lining of the lung and abdominal cavity, and cancer of the lung, cancers of laryngeal, kidney and ovaries. Asbestos exposure increases the risk for systemic autoimmune diseases. Exposure to asbestos while in military is also an independent risk factor. It can also cause rheumatoid arthritis. She noted that asbestos related cancer was reported in 1935.

Dr. R.B. Raidas, Deputy Director General, Directorate General of Factory Advice Service & Labour Institutes. (DGFASLI) revealed that 36 out of 1000 workers have been found to be suffering from asbestos related diseases. He revealed that DGFASLI had studied some 8, 000 workers and found that some 228 workers were exposed. But he expressed his ignorance about whether they have been compensated.

The study of the Indian Bureau of Mines (IBM) recommending lifting of technical ban on asbestos mining which was quoted by the Union Mines Minister on November 23, 2012 in the Parliament was denounced at the conference. Prof. Arthur Frank, a Drexel University and Chair School of Public Health referred to study as an act of condemning the workers and their families to death. 

The mining of asbestos endangers not only the people working at the mine but also the people living in the communities nearby the mine who will be exposed to elevated levels of airborne asbestos. Asbestos-related diseases occur among general public as well, Gopal Krishna of ToxicsWatch Alliance contended and sought a recommendation against such proposed steps of the Ministry of Mines from the conference.

It was revealed at the conference that in a study done in the matter of shipbreaking industry some 30 workers found suffering asbestos related diseases. Neither the names of these workers have not been revealed nor have they been compensated. Dr H N Saiyed, former Director, National Institute of Occupational Health (NIOH), Ahmedabad stated that paying compensation to the victims of asbestos related diseases is a long process. He added, asbestos does not have a threshold limit. The best way to stop the diseases is to stop its use. Politicians are hiding behind absence of data which is not being collected. The fact remains that NIOH studies in the recent past has admittedly been co-sponsored by the asbestos industry. In pursuance of a direction of the Supreme Court, the study in the shipbreaking had found that 16 % of the workers were suffering asbestos exposure but anonymous sources had revealed that the real figure was around 60-65 % but the same was downplayed to avoid panic.             

The conference happened at Maulana Azad Medical College, New Delhi organised by Centre for Occupational and Environmental Health in partnership with Drexel University, School of Public Health, Collegium Ramazzini, Ministry of Environment & Forests, Ministry of Labour and Employment, Government of India and Heart of England, NHS Foundation Trust.

In a related development, Laurie Kazan-Allen, Coordinator of International Ban Asbestos Secretariat (IBAS) has sent a letter on December 7, 2012 to the Indian Minister of Mines and Secretary, R H Khwaja, Union Ministry of Mines saying, “There is no such thing as “safeguards” when it comes to mining, using, working or living with asbestos. Such is the position taken by all reputable international agencies including the World Health Organization, the International Labor Organization, the International Agency for Research on Cancer and the International Commission on Occupational Health all of which believe that banning the use of asbestos is the only sure way to protect human beings from the dangers of asbestos.[1]

She added, India is the world’s biggest importer of asbestos and the world’s second biggest consumer of asbestos having used around 321,803 tonnes of chrysotile asbestos in 2011. The situation in India has been described by Indian and international experts as a ticking “time bomb.”[2] IBAS urged the Government of India to uphold the previous decision which shut down asbestos mining operations as well as progress plans to phase-out asbestos use throughout India as has been done in more than fifty countries around the world.

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

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