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In Geneva, India U-turn on chrysotile asbestos

Written By Krishna on Tuesday, May 14, 2013 | 7:06 AM

In a dramatic turnaround, India has altered its earlier position and opposed listing of chrysotile asbestos as a hazardous substance at the sixth meeting of the Conference of Parties (COP-6) in Geneva.
Substances listed under annex 111 of the Rotterdam Convention of COP-6 demand that exporting countries must give details about the toxicity of the substances to importing nations in order that the latter can give their prior informed consent (PIC) in matters of trade.
In COP-6, India has, under obvious pressure from the asbestos lobby, taken a viewpoint that since chrysotile asbestos possesses utility, it cannot be brought under the ambit of the PIC.

But in 2011, during COP 5, India received a standing ovation when leader of the delegation Meera Mahrishi, additional secretary in the environment ministry, had declared at the plenary that chrysotile asbestos must be so listed.

The turnaround is all the more strange because the ministry’s own website has placed it under the list of hazardous substances.

The present delegation, led by Ajay Tyagi, joint secretary in the environment ministry, was not willing to go public on India’s changed stance but a senior bureaucrat cited a study conducted by the National Institute of Occupational Health (NIOH) and the department of chemicals and petrochemicals (DCPC) on the effects of the use of chrysotile asbestos on both workers health and environment.

The report stated that it was not hazardous and that it was within permissible exposure levels.
Panning the NIOH and DCPC study, Gopal Krishna, heading Toxics Watch Alliance, said, “We have done a series of RTIs to show that the asbestos industry was the major funder for the NIOH study. We also question why the Indian delegation to Geneva had included two representatives from the asbestos industry. We are planning to move court over this issue.”

Activists have been demanding that chrysotile asbestos be listed as a hazardous substance.
A similar recommendation has been made by the United Nations’ Chemical Review Committee which comprises a group of 31 leading scientists from across the globe.

India’s asbestos cement industry is a large consumer of chrysotile fibres and uses 85 per cent of its imports.
But the WHO has found this substance to be carcinogenic and claims that over one lakh people die every year due to exposure to it. The ILO has also called for a ban of this substance.

May 14, 2013
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