Written By Krishna on Saturday, May 11, 2013 | 7:37 AM

India refers to cancer causing white asbestos as non –hazardous at UN Meet!


New Delhi, May 11, 2013: Ignoring the recommendations of WHO, ILO and the Supreme Court’s order, Indian delegation joined supporters of asbestos industry against human health and the environment at the .  Countries like Russia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Ukraine, Zimbabwe and Vietnam acted regressively to put profit of the asbestos industry before public health at the Sixth meeting of the Conference of the Parties to the UN's Rotterdam Convention on the Prior Informed Consent Procedure for Certain Hazardous Chemicals and Pesticides in International Trade (RC COP6), which concluded on May 10, 2013 in Geneva, Switzerland. Unmindful disastrous public health consequences due to exposure from carcinogenic fibers of white chrysotile asbestos, India became a partner of those who practice irresponsible trade.

The Rotterdam Convention requires that countries exporting hazardous substances practice responsible trade and obtain prior informed consent before exporting a hazardous substance on the Convention’s list, thus enabling countries to protect the health of their citizens and the environment. All Parties to the Convention have a duty to practice responsible trade and to respect the right of prior informed consent. It is all about responsible trade information practices. But as there was no agreement on listing chrysotile asbestos, RC COP6 could not adopt a decision with regard to its inclusion in the list of hazardous substances for the fourth time. Now the issue of listing chrysotile asbestos will automatically be on the agenda of RC COP7.

It is incomprehensible as to how Indian delegation allied itself in opposition to right of countries to prior informed consent. Even World Trade Organisation and World Bank have recognized that white chrysotile asbestos is a hazardous substance.

ToxicsWatch Alliance (TWA) expresses its outrage at the compromised conduct of the India delegation which ignored that chrysotile asbestos meets all the criteria for inclusion in the list of hazardous substances under the influence of asbestos industry. Their irresponsible conduct has contributed to the delay in action which has huge costs to human health and the environment. Barring seven countries including India all the other countries supported the listing by raising their flags at the RC COP6.

Indian delegation cited an admittedly tainted and doctored study of National Institute of Occupational Health (NIOH), Ahmedabad to argue that India cannot support listing of the white chrysotile asbestos as a hazardous substance. The influence of the asbestos industry on the government officials appears quite stark. TWA has written a letter to the head of the Indian delegation in this regard. The same is attached.

It is noteworthy that the expert scientific body (the Chemical Review Committee) of Rotterdam Convention has recommended listing of white chrysotile asbestos as hazardous substance for the fouth time. Chrysotile asbestos represents 100% of the global asbestos trade and, over the past one hundred years, 95% of all asbestos traded was chrysotile asbestos. There is an overwhelming scientific consensus that all forms of asbestos, including chrysotile asbestos, are hazardous to health. But for the past many decades, the asbestos industry covered up and denied the scientific evidence that all asbestos can cause disease and death. As a consequence, millions of people have lost their lives and continue to lose them. There is a case going on against the white asbestos in the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC), New Delhi wherein the applicant has demanded inclusion of white asbestos in the UN list.  

If what the Indian delegation has been made to say at the UN meet is indeed the case then how is it that Union Environment Ministry’s Vision Statement that says, “Alternatives to asbestos may be used to the extent possible and use of asbestos may be phased out”. The vision statement is here: http://moef.nic.in/divisions/cpoll/envhealth/visenvhealth.pdf.

The Terms of Reference (TOR) that is awarded by the Experts Appraisal Committee (EAC), Industrial Project, Union Ministry of Environment & Forests for Chrysotile asbestos based roofing factory asks the project proponent to prepare a “Health Management Plan for Mesothelmia, Lung cancer and Asbestosis related problems in asbestos industries” revealing its hazardous nature.

Given the fact that the delegation represents the voice of Government of India, how does Ajay Tyagi, head of the Indian delegation respond to the concept paper by Union Ministry of Labour presented at the 5th India-EU Joint Seminar on “Occupational Safety and Health” saying "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". The paper is available here:

If white chrysotile asbestos is not hazardous why its ban and phase out is recommended? TWA disapproves of such manifest inconsistency on the part of the government under the influence of the white chrysotile asbestos industry.

Briefing TWA about the goings at the UN Meet in Geneva, Dr Barry Castleman, a noted expert of asbestos who has worked with WHO and World Bank in an email communication from Geneva said that "The Indians distinguished themselves by objecting to the listing of chrysotile, Paraquat and PFOA. There were 2 representatives of the asbestos industry from India there.  The gov spokesman insisted that there was a study from NIOH that showed things were OK in the Indian asbestos industry and bristled when I told him that was scandalously influenced by the asbestos industry" on May 8, 2013.

It may be noted that Supreme Court’s judgement of January 27, 1995 in the Writ Petition (Civil) No. 206 of 1986 refers to the book of Dr Castleman, at paragraph 18, reads: “In Asbestos Medical and Legal Aspects by Barry I. Castleman at p.10 had stated that Dr. Merewether following the diagnosis by Homburter in his coincidence of Primary Carcinoma at the Lungs and Pulmonary Asbestos 1943 stated that fibrosis of the lungs as it occurs among asbestos workers as the slow growth of fibrous tissue (scar tissue) between the air cells of the lungs whenever the inhaled dust comes to rest. While new fibrous tissue is being laid down like a spider's web that deposited earlier gradually contract. This fibrous tissue is not only useless as a substitute for the air cells, but with continued inhalation of the casuative dust, by its invasion of new territory and consolidation of that already occupied, it gradually, and literally strangles the essential tissues of the lungs.”
Documents unearthed under the Right to Information Act reveal how white asbetsos industry added Rs. 16 lakh to the government’s Rs. 44 lakh to commission a study by the NIOH to “specifically indicate how technology has made working conditions [in asbestos factories] better.”

The discredited study is titled “Implementation of Rotterdam Convention on Prior Informed Consent Procedures — Study of Health Hazards/Environment Hazards Resulting from the Use of Chrysotile Variety of Asbestos in the Country.” The minutes of the Review Committee for the NIOH study obtained through the Right to Information Act, dated December 19, 2006, read: “The report will be finalised after due discussions with the asbestos industry.” Another meeting minutes, dated April 18, 2007, report that “...the results of the study which was under way could not be shared [with public] till the same was finalised.”
Not only that the predisposition of the NIOH study is revealed from a letter dated 24.4.2006 from Under Secretary to the Government of India, Dept. of Chemicals and Petrochemicals, Union Ministry of Chemicals and Fertilisers to Director, NIOH: “the deliverables will include generation of data which would justify the safe standards of its usage as also the reasons/rationale justifying its non-inclusion/or otherwise in the PIC ambit…”.

Clearly, a scientific study that is finalised after discussions with the corporate interests is grossly conflict of interest ridden. Citing of the NIOH study by Government of India at the UN Meet belittles its stature at world stage.

TWA demands a probe into circumstances and influences which compelled the Indian delegation to take such a compromising position although at the last RCCOP, it had indicated that it would support the inclusion of chrysotile asbestos in the PIC list. This sudden U turn merits inquiry.   
The NIOH study that has been exposed using the Right to Information Act was meant for stage mananged at the meetings of the Rotterdam Convention to rationalise its continued action on white asbestos. The Rotterdam Convention is a treaty which is a result the efforts of the UN. It came into force in February 2004.

It is factually incorrect on the part of the Indian delegation in Geneva to state that the experience with white chrysotile asbestos was not so bad in India based on a discredited and conflict of interest ridden study done by NIOH. The fact is that affidavits filed by several State governments in India before the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC), New Delhi reveal that such claims are totally misplaced.  

Government of India was compelled to admit that the NIOH study was funded by the white chrysotile asbestos industry in two separate replies in both the Houses of the Parliament after the same was revealed in a reply accessed using Right to Information Act. The replies were released by the Press Information Bureau. The urls of the replies is here:
Earth Negotiations Bulletin dated May 7, 2013 reported saying, "INDIA did not support listing, citing the utility of the substance, the finding of “no hazard” in domestic studies and the increased trade costs of the PIC Procedure." The bulletin is attached. The domestic study which reached the conclusion of 'no hazard' is with reference to the doctored NIOH study.    

Contradicting such misleading claims of the Indian delegation, Indian government agencies like Directorate General, Factory Advice Service and Labour Institutes (DGFASLI) took note of Prevalence of Asbestosis and Related Disorders in a Asbestos Fiber Processing Unit in West Bengal as early as in 1996. Reference: Prevalence of Asbestosis and Related Disorders in a Asbestos Fiber Processing Unit in West Bengal. The same is available here:

Even documents of Planning Commission of India contradict the claims of the Indian delegation at the UN Meet underway in Geneva.  

It must be noted that a Working Group of a Planning Commission prepared the Xth Five Year Plan on Occupational Safety and Health at the workplace under the Chairmanship of Secretary, Ministry of Labour, Government of India vide their order no. M-13015/9/2000-LEM/LP dated 27.04.2001In its 159 page report dated September 2001, the Working Group noted that “The workers are also exposed to a host of hazardous substances, which have a potential to cause serious occupational diseases such as asbestosis…” It has recorded that various studies conducted by the Central Labour Institute have revealed substantial prevalence of occupational health disorders amongst the workers such as Asbestosis. The prevalence rate for Asbestosis was reported to be 7.25%. It has been acknowledged that “At the same time the number of occupational diseases reported is very meager…This makes it evident that early identification of occupational diseases is required. It has recommended that “To meet these requirements, measures are needed for diagnostic facilities and appropriate training in the field of occupational health. Occupational health hazards and diseases to the workmen employed in asbestos industries are of great concern to the industries, Govt. and the public. The Honorable Supreme Court of India in its judgement dated 27th January, 1995 relating to the Public Interest Litigation No.206 of 1986 had given several directions concerning the protective measures to be taken against the hazards of exposure to asbestos at workplaces such as mining and manufacturing activities. In the light of Supreme Court directives, it is proposed to launch a comprehensive programme for the protection of the health of the workers engaged in hazardous industries with adequate mechanisms for monitoring of work environment and diagnosis and control of disease.”

The following chemicals was considered by the RC COP-6 for listing in Annex III to the Rotterdam Convention: Azinphos-methyl; Chrysotile asbestos; Perfluorooctane sulfonic acid, perfluorooctanesulfonates, perfluorooctanesulfonamides and perfluorooctanesulfonyls; Pentabromodiphenyl ether (CAS No. 32534-81-9) and pentabromodiphenyl ether commercial mixtures; Octabromodiphenyl ether commercial mixtures; liquid formulations (emulsifiable concentrate and soluble concentrate) containing paraquat dichloride at or above 276 g/L, corresponding to paraquat ion at or above 200 g/L.

TWA underlines that Indian delegation failed to support inclusion of white chrysotile asbestos in the Rotterdam Convention’s list of hazardous substances in order to protect public health. It succumbed to the influence of the asbestos industry which is obsessed with profit at any human cost. It demands an impartial inquiry into the conduct of the Indian delegation in Geneva which compromised public interest.

In a sad development, demonstrating scant regard towards human life in a second tragic incident of its kind, Dharmendra Kumar Rawani, a 35 year old worker was crushed to death on the conveyor belt of an asbestos factory operated by Utkal Asbestos Limited in early hours of May 10, 2013 in Gidhha, Koilwar Block, Bhojpur District, Bihar. The victim was from Rasoolpur village of Jehanabad district, Bihar. The asbestos factory has been closed following demonstration by All India Central Council of Trade Unions after the incident.  Paryawaran Sawatha Suraksha Samiti of Giddha has been demanding permanent closure of the hazardous asbestos factory. It has demanded Rs 10 lakh as compensation for the victim. It has demanded immediate medical checkup of all the workers who were working in the factory as it will indicate the adverse health consequences for the villagers who live in the vicinity of the cancer causing plant. Agitation against two asbestos factories of Ramco Industries in Bhojpur’s Bihiya is also continuing and the villagers have given representations against the factory to the Bihar State Pollution Control Board. Following bitter movement against the construction of asbestos factories in Bihar’s Muzaffarpur and Vaishali, the construction of these plants has been stopped permanently. The message is clear. If the government does not act, peoples’ movements will ensure that hazardous asbestos factories are treated as hazardous and not allowed.               

For Details: Gopal Krishna, Convener, ToxicsWatch Alliance (TWA)
Web: www.toxicswatch.org, E-mail: gopalkrishna1715@gmail.com, Mb: 9818089660
 Website of Rotterdam Convention: http://www.pic.int/

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