Tuesday 22 November 2011

Dying workers of asbestos mines and factories in Rajasthan


Chief Secretary
Government of Rajasthan

Subject-Dying workers of asbestos mines and factories in Rajasthan


This is to draw your urgent attention towards the dying workers of asbestos mines and factories in Rajasthan. A news report dated November 20, 2011 available at http://epaper.patrika.com/17194/Udaipur/20112011?show=clip#page=4:w=651:h=977:l=249:t=695
reveals that the workers of asbestos industry are dying one by one.

I wish to inform you that M.R.K. Pipes Ltd. has proposed Asbestos Cement Sheets manufacturing unit at village Sahibrampura, near RIICO Industrial Area (Kaladera), Tehsil Chomu, Jaipur for which environmental clearance was issued on 27 August, 2010. In view of the incontrovertible adverse health effects such plants should not be allowed to protect the lives of present and future generations.

An August 2008 report of the Central Pollution Control Board titled HUMAN HEALTH RISK ASSESSMENT STUDIES IN  ASBESTOS BASED INDUSTRIES  IN INDIA found, “asbestos fibre concentration in the work environment of all the asbestos mills, both at Deogarh and Beawer, exceeded the permissible standard of 1 f/cc. It is beyond doubt that workers in asbestos mills in Rajasthan are at serious risk of asbestos exposure…These observations further enhanced the serious risk of asbestos exposure in asbestos mills in Rajasthan.” The same hold true for manufacturing, processing or use of all kinds of asbestos in any form.  

I have learnt about the medical check-up was done in 2007 by National Institute of Occupational Health (NIOH) affiliated to Indian Council for Medical Research and a WHO Collaborative Center as part of their study that had identified 93 suspect victims. I have also learnt that 23 former asbestos mine workers from Jhadol in Udaipur district sat on strike in front of the Sub-divisional Magistrate’s office in Jhadol demanding the names and medical results of the affected workers who were examined by NIOH in 2007. NIOH had carried out a Comprehensive Evaluation of Health Status of Workers Working in Mines and Milling units in Rajasthan of 164 former asbestos mine workers from Jhadol region of Udaipur. The study found 93 suspected cases of asbestosis amongst the diagnosed workers as per information received under Right To Information Act.  In the meantime some 21 former workers have died and many are counting their last days. These victims merit urgent medical and legal relief from the state government.  The same fate awaits the other workers in other asbestos related factories, consumers, unsuspecting passersby and coming generations.

I take this opportunity to draw your immediate attention towards the fact that asbestos related diseases are also incurable despite this environmental clearances are still being given by the central environment ministry but health being a state subject, your government can act to safeguard the life of present and future generations by stopping it.

It is also noteworthy that the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) has sent you a notice dated July 6, 2011 to ascertain the status of diseases caused asbestos fibers in Rajasthan. A copy of the notice is attached.

It is sad that a killer fiber like asbestos which is banned in 55 countries is being used in Rajasthan to manufacture asbestos cement sheets disregarding the fatal health impact for present and future generations. This plant should be stopped to save residents from incurable lung cancer like diseases.

I submit that asbestos death toll has surpassed traffic fatalities in Australia. In US, every year 10, 000 people are dying because of asbestos related disease. There is an epidemic of asbestos diseases in Europe. In India, a silent Bhopal disaster is happening every year. The rate of consumption of asbestos in India is rising at an alarming rate due to budgetary support. Nearly all of India's asbestos is mixed with cement to form roofing sheets. Bolstered by asbestos import tariffs that have been reduced from 78% in the mid-1990s to 15% by 2004, the country's asbestos-cement industry is increasing by roughly 10% every year.

Since 2003, companies no longer require a special licence to import chrysotile asbestos. Some typical asbestos-based materials include sound insulation infill, thermal insulation lagging, tape, rope, felts, blankets, mattresses, asbestos boards, gaskets and washers, drive belts/ conveyor belts, roofing sheets and slates, drain and flue pipes, rainwater goods, fascia boards, bath panels, ceiling tiles, toilet seats, cisterns, bitumen damp proof course, lining to walls, lab bench tops, extraction hoods and fume cupboards, brakes and clutches, cooling tower elements and others.

I wish to inform you that factories of hazardous nature like those of Rajasthan Asbestos Cement Company, Avadh Asbestos Cement Company, Rajdhani asbestos company, B. K. Grindings Pvt. Ltd. Kanchan Minerals Pvt. Ltd,  Maharaja Asbestos Grinding Mills Pvt. Ltd, Osawal Minerals Trading Corporation, Cenera Minerals Pvt. Ltd, Guru Asbestos Pvt. Ltd, Gajanand Cement Asbestos Products Pvt. Ltd, Kamla Grinding Mills Pvt Ltd., Swastik Udyog Pvt. Ltd, Super Minerals Pvt. Ltd, A Infrastructure Limited of Kanoria Group of Industries, MRK Pipes Limited, Ankit Roofings Ltd, Hansa Asbestos Cement Pipe Industries, Himalaya Asbestos Cement Product Pvt Ltd, Himalaya Fittings Pvt. Ltd and several others should be made to phase out asbestos use and encouraged to adopt non-asbestos substitutes. There is hardly any building in Rajasthan which is asbestos free.

Since 1960, India has incorporated about 7 million tonnes of asbestos into its buildings. The health consequences are already apparent, but the scale of the problem is not clear because there is no documentation of disease caused by environmental and occupational factors. “The Government of India has a very poor, almost non-existent, system to record death and disease”, explains Arthur Frank from Drexel University , Philadelphia , PA , USA who was in New Delhi in March 2011. Besides, cancer is not a notifiable disease. Prof. Frank cited a hospital in Mumbai which sees a dozen cases of mesothelioma every year. Studies have shown high rates of asbestosis among workers in the industry, including in those whose exposure to the material has spanned less than 5 years. There has been no real assessment of [asbestos-related disease] to the point that you can get accurate figures.

Like Endosulfan, several attempts were made to include chrysotile asbestos (White Asbestos) on the UN’s prior informed consent list of hazardous chemicals. This year Government of India also agreed at the UN meeting to include it in the list of hazardous substances.

I submit that the verdict even by the World Trade Organization (WTO)’s Appellate Body (AB) validated the rights of Member States to prohibit the import and use of goods which contain carcinogenic substances such as chrysotile asbestos (white asbestos) is noteworthy. On March 12, 2001 the WTO's Appellate Body (AB) issued its ruling in the case of Canada vs. the European Communities Measures Affecting Asbestos and Asbestos-Containing Products. It noted that safe and controlled use of chrysotile asbestos is impossible.

India is the largest importer of asbestos, according to the UN Commodity Trade Statistics Database. Most of it goes into making corrugated roofing sheets as building material. It is for this very reason that the plant is proposed in Rajasthan as well.

Earlier, NHRC has passed an order in Case No: 693/30/97-98 recommending that the asbestos sheets roofing be replaced with roofing made up of some other material that would not be harmful.

I submit that the Annual Report of NHRC 2003-2004 refers to a Report entitled “Asbestos – Health and Environment – an in-depth Study “submitted by the Institute of Public Health Engineers, India. The study underlines that safe and controlled use of asbestos is not possible.

It is relevant to point out that asbestos waste (dust and fibers) has been treated hazardous in all forms and has been banned under Hazardous Wastes Management Rules farmed under the Environment Protection Act, 1986. In our country, approximately 50, 000 people die every year due to asbestos related cancer. But so far Government of India has failed to take a pro-people’s health position and a scientific stand on the import of chrysotile asbestos whose mining is technically banned in India.

It is relevant to note that Kerala State Human Rights Commission has recommended ban on use of asbestos roofs for schools and hospitals. In this regard, I may point out that your urgent attention is required.

In such a context, I appeal to you to take note of:

• Resolutions of WHO and ILO (2005 and 2006 seeking elimination of future use of asbestos including chrysotile asbestos worldwide

• Need to announce the compensation package for present and future victims of asbestos diseases as it has done in the case of Silicosis and make the asbestos companies criminally liable for knowingly exposing citizens and consumers of asbestos products

• Union Minister of Health and Family Welfare Ministry's statement in Rajya Sabha saying: "Studies by the National Institute of Occupational Health, Ahmedabad, have shown that long-term exposure to any type of asbestos can lead to the development of asbestosis, lung cancer and mesothelioma'' on August 18, 2003

• Deliberations of the International Conference on "Emerging Trends in Preventing Occupational Respiratory Diseases and Cancers in Workplace" at Maulana Azad Medical College, New Delhi in March 2011 following which New Delhi Declaration Seeking Elimination of all forms of Asbestos including Chrysotile from India on 24 March, 2011

• The fact that every international health agency of repute including the World Health Organization, the International Labor Organization, International Agency for Research on Cancer, Occupational Safety and Health Administration, National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, and the American Cancer Society agree there is no safe level of asbestos exposure. Most recently, the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) reconfirmed that all commercial asbestos fibers - including chrysotile, the most commercially used form of asbestos - cause lung cancer and mesothelioma. In addition, IARC newly confirmed that there is sufficient evidence that asbestos causes ovarian cancer and reconfirmed asbestos causes laryngeal cancer

• The World Health Organisation estimates that asbestos already claims 107,000 lives a year. Even that conservative estimate means every five minutes around the clock a person dies of asbestos related disease. The ongoing use of the asbestos fibre kills at least 300 people every day

• The scientific process of the Rotterdam Convention’s Chemical Review Committee to list chrysotile asbestos in the PIC list of hazardous substances

• World Bank's Asbestos Good Practice Guidelines. These Guidelines, as well as its earlier Environmental, Health & Safety General Guidelines, require that the use of asbestos must be avoided in new construction in projects funded by the World Bank around the world. The Guidelines also provide information on available safer alternatives to asbestos.

In such a backdrop, it is germane to ask as to why Government of Rajasthan should stop the mining, milling, manufacturing, procurement and use of all forms of asbestos including chrysotile asbestos.

It is submitted that Canadian government which exports chrysotile asbestos to India has removed it from Canadian Parliament and its Prime Minister's Home. India has technically banned mining of asbestos (including chrysotile) but allows import, manufacture and use of asbestos based products which are proven to be deadly!

You will agree that human biology is same everywhere if the asbestos is deemed hazardous in the developed countries; it must be deemed so in Rajasthan too.

In view of the above, it is your solemn duty to protect the residents of Rajasthan from the exposure of fibers of chrysotile asbestos.

All the groups working on human rights, labour rights, health rights and environmental justice will appreciate if you can intervene urgently in the matter of Chrysotile Asbestos as it did in the case of Endosufan when Kerala government acted.

I will be happy to share reference documents and more information in this regard.

Thanking You

Yours Faithfully
Gopal Krishna
ToxicsWatch Alliance (TWA)
Tel:91-11-65663958, Fax: 91-11-26517814
Mb: 9818089660
Email: krishna1715@gmail.com
Web: banasbestosindia.blogspot.com

Tuesday 11 January 2011

Rajasthan High Court issues notices on writ for asbestos mineworkers


The Jodhpur bench of the Rajasthan High Court on October 8, 2010 issued notices to respondents in a writ petition demanding compensation and medical aid for asbestos mineworkers. The petition was filed on behalf of the Rajasthan State Mine Labour Union.

Asbestos mines are situated in the Udaipur and Ajmer-Beawar region in Rajasthan. Considering asbestos as a hazardous substance, the Centre has banned issue of new mining leases and extension or expansion of them in 1986. Recently various mine labourers who had worked in asbestos mines in that region were found with asbestosis symptoms.

After hearing the arguments on behalf of the Rajasthan State Mine Labour Union, Justice Govind Mathur issued notices to the respondents for a final disposal of the petition and called upon the mining, medical, labour departments and the National Institute of Occupational Health (NIOH), Ahmedabad was asked to submit their replies by October 25, 2010.

Arguing on behalf of the Rajasthan State Mine Labour Union, advocate Sanjeet Purohit submitted that in 2006-07 the NIOH had made a health survey and found 80% of mineworkers in Ogana tehsil to be suffering from the deadly disease.

Despite this, neither medical aid has been extended nor compensation granted to the kin of deceased workers. Purohit said, after the survey, 10 asbestos mineworkers died last year.

Thursday 23 December 2010

Rajasthan Withdraws Demand for Lifting Asbestos Ban

Rajasthan government has withdrawn its insistent demand from the Union Ministry of Mines for lifting the ban on asbestos mining. 

In India alone more than 30 mines are operational in Andhra Pradesh and Rajasthan. About 2500 tonnes of chrysotile (Serpentine) and 36,500 tonnes of tremolite (Amphibole) asbestos are annually mined in India. Asbestos production at present is about 2000 tonnes per month from their own mines in Andhra Pradesh, Rajasthan and Bihar. In addition, India imports asbestos worth Rs 40 – 50 crores annually, without mentioning any remarks of hazardous product (Govt. of India., 1997,1999). The tremolite asbestos variety of amphibole group mined accounts 58% in Rajasthan. Tremolite and Anthophyllite are the largest amphibole deposits in Rajasthan known so far (Mansinghka and Ranawat, 1996).

In India asbestos mining and milling is concentrated to the mainly small-scale sector. Asbestos deposits in Rajasthan are primarily located in Beawar, Deogarh and Jharol ultramafic belts (Mansighka and Ranawat; 1996).

Rajasthan state had consistently raised this issue with the Union Ministry Mines till November, 2009 but its "Compendium of issues Pending with Government of India" dated February 2010 does not mention it.

Ban Asbestos Network of India (BANI) had written to the Chief Minister, Rajasthan and has been pursuing the demand for complete ban since 2002. It briefed senior leaders like Maharaja Gaj Singh, former Speaker of Rajasthan Assebly. Now the state is not interested in re-opening of asbestos mines although Rajasthan has the largest deposits and produces most low grade asbestos in the country.

There is technical ban on renewal and grant of fresh asbestos mining leases in the country due to the adverse effects on the health of those working in such mines. Asbestos fibres get embedded in lungs ultimately causing lung cancer and other incurable diseases.

BANI has been critical of the dubious role of some officials of Indian Bureau of Mines (IBM) who prepared a report at the behest of the asbestos mining lobby to allow lifting of ban on asbestos mining disregarding workers' plight.