The Asian Age – High asbestos exposure creates killing fields

(Written by Rashme Sehgal)

23 June 2010 - India is fast emerging as the dumping ground of carcinogenic white asbestos whose exposure results in cancer. Fifty per cent of this white asbestos being imported to India comes from Canada which is heavily subsidising this industry but has drastically cut down its usage in its own country.

The Economic Development Agency of Canada and the Department of Natural Resources have given the Chrysotile Institute (formerly called the Asbestos Institute) $20 million to promote asbestos use in developing countries. Even in March 2010, the Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper sanctioned $250,000 to this institute.

Dr T.K. Joshi, director of Centre for Occupational ad Environmental Heatlh in Lok Nayak Hospital in Delhi has warned that “given the latency period for asbestos cancers, in another decade, we will witness a major cancer epidemic caused by asbestos at a point when this disease is on the decline in industrialised countries.”

Dr Joshi added that widespread asbestos use in India started in the 1980s but already 21 million people in the construction industry have been exposed to it. The Indian medical fraternity cites the example of how consumption of 1.6 million tons of asbestos in the UK produced the country’s worst epidemic of occupation disease and death.

India, like the other rapidly industrialising countries, is not collecting enough data on the morbidity and mortality coming from workplace diseases.

“The number of workers exposed could easily run into the millions,” Dr Joshi added.

BAN (Ban Asbestos Network) highlights that while Canada, Russia and Brazil export the cancer causing fibre to India, they have drastically curtailed domestic use. Sanjay Parikh, counsel for Research Foundation for Science, Technology and Ecology warns that, “presently, India importing 1,00,000 metric tones of toxic waste in India. This is a dangerous trend especially since asbestos is being left in open landfills where it can pollute both the atmosphere and ground water.”

Worried about the consequences of this waste, the ministry of environment and Forests is planning to conduct a study into this issue.

In the face of the massive asbestos exposure underway in India, the government has introduced a The White Asbestos (ban on use and import) Bill, 2009, in the Rajya Sabha but it has not moved since then.

The Kerala State Human Rights Commission has also ordered ban on asbestos use in the state.