Boycott all asbestos-containing products

BANI appeals to citizens to boycott all asbestos-containing products, and thus save themselves from asbestos exposure.

After the Mumbai flood disaster like Tsunami, the victims should not be exposed to asbestos building materials in the name of providing housing for their relief. Even as the Minerals and Metals Trading Corporation (MMTC) under the Ministry of Commerce continues to trade in white asbestos and its products, asbestos is now a totally banned substance throughout all 25-member countries of the European Union (EU), thus taking the number of countries which have banned asbestos to almost 40. This is happening in a situation where Union Ministry of Health and Ministry of Environment and Forests have different views on whether white asbestos (chrysotile) causes cancer or not. The former has informed Parliament that it’s a carcinogen and the latter has informed Parliament that it’s a non-carcinogen.

Unmindful of the fact that even the white asbestos industry acknowledges its cancer causing nature, the Union Government is allowing the confusion to persist with an estimated 30 deaths of workers happening every day in India.

A five-year phase-out period which was permitted under European Commission Directive 1999/77/EC ended on January 1, 2005. According to the written procedure signed on July 26, 1999, the introduction of new applications of asbestos cement materials, friction products, seals and gaskets is prohibited; the restrictions apply to chrysotile (white asbestos), amosite and crocidolite having previously been banned.

In India, grant of fresh mining leases and renewal of existing mining leases for asbestos are at present banned on health grounds. The lease of most of the pre-existing mines would expire in February 2005 and they would most likely be not renewed further. Also blue and brown asbestos and asbestos waste is banned in the country, it’s only the white asbestos which remains to be banned.

The European directive states: "No threshold level of exposure has yet been identified below which chrysotile asbestos does not pose carcinogenic risks." Highlighting the risks from intermittent exposure, it maintains: "An effective way of protecting human health is to prohibit the use of chrysotile asbestos fibres and products containing them." World Trade Organization and all concerned UN agencies have corroborated this but Indian Government is pretending to be deaf and blind to the incontrovertible evidence against white asbestos.

Of the 15 original EU member states only Portugal and Greece were still using asbestos when the EU ban came into force; many of the new EU members had banned asbestos in the run-up to their joining the Community.

The EU asbestos ban marks a landmark in the global campaign to ban asbestos. The fact that 450 million Europeans refuse to use asbestos cannot help but influence decisions taken elsewhere. If asbestos is too hazardous for Europeans, surely it is too hazardous for Indians as well.

Earlier Global Asbestos Congress 2004 in Tokyo with representation from 40 countries and regions all over the world also called for ban on asbestos mining, use, trade and recycling all the countries. Safe removal and disposal of asbestos must be carried out according to established rules and procedures. It also called for an immediate moratorium on the use of asbestos in cyclone, earthquake and war affected areas.

In view of the devastating health effects of all forms of asbestos, a proven carcinogen, Ban Asbestos Network of India (BANI) endorsed this declaration and has collaborated with trade union groups like CITU, AITUC, HMS and others who have also called for ban on continuing use of white asbestos. Citizen groups and even economists who critiqued the Budget supported its condemnation of Union Budget 2004 for promotion of white asbestos.

BANI and trade union groups demand protection of workers and the public. Workers and the public who may be exposed to products containing asbestos must be protected by means of adequate risk management procedures developed with the active participation of these people. The rehabilitation of environmentally damaged areas should be a priority.

Asbestos victims and their families must have prompt medical treatment and equitable compensation. Empowerment of the victims and their families in participating in local campaigns and taking direct action should be given a high priority.

It calls for promotion of alternatives of white asbestos. Every effort should be made to secure a just transition and social protection for workers and communities affected by asbestos bans. Any transfer of asbestos production and asbestos containing products and wastes to countries in industrial development must be prevented.

Awaiting government's prompt action, BANI appeals to the citizens to boycott all asbestos containing products to save themselves from asbestos exposure in the context of a global asbestos epidemic.

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