Cancer Society Calls for Ban on Asbestos

Cancer Society Seeks Ban on White Asbestos

US Senate Committee passes Ban Asbestos in America Act Unanimously

Canada is the biggest exporter of asbestos to India. Taking cognizance of the hazards from this killer fiber, the Canadian Cancer Society has called for a ban on the use and export of asbestos. In a statement “Canadian Cancer Society Pursues Elimination of Asbestos-Related Diseases”, it has appealed to the Canadian government to adopt a comprehensive asbestos strategy, including the eventual phasing out of both the use and export of this substance.

“The Society believes that exposure to asbestos must stop so that asbestos-related diseases can be eliminated,” says Dr. Barbara Whylie, CEO, Canadian Cancer Society.

In India, Canada promotes the sale of Chrysotile Asbestos through Asbestos Information Centre (AIC) and Asbestos Cement Products Manufacturers' Association (ACPMA). India has banned all forms of asbestos except Chrysotile Asbestos (also known as White Asbestos).

Mining of asbestos and export of asbestos waste is also banned in India. Even if one asbestos fibre reaches the right place in the body, it causes irreversible damage - leading to Asbestosis, Lung Cancer or Mesothelioma- Biggest Man Made Epidemic. Thirty deaths are caused per day from asbestos-related diseases as per estimates based on US and European studies.

Ban Asbestos Network of India (BANI) supports the call given by the Society and the Ban Asbestos in America Act and urges Indian Government to take cognizance of it and do the needful. The unanimous and successful passage of Ban Asbestos in America Act of 2007 by the U.S. Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works and the call by the Cancer Society in July 2007 provides a compelling reason for the Indian Government to act with urgency against the massive use of asbestos in the country. Some 40 countries including European Union besides World Trade Organisation and agencies like International Labour Organisation (ILO) have realized that “safe and controlled use” of asbestos is not possible and consequently have banned all forms of asbestos because of the incurable but preventable cancer caused by this killer fiber. Given the ubiquitous presence of the fiber, there is no alternative to getting it banned in right earnest.

BANI is an alliance of scientists, doctors, public health researchers, trade unions, activists and civil society groups is working to persuade the Governments to give up its consistent and continued pro-asbestos industry bias and lack of concern for the asbestos-injured who die one of the most painful deaths imaginable. In developing its asbestos position, the Society wanted to ensure elimination of this harmful substance going forward, without forgetting either the people who have already been affected from exposure or those whose livelihood depends on asbestos.

BANI endorses the Cancer Society’s position that “Countries importing asbestos from Canada must be made fully informed of the health and environmental risks, safer substitutes for asbestos, which have been identified, should be safely phased into use, including safeguards for workers, a national surveillance system to track asbestos-related diseases must be developed. This system would assess the extent of asbestos-related diseases and it would track health outcomes for those suffering with asbestos-related diseases, a public registry of buildings that contain asbestos should be maintained.” It calls on India Government to support inclusion of Chrysotile in the list of Rotterdam Convention.

Asbestos industry in Canada consists of two companies with 800 workers at three mines in the towns of Asbestos and Thetford Mines, which is exported to countries like India, where it's used in cement, pipes and sheeting etc.

Meanwhile, one of Canada's largest asbestos producers, LAB Chrysotile, a company based in Quebec has filed a notice of intention to submit a proposal to their creditors under the Bankruptcy and Insolvency Act on July 25, 2007. This Act grants LAB a period of 30 days to submit a proposal. In a related development a former roofer, Jim Kingshott, 57 who contracted mesothelioma has been awarded over £160000 in compensation as per news reports dated 5 August, 2007. He was exposed to asbestos over a 20-year period in his job at Doric Co Ltd, based in Shoreham, UK. It is compensations like these that has lead to the bankruptcy of asbestos companies world over. But in India deliberate misdiagnosis of asbestos related diseases by government agencies has provided an opportunity for the industry to operate with impunity.

Both Asbestos Information Centre (AIC) and Asbestos Cement Products Manufacturers' Association (ACPMA) act like agents of Canadian asbestos industry. The Asbestos Information Centre (AIC) in India recently launched a Public Relations Campaign to publicize the benefits and advantages offered by asbestos”. (http://asbestos-institute.ca/india.html)

According to information provided by the Information Commissioner of Canada, “Canada is working with other countries to promote chrysotile asbestos. The Indian government has worked diligently in cooperation with the Indian AIC and the Canadian Asbestos Institute.” Canadian High Commission in India says, “A ruling which states that subjecting a worker to asbestos is a violation of human rights could have far reaching consequences whether or not it is binding”. It also notes, “AIC is of the belief that problems with safe use of asbestos will arise in the unorganised sector. These include small manufacturers who cannot afford to either install the equipment necessary to safely use asbestos or invest in the health needs of their workers.” AIC accepts that “unorganised sector does use imported products that they acquire through agents.” It is noteworthy that Indian Government consults and trusts this very AIC in matters related to continued use of Chrysotile.

The profound tragedy of the asbestos epidemic is that all illnesses and deaths related to asbestos are/were entirely preventable by not using asbestos. The threat to health was known and alternative viable substitutes were available. It is possible to eliminate the use of asbestos by redesigning the job or product, or by using another safer material.

Lust for profit and the lack of political will is letting the unpardonable criminal act of exposing humans to the killer fiber goes on and yet Canada calls itself a civilized country. Indian National Congress led coalition Government too remains a callous collaborator in the ongoing acts of barbarism. Government of India’s Office Memorandum NO.6 (6)/94 – Cement of the Ministry of Industry has stated: “The Department has generally not been recommending any case of Industrial License to any new unit for the creation of fresh capacity of asbestos products in the recent past due to the apprehension that prolonged exposure to asbestos leads to serious health hazards”. But under tremendous influence of the industry, the government has changed its stance and has not only ignored in the global evidence against this killer fiber but also has consistently made asbestos artificially cheaper.

BANI demands criminal prosecution of those responsible for letting workers and citizens suffer asbestos exposures. It is alarming to note the misinformation by the Chrysotile asbestos cement industry and AIC since they will have Indians believe that the pattern of asbestos is entirely different in India hence most of the diseases pattern seen in the West bear no relevance to the magnitude of Indian experience. It is in this backdrop that the outcome of the Chrysotile asbestos study by at National Institute of Occupational Health (NIOH), Ahmedabad is highly suspect because it has been partly funded by the Chrysotile asbestos industry along with Union Ministry of Chemicals.

Even a Committee headed Secretary, Union Ministry of Environment and Forests submitted to the Supreme Court in August 2006 that 16 % of the workers exposed to asbestos are suffering from asbestos related diseases. Although the apex court of India has ruled that the Government of India must comply with ILO resolutions, so far the ILO resolution (June 14, 2006) stating “the elimination of the future use of asbestos and the identification and proper management of asbestos currently in place are the most effective means to protect workers from asbestos exposures and to prevent future asbestos-related disease and deaths” has not been acted upon.

When the world is preparing and planning to get rid of all forms of asbestos, it makes India look stupid to be still importing it. Government should devote its scarce resources to prevent the impending disaster by banning it at the earliest.

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