Asbestos: Europe's Past, Asia's Future
Even as French asbestos victims get ready to take to the streets in protest over judicial inaction on a notorious asbestos scandal, Indian court officials have sanctioned the construction of yet another Rajasthan asbestos factory despite vocal and active protests by local people (see: Patna High Court Ruling). The use of asbestos in France has led to an epidemic responsible for thousands of deaths every year, a situation which may, tragically, be replicated in India. It seems that even in the 21st century no amount of knowledge is enough to curtail the unbridled use of a substance that is commercially viable even if it is also deadly dangerous.
The French protest, coordinated by the national asbestos victims group ANDEVA, will take place in Paris this afternoon (November 6, 2013, 2 p.m.). Thousands of victims are expected to take part in the demonstration to highlight the Advocate General's cancellation of charges against former members of the Permanent Committee on Asbestos (PCA), a loathsome industry group which manipulated the French Government's asbestos policy. As a result of the PCA's sustained propaganda campaign, the use of asbestos remained legal in France until 1997. An ANDEVA Press Release, headlined Responsible but Untouchable, expressed grave dissatisfaction over a judicial travesty which allows the PCA's executives, members and administrators the very people who created the climate in which workers, consumers and members of the public were exposed to cancer-causing material to escape prosecution.
In India, the manufacture of asbestos products is a thriving industrial sector with powerful and influential friends in and out of government.1 Experts estimate that more than 300,000 people process ~500,000 tonnes of asbestos a year in factories, workshops and industrial units throughout the country. With so much money at stake, there is no shortage of public relations spin doctors or medical and scientific experts willing to do the industry's bidding.
Indian industry front groups, masquerading as trade associations, carry out the same tasks as the reviled French asbestos propagandists did formerly. The Asbestos Cement Products Manufacturers' Association (India) is co-organizing a propaganda event and promoting it as an international scientific conference in New Delhi in December 2013.2 With subjects under consideration such as Safety in the Production of Chrysotile Products and Health Risk of Chrysotile Revisited there can be little doubt that the purpose of this two-day exercise is to persuade Indian officials, businessmen, journalists and consumers that asbestos can be used safely. The fact of the matter is that the only safe policy is to ban the mining, manufacture and use of all forms of asbestos. France's asbestos death toll is testament to the consequences of allowing the commercial exploitation of asbestos to continue. With increasing asbestos consumption, it is likely that India's death toll will exceed that seen anywhere in the world.
November 6, 2013
2 December 2013 Agenda for Asbestos Sham Conference in India.