India's Wayward Asbestos Policy
India's ongoing love affair with asbestos shows no signs of abating. In the last five years, annual consumption has averaged 347,877 tonnes, making India the world's most important export market for asbestos. In the last twenty years India has consumed more than four million tonnes. While industrialized countries have banned asbestos and many developing nations have increasingly restricted its use, it seems that India is determined to go its own way on asbestos despite the international consensus that asbestos is a potent carcinogen which should be banned.
It is not well known that India mined asbestos on a small-scale for many years. Throughout this time conditions at the asbestos mines were perilous in every imaginable way, so it was a relief when official action was taken to curtail production, some time ago. However, on November 23, 2012 the Indian Minister of Mines told Parliament that draft guidelines were being finalized to secure safe working conditions for asbestos miners in Rajasthan. Once the appropriate safeguards had been approved, the granting of new asbestos mining licenses might be considered.1 This U-turn in government policy is a serious cause for concern.
Within days of this Parliamentary statement being made, news was released about India's decision to flout international regulations prohibiting the use of asbestos on ships. In 2004, India had agreed to purchase the Russian aircraft carrier the Admiral Gorshkov after a major upgrade had been carried out. Last week (December 4) an article in the Indian Express entitled: Gorshkov: India okays use of asbestos for boiler insulation2 reported that some of the boilers had malfunctioned during the ship's high speed sea trials causing damage to critical equipment. Contractors refitting the old warship had, it said, used asbestos-free insulation which had become misplaced inside the boilers. The Indian Navy has requested that asbestos insulation be used for the boilers during upcoming repairs. Commenting on this matter, Chief Admiral D K Joshi said the Navy, which had been unaware of the contractor's decision to use asbestos-free products, was confident that this being a sealed unit, the environmental degradation factor externally is negligible.
The use of asbestos contravenes prohibitions adopted on January 1, 2011 by the International Maritime Organization, the United Nations agency responsible for the safety and security of shipping and the prevention of maritime pollution by ships.3 IMO Circular 1374, Information on Prohibiting the Use of Asbestos on Board Ships, which is binding on all member states, including Russia which is selling the ship and India which is buying it, is unambiguous about the asbestos risk and the need to prevent any further use of asbestos on board ships Section 6 of the Annex of IMO Circular 1374 specifically states From 1 January 2011, new installation of ACMs (asbestos-containing materials) on board all ships will, without exception no longer be allowed.4
On the off-chance that Admiral Joshi was unaware of the IMO prohibition, a letter sent to him on December 10, 2012 highlighted the transgression of international rules that the Navy's decision constituted.5 Expressing surprise and shock the authors requested that the decision to use asbestos be reconsidered.
December 11, 2012
1 Statement to Parliament November 23, 2012. http://ibasecretariat.org/india_parl_quest_answer_asb_mines_2012.pdf
2 Pubby M. Gorshkov: India okays use of asbestos for boiler insulation. December 4, 2012.
3 Kazan-Allen L. Asbestos Prohibited on Ships. January 3, 2011.
5 Letter to Admiral DK Joshi. 10 December 2012.