Italys Asbestos Mystery
The Italian Prosecutor at the center of the historic criminal prosecutions of former asbestos businessmen for the deaths of thousands of Italian citizens (see: Postscript to the Great Asbestos Trial) is now investigating reports of asbestos imports to Italy in 2012 despite the fact that the country banned asbestos a decade previously. Public Prosecutor Raffaele Guariniello has called on the polizia giudiziaria, the police authority working for the investigating magistrates, to trace deliveries and documentation for asbestos shipments from India to Italy.
Officials at Customs and Excise have not only confirmed that asbestos was imported but also established that these imports continued throughout 2014. As of now (January 14, 2015), no one has been charged or indicted over this flagrant breach of Italian law.
Guariniellos actions have been widely reported in the Italian media and were prompted by data published in February 2014 by the Indian Bureau of Mines. Figures in the asbestos section of the Indian Minerals Yearbook 2012 reveal that in that year India exported 1,296 tonnes (t) of asbestos, 1,040t (80%) to Italy. Amongst the countries listed in Table 12 as importers of Indian asbestos-cement products were Saudi Arabia (1998), Qatar (2010), Israel (2011), South Africa (2008) and Oman (2008), all of whom have, like Italy, banned asbestos. Investigations regarding these illegal shipments are also underway in Israel and South Africa.
The existence of this illicit trade was unearthed by Mohit Gupta from the New Delhi-based Occupational and Environmental Health Network of India. Mr. Gupta reported these findings to Italian asbestos activists who made this information known to the authorities. Welcoming the high-profile action taken by Prosecutor Guariniello, Mr. Gupta said:
Mines in India continue to produce asbestos despite a ban on mining in place for more than 20 years and the government agencies responsible brazenly report such production in their reports. Amazingly, these reports also proclaim that India, one of the leading importers of asbestos, is also involved in exporting asbestos fibres and that to countries which have banned all types of asbestos fibres. The authorities need to step up and ensure that the official statistics are not only correct but also ensure that the bans and laws in our country and other countries are not violated.
Attempting to corroborate the Indian data,1 ban asbestos campaigners in Nepal pointed out that not all Indian exports to Nepal come through legal channels. This explains, said Ram Charitra Sah, the mismatch between export (India) and import (Nepal) figures. To avoid paying taxes, the importation of asbestos and or asbestos-cement products to Nepal can and does take place without passing through customs. Of course this is illegal.
January 14, 2015
1 In 2011-12, the Indian Bureau of Mines reported that India exported 124t of asbestos and 2,691 t of asbestos-cement products to Nepal.