Control of India's Asbestos Agenda Undermined
January, often regarded as the saddest month of the year in the northern hemisphere, has not been kind to Indian asbestos stakeholders. Developments this month reflect growing international concern over India's growing consumption of asbestos and illustrate the fears felt by many sectors of civil society over the consequences of using a carcinogen now banned in more than 50 countries.1
On January 14, 2010, a letter sent to the Chief Minister of New Delhi by members of the Collegium Ramazzini, an internationally-recognized body of eminent medical professionals, called on the government of New Delhi to impose a complete and absolute ban on all use of asbestos in all new construction of public buildings. The impetus for this letter was a meeting which took place in New Delhi in December between Chief Minister Sheila Dikshit and Collegium members invited to participate in a conference at the Maulana Asad Medical College.
In the letter sent to Chief Minister Dikshit, Dr. Philip Landrigan, President of the Collegium, wrote:
The rapidly growing use of asbestos in India will result in tens of thousands of cases of disease and many thousands of asbestos cancers. These cancers will occur in the workers who are installing, maintaining and repairing asbestos-cement roofs and pipes. Cancers and other asbestos-related diseases will result also in innocent by-standers, women and children among them. ... (the asbestos contamination) will create an epidemic of terrible and terribly costly disease that will cause immeasurable human suffering and hamstring India's economy.
The forces that advocate for continuing use of asbestos in India are formidable and well organized. Lies are their weapon. Manufacture of doubt is their strategy. They are deterred by neither scientific fact nor the considered rulings of the World Health Organization. Indeed, on Dec. 17, 2009, the opening morning of our conference in Delhi, the asbestos industry ran an advertisement in The Times of India claiming, 'Only safe white fibre is used in the manufacture of asbestos cement products in India.' This claim of safety in asbestos is an utter lie. It flies in the face of more than 50 years of solid medical science. The advertisement was strongly condemned by the conference.
As if criticism from such a prestigious and respected group of doctors were not sufficient to drive the asbestos lobbyists into a frenzy of despair, moves by Brazilian officials to bar imports of asbestos products must also be a worry for them. Reports received this month indicate a crackdown by port authorities and factory inspectors on the import from Asia of high-risk asbestos products such as compressed paperboard and paper card, no longer made in Brazil, which will be used in the manufacture of Brazilian gaskets and thermal insulation products. Shipments from India and China are currently being investigated.
January 19, 2010
1 Current Asbestos Bans & Restrictions. IBAS website. January 2010 revised.