India: Asbestos Deaths Mount as Production Expands
Asbestos stakeholders continue to expand their manufacturing operations in India despite the foreseeable repercussions of the hazardous exposures experienced throughout the sector. A paper (2005) entitled Occupational Asbestos Exposure and Predictable Asbestos-related Diseases in India predicts:
a future occurrence of clinical asbestos-related diseases in asbestos exposed workers from mining, milling, and manufacturing as well as in those with secondary exposures to asbestos-containing materials, including construction and maintenance workers, users of asbestos-containing consumer products, and the occupants of asbestos-containing buildings.1, 2
The conclusions of co-authors Drs. Dave and Beckett are based on government reviews of industrial asbestos fiber concentrations which found levels:
of 200-400 f/ml in asbestos mills in Pullivendalla, Cuddaph, Andhra Pradesh;
of 10f/ml in two large-scale mechanized asbestos cement factories and 2-3 times higher than the PEL3 in an asbestos cement products factory;
100 times higher than the PEL in small-scale asbestos textile processing units;
6-8 times higher than the PEL in a large-scale asbestos textile and brake-manufacturing company.
It is believed that hazardous asbestos exposures experienced by up to 40,000 former and current workers could translate into an epidemic of asbestos-related disease:
Because many asbestos workers start at an early age in India, and because relatively more women work in the asbestos industries, we anticipate the occurrence of asbestos-related diseases at relatively younger ages, and in higher proportions of women, than has been seen in some other countries.
As other countries ban or restrict the use of asbestos, Indian officials are issuing planning permission in record time so that construction of new asbestos processing facilities can take place.4 On January 1, 2006, production began at an asbestos-cement factory in Rae Bareli, Uttar Pradesh in the north of India; the plant is located in the constituency of Sonia Gandhi. The manufacturers' intention is that the availability of locally produced asbestos-cement materials will lead to the replacement of traditional thatched roofs. Although production has started, medical check-ups for the workforce have not been completed nor has an independent agency been appointed to monitor workplace exposure levels, both of which are measures stipulated by the Supreme Court.
The factory is the latest venture of Visaka Industries, one of India's largest asbestos groups; the company also has asbestos-cement factories in Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, West Bengal and Karnataka. Two more plants will be commissioned within the next two years. The Chairman of Visaka Industries is G Vivekanand who is the son of the G Venkataswarmy, MP, Deputy Leader of the Indian Congress Parliamentary Party and a former Textile Minister. Chairman Vivekanand's brother is G Vinod, the Minister for Labour and Employment, Handlooms & Textiles in Andhra Pradesh. There is little doubt that Visaka executives have the ear of influential and powerful political figures in India.
January 14, 2006
1 Dave SK, Beckett WS. Occupational Asbestos Exposures and Predictable Asbestos-related Diseases in India. Am J. Ind. Med. 2005;48:137-143.
2 Research in the 1980s and 1990s by Dr. Qamar Rahman revealed that 7% of asbestos industry workers in Mohanganj, near Lucknow, Uttar Pradesh were suffering from asbestosis.
3 The current permissible exposure limit (PEL) is 1 fiber per ml (f/ml).
4 Environmental clearance was applied for by Visaka Industries for the Rae Bareli plant on May 2, 2005; final clearance was granted within 5 months. This is one of the fastest clearances processed by the Ministry of the Environment and Forests.