Report warns India is on the cusp of a devastating asbestos cancer epidemic
Record and rising asbestos imports to India will translate to thousands of asbestos-related cancer deaths each year and are already responsible for a hidden epidemic, an expert report has revealed. Exposing the Indian Government's collusion with asbestos stakeholders at home and abroad, the authors call for an immediate national ban on all asbestos use.
India's Asbestos Time Bomb, published today (September 25, 2008) by a coalition of Asian campaign and research organizations, global union federations and the International Ban Asbestos Secretariat (IBAS), calculates that total asbestos usage in India since 1980 exceeds 6 million tonnes, matching the amount used in the UK in its entire industrial history. India is far and away the world's largest importer of asbestos.
The UK is now in the grip of its largest ever industrial disease epidemic, with between 5,000 and 10,000 estimated to be dying of asbestos cancers every year, says report editor Laurie Kazan-Allen. India, with ineffective regulation on asbestos use, is on the verge of a much larger and more devastating epidemic. Because it can take 30 years or more for asbestos-related cancers to emerge, India faces an inevitable and sharp escalation in cancer cases over the next three decades. No one is safe!
Annual imports of asbestos to India now exceed a quarter of a million tonnes, and have climbed rapidly over the last decade. We estimate asbestos cancers already claim thousands of lives each year in India, but this will certainly exceed 10,000 cases a year by 2040, says Kazan-Allen. This will put an incredible strain on families, communities and India's medical system.
A hidden epidemic exists due to medical ignorance and government intransigence; in light of the dearth of serious measures to alert workers and consumers of the asbestos hazard, things can only get worse. India does not have a national cancer registry or any system to record asbestos cancers or asbestos exposures, so the problem remains unrecognised and unaddressed. But instead of acting to remedy these failings, the report warns that India is actively encouraging asbestos use, both at home and globally.
India, working closely with asbestos stakeholders in Canada, has been instrumental in blocking a United Nations move to impose health information disclosures on exports of chrysotile asbestos. When the UN next considers applying global right-to-know rules on chrysotile at its Rotterdam Convention meeting in Rome this October, it is likely that both nations will again move to veto any effort to require exporters to warn of the risks posed by using chrysotile asbestos.
There is an unimaginable and unconscionable level of ignorance of the asbestos hazard in India, a situation that is a great boon to Indian asbestos companies that are benefiting from huge levels of economic growth, says IBAS's Laurie Kazan-Allen. The government is a willing conspirator in this state of affairs, with devastating consequences for the health of its citizens. But politicians and asbestos peddlers should take heed we aim to see the industry wither and die and its apologists face the courts for knowingly and in the name of profit pushing the world's worst ever industrial killer.
Notes to editors
1. India's Asbestos Time Bomb is published by the International Ban Asbestos Secretariat (IBAS), the Building and Woodworkers International, International Metalworkers' Federation, Asia Monitor Resource Center, Asian Network for the Rights of Occupational Accident Victims, Corporate Accountability Desk The Other Media, Ban Asbestos Network India, Peoples Training and Research Centre, Baroda, India. The report can be accessed online at:
2. Indian asbestos imports increased from under 40,000 tonnes in 1970 to over 250,000 tonnes in 2006. Since 1960, approximately 7 million tonnes have been imported.
3. India is the world's largest importer of chrysotile asbestos, followed by China, Thailand and the Ukraine the only countries importing more than 100,000 tonnes. India is Asia's second largest consumer of asbestos.
4. Indian import duty on asbestos was slashed from 78% in 1995-96 to 15% in 2004. Lowering the cost of imported asbestos fiber means that dangerous asbestos-containing products are cheaper than safer alternatives.
5. India does not operate a national cancer registry or record occupational histories with medical records, so the asbestos cancer epidemic is not officially tracked or recorded. There are no official statistics.
6. The Conference of the Parties of the UN Rotterdam Convention1 will take place in Rome from October 27-31, 2008. India and Canada have been instrumental in ensuring previous meetings failed to allow right-to-know controls on asbestos.
7. The publication will be launched simultaneously on September 25, 2008 in Asia and Europe at events being held in Mumbai2 and Amsterdam.
Update (October 20, 2008): Video of European Launch at IMIG conference.
Laurie Kazan-Allen, email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Rory O'Neill, Hazards, tel: 01535 210462, mobile: 07813 779501.3
3 From noon September 24 September 28, 2008 Rory will handle calls as Laurie will be in Amsterdam for the European press launch of the monograph.