What Price the Truth?
It seems in India the truth can be bought for $36,363. This is the sum contributed by the Indian asbestos industry towards the research commissioned by the government into the health effects of asbestos exposures. This sum, which constitutes 27% of the total allocated for the project, buys the industry unique access to the design of the proposed study and the tone and content of the final report. According to Journalist Nitin Sethi's article Asbestos Lobby to Study Health Hazards, published in the Times of India on June 21, 2007:
The industry will also get to exclusively comment on the draft report before it is finalized by the government.1
Dr. Arin Basu's critique of the Study on Health Hazards / Environmental Hazards Resulting from the Use of Chrysotile Variety of Asbestos in the Country (India) pulls few punches:
We analyzed the study and found that both the study plan, the execution of the study at Kolkata and its reporting had serious methodological shortcomings, nonconventional data presentation, and interpretations. Before this study can be used as a sufficient documentary evidence for policy framing, it needs to be revised for methods and contents, (and) possibly redone. It's recommended to revise the study plans and re-analyze the original data to start with A more serious approach to study any association between exposure to asbestos dust and health effects with more rigorous epidemiological methods is necessary.
This research project has been commissioned by the government with a view to the 2008 meeting of the Rotterdam Convention at which the issue of placing chrysotile asbestos on the Prior Informed Consent list will be revisited. In 2004 and 2006, India joined with other asbestos stakeholders to block the listing of chrysotile, which had been recommended by the Convention Secretariat and desired by the majority of Convention members.2 No doubt, by the time industry has whitewashed the report, chrysotile will be safe enough to sprinkle on our breakfast cereal.
Asbestos use in India constitutes a major public and occupational health issue. In a paper published by Dr. Sudhir K Dave, he estimated that 6,000 cases of the irreversible lung disease asbestosis and 600 cases of the fatal asbestos cancer mesothelioma could be due to occupational asbestos exposures. Considering that asbestos fiber levels exceeding 10 fibers/ml, 10 times the permissible levels stipulated by the Government of India, persist in large-scale asbestos-cement factories in India, this seems a very conservative estimate.
On June 6, 2007, an Asbestosis Check Up Camp was held in Imam Manzil, Sabarmati Ashram, Ahmedabad. Twenty workers from the Digvijay asbestos-cement factory and the Ahmedabad Thermal Power Plant, all of whom had been suffering from unacknowledged occupational health injuries for 15 years, attended this session. Clinical and radiological examinations were conducted and occupational histories were taken. The findings were:
8 cases of asbestosis, 1 case of pneumoconiosis and 1 case of occupational asthma; medical certificates were issued;
2 cases were not so clear-cut and are under review: they are patients who may have been misdiagnosed with TB but who may actually be suffering from asbestosis or another pleural condition;
2 workers exhibited symptoms of weight loss and are under further investigation to rule out occupational lung cancer.
Dr. V. Murlidhar, the author of an article on the Ahmedabad initiative, highlighted the legal obstacles faced by asbestos-injured workers:
In Mumbai, of the 41 certified asbestosis cases and one occupational lung cancer, 36 cases are being fought in the Labour Court. I went four times to be cross-examined by the lawyer and he refused; the most recent refusal took place on June 22, 2007. The lawyer had already adjourned the cross examination of the union leader Ravi Mohite 12 times in the last year and a half. The judge is calmly accepting this charade, wonder why? One patient has already died and one with lung cancer will have a short time to live.3
Environmental asbestos exposures are adversely affecting people residing in the Roro hills in Jharkhand according to the June 19, 2007 article: Village of the Damned in Toxic Land.4 Contaminated waste generated by 70 years of asbestos mining operations has polluted the villages and countryside in Singbhum district. Children scavenge for iron scrap among the vast mounds of asbestos debris; the contaminated hillsides serve as their adventure playgrounds. The barren fields are another product of the toxic legacy:
The (asbestos) dust gets mixed with water and flows into the fields and we run into losses the entire issue of managing mineral waste has been totally neglected
Ten local workers who had been employed at the asbestos mine have died; many, such as Mangal Sundi, are dying:
They mined our hills and left us like that. Our lands turned barren, so who's responsible the Birla company is responsible.5
Sundi told CNN IBN Journalist Rupashree Nanda, I worked in the crusher, where they produced asbestos I am completely helpless; someone should help me recover. Sundi has received neither compensation nor health insurance benefits from his former employer or the government. The people of the Roro hills, like the land around them, have been irretrievably scarred by their exposure to asbestos.6
June 24, 2007
2 See: Chrysotile Asbestos: Hazardous to Humans, Deadly to the Rotterdam Convention: http://www.lkaz.demon.co.uk/chrys_hazard_rott_conv_06.pdf and Rotterdam Convention Killed by Chrysotile Asbestos
5 Nanda Rupashree. Abandoned Mines a Health Hazard. October 27, 2006