Monday, January 31, 2011

Asbestos - Victim of Junk Science and Enviro-fear Propaganda - Supreme Court Refuses to Ban Asbestos In The Country.

Asbestos is a generic name given to certain mineral silicates. There are six types of asbestos. 5 of them have been prohibited all over the world in the past 20 years.  What we use in India and in other 150 odd countries is the most common and allowed type called ‘Chrysotile’. Chrysotile is only used in India for production of asbestos cement sheets .

Then, why the controversy?  For many people, the word "asbestos" inspires a negative reaction.  In some countries, especially in Western Europe, this is even an obsessive fear.  In India, due to fabricated data and biased publicity, and wrong perceptions generated thereby, certain so-called pro-people activists are taking a salvo against use of asbestos products. There is certainly a conspiracy behind such a movement, likely funded by alternate material industry such as steel to ban asbestos products in India. By creating such bad propaganda against asbestos, these activists may be helping other alternative product industry whose materials are very costly and are having lower product life cycle; but at the same time they are also depriving common man with cheaper, durable, high utility and environment friendly roofing solutions.
It is interesting to note that chrysotile asbestos is a naturally occurring mineral that is found in almost two thirds of the earth's crust. Environmental Health Criteria Document No. 53 (1986) Of IPCS (International Programme on Chemical Safety) - page 34 reads “the total amount of asbestos emitted from natural sources is probably greater than that emitted from industrial sources ".  Depending on the region and independent of industrial activity, every individual breathes in between 10000 to 15000 (asbestos) fibers each day and drinks water containing between 200,000 and 20,00,000 fibers per liter.  No matter who we are and where we are, we all inhale and ingest asbestos every day.  So, how can it be called a "killer dust" and how come humanity survived after inhaling it for millions of years?

According to several epidemiological studies in India and abroad, chrysotile asbestos carries no risk to human health at exposure levels below 1fibre per cc in the manufacture of asbestos cement products under controlled conditions.  Our Indian exposure levels in ac industry are ten times less i.e. 0.1 fibers per cc at work place, which is very safe.

If used without safety precautions, can chrysotile cause health problems?
Yes of course and, for that matter, any kind of raw material (especially in dust or gases form) if used without taking necessary precautions, is dangerous to the health & that includes asbestos. United States Agency for Toxic Substances & Disease Registry has drawn a list of 275 items (asbestos being one of them) which, if used without proper safety and precautions can cause cancer or other diseases. Lead, copper, Vinyl Chloride, Nickel, Silver, Aluminum are also listed among those items; however, no one is asking to ban those items. Why isolating asbestos alone. And the United States which is highly sensitive to the health issues is also using asbestos products, such as pipes for drinking water etc. If asbestos is such a dangerous item, do you think, they would have allowed it for the use of drinking water! Some anti asbestos activists have held protests to ban asbestos. It has been claimed that "Ban Asbestos in America Act 2007" has been passed in the USA to make one believe that asbestos is banned in the USA. The truth is that, the Senate in 2007  passed the Ban Asbestos in America Act 2007; the ban bill was then passed to the House of Representatives. In 2008, the bill was never voted on by any of the relevant committees nor did it reach the entire House for a vote.  As a result, the proposed "Ban Asbestos in America Act 2007" died at the end of 2008 since a new Congress began in 2009.

In 2001, Catherine Glasson, Press Officer for the Minister of Transport had said "this material (asbestos) is not dangerous". The ministry estimates to use 100,000 tons of asbestos-asphalt for the repaving of its road network in an year as compared to 17,000 tons a year previously.

USA is said to have used chrysotile in 2009 for manufacture of roof coating, cements, mastics and in diaphragms by chlor-alkahali industry (Mastics is a type of cement used on roofs, frames of windows, etc. to stop water getting in).

Interestingly, after Sept 11, 2001 collapse of World Trade Centre towers, Prof. Art Robinson, founder of the Oregon Institute of Science and Medicine wrote "Asbestos was an early victim of Junk Science and enviro-fear propaganda.  Had the top floors of WTC were insulated with asbestos, the towers would have stood for four hours, saving 5000 lives.

What is our government’s stand on this?

So far the Government of India has no confusion on the use of asbestos product. However, it has made rules and regulations extremely strict for using asbestos even in mechanized cement products plants.

Our Hon'ble Supreme Court in a PIL passed an Order on 27 Jan 1995 containing 6 directions, which all asbestos products manufacturers are following such as:-
  • health records of workers to be maintained for 40 years from the start of service or 15 years after retirement,
  • membrane Filter Test to detect asbestos fiber, should be adopted in all factories,
  • compulsory insurance coverage for every worker whether covered under ESI Act or Workmen's Compensation Act, Union
  •  States to review exposure limit (fibres/cc) at par with international standards,
  • Union of India and States to include SSI and Ancillary Units to protect Workers.
  • Factory inspectors to send all workers examined by ESI hospitals, for re-examination by NIOH to detect if any of them suffering from asbestosis.  If found positive, worker shall be entitled to Rs.1 lac within 3 months of certification by National Institute of Occupational Health (NIOH).

On 21 January 2011, the Hon'ble  Supreme Court of India,  after considering various issues and facts,  overturned a petition filed by an anti-asbestos-activist  (WP Civil No.260/2004) and refused to ban asbestos and its usage in India.  The Court observed that " we see no reason as to why this Court, in exercise of its extraordinary jurisdiction.... should ban such an activity when admittedly large number of families are dependent upon such processes.  What has to be ensured is that proper precautions are taken "  Elsewhere in the Judgment, the Court said " There could hardly be any justification for banning, completely or partially, of the activity of manufacturing of asbestos and allied products in face of the above admitted position "  The Court directed the Union of India and States to "review safeguards in relation to primary as well as secondary exposure to asbestos....." and " constitute a regulatory body to exercise proper control and supervision over manufacturing  of asbestos activities..."

The Directorate General of Factory Advice Service & Labour Institutes, Ministry of Labour, Govt of India's Report on The National Study on Health Status of Workers in the Asbestos Industry (2004) examined 702 workers in 8 asbestos-using factories (including 5 asbestos-cement units) said " As no established case of asbestosis was detected during the study, attempt was not made to correlate the duration and exposure with asbestos cases). 

1 comment:

  1. Very nice article regarding Asbestos.
    For more information regarding Asbestos Removal please visit Asbestos Removal Sydney