Ban Asbestos Network of India (BANI) has welcomed US Surgeon General Steven K. Galson's statement acknowledging the dangers of asbestos and called upon the Indian Ministries of Health and Family Welfare and Commerce and Industry to initiate steps for immediate ban on use, manufacture and trade of all forms of asbestos (including Chrysotile or White Asbestos).
BANI activists have reminded that earlier Kerala State Human Rights Commission had noted in its order dated 31st January, 2009 that exposing workers and consumers to asbestos fibers of all kinds including chrysotile constitutes violation of human rights. But Indian government continues to put commercial interests of asbestos industry ahead of health and the environment of Indian citizens.
BANI activists point out that despite the asbestos disease epidemic in US, Europe, Australia, Japan, South Africa and elsewhere, a recent document titled "Human Health Risk Assessment Studies in Asbestos Based Industries in India" by Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) has failed to recommend ban on asbestos. The study was undertaken by the Industrial Toxicology Research Centre, Lucknow for the CPCB. The foreword by Chairman, CPCB reveals the alarming fact that the indigenous asbestos is mostly used by the unorganized sector. Clearly, ban on asbestos mining has not been implemented in totality.
BANI has written letters to the President, Vice President, National Human Rights Commission and the Defence Minister (armed forces use asbestos as well) drawing their urgent attention towards a serious unprecedented environmental and occupational health crisis with regard to unnoticed asbestos epidemic in the country. It is feared that even one asbestos fibre could cause irreversible damage to body - leading to asbestosis, lung cancer or mesothelioma. Thirty deaths are caused per day from asbestos-related diseases as per estimates based on US and European studies.
Russia, Canada, Kazakhstan, Zimbabwe and few others are the largest exporters of asbestos and BANI along with the trade unions are concerned about Indian government's apathy for the occupational and public health of citizens and workers in India. BANI has alleged that unethical advertising campaigns in India are underway to make people believe that asbestos is safe, while so far some 50 countries have banned all forms of asbestos, and are already using alternative materials.
The press release of BANI further states that almost every international health agency of repute including the World Health Organization, the International Labor Organization, International Agency for Research on Cancer, Occupational Safety and Health Administration, National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, and the American Cancer Society agree there is no safe level of asbestos exposure. Most recently, the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) reconfirmed that all commercial asbestos fibers - including chrysotile, the most commercially used form of asbestos - cause lung cancer and mesothelioma. In addition, the IARC newly confirmed that there is sufficient evidence that asbestos causes ovarian cancer and reconfirmed asbestos causes laryngeal cancer.
US Surgeon General's statement specifies: "I urge every American to become aware of the public health issues of asbestos exposure and the steps they can take to protect their health." It also underscores the need for a ban, stating, "...there is no level of asbestos exposure that is known to be safe and minimizing your exposure will minimize your risk of developing asbestos-related disease."
The US Senate's Resolution urging the Surgeon General to issue a warning, 'as a public health issue, to warn and educate people that asbestos exposure may be hazardous to their health', is indeed a landmark step to prevent exposure and deaths.
Responding to the statement, a victim of asbestos disease, Linda Reinstein, Executive Director of Asbestos Disease Awareness Organization (ADAO) said, "As a mesothelioma widow, I am pleased to see the Surgeon General's statement, as asbestos has been a known carcinogen for more than thirty years. ADAO is excited to be able to advance educational efforts with his statement, which strongly reaffirms the need to ban asbestos."
Notably, In the US, Dow Chemicals Company which refuses to own the manifest liability for Bhopal Gas leak disaster has set aside $2.2 billion to address future asbestos-related liabilities arising out of the Union Carbide acquisition, no Indian industry has done so till date.
To read the Surgeon General's full statement, please visit: www.surgeongeneral.gov/news/pressreleases/pr20090401.html.
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About Ban Asbestos Network of India
Ban Asbestos Network of India (BANI) is engaged in responding to public health crisis due to mining, manufacturing, use, and import of all forms of asbestos including Chrysotile. As part of a global anti-toxic activists' coalition, BANI is fighting to ensure asbestos free ship-breaking. Asbestos is a commercial term for six fibrous minerals of which chrysotile (white asbestos), the fibrous form of serpentine, is the form of asbestos which is mostly used now. BANI was founded by public health and environmental health researchers and activists in 2002. For more information banasbestosindia.blogspot.com