NGO warns against lifting ban on asbestos mining

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New Delhi, Dec 12 (UNI) Environment NGO Ban Asbestos Network of India (BANI) has expressed concern over the proposal to lift the ban on mining of asbestos, the cancer causing material used in construction.

It said stories of the toll asbestos takes on people are yet to hit the headlines in India as has been the case in the US, Europe, Australia and Japan. Workers in India work up to their knees in asbestos powder, breaking up asbestos cement roofs and pipes.

Quoting the recent UN statistics, it said India imported roughly 306,000 MT of asbestos in 2006, out of which 152, 820 MT was imported from Russia, 63, 980 MT from Canada, 48, 807 MT from Kazakhstan and 34, 953 MT from Brazil.

So far, some 45 countries have banned this killer fiber. Asbestos consumption is rising dramatically in India while US Senate passed the Ban Asbestos in America Act on October 4, 2007 unanimously.

Asbestos is banned in Europe since January 1, 2005. But countries like Russia, Canada, Kazakhstan and Brazil continue to produce, trade and promote it in India. The Russian Federation has also been found to be exporting asbestos industry waste to India.

The NGO said research was showing asbestos epidemics across the globe even in countries where it was currently banned, as the consequence of past exposure.

In its report titled 'Asbestos: the iron grip of latency' issued last year, the International Labour Organisation has already said that asbestos was still the No.1 carcinogen in the world and the dumping of asbestos on developing countries will "prove to be a health time bomb in these countries in 20 to 30 years' time." The NGO said it was unfortunate that the Union Ministry of Mines and Minerals had proposed to lift the existing ban on asbestos mining.

''The Ministry was ignoring the views of exposure victims, informed recommendations of public sector medical experts, and mounting evidence of an asbestos disease epidemic emerging in developed countries. The rationale to permit mining is hollow,'' it added.

It said research had found that needle-like crystals permanently penetrate the lung tissue when dust-sized particles of asbestos were inhaled. The crystals can eventually cause scarring of the lungs, called asbestosis, and can cause cancer of the lining of the lung, called mesothelioma. Both diseases were incurable and terminal." In such a situation, BANI said, it was inexplicable as to why discredited and false claims of 'safe use' of asbestos by the industry were being repeated by Namo Narain Meena, the Minister of State for Environment saying, "No complaints have so far been received regarding its carcinogenic content and its hazard to health and environment." This is in stark contrast to the Ministry' own admission in the Supreme Court that 16 per cent of the workers exposed are suffering from asbestos related diseases, it said.


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