Ban asbestos cry gets international support

TNN | Nov 15, 2011, 12.56AM IST

JAIPUR: It was the sheer need for a livelihood that Ram Lal joined his elder brother Hakla in working at an asbestos mine at Netaji Ki Bara in Udaipur as a 12-year-old kid. Now at 34 years, Ram Lal suffers from acute respiratory problems and has been loosing weight constantly not to mention that his body is a skeleton, literally. His elder brother Hakla died in March this year.

Far away in Korea, little did Rachel Lee realised as an asbestos plant crept up near her home that her health would affected very badly. But it was not long before the deadly asbestos fibres spoiled her health greatly and she is now in a sorry plight.

Ram Lal and Rachel Lee are now among the forerunners demanding a complete ban on asbestos to save the humanity from deadly diseases such as asbestosis and cancer.

And it is people like them that brought like-minded organisations working for a complete ban on mining and use of asbestos products on Monday here under the banner of Global Ban Asbestos Movement for a two-day conference.

The conference organised jointly by Asian Ban Asbestos Network (ABAN), International Ban Asbestos Secretariat (IBAS), Occupational and Environmental Health Network of India (OEHNI) and Mine Labour Protection Campaign (MLPC) was attended by over 70 people, including asbestos victims, doctors, lawyers, experts and other activists from more than 15 countries. They will also make a field visit to some of the stone manipulation factories around Jaipur on November 16.

According to Laurie Kazan Allen of IBAS, “Canada is continuing to export asbestos to many Asian countries, including India, even though it does not use this substance for its own industrial purpose. If India continues to use asbestos with heavy imports, a large number of exposures and infections would be reported in the near future and thousands of people would die. A large number of people had already been diagnosed with the deadly disease.”

India has the infamous distinction of being the world’s largest importer of asbestos. Annual asbestos consumption continues to grow in India and the country has used over seven million tonnes of asbestos so far. Perhaps on the brighter side, it is due to movements like this that India is considering the ban on the mining and use of Chrysotile asbestos to protect workers and the general population against primary and secondary exposure to Chrysotile form of asbestos.

“UK has used about six million tonnes of asbestos and as a result about 4,000 people die every year even now due to asbestosis. Imagine what plight would then face India, specially given the fact that healthcare facilities for workers are much better in UK when compared to India,” Allen added.

MLPC managing trustee Rana Sengupta pointed out that the Rajasthan government had officially banned asbestos mining in 1986, after which no new lease was issued. The last mines were closed down in 2005 and the diseases among the labourers who worked there are being detected now because these ailments have a latency period of 15 to 20 years. Despite the ban, about 80 mines are currently operational in Jhadol region and about 2,000 workers are still employed there, he added.

The activists at the conference took exception to the rich countries continuing to make profit from the trade in deadly asbestos and demanded that all countries put a complete ban on its mining and import and to identify the victims as well their family members who might have contracted the disease through secondary infection.