Sunday 16 January 2011

Andhra Pollution Board, a Mouthpiece of Asbestos Industry?

Q. What is Asbestos ?
                        Asbestos is the name given to a number of naturally occurring fibrous silicate minerals that have been mined for their useful properties such as thermal insulation chemical and thermal stability, and high tensile strength.  Asbestos is commonly used as an acoustic insulator, for thermal insulation, fire proofing and in building materials.  Asbestos fibers are strong and have properties that make them resistant to heat.  It is often found in ceiling tiles, pipe and vessel insulation, blown on to structural beams and ceilings, and in floor tiles.  The term asbestos is derived from a Greek word meaning inextinguishable, unquenchable or inconsumable.  It is a generic name for a group of fibrous silicate minerals.
Q.  How many different types of Asbestos are there ?
            There are usually six different types of asbestos that are found in commercially manufactured products Chrysotile, also known as white asbestos is the commonest while amosite ( Brown asbestos ) and crocidolite ( Blue Asbestos ) are the other common types of Asbestos. It is naturally occurring and deposits can be found in most countries around the world. Most as Asbestos comes from the former Soviet Union, Canada (White Asbestos ), South Africa ( Brown Asbestos ), and Australlia ( Blue Asbestos ).
Q.  How do we make products from Asbestos ?
            Asbestos is mined from the ground usually by open cast method.  The raw material is very  coarse and looks much like old wood.  It is them processed and refined into fluffy fibers.  The fibers are then added to some fro of binding agent like cement to form an asbestos containing material (ACM).  Asbestos cement contains between 10-15% asbestos fibers.
Q.  Why is a Asbestos is Hazard ?
            Asbestos is made up of microscopic bundles of fibers that may become air borne when distributed.  These fibers get into the air and may be inhaled into the lungs, where they may cause health problems.  Medical statistics indicate the more asbestos fibers you inhale the greater the risk of developing a disease.  There is no indication yet of a sage amount of exposure.
Q.  What are the diseases that can be caused by exposure to asbestos ?
            Asbestos is a lung disease first found in naval shipyard workers.  As asbestos fibers are inhaled, they may get trapped in the lung tissue.  The body tries to dissolve the fibers by producing an acid.  This acid , due to chemical resistance of the fiber, but may scar surrounding tissue.  Eventually, this scarring may become so severe that the lungs cannot function.  The latency perod (the time it takes for the disease to become developed) is often 25-40 years.  Mesothelioma is the cancer of pleura (the outer lining of the lung and chest vavity).  This form of cancer is peculiar because the only known cause is from asbestos exposure.  The latency period is often 15-30 years.  Lung cancer can also be caused by asbestos and the latency period is 15-30 years.
 Q.  When is asbestos a hazard ?
Asbestos is not always an immediate hazard.  It�s only when asbestos containing materials are disturbed or the materials become damaged that it becomes a hazard.  When the materials become damaged, the fibers separate and may then become airborne.

Q.  What has been status of litigation with respect to Asbestos ?
            Most uses of Asbestos are banned in many countries, especially the West.  In the US, asbestos was one of the first hazardous air pollutants to be regulated.  One estimate says that, in the 20th Century more than 100 million Americans were exposed to asbestos in the workplace.  Today, lawsuits claiming that asbestos caused plaintiffs have so far run into tens of billions of dollars for expenses, settlements and judgments.  Over 70 corporations have filed chapter 11 bank ruptcy in the face of heavy liability claims.  Since, the late 1970s 6% of all filling in American courts each year were related to asbestos.  But it is also believed by many that asbestos litigation in a lot of cases is fraudulent.  A study found that less than half the money spent on asbestos litigation went to injured parties, as opposed to attorneys fees and administrative costs.

Tuesday 11 January 2011

Asbestos Capital of India, Andhra Pradesh

The muscle power of Asbestos industry was quite visible at a workshop organised by DGFASLI, Union Ministry of Labor on 17th March, 2006. During a session on "Hazards of Asbestos in Construction Industry"chaired by Dr. H.N. Saiyed, the then Director of National Institute of Occupational Health (NIOH), Ahemdabad said “First of all let me thank DGFASLI, the organizer of the seminar for inviting me to the chair the technical session.Construction industry is a very important industry where a large number of people are employed and asbestos is one of the concern”.  He requested the first speaker from the industry to give his speech on “Asbestos in Construction Industry”. 

The first speaker was Dr. S.P. Vivek Chandra Rao, General Manager, Occ. Health and Environment, Hyderabad Industries Ltd gave the industry persp[ective saying that in India 90% of white (Chrysotile) fiber is used in the manufacture of asbestos cement product with the  composition of 8 to 9% of fiber, 30% fly ash, 41% cement and 20% water.  He said there is a growth in the cement products at the rate of 15 to 20% every year.  In the conclusion, he said that the construction workers engaged in sawing, drilling and laying of asbestos cement sheets and following recommended work practices are exposed to asbestos cement dust and the concentration is less than 0.1 f/cc of air. At such levels, there should not be any chrysotile asbestos related disease in construction workers. 

He didn't dwell on why most of the developed countries have banned all forms of asbestos including chrysotile asbestos. He did not reveal as to how many workers in the factories of Hyderabad are exposed to asbestos, how many are suffering the incurable diseases and how many have been compensated so far by his company.    

The second paper at the workshop was on Health Hazards of Asbestos” wherein Dr. T.V. Ranga Rao, Director (Med.), Central Labour Institute (CLI), Mumbai said that the asbestos fibre could enter human body through inhalation and ingestion and the exposure to asbestos fibre could be occupational, para-occupational and non-occupational. After 20-40 years of exposure one may develop lung cancer, malignant mesothelieoma or gastro intestinal cancer. Concluding his presentation Dr. Rao mouthed the propaganda of the asbetsos industry saying that the asbestos was a known enemy and is to be used in controlled conditions. 

It is noteworthy that Dr Rao had co-chaired along with Brig. V Pattabhi of the Asbestos Cement Products Manufacturers’ Association (ACPMA)  a session two day International Conference on Chrysotile Asbestos Cement Products organised by Clemant Godbout, chairman of Asbestos International Association (AIA) during 10-11 November 2003 declaring on behalf of the participants that "We are the ambassadors of chrysotile fibre in our respective countries" The conference took place in Taj Palace, New Delhi.  

Another advocate of asbestos industry's misinformation campaign, Dr. P.K. Sishodiya, Deputy Director of Mines Safety (OH), Occupational Health Division, DGMS, Ministry of Labour & Employment made a presentation on "Safety in Use, Handling and Disposal of Asbestos Products in Construction Industry”. He highlighted various types of products of asbestos used in construction industry such as asbestos cement sheets, asbestos cement pipes, asbestos tiles and other roofing material and prefab panels, boards and jointing. He pointed out that the common operations in use of asbestos products are stacking, sawing, drilling, cutting, grinding, filing, cleaning and nailing.  

Dr Sisodiya added, "The possible health hazards because of these operations would be inhalation of fibres as significant amount of airborne asbestos fibre dust can be generated during any of the operations if proper precautions are not taken."  

Clearly, he was talking about a utopian condition.As if precautions were not being taken by the developed countries that have banned it and Indian working conditions and occupational safety measures would ever be better than them.

While he explained the general precautions to be taken while using asbestos cement products like using mechanical handling when large quantities of product is to be handled, carefully placing products in stacks, during manual handling avoiding sliding the product against abrasive surface, avoiding dragging and dropping of the products, maintaining designated storage area clean and disposing of damaged and crushed products in appropriate manner but forgot to inform whether or not Europeans who have found "safe use of asbestos impossible"were taking these precautions. 

As a general guidelines for tools he said for cutting, handsaw, nibblers and low speed circular cutters should be used.  For drilling, hand drills or power drills with local exhaust can be employed and for sanding power operated sanders with local exhaust should be used and for cut outs hand saw, jig saw and low speed circular cutters should be used. Will asbetsos become safe then?  

Dr Sisodiya said, as far as possible high powered tools should be avoided. He does not reveal as to what happens if it is not avoided. 

He said it was obligatory for the manufacturers of asbestos products to put a mark on the product indicating that it contains asbestos to supply safety data sheet and provide information to the end user on proper use of asbestos product.  He said the asbestos product with specific pictograms and warning phrases in common man’s language should be placed on asbestos products. 

Is it done? Has Dr Sisodiya ever seen it in India?   

Dr Sisodiya said that the operations should be carried out in well ventilated areas, the product should be damped before cutting or drilling, hand tools should be used which produces coarse and non-respirable dust, high powered tools and stationery cutting equipment must be fitted with local exhaust and dust generated should be properly disposal off. 

Will it not become airborne and pose hazards for the communities living in the proximity? Isn't community health a consideration? He seems to have forgotten about it.   

On the matter of asbestos waste handling and its disposal, Dr Sisodiya said that the waste should be handled in such a manner that it does not pose a health risk and waste containing high density products should be disposed off in land fills and covered with soil.  The disposal sites should be identified and should have vehicular access.  The waste should be deposited at the bottom of the land fill.  All wastes, except high density waste should be covered with 250 mm of soil.  The final covering of the soil should be atleast 2 meters.  Wet waste should also be covered with soil.  The asbestos disposal site should be clearly marked and public access should be minimum.  The high density waste can be disposed off as normal waste but the final covering should be 2 meters of soil.   

Will Dr. Sishodiya reveal the disposal sites for asbestos wastes in India and the places where mythical safe handling of end of life asbestos products is done? 

 There were no presentations from any representative of trade unions, labour, consumer, human rights and environmental groups else the wisdom of the asbestos companies and their mouthpieces within the government would have faced uncomfortable questions about the global movement against the killer fibers of asbetsos.  

Does DGFASLI or the asbestos comapnies have the data on asbestos victims in India? They have found a way out. Do not compile the data else the companies will go bankrupt paying compensation to the victims? 

Absence of data does not mean absence of disease. 

The estimates suggest that every day 30 people are dying because of asbestos diseases with none of the 300 medical colleges in India having the competence to even diagnose the disease. 

Hasn't India's Asbestos Cement Products Manufacturers’ Association (ACPMA) heard about Dow Chemicals Company setting aside $2.2 billion to address future asbestos-related liabilities arising out of the acquisition of Union Carbide Corporation? 

When will Indian asbestos industry announce its compensation fund for the victims of asbestos?    

P.S: Misinformation campaign and misleading advertisements of ACPMA which was formed in 1985 as an NGO cannot hide the truth about the incurable disease caused by the killer fiber it promotes. ACPMA is affiliated to International Chrysotile Association, (ICA), USA. ICA is an international body formed by various country Associations and has a membership of 23 countries prominent being Canada, Brazil, China, Russia, Mexico amongst others. Notably, an epidemic of asbestos-caused diseases in the United States is engulfing the life of one out of every 125 American men who die over the age of 50. Ban Asbestos in America Act of 2007 has been approved by the US Senate.

ACPMA currently has 15 Members having 51 manufacturing units located in various States claiming to have a gross annual turnover of approx Rs.4500/- crores. ACPMA's naked lust for profit over people's health makes it a satan whose sole objective is to aid, stimulate and advise promotion of Chrysotile Asbestos Cement Products (Sheets and Pipes) in India unmindful of the disastrous health consequences of the present and future generations.