*Asbestos: Hazardous for Quebeckers, safe for Indians?*

January 1, 2010
India Abroad

*Quebec Premier Jean Charest is leading a business delegation to India
starting January 30, 2010

Indian Groups will ask questions about his immoral support to the export of
asbestos to India*


Exposure to chrysotile asbestos causes lung cancer. Though it is not
illegal, asbestos is no more used in Canada and building owners are forced
to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars to get rid of asbestos when they
demolish their buildings. Yet, the Canadian government has not banned its
export, saying Ottawa the necessary precautions in its use.

Recent debate about the last operating asbestos mine in Canada and media
reports featuring hazardous plants in India have now brought the focus back
on the issue.

Quebec-based LAB Chrysotile, which has the last operating asbestos mine in
Canada, exports to companies in India, including to Eagle Asbestos in
Ahmedabad. The Canadian Broadcasting Corporation in June filmed the interior
of Eagle’s plant, where asbestos was left exposed.

The Toronto Star published a three-page report in its December 20 issue. The
report, ‘Canada’s booming asbestos market’quotes LAB Vice President
Jean-Marc Leblond as saying they have blacklisted five to 10 Indian
companies and Eagle is one of them. ‘They have been denied asbestos fiber
for failing to comply with safe practices, exposing the frailty of the
controlled use directive,’ he was quoted as saying.

The report also names several Indian manufacturers of asbestos products: Lok
Sabha member of Parliament from Peddapalle, Andhra Pradesh, Gaddam
Vivekanand, who reportedly controls 25 percent of asbestos production in
India, has seven factories in various parts of the country and will open an
eighth in Orissa in 2010.

The report also said there are instructions on the package asbestos-related
products — printed only in English and French — asking workers to use
ventilation and dust control equipment when the fiber is being handled, to
repair damaged bags immediately, and to clean dust from clothing with
approved vacuum equipment.

In India, asbestos is used instead of tin sheets for their sturdiness and
there are 36 products made from asbestos — from rope to cloth to pipeline
insulation. Kathleen Ruff, co-coordinator of the Rotterdam Convention
Alliance, which represents environmental and health organizations around the
world, told India Abroad that health has got nothing to do with Canadian
government’s export policy. “It is a highly political issue related to votes
in the asbestos mining region of Quebec,” she said.

Ruff said environmental scientists have written to Canadian Prime Minister
Stephen Harper asking him to acknowledge the clear scientific evidence that
asbestos has created a public health disaster in Canada and that it is
indefensible for Canada to export it to other countries telling them it is a
safe, attractive product.

‘Wherever asbestos has been used, it has left behind a legacy of disease and
suffering, which is why no industrial country uses it any longer and it is
so important to the industry to sell asbestos to developing countries and
countries in economic transition,’ the scientists said.

Ruff says experts recently wrote to Harper reminding him about the United
Nations  Rotterdam Convention that Canada ratified in 2002, giving countries
a legally binding right
to be informed about, and to refuse, hazardous chemicals and pesticides. The
convention’s expert scientific body also recommended that Chrysotile
asbestos, banned already by over 40 countries, be put on the list of
hazardous chemicals.

In their letter, the experts caution: ‘If a double standard system of
exemptions is created, the global right to know about hazardous chemicals
and pesticides will be destroyed    and Canada will have played the lead
role in its death.’

Ruff said it is only those countries that export asbestos (like Russia,
Kirghizstan, and Canada) and a country with a powerful asbestos-products
industry (like India), which defy all the independent science and pretend
that asbestos can be safely used.

“The sad part is that,” Ruff explained, “in industrialized Western
countries, billions of dollars are being spent to remove asbestos from
buildings. In Quebec, the government is spending millions of dollars to
remove asbestos from schools and hospitals and public buildings. We no
longer use it in Canada because we know it is deadly. Instead we export it
to India and other countries, telling them it can be safely used.”
Quebec Premier Jean Charest is leading a business delegation to India
starting January 30. Some groups are gearing up to ask him questions about
his support to the export of asbestos to India.

Note: Charest does not support social services and concessions for workers.


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