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6 August 2012

Trade unions appalled by Canada’s decision to reopen asbestos mines in Québec

The Indian trade unions are outraged by Quebec’s Premier Mr Jean Charest’s decision to grant $58 million loan to revive the Jeffery Mine. The opening of the mine would mean export of over 5 million tonnes of cancer causing Chrysotile Asbestos to developing countries, including India over the next quarter of a century.

Mr. Pon Kumar, President of the Tamil Nadu Unorganised Construction Workers Federation (TCWF) an affiliate of Building and Wood Workers International (BWI) stated that “The decision to fund the Jeffery mines and knowing that Asbestos would be exported to India, which will have devastating impact on the health of millions of Indian workers, who will handle this dangerous fibre in factories and at construction sites should be condemned”.

Terming it ‘immoral’, Fiona Murie, Health and Safety Director of the BWI said “At a time when countries in the west are counting bodies and grappling with the increased number of asbestos-caused cancers, it is indeed immoral that the Government of India is importing over four hundred thousand metric tonnes of asbestos every year and putting it into the built environment. Canada should be ashamed of their role in supplying not only the asbestos, but moreso the misimformation that denies the risks to health and encourages its use. Very little asbestos was ever used in India until the bans were introduced in developing countries, so by1985, use began to increase. But from 2004, when the government of India reduced import duty on chrysotile asbestos from 78% to only 15% the floodgates opened and it became a cheap, but deadly, option for building materials The latency period for asbestos cancers is around thirty years after exposure, so we can expect to see many cases of asbestos cancers appearing in the near future, and lasting for many years to come”.

Although mining of Asbestos is banned in India but through heavy imports, India uses over 400,000 metric tonnes of asbestos annually, used mostly in roofing sheets, pipes and employs about 100,000 workers directly and indirectly in the Asbestos industry. But a comprehensive mortality data and compensation records to show the scale of health devastation due asbestos consumption does not exist. The asbestos diseases are not being recognised and notified and data is not being gathered. Employees State Insurance Corporation of India shows only 51 cases of compensation to workers suffering from asbestosis, a lung disease caused by asbestos exposure. And only 222 cases of mesothelioma, a rare form of cancer caused by asbestos in the protective lining of inner organs, has been registered by the Indian Cancer Registry, Gujarat Cancer and Research Institute and Tata Memorial Trust combined.

Hiding behind this huge lack of data, Indian asbestos stakeholders, including the government and asbestos companies, and countries like Canada continue to trade in a known killer. The revival of the Jeffery mines, whose main customers will be Indian asbestos companies, is partly financed, to the tune of $25 million, by a consortium of international investors led by Baljit Singh Chadha.

Questioning the rationality of this decision, Mr. Karnan, General Secretary of the TCWF stated that “Despite proven evidences, why does the Quebec government want to revive a notorious industry that has caused so many deaths and continues to do so. This irresponsible act shall only taint the reputation of Canada, Mr. Karnan concluded”. Adding on the Tamil Nadu experience, Mr. Karnan informed that a couple of years ago the government announced to remove Asbestos sheets from schools and also the TCWF petitioned for a state wide ban on Asbestos but unfortunately there has been no further progress on the matter.

The BWI called upon the Government of India and of Tamil Nadu to ban the import and use of asbestos immediately, and to help affected businesses, communities and indivduals.
For more information contact:
Pon Kumar, President, TCWF (Mobile No. 09444116342)
R. Karnan, General Secretary, TCWF (Mobile No. 09840246995)