Building and Wood
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July 26, 2012, New Delhi: Outraged by Quebec’s Premier Mr Jean Charest’s decision to grant $58 million loan to revive the world’s oldest open pitted chrysotile (white) asbestos mine-the Jeffery Mine, representatives from Indian trade unions and labour-health activists today held a demonstration infront of the Canadian Embassy in New Delhi. The opening of the mine would mean export of over 5 million tonnes of cancer causing chrysotile asbestos to developing countries over the next quarter of a century.
Terming it ‘scandalous’, Anup Srivastava of Building and Woodworkers’ International 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 a scandal that Premier Charest has decided to be so generous to the industry.”.
Handing over an open letter signed by 28 representatives of the Indian Trade Unions, victims, family members and civil society members addressed to the Canadian Prime Minister Harper and Quebec Premier Charest, the protestors demanded that the Canadian government immediately stop this ‘deadly’ loan which will sanction the asbestos industry ‘license to kill’ Indian workers. “The decision to fund Jeffery mines will have devastating impact on the health of millions of Indian workers, who will handle this dangerous fibre in factories and at construction sites”, said Mohit Gupta, Coordinator of a nation-wide network of labour and health activists- Occupational and Environmental Health Network of India.
In India, it is estimated that over 100,000 workers get exposed routinely to asbestos and maybe a million more in ancillary industries and non-occupational settings. India uses over 400,000 metric tonnes of asbestos annually, mostly in construction industry. But a comprehensive mortality data and compensation records to show the scale of health devastation due asbestos consumption does not exist. Abysmal nature of the data is evident from the fact that despite over 50 years of use and a consumption of over 7 million tonnes in these last few decades, 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 Canadian Indian Baljit Singh Chadha.
Interesting, Jeffery mines was once owned by the American multinational Johns Mansville Corporation (JMC) which went bankrupt in 1982 paying liabilities to asbestos victims. JMC also had stakes in the notorious Sri Dijvijay Cement Company Limited in Ahmedabad, Gujarat which has seen over 62 cases of asbestos related diseases amongst workers, including three cancer deaths.
A 2010 World Health Organization document revealed that “in 2004 asbestos-related lung cancer, mesothelioma and asbestosis from occupational exposures resulted in 107,000 deaths and 1,523,000 DALYS [disability-adjusted life years].” It further attributed several thousands of deaths to other asbestos-related diseases, as well as to non-occupational exposures to asbestos. WHO estimates 125 million people are exposed to asbestos in countries around the world every year. Quebec itself, the heartland of Canada’s asbestos production, is facing an epidemic of asbestos-related diseases; data from the Quebec Workers’ Compensation Board reveals that 60% of occupational deaths in 2009 were due to asbestos.
“Despite such damning evidence, why does the Quebec government want to breathe life into an evil industry that has caused so many deaths? It smacks of sheer arrogance and double standards and will taint Canada’s reputation for ever”, said the protestors.
Attached is the letter that was given at the high Commission See: Petition to Quebec Premier and Canadian Prime Minister.