Though listed as hazardous waste, there has been significant growth in use of asbestos in India

absestosExcerpts from “National Asbestos Profile: India”*, prepared by People’s Training and Research Centre (PTRC), Vadodara, for Occupational and Environmental Health Network India (OEHNI):

Any establishment for the manufacture of asbestos or asbestos related products requires prior environmental clearance regardless of the size of the investment and plant. An Environmental Impact Assessment Report must be provided by the company. Asbestos is listed as a hazardous waste in the Environment (Protection) Act (1986), under sections 6, 8 and 25. Under Waste Category 14, the regulatory quantities of asbestos that can be generated are 200 kilograms per year. If this amount is exceeded, “the occupier generating hazardous wastes…shall take all practical steps to ensure that such wastes are properly handled and disposed of without any adverse effects which may result from such wastes.The occupier shall also be responsible for proper collection, reception, treatment, storage and disposal of these wastes either himself or through the operator of a facility.”

Asbestos is also regulated by the Hazardous and Other Wastes (Management and Transboundary Movement) Rules (2015). The production of asbestos or asbestos containing materials is listed as a hazardous waste generating process, and asbestos- 18Ministry of Environment and Forests, Environment Protection Act (1986). containing residues, discarded asbestos and dust or particulates from exhaust gas treatment are included as hazardous wastes under Schedule I of the Rules.

While public concern and mobilization against the use of asbestos in developed countries has led to heavy regulations or complete bans of asbestos and its related materials, there has been significant growth in asbestos production and use in developing countries, including India. Asbestos imports decreased between 2012 and 2013. According to Government of India projections however, an increase in demand from close to 400,000 to 6 00,000 is expected by 2017.

India is one of the world’s largest importers of asbestos. In 2015, it imported over 370,000 tonnes of asbestos, with the trade value totaling over $239 million. This represents over 57% of the share of total imports of asbestos worldwide. Chrysotile asbestos fibres make up a majority of imports.

60% of India’s imports of asbestos come from Russia. India’s share of global consumption of asbestos has been steadily rising since 1960. While worldwide consumption peaked in 1980 and has been declining since, Indian consumption shows the opposite trend. From 1960 to 2003, India’s consumption increased steadily from approximately 23,600 tonnes to 192,000 tonnes. In 1960, India accounted for a little over 1% of global consumption of asbestos, but by 2003 its share had risen to 9.11%. Since 2003, India’s consumption has continued to grow. In 2013-2014, India consumed 286,001 tonnes of asbestos. Today, it is Asia’s second largest consumer of asbestos after China.

Other than chrysotile asbestos fibres, India imports asbestos cement products, asbestos rock and other products.Asbestos cement products comprise around 2% of total imports. Asbestos rock and other asbestos imports together comprise the remaining 1%.

Domestic Production of Asbestos

In 2013-14, India produced 227 tonnes of asbestos, which represents a decrease of 42% from the previous year. 33 All of the government-reported production in 2013-14 came from three private sector mines in Andhra Pradesh’s Cuddappah (Kadapa) district. Illegal mining also exists, however. Its contribution is estimated at 18 to 20,000 tonnes per year.

While the economic impact of asbestos mining in India is minimal, mining operations nevertheless pose significant adverse consequences for human and environmental health.  In the Roro Hills of Jharkhand for instance, even where mines have been abandoned, a massive pile of asbestos waste mixed with chromite remains on the hilltops. During the monsoon season, this waste seeps into the land, water, and bodies of the tribal communities that reside at the foothills. In the summer, asbestos waste is made airborne by warm winds, which poses a particularly large threat of exposure to children and the elderly.

The fabrication of Asbestos Containing Materials (ACMs) —specifically asbestos cement sheets—began in India in 1934. Throughout the 20 th century, asbestos and ACM industries saw substantial expansion, despite the widely known occupational and environmental health hazards due to asbestos exposure.

Today the ACM is a multi-billion dollar industry that has seen double-digit growth in recent years. 37 India’s chrysotile asbestos cement industry dominates the national asbestos market. In the ten-year period between 1993 and 2003, asbestos-cement production grew from 0.68 million tonnes to 1.38 million tonnes, an increase of 100%.

According to the Asbestos Cement Product Manufacturer’s Association (ACPMA), from 2000 to 2015, there has been a four-fold increase in the production of asbestos cement roofing sheets.Asbestos products, such as jointings sheets, are also used in the ceramics and allied products industry. For 2016-2017, ceramics firms in India adopted a target of 7.28 million USD for the export of asbestos jointings and 8.55 million USD for the export of other asbestos products.

Asbestos and asbestos containing products are produced in over 150 different factories in India. Approximately two-thirds of the units are located in the western industrialized states of Gujarat and Maharashtra  alone.

States like Bihar, have in recent years attempted to woo investments from asbestos companies despite the known dangers to human and natural environments as part of the relentless pursuit of economic growth. In 2009, the Bihar State Investment Promotion Board (SIPB) approved the establishment of a 1.5 lakh metric ton capacity asbestos fiber cement sheet factory in the state’s Muzaffarpur district. The proposed plant in Muzaffarpur, owned by West-Bengal based Balmukund Cement and Roofing Limited, was an estimated 31 crore Indian rupee project (or 4,984,067 US dollars). The company claimed that it would generate employment for 500 villagers.

Furthermore, Balmukund claimed incorrectly that the land for the plant was barren and sufficiently removed from inhabited areas of the district. Instead, the proposed site, near Bhisnupur-Chainpur village, is surrounded by farmland and human habitation.

Other proposed asbestos factories in Bihar include three asbestos cement sheet plants and a grinding plant in Bhojpur district, owned by Ramco industries. Ramco set up their asbestos grinding plant in the Bihiya block of Bhojpur. Although they only had clearance for one factory with a capacity of 120,000 metric tons per annum, they set up a larger plant (of 200,000 metric tons per annum). After the death of a worker, the family of the deceased filed a case with the Bihar Human Rights Commission. Ramco gave the deceased worker’s family a meager 5,000 Indian rupees of compensation and claimed that the worker was not on the shop floor but actually a cook to avoid any allegations of unsafe work conditions. In West Champaran, Hyderabad Industries Limited had a proposal to set up a two-phase cement sheet production site.

There was a proposal to establish another two-phase project to build asbestos cement and corrugated sheet factories in Vaishali, and an asbestos cement and pressure pipe production facility at Madhubani district. In other districts too, the company disclosed the dangerous nature of asbestos production from villagers. After struggles by villagers eventually, the District Magistrate of Muzaffarpur imposed prohibitory orders in the area around the plant in 2011.  In addition to Muzaffarpur, the Vaishali asbestos plant project was also stopped.

However, despite cancelling the “No Objection Certificate” given to Nibhi and Ramco industries in Bhojpur, the units are still running. The group Toxics Watch Alliance has filed a complaint with the Bihar State Pollution Control Board.

*Download full report HERE

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