Title: [GreenYes] Submission on Asbestos before Independent People's Tribunal on the World Bank Group
Independent People's Tribunal on the World Bank Group
Subject-Continued trade and use of asbestos in India and World Bank
Hon'ble Jury Members,
The World Bank Group (WBG) finances huge infrastructure projects all
over the world including India but has no formal restrictions on the
use of asbestos-cement (A-C) sheets and pipes in these projects. Over
90 percent of all asbestos used today is in A-C sheets and pipes, and
this production is concentrated in poor countries.
The World Health Organization (WHO), the International Labor
Organization (ILO), and the International Social Security Association
(ISSA) have all called for a global ban on asbestos use.
Despite this, asbestos consumption is rising dramatically in India,
China, Thailand, and other countries. The International Program on
Chemical Safety has condemned the use of asbestos in construction
materials as especially dangerous because of the large number of
workers in construction and the extreme difficulty of protecting them.
The continuing usage of these materials constitutes a danger to
workers manufacturing the products and communities exposed to wastes
and air pollution from manufacturing and construction sites. The
buildings and pipelines installed today will pose dangers for future
generations of people in the countries where they are used, if they
All forms of asbestos except Chrysotile Asbestos is banned in India.
Mining of asbestos is also banned since no new lease for asbestos
mining is allowed. The export and import of asbestos waste (dust and
fiber) is also banned as per Hazardous Waste (Management & Handling)
Rules, 2003. But import of Chrysotile asbestos is still allowed
despite ban in some 40 countries due to incurable but preventable
cancer caused by this killer fiber in the name of its continued
mythical "safe and controlled use".
Asbestos is processed through various methods and used for making
cement products, gasket sheet material, friction material, heat
resistant textiles, some special applications like in paints,
thermoplastics etc. In addition it is used for textiles, laminated
products, tape, gland packing, packing ropes, brake lining and
jointing used in core sector industries such as automobile, heavy
equipment, petro-chemicals, nuclear power plants, fertilizers, thermal
power plants, transportation, defense. It is used in manufacture of
asbestos cement roofs, pressure and non-pressure pipes, sewage,
irrigation and drainage system in urban and rural areas etc.
Asbestos-related diseases constitute the largest occupational epidemic
of the 20th century; this global scourge has been acknowledged by
reputed medical journals like the British Medical Journal (January 31,
Despite this knowledge, no attempt has been made to quantify the total
number of asbestos victims in India despite the national asbestos
crisis. Asbestos is a proven human carcinogen (a substance which can
cause cancer). No safe level can be proposed for asbestos products
because there is no threshold of exposure which is not safe. Asbestos
accumulates in the body; the microscopic fibers which lodge in tissues
are time bombs that can cause cancer years later. Since asbestos
exposure is cumulative, young people are in particular need of
While asbestos imports and use continues to grow in countries like
India, its use has decreased significantly in developed countries.
Canada exports almost all of the asbestos (more than 96%) mined in the
country, especially to Asia, including India, whereas asbestos use in
Canada is almost non-existent. In the US, demand for asbestos has
continued to decline and a Ban Asbestos Act is on the Congressional
agenda. The developed world has responded to the asbestos health
catastrophe with bans on the use of asbestos. On the contrary,
asbestos use is expanding in India and the government actively
colludes with the asbestos industry by instituting pro-asbestos
measures such as the reduction of taxes on asbestos imports. The
reduction of import duty, reduces the cost of asbestos and thereby
gives harmful asbestos-containing products a price advantage over
Although the Supreme Court of India has directed Union and State
Governments to take action consistent with ILO resolutions and the ILO
Convention on Asbestos, Ministries in India have not taken action in
pursuance of ILO's Resolution on Asbestos dated 14th June, 2006
stating "the elimination of the future use of asbestos and the
identification and proper management of asbestos currently in place
are the most effective means to protect workers from asbestos
exposures and to prevent future asbestos-related disease and deaths.".
Even if the use of asbestos products is discontinued there are and
will be a massive number of victims from past asbestos exposures. This
is what has happened elsewhere and there is no doubt the asbestos
epidemics which have occurred in the US, Europe, Australia and Japan
will be replicated in India and other asbestos consuming countries.
Information revealing the dangers to human health of exposure to
asbestos was available over 60 years ago. Despite the efforts of the
asbestos industry to suppress negative findings, during the 20th
century epidemiological studies and medical data conclusively proved
the link between asbestos and a number of debilitating and fatal
diseases. Urgent action is needed in India and elsewhere to end the
needless slaughter caused by this environmental and occupational
The World Bank should adopt a formal policy of forbidding asbestos in
all of its projects and require the use of safer substitute
construction materials. Such substitution is feasible as shown by the
bans in more than 40 countries. The World Bank should also adopt best
practice guidelines for the minimization of asbestos exposures in
projects where in-place asbestos materials are disturbed by renovation
or demolition activities.
The World Bank should support the asbestos action program just started
by the WHO
and use its influence and leverage to press for the cessation of
asbestos use all over the world.
The report of retired World Bank environmental official Robert
Goodland, "Sustainable Development Sourcebook for the World Bank
Group's Extractive Industries Review: Examining the Social and
Environmental Impacts of Oil, Gas, and Mining" (3 December, 2003).
Policy options for asbestos (p. 141) included, "5. The WBG should work
rest of the UN system to foster a global ban on asbestos." Other
policy recommendations were,
1. The WBG should not provide support for any asbestos-containing products,
even indirectly, including through mining, manufacture, commerce and
use. The rest of the WBG should follow the lead of IFC, which has put
asbestos on its Exclusion List.
2. The WBG should actively assist with the safe removal and disposal
of asbestos, and adopt a best practice demolition code.
3. The WBG should support asbestos manufacturers in developing countries to
switch out of asbestos-containing products and into less risky products.
4. The WBG should support victims of asbestos exposure, including
litigation for compensation of victims, and/or the creation of a
financial compensation mechanism akin to the mechanism being explored
in the case of toxic mine waste and the toxic lagoon legacy issue
taken up by the Extractive Industry Review (See eireview.net)
The World Bank must explain why it has not taken the recommended actions.