Health Hazards Of Asbestos Do Not Warrant Its Use: HRF

Submission before the Panel holding Environmental Public Hearing on April 21, 2011 into the proposed asbestos cement sheets and accessories unit by Sahyadri Ind Ltd near Narsimharaopalem village in Veerulapadu mandal of Krishna district in Andhra Pradesh.

Introduction: The Human Rights Forum (HRF) is a citizens’ forum established with the objective of working for the protection of the Constitutionally guaranteed/internationally recognised rights of the people, and for the right of the people to propose and strive for new rights not yet recognised in national or international law. The right to a wholesome and dignified life is the touchstone for the rights that may be aspired for. In particular HRF works for the protection of the right to a clean and safe environment. HRF is a self-financed organisation whose members are mostly from the professions of teaching, journalism and the law. 


At the outset we wish to make clear our total opposition to the production and use of asbestos and therefore to the setting up of this asbestos cement sheets and accessories unit by Sahyadri Ind Ltd. HRF believes asbestos to be an extremely dangerous mineral. It is single-handedly responsible for lakhs of deaths over the past several decades and continues to take a toll even in countries that have completely stopped its use, like Australia. Workers employed in the asbestos processing sector and millions of construction workers exposed to asbestos during maintenance, renovation and demolition activities are vulnerable to fatal cancerous diseases like ‘mesothelioma’ and ‘asbestosis’.

It is a matter of common knowledge that following realisation of the dangers of its use, 52 nations have banned the production and usage of asbestos. Faced with dwindling markets in the developed world, the global asbestos industry is focusing on markets like India. The increasing use of this toxin in our society even when safer alternatives are available is cause for tremendous concern.

The history of the asbestos industry is one of causing death, disease and devastation not just to workers but also to surrounding environment. The fundamental reality about asbestos is that it kills. It is a proven human carcinogen. This happens despite the best controls and safeguards. There is scientific consensus that there is no safe level of exposure to asbestos. Asbestos use has wrecked havoc in the industrialised world and it continues to kill in India. While calling for a world-wide ban on asbestos use, the World Health Organisation said in 2006: “All forms of asbestos have been shown to be deadly. Safe use of asbestos has proven impossible anywhere in the world.”

Therefore, the company’s assertion that land values and economic benefits will flow from this new asbestos factory in the Narsimharaopalem area is simply absurd. Given the track record of asbestos industry in India and elsewhere, what will be done to dispose of solid wastes as we see in other asbestos factories in India? Will skull and crossbones and cancer labels be put on their products?  Will independent medical audit of the effects on their longest-employed workers be allowed?  What product stewardship has the company planned to assure protection of workers using their products in construction (and end users), much of which can be expected to occur in the community near the factory? 

Also, what will the limit be on occupational asbestos exposure in the air of the plant?  What sanitary provisions (separate lockers for work clothes and street clothes, showers, the provision and laundering of work clothes by the employer) will be used to prevent the families of the workers from getting cancer from the asbestos contamination of their homes? Will there be negative-pressure, fully enclosed bag opening machines to open the sacks of asbestos at the beginning of the process of making asbestos-cement and will the plant conform to other provisions of International Labour organisation (ILO) (asbestos) convention 162?

Having said this, we reiterate that there can be no safe way to mine, manufacture and use asbestos and based on the precautionary principle it must be banned. Put simply, the health hazards of asbestos do not warrant its use.

VS Krishna
HRF State general secretary

P Amar
HRF Krishna district convener


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