The ‘carcinogenic’ asbestos sightings

If you take a moment and notice around you, you will see how much of asbestos is still in use here. You would think that since the carcinogenic factor of the asbestos is widely known, people would stop using it. But, wait a minute, if they are using it, it must mean that asbestos is still available for sale. So, I dug around a little only to find this.

The Asbestos Cement Products Manufacturers’ Association wants to clear the air and establish that the industry, providing low-cost roofing and plumbing solutions for low-income households (80 per cent of asbestos cement is used in rural areas), is “safe.” Association chairman S.A. Bhimaraja says the Indian industry uses only imported Chrysotile (white) fibre as raw material for asbestos cement sheets. “White” asbestos, he says, is different in chemical composition from the “blue” and “brown” varieties, which are banned in India.

Usage of asbestos in a typical Bangalore neighborhood

Environmentalists contend that asbestos, irrespective of the variety, is a carcinogen. Research has proved the many health defects that the very fine asbestos fibres can cause – mesothelioma, asbestosis, lung cancer, and gastrointestinal cancer to name a few. My grandfather died of lung cancer, and I know that he worked for many years in an office that had asbestos roofing. Now, I don’t know if that’s what caused his cancer. All I can say is we sure missed out on some precious years with him.

There are families living under asbestos roofs. I cannot imagine the consequences.

On digging around further, I realized that there is more to it than what meets the eye!

It is not difficult to notice why the entire political establishment wears blinkers when it comes to acknowledging the fact that currently over 40 countries including Europe have banned all forms of asbestos including chrysotile (white asbestos) due to health hazards. With asbestos firms being owned by politicians or the state itself, the government seems to be following a classic ostrich policy.

What else can explain the discredited claims of ‘safe use’ of asbestos by the industry and the virtually blasphemous statement to Parliament on 27 February 2006 by Namo Narain Meena, the Minister of State for Environment saying, “No complaints have so far been received regarding its carcinogenic content and its hazard to health and environment.”

Overall, as a society, we seem to rate safety factors quite low on our list of priorities. But, isn’t it time to slowly change that?

3 Comments so far

  1. Mytri (unregistered) on April 27th, 2007 @ 7:43 pm

    I have no idea about ‘good’ asbestos. But we seem to blame the pollution for all the lung problems in India and most other developing countries! Sad. Maybe if the Medical Examiner actually looked into it more, we may get a detailed analysis into lung cancer and lung problems. Oh well…

    Asbestos is used so routinely that we do not even bother to look at it askance! Information is power and the media should start writing about all this. I mean we love Aishwariya and Abby;s wedding and all, but this is important too ;-) eh?? Is it Bala who has been hounding you guys for not writing about “important” things? I hope that he reads this article and puts in his two rupees :))

  2. Chitra (unregistered) on April 27th, 2007 @ 8:13 pm

    Oh yeah, asbestos is a big culprit.

  3. ss (unregistered) on April 28th, 2007 @ 6:04 pm

    Chitra,great topic.The alternative to AC sheet roofing is Aluminium (Al)sheet roofing,but the hitch(as always!!!!)is the cost factor.Cost of Al sheet is almost double that of AC sheet.I think AC is around Rs.30/- per Sft and Al is around Rs.55/- per sft.In between is the GI(Galvanised Iron)at Rs.45/- ,but this is not as longlasting.At one time it was said that Asbestos Cement roof is hazardous to those manufacturing them only.But ,apparently, even after installation the danger comes in the form of suspended particles from the AC roof.The irony is that most people are aware of AC sheet roof being harmful,but it is taken along the same lines as -too much exposure to the sun could leave you susceptible to skin cancer- types.

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