Asbestos causing 30 deaths per day in India

With the asbestos cancer pandemic estimated to be causing 30 deaths per day in India, residents of Bishnupur-Chainpur in Muzaffarpur in Bihar are up in arms, protesting the setting up of a factory in their village.

The protests are being led by octogenarian trade union leader Sachidananda Sinha (based in Muzaffarpur) who has, along with environmental experts from around the globe, petitioned both environment minister Jairam Ramesh and Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar to stop the factory from being set up.
Mr Sinha points out, “This is the first time that villagers are out on the streets protesting against the setting up of an asbestos factory. Three villagers of Bishnupur-Chainpur, working in an asbestos factory near Jaipur, died recently. Health hazards caused by the mineral fibre is a source of genuine concern.”
Other plants currently under construction in Bihar are located in Bihiya and Bhojpur with 10 more plants in the drawing board stage. A concerned Barry Castleman, the world’s leading asbestos hazard expert, has written to both, the Bihar chief minister and Mr Ramesh, in early January, warning them against the setting up of more factories.
Mr Ramesh has ordered an enquiry into this whole episode. Activists, including Gopal Krishna heading Toxic Waste Alliance, assert that asbestos is banned in the European Union and the US where it is blamed for some 200,000 deaths and has cost the industry $70 billion in damages and litigation expenses. Currently, 55 countries have banned its use.
Mr Krishna asserts, “Statistics released by the US health departments point to 10,000 asbestos-related deaths per year. Castleman and other researchers suggest the asbestos pandemic will kill more than 10 million across the globe. Going by their statistics, we have calculated from the cases of lung cancer alone, we are suffering 30 asbestos related deaths in India per day.”
A study by two New Delhi researchers suggest that deaths from asbestos-related cancers could touch one million in developing nations by 2020. But reporting on this subject remains scarce primarily because there is no mechanism to prove that lung cancer and other skin diseases have been caused by asbestos exposure.
“Even if a single fibre is inhaled, it is capable of causing mesothelioma and that has been proved by epidemiological, clinical and experimental studies,” says Dr Sanjay Chaturveid, a professor of community medicine.

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