Medical Community Drafts Asbestos Petition

Various members of the medical and scientific research community are drafting and signing a petition that will go to the House of Representatives, asking them to pass legislature that will totally ban the importation and use of asbestos-containing products.

According to an article in the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, physicians, nurses, industrial hygienists, clinical scientists and others who deal with the victims of asbestos exposure are signing the petition. Many of them have worked with Washington senator Patty Murray in her six-year fight to ban asbestos. However, they say that with its current wording, Bill SB742, proposed by Murray last fall, won’t accomplish everything necessary to stop the fatal legacy of asbestos exposure.

These individuals and other lobbyists say that Murray’s original language – which would have ordered a complete ban on asbestos – was watered down to get the bill passed. The new Senate version would not have outlawed asbestos from vermiculite, talc, taconite and other sources of contamination. But most importantly, say Murray’s former backers, are that products containing up to 1 percent asbestos are exempt from prohibition, says Dr, Michael Harbut, co-director of the National Center for Vermiculite and Asbestos-Related Cancers at the Karmanos Cancer Institute.

“What the Senate passed would even allow asbestos fibers to be present in everything from road patch to stuffed teddy bears,” Harbut said. “How is that protecting the public health?” asked Harbut, who is also employed at the Center for Occupational and Environmental Medicine at Wayne State University.

The House expects to hold hearing on “a more inclusive” ban in early spring, committee staffers say. Currently, 40 countries around the world have issued a total ban on asbestos, including almost all the European Union members. The U.S. issued strong warnings about asbestos use in the 1970s but never a total ban.

Government of India Tampers with Asbestos Facts

Environmental groups in India allege that the federal government is attempting to tamper with a study on the safety of white (chrysotile) asbestos, a toxic mineral that is still widely used throughout the country.

According to an article in the Calcutta Telegraph, the Ministry of Chemicals and Fertilizers is trying to influence the study in question, hoping to maintain its position that India should continue using the mineral despite the fact that 40 countries have already banned its use.

India is home to about 30 companies that produce asbestos-containing products, says the article. More than 90 percent of the material is used in asbestos-cement pipes, flat sheets and corrugated roofing sheets and the rest goes into brake linings, pads and industrial gloves.

“The Ministry of Chemicals and Fertilizers is colluding with the asbestos industry to influence the findings of safety studies,” said Madhumita Dutta, an environmental activist based in Chennai who had filed the application under RTI seeking study documents.

The ministry had asked the National Institute of Occupational Health (NIOH) to conduct a study on the health hazards of asbestos by examining workers in the asbestos industry. But, say concerned environmentalists, the findings are being vetted by the ministry as well as industry representatives before they are either peer-reviewed by independent scientists or made public.

“The ministry wants to influence the findings of this study to shape domestic policy on asbestos,” said Gopal Krishna, an activist with the Ban Asbestos Network of India.

Labor Unions Call for Ban on Asbestos in India

More than a dozen labor unions and NGOs (non-governmental organizations) in India recently released a report that resulted in a demand for a ban on asbestos throughout the country, which has an extremely high incidence of asbestos-related diseases.

According to an article in Thaindian News, the report, entitled “A Fox in the Hen House: Made-to-order Science and India’s Asbestos Policy,” alleges a suspicious link between the government and the nation’s asbestos industry and calls for an all out ban on the toxic mineral.

Addressing a news conference yesterday, Centre of Indian Trade Unions (CITU) General Secretary P. K. Ganguly, said “When there are alternatives to asbestos, it should be banned.”

“The World Health Organization has got the reports. The reports say that all sorts of asbestos [are dangerous], including the white type called Chrysotile asbestos, [which] is one of the most toxic and widely used in India and some other developing countries,” added Ganguly.

To date, 40 countries have banned the use of chrysotile and other forms of asbestos, but India is one of six countries that are opposing the inclusion of chrysotile on a list of hazardous chemicals. The list is updated annually at a meeting of the World Health Organization. Other countries opposing the listing of chrysotile include Canada and Russia, both of whom continue to mine asbestos.

India’s ship breaking industry is the hardest hit when it comes to asbestos-related diseases such as mesothelioma. Dismantling old ships usually results in exposure to asbestos, which was widely used in shipbuilding until the late 1970s. Often, when the ships arrive in India, the asbestos is already damaged or it becomes damaged with improper removal. Damaged asbestos results in airborne fibers, which can be easily inhaled by shipyard workers.

Fire Officials Knew About Asbestos Hazard

Newly discovered documents show that at least one Everett, Wash. fire official knew about the presence of dangerous asbestos in homes that the fire company was using to train their new firefighters.

According to an article in the Everett Herald, the Everett firefighters that trained in the old homes were also joined by a number of other companies from Snohomish County in using the homes for training. Those companies were also unaware of the dangers that awaited them in the old houses.

“Although city officials say they have since alerted two fire departments about concerns, some firefighters are raising questions about why they haven’t been notified that there was potential exposure,” notes the article, adding that it appears nothing was said to these departments until recently, even though the state Department of Labor and Industries revealed that Everett firefighters likely were exposed to asbestos when they trained in the houses in July, more than six months ago.

“Our first indication was when it broke in the news. We heard nothing of it, and still to this day, we haven’t received any official communication,” said Troy Smith, union president for firefighters in Snohomish County Fire District 7. “That to me is inexcusable.”

Furthermore, records show that on July 18, less than a week before Everett firefighters trained in the houses, a construction company told a captain with the Everett Fire Department that asbestos and lead paint needed to be removed before the houses could be used for training. The abatement wasn’t planned until after July 30 and the captain was told the training would have to be after that date, according to the minutes from a meeting that included representatives from the construction and engineering companies.

However, less than a week after that meeting, firefighters were training inside the houses in question. In the meantime, a consultant with the Department of Labor has deemed the exposure serious enough to suggest that those firefighters who performed training exercises inside the home be tested periodically for any sign of asbestos-related disease.

“The minutes of those meetings just came out. It was a big surprise to us. We’re very concerned about it. We’re still trying to investigate all the facts,” said Robert Downey, president of the Everett firefighters’ union. “We’ve been in those houses since May. We assumed everything was done and it was safe.”