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.

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