Published: Sunday 31 December 2000

Right or wrong?

The author of 'Death inside the factory gates' (Down To Earth, Vol 9, No 9; September 30) has not done justice to the article. Ecoweapons have been successfully used the world over. The ban on asbestos products in usa is a result of successful use of 'ecoweapons' adopted by the synthetic fibre lobby of usa. The asbestos products manufactured in usa were mostly being imported from Canada. In 1991, the federal appeals courts of usa reversed the ban imposed by the Environment Protection Agency. The court, after a prolonged legal battle, found that evidences against asbestos products were unsubstantiated or misinterpreted.

It felt that the replacement of asbestos does not reduce the projected dangers, rather increases indirect risks. For example it stated, "Credible evidence suggests that non-asbestos brakes could increase significantly the number of highway fatalities." Based on the notion of acceptable risk, statistical evaluation of the lifetime risk value indicates that asbestos falls under 'extremely low risk category.' The lifetime risk value is just 10 per million for asbestos. For tobacco, the figure is 219,000 per million, automobile accident is 16,000 per million, alcohol drinking, air travel and for skiing it is 7,300 and 2,000 per million respectively. Therefore, I hope that your magazine resists temptations to utilise 'ecoweapons'. Readers expect unprejudiced assessment to a problem. The author should have discussed the myths as well as realities, rather than highlighting the myths and ignoring the realities.

Our correspondent replies:
The article is an attempt to address the issue of improper environmental management by small scale industrial units manufacturing asbestos in the country. The release of asbestos fibres in the air, both at the production stage and product disposal stage, can be curbed to a great extent with proper management. This will help in decreasing the toxicity associated with asbestos. However, the issue here is whether small scale industrial units of India are able to control emissions of asbestos fibre during the production phase or not. The answer is no. A recent study done by the Central Pollution Control Board indicates that out of a sample of eight companies surveyed as much as six were found to be not adhering to even the minimum level of environmental management. The story is not trying to promote the banning of asbestos, but it is trying to make the government aware that its policies need to reviewed in context with the present ground realities. ...

The curse of cancer

I share your concerns regarding India's health care system because my father, brother, sister and a niece died due to cancer.
Gautam Navlakha
New Delhi

Your article is both moving and highly authentic since it comes from your experience. I hope the article is able to make politicians as well as the media understand their responsibility, that is working towards improving the quality of life of the common people.

Your experience about cancer caused due to pollution is very moving. You have pertinently observed "For a poor man, the very diagnosis of cancer is equal to death." You were indeed very lucky to recover, thanks to the timely medical treatment and God's grace.
Vellore, Tamil Nadu

Anil Agarwal's article 'Silenced To Death' (Down To Earth, Vol 9, No 11; October 31), which was also published in The Hindu, has provoked responses from several readers. We reproduce a few of them.

My sincere compliments for your hard-hitting, well-sustained and timely article on cancer. However, I was surprised that you did not mention the x-ray units, which are indirectly causing cancer. Hundreds of diagnostic x-ray units have come up in the country and none of them function according to the safety requirements mandated by the atomic energy regulation board formulated under the Atomic Energy Act. Ionizing radiation is a potent carcinogen. The Centre for Science and Environment should take up this matter.
S G Kabra

Your article is truly a masterpiece. But I condemn your following statement: "But, for once, I hated being an Indian." I might not be a great person but I think the country has not done anything wrong. It is us who are committing all the mistakes. I would like to remind you that the father of genetics, the world renowned Hargobind Khorana is an Indian settled abroad. Enough funds are not available in India for talented people like Khorana. In your article, you have only focussed on Kumaramangalam's death, instead of the numerous ordinary victims of this deadly disease.
Phani kumar Reddy

'Silenced To Death' highlights the steep rise in cancer incidences and the status of cancer treatment in India. A visit to the out-patients wards of the oncology unit of various hospitals will help understand the situation better.

I had the misfortune to visit these places as my wife was a cancer patient. Very often you are treated as a 'condemned to death case'. The investment in cancer treatment is considered as a dead investment. The drugs are costly, the doctors' charge exorbitant amount of fees and hospital charges are unaffordable.

The medical fraternity pounces on poor cancer patients like vultures attacking a dead lamb. I have seen doctors treating the helpless victims with utter disregard. If cancer is due to environmental factors, polluters of the environment should be made to pay for the cancer treatment. It can be anybody: the government, institutions or individuals. If the government can spend crores of rupees combating terrorism, why can't it subsidise cancer treatment or make it free of cost. Anil Agarwal survived because he could go to the us for his treatment, but how many of us can afford this?
Nagercoil, Tamil Nadu

One would shudder to think that metropolitans have become metaphorical death chambers. The flip side of the story puts the scenario in an even worse perspective. Kumaramangalam's case has highlighted the laxity of our efforts concerning health and made a mockery of our so-called welfare state. Your article has brought it out in its entirety. The Rs six crore expenditure on V P Singh's treatment further spells the mandatory disaster, that an average cancer patient and the relatives have to face.

The situation is totally ineffable. Given ever-increasing pollution of all type, the scenario will only become worse in.

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