US-based activists and representatives from the Indian Association of Occupational Health (IAOH) called for a ban on all activities relating to mining, manufacture, use and trade in asbestos at a symposium held on February 2, 2001 in New Delhi. The seminar became a battleground for pro and anti-asbestos groups. "It is a needless campaign by a select group as well as US-based activists against the industry," said an agitated representative from the industry. The seminar also witnessed a series of heated allegations and counter-allegations between the medical community and representatives from the Union government.
"The asbestos industry tried to stop the session from being held and had threatened injunction against IAOH for holding the workshop. They also objected to the title of the workshop -- 'Banning Asbestos in India'," alleged T K Joshi, chairperson of the scientific committee of the association. Even P K Sishodiya, the deputy director of mines safety, in a letter, asked Joshi to "avoid using the title."
Most of the developed countries and some developing countries like Chile have either banned or are in the process of phasing out asbestos due to public health concerns (see p21).
Representatives of the asbestos industry in India vehemently oppose any move towards banning the material. They say that "controlled use of asbestos with adequate safeguards" would ensure that the heath of workers and consumers is not affected (see 'Death inside the factory gates', Down To Earth , Vol 9, No 9; September 30). "Controlled use of asbestos is like sustainable development. Nobody practices it," said B Castleman, one of the key speakers at the session and a leading international expert on occupational health. He called for a ban of asbestos in India or at least a deadline from the government for phasing out its use.
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