Despite a ban by the government, asbestos might still be illegally mined in Rajasthan and India could be importing the toxic mineral on a large scale, a Canadian social activist suspects.
Louie Palu, a journalist-turned-social activist working on mining issues in Canada for 12 years, is in India to study the occupational hazards connected with asbestos mining.
Palu, accompanied by a team of researchers from India, visited some asbestos mines and processing units in Rajasthan and other states to see the working conditions and safety measures for labourers.
"There is always a calculated risk in using asbestos," he warned.
Asbestos is well recognised as a health hazard. Inhalation of the mineral can cause asbestosis, cancer of the lung and cancer of the thin membrane that surrounds the lung and other internal organs.
While white asbestos mining is currently banned in India, its import, export or use in manufacturing is permitted.
In India, asbestos is used in the manufacture of pipes for water supply, sewage and drainage, packing material, brake linings in automobiles, heavy equipment and thermal plants. Studies reveal that the demand for asbestos in India is around 100,000 tonnes, a fifth of which is mined domestically. In addition, raw asbestos worth Rs.100 million is imported every year mainly from Canada and Russia, the two major producers of the mineral.
"Asbestos is not viable for commercial production in India. Studies by public health institutions have confirmed the high incidence of lung diseases and asbestosis among those involved in asbestos mining," said Subrata Dutta, Palu's host in India and communications officer of Mine Labour Protection Campaign, a Jodhpur-based NGO.
"People involved in asbestos mining are not aware of the heath hazards. An education programme for the mine workers is necessary to make people aware of the negative consequences of asbestos mining on health," he told IANS on phone.
Dutta said the government had banned asbestos mining. "But in many mining areas of Rajasthan, asbestos is still extracted and traded."