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Differing views on risks posed by asbestos use

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DOES the use of asbestos pose health risks? Non-governmental organisations (NGOs) have been highlighting the health hazards. The issue has assumed added importance in the backdrop of the steel lobby reportedly pressurising the Union Ministry of Industries to impose a ban on asbestos products so as to improve the steel sheets market.

The answer to this critical question from the asbestos industry surprisingly comes as both yes and no.

Yes, because usage of certain varieties of asbestos does lead to serious health hazards such as asbestosis, lung cancer and mesothelioma. This has been proven with scientific data and has lead to the ban on manufacture and usage of such varieties of asbestos in most of the countries across the globe.

No, because not all the varieties create the health problems. In fact, there are certain varieties of asbestos such as `chrysotile asbestos' where the scientists have come out with conclusive evidence that they do not lead to any type of health hazards whatsoever if used under regulated environment.

And it is this chrysotile variety of asbestos that is currently being used by the asbestos cement sheet manufacturers in the country, and hence both the manufacture and usage of asbestos cement sheets is absolutely safe, says the Chairman of Chrysotile Asbestos Cement Products Manufacturers' Association, Dr G. Vivekanand.

Apart from many of the studies conducted across the globe by leading scientific and environmental activists approving the safety of manufacture and use of AC sheets, the courts of the most developed and environmental conscious countries such as the US and the UK have also categorically struck down petitions seeking ban on the use of asbestos. The Central Labour Institute (CLI) in India, which had conducted extensive studies on the issue of health hazards in the domestic asbestos cement sheets industry, has also submitted its reports giving a clean chit to the industry.

The studies across the globe had not found any increased risk of cancer to the workers even at the levels of one fibre per cubic centimetre, whereas the Indian chrysotile cement industry currently worked well below 0.5 fibres per cc, Dr Vivekanand claimed.

, He said, "Unfortunately, the prejudged conclusions of NGOs and the steel lobby that serve their respective goals were preventing them from analysing differential risks of various uses of asbestos that were banned on the basis of scientific studies."

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