India: An out of control asbestos market

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A warm welcome to new ICIJ media partner, Tehelka magazine in India, which just published an exposé on the growth and influence of the asbestos industry in that country. The story, part of ICIJ’s recent investigation “Dangers in the Dust: Inside the Global Asbestos Trade,” reveals how despite being banned or restricted in 52 countries for its toxicity, asbestos is big business in developing countries like India, where the cheap, fire-resistant building material may be all the poor can afford

India is the world’s second largest asbestos market — China is the top consumer — and the industry generates more than $850 million a year in revenue, according to the story authored by ICIJ member Murali Krishnan and reporter Shantanu Guha Ray. A chunk of that money — about $8 million to $13 million a year — goes to the powerful Asbestos Cement Products Manufacturers’ Association (ACPMA), a New Delhi-based industry group that lobbies fiercely for the continued use of asbestos in India. The campaign is effective: In 2009, the national asbestos market grew more than 30 percent, largely due to increased demand in India’s villages.

Despite piles of evidence from around the world that asbestos exposure can cause lung cancer and other asbestos-related diseases, ACPMA denies that the fiber is taking a toll on India’s population. They argue asbestos is used in India under “controlled conditions” and thus poses little risk. But health experts say such conditions are nearly impossible to achieve in developing nations, where workplace and environmental standards are lax.

In Tehelka’s piece we learn that at just one asbestos company, in Ahmedabad, at least 75 workers, out of a workforce of 1,000, have been diagnosed with lung cancer over the past 10 years. They are not alone. Experts predict up to 10 million asbestos-related cancer deaths by 2030 in the developing world.

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