Remedying Health Harms

Asbestos Mine in India Contaminates Village

Asbestos and cancer

Throughout Europe, it is illegal to extract, manufacture, or use asbestos. Yet asbestos is still widely used across India, and is part of a huge industry dominated by companies that justify the use of asbestos for affordable roofing. These companies persist in claiming that chrysotile asbestos can be safely manufactured and used without risks, despite the overwhelming weight of scientific evidence to the contrary. As the World Health Organization stated in 2006:

“All types of asbestos cause cancer in humans. Chrysotile has been classified by the International Agency for Research on Cancer as being carcinogenic to humans… To date, more than forty countries, including all member states of the European Union, have banned the use of all forms of asbestos, including chrysotile.”

Roro miner's helmet next to foot editedRoro hills in back with children edited

An abandoned mine

In the Roro Hills in Jharkand state in eastern India, Hyderabad Asbestos Cement Products mined chrysotile asbestos (known as “white asbestos”) and milled it onsite. The mine was one of the largest asbestos mines in India, employing 1,500 workers, mostly tribal people.

After twenty years of operations, asbestos mining was halted in 1983. The mine was abandoned, with hundreds of tons of asbestos waste left in and around the mine area. The company made no effort to remediate or take any safety measures to avoid future harms to human health or the environment. Today, thirty years after the mine was shut down, asbestos fibers still blow in the wind and end up in the fields and rivers.

Woman and child in front of tailings 2

A contaminated village

Unaware of the dangers of asbestos, children tobogganed and played soccer on the huge hill of asbestos, yet another modern day “toxic playground.” Not surprisingly, the asbestos and asbestos waste piles have caused and continue to cause damage to human health. As one former worker said: “I worked in the mines for twelve years, and from that day itself I used to cough, and slowly it started to get worse. They gave us nothing, no healthcare, no pension, just these illnesses.”

Cases of asbestosis have been diagnosed in ex-workers at the mine, and in those living in proximity to the mine. There has recently been a concerted attempt to find and diagnose others who have been affected by the asbestosis. Nonetheless, the company continues to maintain that “This particular asbestos [chrysotile] has not been known to give cancer, so far.”

“David and Goliath” before the National Green Tribunal

Using the “polluter pays” principle and other legal claims, Krishnendu Mukherjee, a High Court Advocate in India who is also a barrister in London, filed a landmark case in 2014 on behalf of the victims, and the bulk of the evidence was filed with the court in 2016. This is the first case of its type filed before the National Green Tribunal (environmental court) in India asking for compensation for personal injury caused by toxic pollution. EDLC is proud to support this lawsuit through its grant program and in other ways.