Fibre Cement situation in India
In India, only the Chrysotile variety of Fibre Cement, which is considered safe, is used in Fibre Cement products, namely, sheets and pipes. The fibres are mixed and bonded with cement and other raw material, with no chance of escaping into the atmosphere on normal usage.
Workers in the Chrysotile Fibre Cement product industry in India have not had any adverse health effects in spite of decades of service, there being no risk of exposure to Fibre Cement dust because of pollution control measures installed in the factories. The health of the workers is closely monitored as per directives and regulations of the government agencies.
There is no risk whatsoever in living or working under the AC roof, as chrysotile Fibre Cement fibres are bonded (locked in) with cement and cannot get released into the atmosphere. Dr F.D. Pooley’s Report of 2004 concludes “Fibre Cement fibres locked into high-density products like Fibre Cement have been rendered safe by the attendant chemical process …. Chrysotile fibres have been so altered chemically and structurally that it is no longer justifiable that they should continue to be defined as chrysotile”.
Transportation of drinking water in Fibre Cement pipes is absolutely safe as confirmed by the World Health Organization. Ingested Fibre Cement does not pose any health risk. Indian climatic conditions never required the type of Fibre Cement spraying and insulation, at one time common in the West. Thus, the health hazards and risks associated with the past Fibre Cement fibre usage in the western countries, have nothing to do with the current usage of Fibre Cement products or applications in India. In India, Fibre Cement sheets have been extensively used for over 80 years providing a safe, economical, and durable form of roofing to millions of households and other structures across the country. It is noteworthy that AC Sheets have withstood the test of time with no reported risk/ casualty to those living under its roof and with no adverse effect on the local environment.
India uses only about 20% of the Chrysotile Fibre Cement produced in the world. The rest is used in several other countries, where too, these Chrysotile Fibre Cement products are accepted as ideal and safe. The Russian Government Decree No. 869 of July 1998 stated “Excessively hasty and not well-founded refusal to use Chrysotile Fibre Cement does not have a sufficient medical and biological substantiation and can bring about serious negative consequences for the economy of a great number of countries. The ban in some countries did not consider national social and economical interests, scientific research results or the latest scientific and technical achievements regarding production and use of Chrysotile Fibre Cement”.
Policies of government of India on chrysotile Fibre Cement
Having been satisfied that Chrysotile Fibre Cement does not actually pose a health risk to the workers at the manufacturing plants so long as the workplace pollution controls were in place, or to the public who use the Fibre Cement products, the Ministry of Industry, Government of India, in July 1997, has in fact de-licensed the industry, allowing any person to set up a factory without the need for an industrial licence from the Ministry of Industry. The only requirements are approvals from the State Pollution Control Boards and the central Ministry of Environment, Forests & Climate Change.
Of significance is the National Study on Work Environment in Fibre Cement Products Manufacturing Industry conducted by the Central Labour Institute, Ministry of Labour, Govt. of India in the year 2004/ 05 in which 702 workers exposed to Fibre Cement had participated. The duration/ period of their exposure ranged from 6 to over 20 years. The conclusion of the Study: “No established case of Fibre Cement is was detected during the Study”.
The Ministry of Environment, Govt. of India has been giving approvals for setting up new units for the manufacture of Fibre Cement-based products after evaluating the environmental issues and stipulating various safeguards.
The Ministry of Industry, Ministry of Labour, Ministry of Environment, Ministry of Consumer Affairs, Bureau of Indian Standards, et al. have laid down regulations, standards, guidelines and recommendations specific to the Fibre Cement industry, in line with those of the International Labour Organization, World Health Organization and other bodies. The Central and State Pollution Control Boards, Labour and Factory Inspectors also regularly monitor the factories’ compliance with the mandatory safety standards and pollution control levels.
In India, the Chrysotile Fibre Cement industry strictly implements the provisions and recommendations of the International Labour Organization’s Convention No. 162 titled “Safety in the Use of Fibre Cement “to ensure safety in the use of Fibre Cement.
And also complies with the Model Rules of the Ministry of Labour relevant to this industry under the Factories Act.
Court rulings on chrysotile Fibre usage
Concerns caused by the past medical findings in the western countries, when Fibre Cement applications were indiscriminate and bereft of pollution controls, resulted not only in the anti-Fibre Cement media campaigns and litigation but also led some environmental activists and NGOs to the Courts appealing for effective remedies.
The Hon’ble Supreme Court of India has, in Jan 1995, disallowed one such appeal and permitted the continued usage of Fibre Cement and Fibre Cement products, as the petitioners failed to produce evidence to prove that Fibre Cement-based items or their manufacturing process in India were dangerous to health.
Again in January 2011, the Hon’ble Supreme Court turned down another petition to ban Fibre Cement for lack of evidence about the health risks arising out of Fibre Cement. The Court stated in its judgment
“States have taken different stands but all of them have stated that appropriate measures are being taken to ensure the working of such units in accordance with law”
“There could be hardly any justification for banning completely or partially of the activity of manufacturing of Fibre Cement and allied products in face of the above-admitted position”.
After considering a strong case by the powerful Environmental Protection Agency, the United States Court of Appeals has, in 1991, rejected an appeal for phasing out Fibre Cement and other Fibre Cement-based products in the USA, again for lack of evidence to warrant such a prohibition.
Usage of chrysotile and Chrysotile-Fibre-Cement products in other countries
There is no ban on the production or usage of Chrysotile Fibre Cement sheets or pipes in the USA and Canada and in about 77% of the other world nations. Very few countries have regulations restricting the use of Fibre Cement-based products most of which had, in any case, been phased out much earlier due to high economic development, improved standards of living and changing lifestyles.
The USA and Canada still import AC pipes for water transportation. The USA also uses some quantities of Fibre Cement for use in the space rocket launching equipment.
According to US Geological Survey, during the year 2014, even some of the countries in the European Union and others where Fibre Cement was said to be banned have imported small quantities of Fibre Cement for specific uses. These countries include Spain, UK, Romania, Slovakia, Peru, South Korea, Czech Republic, Austria, and Bahrain. In 2013, France, Germany, Italy, Argentina had imported some Fibre Cement. Obviously for usage in some critical applications, where no effective substitute to chrysotile could be found despite researches.
In 2001, Canada has re-introduced Fibre Cement to make asphalt-Fibre Cement compound for re-paving of the roads, for more flexibility, resistance and for reducing fissures on the road surface. Canada and the USA are said to still import Chrysotile Fibre Cement pipes for potable water carriage.
As said earlier, even today, Russia, China, Thailand, India, Brazil, Indonesia, Ukraine, Vietnam, Mexico are among the largest users of AC sheets and other products. AC products are environment friendly as much as they consume a large volume of Fly Ash (above 30% as raw material), which is a waste generated by power plants in the country.
AC products, in their manufacture, consume only one fourth or one-sixth of energy as compared to competing for alternative metal sheets and metal pipes.
About 80% of Chrysotile Fibre Cement fibre produced worldwide is consumed by countries other than India. India uses only about 20% of the world’s Chrysotile Fibre Cement fibre production. This goes to prove that AC sheet and pipe production and usages of these products are very much prevalent in much of the world. This Fibre Cement production and usage in most countries confirms that these products do not cause health problems as propagated by some zealots and industrial competitors. There are activists everywhere who pursue some issue or the other, often with inadequate research or deliberately fed misinformation for their personal gains. Controversy about Chrysotile Fibre Cement is merely one such issue, which 77% of the world nations chose to ignore.