Financial Daily from THE HINDU group of publications
Tuesday, Oct 21, 2003
Industry & Economy
`Indian asbestos cement not a health hazard'
Coimbatore , Oct. 20
THE Indian asbestos fibre cement is not a health hazard, as asbestos is perceived to be in the US, where the industry is facing flak for asbestos-related health problems.
The applications to which the asbestos cement is used in India is also different from asbestos use in the US and studies (of employees) conducted in factories manufacturing fibre cement sheets in India have not shown any occupational hazard caused by exposure to this product, according to an industry executive.
Speaking to Business Line, Mr Manish Sanghi, Executive Director (Marketing), Everest Industries Ltd (EIL), said Indians have been living under asbestos-roofed buildings for a long time and they "haven't seen anything happening to them" for generations.
He had seen photographs of buildings in the company that were taken in 1930s that reinforce this belief.
Asked about fears of asbestos causing health hazards, he said "asbestos is harmful, asbestos cement is not harmful". He said asbestos was a small fibre that was mined and if one inhaled that over a long period of time, it accumulated in the lungs and caused `asbestosis'. But when this is mixed with cement, one does not inhale it.
He said the company conducted a small study which showed that for a person working in the factory manufacturing asbestos fibre cement roofing sheets, where the exposure is "likely to be the maximum", it "would take him about 800 years to have a 5 per cent chance of getting the disease" which effectively means that nothing would happen during his lifetime.
Mr Manish Sanghi, whose company is manufacturing fibre cement roofing materials and interior building boards and has factories in four locations across the country, said the company conducted a small survey at its units near Coimbatore and in Kymore in Madhya Pradesh of people who had retired after working for 30 years to 40 years and checked their health status.
He said, "We have not found a single case of anybody having any asbestos-related diseases".
When pointed out that in the US asbestos was perceived to be causing health hazards, the EIL official said in the US, asbestos was used "primarily for insulation purposes".
For insulation use, it was sprayed and people inhaled it. In the US, the context was insulation and in India it was fibre cement (in a cement matrix). The two were entirely different.
He said asbestos, a fibrous silicate mineral that is incombustible, was being imported since mining of asbestos was not allowed in India.
Among the asbestos varieties, blue and brown caused more harm than the white variety. In the US, the first two were largely used. For sheeting purposes in India, the white asbestos variety was being used.
It was imported from Russia, Canada, Zimbabwe and Brazil in a fibre form by his company.
Mr Manish Sanghi said the raw asbestos would not come into any direct human contact during manufacture of sheets in any factory in India and the raw material was fed into the system with its packing intact.
The asbestos fibre roofing has a market size of 1.5 million tonnes per year in the country and has been growing at the rate of 10 per cent per annum in the past four or five years.
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