This article is from The Guardian(19th, Dec, 2022)
For 40 years, Mohammad Younus worked at a factory that manufactured asbestos sheets in the southern Indian city of Coimbatore. By the time he was in his 50s, his body started giving up.
Asbestos dust had clogged his lungs, doctors told his family. Younus had tuberculosis and lung cancer. He died in 2021, aged 59. His wife and two sisters, who lived with Younus in a company apartment at the factory, have been diagnosed with asbestosis.
Mohammad Younus, stands in a doorway at his home in Coimbatore, Tamil Nadu, India.
‘What we don’t know, is how much worse things could get for those of us who are alive,’ Saludeen, Mohammad Younus’s son
The family has received compensation from a trust fund set up by Turner and Newall, the former British asbestos firm that owned stakes in the Coimbatore factory for some of the time Younus worked there. But, says his son Saludeen Younus, 36, money can’t bring his father back, or fix the health of his mother and aunts.
“What’s gone is gone,” says Saludeen. “What we don’t know, is how much worse things could get for those of us who are alive.”
There are fears that sentiment is true for all of India, poised to become the world’s asbestos diseases capital.
Classified as a human carcinogen by the World Health Organization and national regulators in several countries, including the US, asbestos use is banned in 69 countries and strictly regulated in others.
India banned asbestos mining in 1993, when the government stopped reissuing licences, but it imports more of the toxic mineral than any other country. In 2021, India accounted for 44% of global imports, a 29% increase on 2020. Russia and Brazil are its key sources.
There’s almost no home or car in India that isn’t being built with asbestos as an ingredient
“The government is basically saying that Indian asbestos is poisonous, but Brazilian or Russian asbestos is not,” says Gopal Krishna, an occupational health researcher and founder of the Ban Asbestos Network of India. “It makes no sense.”
India’s unmatched scale of exposure to asbestos means that in the coming decades more than 6 million people could have an asbestos-related disease, including more than 600,000 cancer cases, according to research published by Mumbai’s Tata Institute of Social Sciences (TISS). “It’s a ticking timebomb,” says Abhijeet Vasant Jadhav, lead author of the research.
Asbestos is used in everything from cement to brake parts, says Krishna. “There’s almost no home or car in India that isn’t being built with asbestos as an ingredient. We are all exposed to it.”
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‘We are all exposed to it’: the human face of India’s asbestos timebomb