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Facts & Myth

FACTS ON CHRYSOTILE ASBESTOS CEMENT PRODUCTS – A MONOGRAPH

1. WHAT IS ASBESTOS ?

  • Asbestos is a naturally occurring mineral found in underground rock formations. For commercial purposes, it is recovered by mining and rock crushing. Fine fibres, invisible to the eye, are present in the air and water in every region of the globe. Hence, all of us may be inhaling and also ingesting them through drinking water every day. There are two different varieties of asbestos (i) Chrysotile variety and (ii) Amphibole variety. Amphibole variety comprises of Crocidolite, Amosite, Tremolite, actinolite, anthophyllite, etc. Mining, production and usage of Amphiboles have been prohibited all over the world for decades as they are considered un-safe.
  • Only Chrysotile variety (white asbestos), which is considered safe under controlled conditions, is in commercial use now. Indian asbestos cement sheet and pipe manufacturers also use only chrysotile variety which incidentally is all imported mostly from Russia, Kazakhstan and Brazil.  Canada’s and Zimbabwe’s production and exports have become rather insignificant of late.  Chrysotile asbestos is also mined in India in minuscule quantities and so is not of any consequence.
  • Chrysotile asbestos fibre, (composed mainly of magnesium and silica), is a great reinforcing agent. While its tensile strength is greater than steel, it has other rare and highly valued fire-retardant, chemical-resistant and heat-insulating qualities. In fact it is a magic mineral.

2. WHAT ARE ASBESTOS-CEMENT (AC) PRODUCTS?

  • AC products are made with a mix of chrysotile asbestos fibres (7-9%), cement (about 40%), Fly Ash (about 30-35%) and the rest being wood pulp and water. Around  95-97% of asbestos fibre imports by India go in to AC sheet and Pipe production.
  • AC Sheets have been used in India for over 75 years. Being weather-proof and corrosion resistant, these sheets are practically ageless and maintenance free, whereas metal sheets corrode and deteriorate with age and exposure. (See chart for comparison).
  • AC Sheets have also proven to be the most cost effective, easy-to-install, strong and durable roofing material for warehouses, factories, low-cost housing, and practically any structure needing a roof.
  • Apart from India, China, Russia, Brazil, Indonesia, Thailand, Vietnam are some of the large users of AC Sheets.
  • AC sheets and pipes, being corrosion and erosion-free, once properly laid and jointed, need no maintenance or replacement. They are also very cost effective.
  • AC products, consume low energy in manufacture and do not in any way deplete the natural resources. These ideally meet the needs of countries / developing economies in the context of rapidly rising population and limited resources.
  • AC products are manufactured under (ISI) license strictly conforming to the specifications of Bureau of Indian Standards. IS 459/1992 for Corrugated Roofing Sheets, IS 2098/1997 for Building Boards, IS 2096/ 1992 for Flat Sheets and IS 1626 (Part III)/ 1994 for Roofing Accessories. A.C. Pressure Pipes are covered by IS 1592 : 2003.

3. EXPLAIN THE NEGATIVE REPORTS OF ASBESTOS:

  • The bias against the use of asbestos in a few countries is due to the adverse  western media coverage relating to altogether different usages of asbestos in the past in those countries i.e. sprayed on asbestos and friable low-density asbestos insulation used under uncontrolled conditions at that time due to lack of adequate scientific knowledge. Though these particular usages have since been discontinued, the claims relating to the past indiscriminate use keep appearing in the media resulting in general confusion (there is no such usage in India like it was in the Western world).
  • But once the scientific research into the risks of asbestos was set in motion, development and installation of pollution control systems took place, enabling the asbestos mining and asbestos cement industries to maintain safe and acceptable levels of dust pollution at the work places.
  • Once the permissible levels of exposure were defined, the governments have stepped in and laid down pollution control regulations and the mechanisms to enforce their compliance. Compliance with these regulations re-assure the workers in asbestos-cement industries a risk-free environment. For the consumer and general environment, Asbestos Cement products were and are always safe as the fibres are locked in layers of cement–fly ash matrix. This has been proven over 75 years in India.

4. CHRYSOTILE ASBESTOS PRODUCT USAGE:

  • In India, only the chrysotile variety of asbestos, which is considered safe, is used in asbestos-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 asbestos-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 asbestos dust because of pollution control measures installed in the factories. 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 asbestos fibres are bonded (locked in) with cement and cannot get released in to the atmosphere.
  • Dr F.D. Pooley’s Report of 2004 concludes “asbestos fibres locked in to high density products like asbestos-cement have been rendered safe by the attendant chemical process …. “
  • Transportation of drinking water in A.C. Pressure Pipes is absolutely safe as confirmed by the World Health Organization. Ingested asbestos does not pose any health risk. Indian climatic conditions never required the type of asbestos spraying and insulation, at one time common in the West. Thus, the health hazards and risks associated with the past asbestos fibre usage in the western countries, have nothing to do with the current usage of asbestos products or applications in India. In India, Asbestos Cement sheets have been extensively used in India  for over 75 years  providing 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 asbestos produced in the world. The rest is used in several other countries, where too, these chrysotile fibre cement products are accepted ideal as safe. The Russian Government Decree No. 869 of July 1998 stated “Excessively hasty and not well founded refusal to use chrysotile asbestos does not have a sufficient medical and biological substantiation and can bring about serious negative consequences for economy of a great number of countries. The ban in some countries did not consider national social and economical interests, scientific research results nor the latest scientific and technical achievements regarding production and use of chrysotile asbestos”.

5. WHAT ARE THE POLICIES OF GOVERNMENT OF INDIA ON ASBESTOS?

  • Having been satisfied that chrysotile asbestos does not actually pose a health risk to the workers at the manufacturing plants so long as the work place pollution controls were in place, or to the public who use the asbestos-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.
  • Of significance is the National Study on Work Environment in Asbestos 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 asbestos had participated. The duration/ period of their exposure ranged from 6 to over 20 years. The conclusion of the Study: “No established case of asbestosis was detected during the Study”.
  • The Ministry of Environment, Govt. of India has been giving approvals for setting up new units for manufacture of asbestos 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 asbestos industry, in line with those of 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, asbestos-cement industry strictly implements the provisions and recommendations of International Labour Organization’s Convention No. 162 titled “ Safety in the Use of Asbestos “.
  • It also complies with the Model Rules of the Ministry of Labour relevant to this industry under the Factories Act.

6. ARE THERE COURT RULINGS ON ASBESTOS USAGE?

  • Asbestos usage in the West in the past was not only indiscriminate (presently prohibited types of asbestos were extensively used) but also bereft of pollution controls, resulting in health issues which led some anti-asbestos campaigners, environmental activists and NGOs approaching the Courts  for effective remedies.  But after examining the facts and realities, the Courts have given final rulings – refusing to prohibit asbestos usage.  For instance –
  • In January 1995, the Hon’ble Supreme Court of India has disallowed one such ban appeal and permitted the continued usage of asbestos and asbestos products, as the petitioners failed to produce evidence to prove that asbestos-based items or their manufacturing process in India were dangerous to health.
  • Again in January 2011, the Hon’ble Supreme Court turned down another such ban asbestos petition for lack of evidence about the health risks arising out of asbestos.   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 working of such (asbestos) units in accordance with law. There could be hardly any justification for banning completely or partially of the activity of manufacturing of asbestos 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 asbestos-cement and other asbestos based products in USA, again for lack of evidence to warrant such a prohibition.

7. ARE ASBESTOS AND ASBESTOS CEMENT PRODUCTS STILL USED IN OTHER COUNTRIES?

  • There is no ban on production or usage of asbestos-cement sheets or pipes in USA and Canada and in about 77% of the other world nations. Very few countries have regulations restricting use of asbestos based products most of which had, in any case, been phased out much earlier due to high economic development, improved standards of living and changed life styles.
  • The USA and Canada still use A.C. Pressure Pipes for water transportation. The USA also uses some quantities of asbestos for use in the space rocket launching equipment.
  • According to US Geological Survey, during the years 2010 – 2013, even some of the countries in the European Union and others where asbestos was said to be banned  have imported small quantities of asbestos for specific uses. These countries include Germany, Spain, France, Switzerland, U.K., Czech Republic, Greece, Argentina, S. Arabia, S. Korea, Ireland, Italy, Slovakia, Norway, Romania, Luxembourg.  Obviously for usage in some critical applications, where no effective substitute to chrysotile could be found in spite of researches.
  • In 2001, Canada is said to have re-introduced asbestos to make asphalt-asbestos compound for re-paving of the roads, for more flexibility, resistance and for reducing fissures on the road surface.   Canada and USA are said to still import chrysotile asbestos 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 inasmuch as they consume a large volume of (30% as raw material) Fly Ash, 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 alternative metal sheets and metal pipes.
  • About 80% of Chrysotile Asbestos produced worldwide is consumed by countries other than India. India uses only about 20% of world’s chrysotile asbestos 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 asbestos production and usage in most countries confirms that these products do not cause the 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 asbestos is merely one such issue, which 77% of the world nations chose to ignore.

8. VOICE OF THE CHRYSOTILE ASBESTOS WORKERS:

  • International Alliance of Chrysotile Trade Unions’ Organization at their meeting in Mexico on 2-3 March 2010, affirmed that
  • “Today chrysotile can and is being used under conditions where the workers health should not be at risk and we can say that we are working today in safe, if not safer environment than it is for many other sectors…”
  • “Chrysotile is used under safe and responsible practices and is not an uncontrolled killer as described by anti asbestos activists”.
  • In India, in 2012, with a view to clear the misconceptions, the  Workers Unions of leading asbestos cement companies have  written to  their national / central  Trade Unions clarifying and affirming that
  • “There are no asbestos related diseases in spite of working in these factories for over 30 years.  Periodic medical check ups are conducted and records maintained.   We proudly say that we are working in an environment friendly organization. “(HIL )
  • “We have been working for more than 25 years. Even after such long exposure we have not till date, found any body from us who was afflicted with any form of asbestos related diseases.” (VIL)
  • “Our factory started in 1974 and many workers in our unit are having more than 37 years of experience.  All the environmental equipments are in proper usage to take care of the work zone atmosphere and we do not find any risk / hazard to the health of the employees working here “ (RIL)
  • “We are working in this unit since its inception i.e. since last 32 years and some of our 2nd generation are employed here …  have not come across any case of asbestos related diseases amongst our fellow workers”  (UAL) .

9. ARE WORKMEN INSTALLING AC ROOF AT RISK OF EXPOSURE TO ASBESTOS?

  • No certainly not, when the recommended work practices are followed while on the job, like using only hand driven tools – and not power driven tools.
  • A typical study was conducted while handling, cutting & installation of asbestos cement roofing sheets. The typical test results show the fibre concentration in air sampling is found to be far below the stipulated safe level.
  • In a paper (1992) Prof. L. Elovskaya reported that “ fibres emitted from asbestos cement products in the course of their exploitation (handling) are significantly different … their surface characteristics, composition and crystal structure all change “ meaning that such fibre emissions, if there are any, do not pose any health risk.
  • Prof. JA Hoskins / JH Lang (2004) reported “ Around 200 studies have shown that exposure to any chrysotile fibres, if released during the use and handling of this high density product (A.C. sheets/pipes) present no measurable risk to health.

10. IS IT DANGEROUS TO LIVE OR WORK UNDER AN ASBESTOS CEMENT ROOF?

  • Not at all. There is no risk, what so ever, to health as the asbestos fibre content in AC Sheets is very little (about 7-9%). Moreover, the asbestos fibres being locked-in and bound with cement, there is no possibility of these fibres escaping (from the products) into the ambient air.
  • Several measurements and studies have confirmed this fact (see 8 above).

11. IS PUBLIC AT RISK DUE TO WEATHERING OF ASBESTOS CEMENT PRODUCTS?

  • Asbestos cement sheets do not decay or rot because of the inherent properties of asbestos fibre and cement. These do not crumble due to continued exposure to the elements or due to age. There is no evidence that people living under asbestos-cement roof, or the general public living around asbestos-cement roofed buildings or factories producing asbestos cement products have been specifically affected in any manner (see 8 above).
  • In fact studies have concluded that there is no increase in asbestos dust concentration in the near vicinity of asbestos cement roofing. Felbermayer W and Ussar MB (1980) Study Report in Austria says “A comparison of the asbestos fibre concentrations in those areas with and without asbestos-cement roofing…lead to the conclusion that there is no statistically significant connection between the use of asbestos cement materials and the asbestos fibre concentrations found in the various measurement areas ”. L. Elovskaya of Russia asserted that “  fibres emitted from asbestos cement products in the course of their exploitation and sawing are different from commercial chrysotile since they react with the products of hydration of clinker phases in the cement matrix. As a result of the chemical reaction surface characteristics, composition and crystal structure of asbestos fibres change.  Therefore, in the course of their exploitation, asbestos cement products cannot pose risk attributed to them “. Prof. John Bridle and Sophie Stone stated- “ Fibres emitted from asbestos cement products are significantly different from those emitted by raw chrysotile.” “The altered chrysotile fibres have very little chance of making it past the upper airways, let alone in to the lung “

12. A.C. PRESSURE PIPES FOR CARRYING DRINKING WATER:
Even the World Health Organization has approved the usage of A.C. pressure pipes for drinking water. As stated earlier, the most health-conscious USA and Canada use A.C. pressure pipes for drinking water transportation.

The Mesothelioma Research Foundation of America says “ Results of most studies published so far indicate that the source waters already contain asbestos fibre before passing through the asbestos cement pipe systems often in numbers reaching several millions per litre, and it is generally agreed that A.C. pressure pipes do not appreciably raise the asbestos fibre content in water and that the quantities found are within those which occur naturally.

13. SOME QUOTES FROM THE WEST ABOUT ASBESTOS?

  • The Times, London, 18 Sept 2001, quoting Mr. Richard Wilson, Professor of Physics at Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts, USA, reported that “asbestos is the best insulator we know of, and not to use it because of hysterical public health reasons, is absurd”.
  • The Wall Street Journal, USA, 19 October 2001, in an article captioned “EPA comes clean on Asbestos”, reported “ Faced with a public health scare ………the EPA (Environmental Protection Agency of the USA) decided to cough up the truth about asbestos. Its officials bent over backward to get out the message that asbestos was harmful only if breathed at high levels and over sustained periods of time” The north Tower contained 40 floors of asbestos. The EPA repeated that the public was not at any real risk from the asbestos released from the collapse of the WTC north tower and swirling around downtown Manhattan.
  • After Sept 11, 2001 collapse of WTC towers, Prof. Art Robinson, founder of the Oregon Institute of Science and Medicine, said “ asbestos was an early victim of junk science and enviro-fear propaganda.” Had the (top floors) contained asbestos, the towers would have stood for four hours, saving 5000 lives.
  • The USA Geological Survey Fact Sheet FS –12 –1 of March 2001 reports “ There have been thousands of applications for asbestos. Most were viewed as practical solutions to difficult problems. For instance, (i) asbestos helped make the braking systems in automobiles much more dependable, (ii) it enabled the production of inexpensive cement-based water supply pipes.
  • La Presse, Canada, May 18, 2001 had quoted Katherine Glasson, press officer for the Minister of Transport as having said “this material is not dangerous” The paper also said “ the Minister of Transport estimates to use 100,000 tons of asbestos asphalt for the repaving of its road network this year as compared to 17,000 tons last year”.

SOME POPULAR MISCONCEPTIONS

MYTHS:

FACTS:

Asbestos cement is dangerous material.

Asbestos cement is completely safe. It is not corrosive, reactive, ignitable or toxic.

Inhalation of even one fibre of asbestos is harmful.

Thousands of asbestos fibres, invisible, are inhaled by us every day from natural resources, and cleared off by natural clearance mechanisms without any harm.

Asbestos cement has only 7-9% asbestos fibre that is bound with cement and cannot be released into air.  Even if any fibre is released, it’s chemical characteristics change because of bonding with cement and it cannot be called asbestos fibre.

Asbestos cement water pipes cause colonic carcinoma and other diseases.

Asbestos fibres in water are ingested without any harm whatsoever. Therefore the AC water pipes pose no threat.  Even the World Health Organization permits use of chrysotile asbestos cement pipes.

Developed countries have banned asbestos cement products. Only poor countries need it

No prohibition of asbestos products in over 77% of world nations.

Asbestos cement production is banned in the USA

The US Court of Appeals rejected a proposed ban on scientific grounds. Asbestos-cement products are not banned in the USA.

COMPARATIVE CHARACTERISTICS OF VARIOUS ROOFING MATERIALS:

S.No.

Characteristics

Asbestos Cement Sheets

Galvanized Aluminium Sheets

Plastic coated  steel sheets

1

Life Span(Years)

50 yrs (Min) Non-Corrosive

10-15 yrs

Data not available.

2

Maintenance

NIL

NIL

3

Fire Rating

Retardant

Tendency to twist and melt

Tendency to twist and melt

4

Thermal Insulation

Good

Poor

Poor

5

Acoustic Rating

Good

Poor

Poor

6

Absorption of Rain and Wind Noise

Good (deadens these noises)

Poor

Poor

7

Energy Required in Production

(Kilowatthours(kwh)/SQ.M)

16


as per USGS

69


as per USGS

124


as per USGS

8

Man Power

Employment Potential

Intensive

Low

Low

9

Wind Resistance

When Installed

Good

Poor

Poor

10

Weather Effect

None

Corrosion at drilled holes and where galvanizing is cracked

Surface oxidation

11

Bimetallic Reaction

None

None

Present in contact with

concrete and other metals

in presence of moisture

12

Condensation

Low and will not effect sheet

High and will effect sheet

High and will result in corrosion

13

Effect of High Winds

Minimum

Unacceptable rattling sound

Rattling sound

14

Noise Level

Low

High

High

15

Protective Coating

Not required

Not required

Required to avoid direct

contact with cement,

lime soil, Iron, copper, etc.

16

Storage

Can be stored in open space at work site

Needs closed go-down for storage to avoid weather assaults

Needs closed go-down for storage to avoid weather assaults

17

Coverage Efficiency

Approx. 50% higher than GC and Aluminium Sheets.

Effective laid area becomes only 67% as compared to AC Sheets

Effective laid area becomes only 67% as compared to AC Sheets.

18

Cost

Low

High

Highest

COMPARISONS BETWEEN A.C. PRESSURE PIPES AND OTHERS :

 

UPVC  PIPES

DUCTILE IRON PIPES

AC PIPES

 

 

 

 

 

 

LIFE SPAN

20 TO 30 YEARS

20 TO 30 YRS

50-60 YEARS

OR MORE

 

CURRENT

PRICES

17-18% more expensive than AC pipes

80 to 85 % more expensive than AC Pipes

 

 

OTHER CHARACTERISTICS

Susceptible to high temperatures and hydrocarbon contamination and breaking at joints

Being heavier, incur higher transportation and installation costs.  Also carry risk of leakage due to corrosion.