Toxic Trade News / 6 January 2006
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French ship brings fear of death
by Meghdoot Sharon, CNN-IBN (India)
  A French ship, Clemenceau, is carrying over 250 tonnes of toxic waste on board.  
6 January 2006 (Gujarat) – Alarm bells are ringing in the Alang ship-breaking yard in Gujarat where over 40,000 people work to dismantle ships that are at the end of their sailing life.

A French aircraft carrier — Clemenceau — contaminated with toxic waste, is headed towards the world's largest ship-breaking yard. The ship is also carrying over 250 tonnes of asbestos.

With the Environment Ministry saying that Clemenceau will not be turned away, the matter has been referred to the Supreme Court 's committee on hazardous waste.

The committee, which is in a meeting in Mumbai currently to decide Clemenceau's fate, feels it is not desirable for the ship to enter Indian waters.

Officials from the company contracted by the French government to decontaminate the ship are also set to appear before the SC committee.

The French government which, had till now been claiming that the ship has been de-toxified, has finally admitted that the vessel contains asbestoss and toxic waste.

Environmental activists, including those from Greenpeace India and the Ban Asbestos Forum are protesting that India is seen as a convenient dumping ground, thanks to weak laws concerning hazardous waste.

"The ship is not properly decontaminated and we'll not let it come to India," says Greenpeace campaigner, Ramapati Kumar.

One reason for the protests are that the French firm that had been assigned the task of decontaminating the ship has confirmed that the ship is carrying toxic waste.

A French company — Techno Pure — that was to decontaminate the ship has only removed 70 tonnes of asbestos.

Officials at Technopure say they are not going ahead with the project, as the Indian company that was supposed to share the burden of decontamintaion of the ship has not followed the procedures.

"70 tonnes of asbestos has been removed but there could be 500 tonnes or more of asbestos on the ship," says Project Manager Techno Pure, Eric Baudon.

A case has also been filed in France's Supreme Court to recall the Clemenceau.

Incidentally, the use and manufacture of asbestos is banned in several countries in Europe, including France.

The arrival of Clemenceau is throwing normal working life at the yard in disarray for people are worried about the effects of the waste that will soon be dumped in the yard.

Ahmedabad-based Oncologist, Dr Chirag Desai says that the people’s anxiety and anger is justified because asbestos is a carcinogen and prolonged exposure to it can cause asbestosis.

"Asbestosis reduces the lung capacity. As such, the illness is not fatal, but in some cases, it causes the most painful form of lung cancer called mesothelioma or cancer of the lung covering," he says.

CNN-IBN met with people who recall how their lives changed for the worst after they got asbestosis — a lung disease caused by inhaling particles of the chemical.

Sixty-six-year old Mangabhai Patel is battling asbestosis and has been admitted to a private clinic after experiencing breathing problems.

A retired Torrent Power AEC Limited worker — an electric company — Patel has been diagnosed with asbestosis by the National Institute of Occupational Health (NIOH).

"At Torrent Power AEC we had to pound asbestos and paste it along pipes as an insulator. We were given no protective gear while working and the result is showing on my body now," he says.

Like Mangabhai, there are several others affected by asbestosis, most of who worked either in the AEC thermal power plant or at Digvijay Cement Industries.

Both of these units are located in the Sabarmati area of Ahmedabad. The disease is so severe that those affected have to rest even after walking for just a few metres, because of laboured breathing.

A retired AEC worker, Narayanprasad Mehra says, "I worked for 25 years at the AEC power plant and I was diagnosed with asbestosis long before I retired."

"However, the illness has taken a turn for the worse and it's becoming increasingly difficult to breathe properly these days. I cannot even walk a few steps without gasping for breath," he adds.

And there are other stories. The widow of an asbestosis patient, Kollanji says that her husband used to work in the cement factory and died two years ago. "I have a small boy and girl and we are finding it difficult to feed ourselves."

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