According to a recently published report, between 2000 and 2007, asbestos usage in India, who are one of the world’s largest importers of asbestos, doubled to about 300,000 metric tonnes. Reduction of asbestos import tariffs from 78 per cent to just 15 per cent has increased their asbestos-cement industry by around 10 per cent per year. 100,000 workers are now at risk of developing the deadly cancers of asbestosis and mesothelioma.

The resurgence of asbestos industries in specific locations, most notably India, China and Canada in recent decades, is causing considerable concern amongst those countries, like the UK and the US, who first experienced the terrible consequences of asbestos awareness failure on their own working population throughout the 20th century.

As one of the world’s major users of chrysotile, or white asbestos, India appears all too ready to make the same tragic mistakes as the first industrialised nations through its limited knowledge or wilful disregard of the long term impact of using the material and how it should be handled. Nearly all of the asbestos is used for mixing with cement to form roofing sheets, which are often easily damaged.

The mistaken assumption that asbestos usage is safe can also be seen in their published advertising, which declares “Only safe white fibre is used in manufacturing of asbestos cement products in India”. It has even be reported that asbestos was being used in parts of the country to help bleach rice and make it more “attractive” as “extra white” to justify a higher price.

Often in the past, it had been mistakenly assumed that white asbestos is a safer form of the material to use. However, as has all too often been demonstrated in the UK by the continuing rise in asbestosis claim cases presented before the courts, once white asbestos is disturbed, damaged or deteriorates, the material is no longer safe and potentially lethal fibres are released into the atmosphere.

Asbestosis symptoms may not come to light for up to 50 years, after first exposure, by which time there may only be a matter of months or weeks before the sufferer succumbs to the fatal disease.