In the late 1980s, a tightening of environmental regulations in industrialized countries led to a dramatic rise in the cost of hazardous waste disposal. Searching for cheaper ways to get rid of the wastes, “toxic traders” began shipping hazardous waste to developing countries and to Eastern Europe.
When this activity was revealed, international outrage led to the drafting and adoption of the Basel Convention. During its first Decade (1989-1999), the Convention was principally devoted to setting up a framework for controlling the “transboundary” movements of hazardous wastes, that is, the movement of hazardous wastes across international frontiers.
It also developed the criteria for “environmentally sound management”. A Control System, based on prior written notification, was also put into place. Supreme Court verdict The Delhi High Court imposed a ban on the import of all toxic/hazardous wastes in 1996.
Yet research by NGOs reveal that the waste still continues to come in, despite the a renewed ban issued by the Supreme Court of India.
Owing to industry pressure, Indian Government has been vacillating on stricter enforcement. “Export” by developed countries Developed countries of world such as Australia, United States etc. are exporting their hazardous and toxic waste to the developing countries like India under the name of recycle. Many times the hazardous nature of material is not This is the clear example of “not in my back yard” attitude.
Though the export is done under the name of recycle these wastes are not recycled properly once they reach their destinations. India is becoming dumping ground of developed counties.
The workers in the so-called recycling units face many problems due to direct exposure to these wastes. The factories which employs mostly women and children, does not have even a first-aid box, no ventilation or safety devices. Like the lead batteries, much of the plastic waste processed here is imported from the West. Rajinder Singh, 35, New Delhi, breaks imported used car batteries for a living.
He pries them open and stacks the lead plates with his bare hands while his small, almost open furnace is fired to receive another batch. Backyard smelters and plastic recycling units dot India’s countryside, taking lead battery scrap and plastic waste imported from developed countries such as Australia, United States etc. Three years ago the Central Pollution Control Board in Delhi had closed down 23 lead smelters because they were contaminating groundwater, cattle fodder and soil. Many of them sprang up again, this time in neighboring states.
Smelters around Calcutta have caused stunted growth in children, limb deformations, blue gums, as well as cattle deaths owing to high lead levels, before their closure was ordered. The backyard smelter where Rajinder Singh works is located on a small plot of land that once grew wheat. Some lead escaped as vapor and settled in the surrounding fields, where cows graze and villagers drink from the only village well. After years of existence, Rajinder’s smelter was shut down when neighbors complained that the large number of cattle deaths there were a direct result of lead poisoning.
Despite the closure, the fodder and the groundwater in this village are still contaminated as ever. India is not the only country accepting hazardous waste from the wealthier developed nations; according to the UN Environment Program, 10 million tons of toxic garbage cross international borders ever year. Other countries include China, Pakistan, Indonesia, Philippines etc. And despite the 1989 Basel Convention — an international treaty currently signed by over 89 countries to regulate the business – India’s trade in hazardous waste endures. Loopholes and porous national borders make it easy to break the law. Why India?
The reasons why India continues to draw in the waste of developed countries are not difficult to find. High profit margins, owing to poor environmental regulation is a major factor. In developed countries, it is extremely expensive to get rid of such waste. Most lead smelters in the U. S. have been shut down, and those that remain can spend more than $10 million per year on pollution control alone. In India’s unregulated backyard smelter industry, there are very high profit margins. Indian traders thus outbid their European counterparts for such wastes in the international markets, paying almost 30 percent more for waste like zinc ash.
Many other developing nations in Africa and Southeast Asia have stopped buying these hazardous wastes. According to Greenpeace, an international environmental organization, more than 100,000 tons of potentially toxic waste entered India in 1998-1999. Greenpeace has documented imports of more than 100,887 tons of hazardous and potentially hazardous wastes into India between 1998-1999. These include zinc ash and residues, used batteries, brass dross, copper cables possibly coated with PVC, and wastes of toxic metals like lead, chromium, cadmium and thallium.
And this quantity is just the veritable tip of the iceberg, it would seem, for these figures do not take into account the import of deadly toxins like asbestos, mercury or recycled plastic resins. Also recycling of ships is a big business in India. India has world’s largest ship-breaking yard at Alang, Gujarat. At the end of their life span, ocean-going ships are scrapped primarily for their recyclable steel content. Ships for scrap are made of steel coated with highly hazardous chemicals. The laborers in this industry toil under extremely hazardous conditions with no protective gear, exposing themselves to toxins and death constantly.
These hazardous materials also degrade the environment. Exporting Countries There are several countries involved, including OECD (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development) states like Germany, USA, Australia, Denmark, the Netherlands, UK, Belgium, Canada, Norway and the Arab States. In 1996 Australia alone exported more than 8,500 tons of hazardous metal wastes and 1. 3 million hazardous scrap batteries to non-OECD countries in Asia, the most popular of which was India, while the Philippines, China and Indonesia are also used as dumping grounds.
But it is the United States, which can claim the dubious distinction of being the leading exporter of hazardous substances to India. Two years ago, American companies sent 23 shipments–9 million pounds–of plastic Pepsi bottles to be “recycled. ” Other countries ship lead, cadmium and other metal ash from foundries justified under the name of recycling. Types of export material:
Illegal export of hazardous waste oil Exporting Country: United Arab Emirates, Kuwait and Iran Description: 168 containers of waste oil were illegally imported via the Nhava Sheva container terminal near Mumbai. The oil was imported after being invoiced as “furnace oil” when in fact it was highly toxic recycled oil waste. Samples of the consignments were collected and sent to the Indian Institute of Petroleum, Dehradun, to verify their toxicity. The Arab importers of the consignments instead of admitting their wrongdoing filed a suit before the Bombay High Court demanding the release of the goods.
The Mumbai customs authorities have seized the containers and are investigating the antecedents of the importers in India and the exporters of the contraband in the Middle East, where the shipments originated. According to customs officials the imports were part of 16 consignments from the Middle East particularly the United Arab Emirates, Kuwait and Iran. The import of waste oils into India is prohibited by a May 1997 Supreme Court order. Effects: Waste oil contains cancer-causing chemicals and can contaminate the environment in such a way that the poison travels through the food chain affecting various living organisms, including humans.
These oils contain mixtures of hydrocarbons and water, emulsions and other toxic substances as they are subjected to different process and several chemicals are extracted. However, the entire quantity is never fully reused and hazardous byproducts are generated.
Export of used and toxic mercury to India Exporting Country: United States of America Description: An118-tonne stockpile of highly toxic used mercury was exported to India under a veil of secrecy.
A Maine-based chemical factory, HoltraChem, sold it to an Illinois-based trader, DF Goldsmith and Metal Corporation, which then decided to send the mercury to India as it was unable to find a taker in the United States. Maine, the US state where the mercury originated, did not want it. The state does not have storage facilities for such a toxic substance. After protests by NGOs in Maine, the governor specifically asked the US government to stop its export to India. He even suggested that the US defense department take over the cargo and add it to its stockpile. But obviously this plea fell on deaf ears.
Effects: Mercury, the only liquid among metals, is a deadly nerve poison and is known to be a global pollutant as it carried all over the world by wind and rain. The metal does not break down and accumulates in the fat of animals and keeps on moving up the food chain. Exposure to mercury could potentially inflict irreparable damage to the human brain, spinal cord, kidneys and liver. A recent warning by the National Research Council of the National Academy of Sciences states that 60,000 babies per year in the US are at a risk of brain damage as their mothers have eaten mercury contaminated food.
With such findings, Boston, San Francisco and New Hampshire have even banned mercury thermometers. US hospitals have started outlawing mercury thermometers. In September 2000, a number of retailers and manufacturers announced that they will end the sale and manufacture of mercury based thermometers.
Export of defective and dangerous Junk Steel and Tin Plates Exporting Country: European Union, United States of America, Australia Description: Close to 90 per cent of the tin plates imported to India are comprised of seconds and defectives.
A part of these consignments are even categorized as “tin plate waste. ” These defective items formed 71 per cent of the total import of cold rolled steel coils in 1999-00. Similarly the import of defective hot rolled coils has risen sharply from 1. 1 lakh tons for the year, 1998-99, to over 1. 2 lakh tons in the first six months of 1999 alone. The truth is that defectives and seconds are not even mentioned in the WTO list. In the case of regular steel goods such as hot rolled coils, even founding members of the WTO, such as the USA, have higher tariff barriers than India.
Effects: The import of these defective goods has the potential of being a health hazard since tin plates are widely used in the manufacture of containers for baby food and edible oils. Defective tin plates are more easily prone to rust and corrosion as a result of which it is dangerous to pack food items in them. It is for this reason that the sale of such goods is not allowed in the western countries. According to industry sources, the damage being done is three-fold. The flood of cheap imports depresses prices for the domestic industry, which is just showing signs of recovery. In addition, the defective items threaten Indian consumers.
There imported defective cold rolled steel coils are being used in the manufacture of refrigerators, automobiles, auto components and electrical goods. Consumer goods using these defective components face an increased risk of exposure to short-circuit, electrical fires and leakage of toxins such as inert gases and gasoline.
Export of deadly carcinogen asbestos Exporting Country: Canada Description: The asbestos industry in India is spread over in about 15 states – nearly 60 per cent of these industries are in operation. India imports raw asbestos worth around Rs 40-50 crore annually.
The annual turnover of the industry is estimated to be around Rs 800 crore and it generates direct and indirect employment for more than100,000 workers who are affected by the element. Seventy per cent of asbestos is imported from Canada. In Canada, mining is done in a highly mechanized way. These are then sent to India for final finishing. The finished products are packaged and sent abroad with signs saying that it is a hazardous product. But when the raw material is sent to India, no precautions are taken. The global trend has been to either restrict or ban its use, but the Canadian government continues to resist the move to ban asbestos.
It exports asbestos to primarily developing countries such as India. Effects: Between 1967-1997, there were 171,500 cancer deaths from asbestos fibers in USA. In western Europe, according to some estimates, it has been responsible for half-a-million cancer victims. Worse, in the next 30 years, it could claim another 1 million lives mostly in the developing world, according to a study conducted by USA Today. Exposure to asbestos particles can lead to many diseases. Some diseases are malignant or cancerous, such as mesothelioma and lung cancer.
Others are non-malignant, such as asbestosis, pleural plaques, diffuse pleural fibrosis, and benign pleural effusions. The three main diseases are asbestosis, peural mesothelioma and peritoneal mesothelioma. Asbestosis affects both lungs (it is bilateral) and, although it is mainly in the lower fields of the lungs, it is usually widespread (diffuse). There is no cure or effective treatment for asbestosis. People with asbestosis are also at high risk of developing lung cancer or mesothelioma. Peural Mesothelioma is a cancer of the thin membrane enclosing in the lungs, a rare form of cancer that is not associated with smoking.
In cases of Peritoneal mesothelioma a thin membrane of mesothelial cells known as the peritoneum envelops many abdominal organs. This is a tumor of this membrane. This can develop many years after exposure and accounts for about one-fifth of all mesotheliomas. There is no known cure for peritoneal mesothelioma. Most cases of mesotheliomas are fatal.
Dumping and production of toxic used plastic Exporting Country: United Sates of America Description: Pepsi Co is involved in both producing and disposing of plastic waste in India.
Under Pepsi’s two-part scheme, plastic for single-use disposal bottles is manufactured in India and exported to the United States and Europe, while the toxic by-products of the plastic production process stay in India. Used plastic bottles are then returned from these countries to poison India’s people and environment again. India bears the burden of environmental and health impacts from plastic production and plastic waste, while consumers in industrialized countries continue using and disposing of massive quantities of unsustainable and unnecessary beverage packaging without absorbing the true costs – financial, health and environmental.
In short, India gets shafted at both ends, while industrialized country consumers receive all the benefits. Activists first learned of Pepsi’s waste exports to India through U. S. Customs Department Data. Greenpeace researchers discovered records listing Pepsi as the exporter of about 4,500 tons of plastic scrap in 23 shipments during 1993. The U. S. Customs records indicated that all of the waste exports were destined for the Southern Indian City of Madras. All of the shipments left from the U. S.
West Coast: eight shipments from San Francisco, two shipments from Long Beach, 10 from Los Angeles, and three from Oakland. The most frequently used shipping lines for these waste shipments were OOCL and Presidential. Much of the waste was dumped at the site of a factory owned by Futura Industries in Tiruvallur, outside of Madras. Pepsi officials in the United States acknowledge the waste is exported to India, but claim it is all recycled. Futura officials also say the waste is imported, but they admit that much of it is not actually recycled.
It is estimated that 60 to 70 percent of the waste can be processed, but the rest is either too contaminated with residual materials or other garbage that arrives mixed in with the shipment, or is the wrong type of plastic. Workers in these factories are provided no protective clothing guard against painful hot-water washing, inhaling fumes or other exposure to contaminated plastics.
Effects: The major chemicals used to make plastic resins pose serious risks to public health and safety. Many of the chemicals used in large volumes to produce plastics are highly toxic.
Some chemicals, like benzene and vinyl chloride, are known to cause cancer in humans; many tend to be gases and liquid hydrocarbons which readily vaporize and pollute the air. Many are flammable and explosive. Even the plastic resins themselves are flammable and have contributed to numerous chemical accidents. The production of plastic emits substantial amounts of toxic chemicals (eg. ethylene oxide, benzene and xylenes) to air and water. Many of the toxic chemicals released in plastic production can cause cancer and birth defects and damage the nervous system, blood, kidneys and immune systems.
These chemicals can also cause serious damage to ecosystems. Some of the harmful effects of plastic recycling, include skin and respiratory problems resulting from exposure to or inhalation of toxic fumes, especially hydrocarbons, and residues released during recycling processes. People and the environment of India The people and the environment of India are as worthy of protection as the people and environment of industrialized nations which have banned or restricted the usage of these hazardous and highly toxic materials.
It appears that India with its large coastline, lax laws and obliging corrupt bureaucrats has become a dumping yard where industrialized countries can offload poisonous wastes in the guise of recycling of uncontaminated or non-hazardous wastes. The countries, which offload their wastes on India, do so because disposal in their own countries is extremely expensive and poses a severe threat to their own environments. How long will the people of India continue to willingly submit to the toxic imperialism of the West?
Even at this moment the billion dollar ship- breaking business continues in full swing at Alang port on the west coast state of Gujarat. At least one Indian worker dies every day at Alang alone due to mishaps and occupation-related ailments primarily because the worker has not even a shred of basic protection such as gloves or hard hats while he/she handles poisonous materials. On any given day, the workers at Alang and other ports of India are exposed to such hazardous materials as asbestos, poly chlorinated biphenyls (pcb), lead, toxic sludge, etc.
Given that example, one can hardly imagine what grim toll this horrifying situation is effecting on the most vulnerable parts of Indian society. Ray of Hope This is an article published in Times of India India sends hazardous waste back to US In the first ever case of “reverse dumping”, 1,416 drums filled with 290 tones of hazardous mercury wastes from a thermometer factory at Kodaikanal in Tamil Nadu are being sent back to the US. The largest hazardous waste transfer from India marks the end of a long struggle by the local people and environmental activists led by Greenpeace, India.
They had alleged that mercury vapors released from the factory owned by Hindustan Lever Ltd (HLL) ruined the health of the workers and community and caused lasting damage to the environment during its 18 years of operation. HLL has at last arranged to ship the hazardous mercury and related wastes from its now defunct thermometer factory in Kodaikanal back to US. The consignment, including glass culets, finished and semi-finished products and sludge is leaving the Tuticorin Port on Thursday aboard the ship Indmax Dalian. The shipment is heading to the hazardous waste recycling firm, Bethlehem Apparatus, in Pennsylvania.
The controversial thermometer factory was transplanted in India in 1983 after it was shut down in Watertown, New York. The factory imported all its mercury, primarily from the United States, and finished thermometers were exported to back to the US for distribution to markets abroad. Environmental groups had alleged that the factory had been responsible for mercury contamination over the last 18 years. Contamination levels outside the factory were measured at 600-800 times permissible limits but HLL had been denying this figure. Mercury from the factory adversely impacted on the tropical forest of the Pambar Shola where it is located and contaminated the nearby Kodi Lake causing wide-ranging environmental effects.