15 June 2010

A different waste model:

Should India import and reprocess the world’s growing mountains of junk and toxic garbage? Should this become our business opportunity, capitalizing on the fact that rich countries need cheaper and more efficient ways of dealing with their waste—everything from electronic to medical?

The question is if we can manage the waste of others, even as we struggle and fail to deal with our own piles of garbage.

There can be no arguments that the business of recycling is good for the environment. The Indian cement industry is cutting energy costs and carbon dioxide emissions by increasing the use of slag and flyash—waste from the thermal power sector. The global steel industry has cut emissions by using recycled steel in its manufacture.

Similarly, the paper industry cuts emissions by using waste paper to make new paper. In the world, increasingly scarce of materials and energy, the reuse of materials will be critical, indeed essential.

But the question remains how this recycling business will be run? 
The working conditions in the shipbreaking yards of Alang in Gujarat remain horrific. The recent case of radioactive waste from the scrap yards of Mayapuri in Delhi should teach us a lesson or two about the dangers of how this dirt business is run.

The question also is if the answer lies in organizing and regulating this trade. Will that work? After all, the reason waste is recycled by the poorest in the world and the poorest in our country is because there is value in the waste. And they can process it cheaply and efficiently. Can big business replicate this success? These are the issues that need to be discussed and resolved, much before we become the world’s most favoured destination for waste.

Take the matter of electronic waste. According to industry estimates, India produces some 400,000 tonnes of electronic waste each year—everything from computers to fax machines and mobile phones. But that does not stop us from wanting to import the waste of others as well.

My colleagues researching this subject found that free trade agreements, currently being negotiated with the European Union and Japan, for instance, include provisions for these countries to dump their e-waste in India (see ‘IT’s underbelly’, Down To Earth, May 16-31, 2010). All in the name of trade.

Currently, small and informal businesses run the market. They can provide value to each customer—so waste becomes a resource; they can do this because they work in the worst of environmental and safety conditions. We found sweatshops—to reprocess our junk—being run from homes where both people and the environment are exposed to dangerous toxins.

The way ahead, the government says, would be to regulate this business and transform it into a modern and clean operation. The draft e-waste management rules are built on this principle—a producer of computers and other e-waste has to collect the waste at the end of the product’s life; dismantlers and recyclers will have to be registered with the government to ensure compliance.

But this model of organized dirt business is not what it seems. My colleagues’ investigations took them to the first company, licensed to import e-waste for reprocessing in a swanky modern plant, in Roorkee town. They uncovered—through some undercover investigative work—that this company is running a flourishing business, not to reprocess the imported waste, but to resell it in the Indian market, if the price was right. Everything, from computers to fax machines was on display.

It can well be argued that there is nothing wrong with this. We are a country specializing in second-hand trade and so, we are just markets for goods rejected by others. In environmental terms, extending the life of a product cannot be bad.

But this is not the term under which the company was given its licence to operate. The fact is that this organized business could well become the way for more and more junk being imported into the country, which is then still outsourced to the poorest and the most unorganized, for reprocessing.

After all, the costs of pollution have to be discounted if we want to keep our competitive advantage in the garbage business. In other words, we must rethink the model of the waste industry; as I said earlier, we drown in the toxic junk of the world.

We need to think how we can build a new model for waste managers. Instead of thinking of replacing small, cost-effective garbage collectors with big business, we have to think how policy can legalize, regulate and even pay for this trade to happen, not out of sight, but under our noses.

But more importantly, we have to think how each company and each consumer must be made to pay a price for recycling and disposal—so that we begin to bear the burden of cleaning up the mess we create because of our consumption. This will also force us to begin to pay the real price of disposal of waste.

If we are made to pay more to throw, we will also learn to throw less. This is the way of the future business. Not use-discard-and-forget.

Source: Down to Earth. By Sunita Narain. 15 June 2010

14 June 2010

Pakistan Shipbreaking Workers on Strike in Gadani, Balochistan:

The grievances are not anomalous, of course. But, the state of the labor movement being what it is, this level of organized militancy is certainly atypical — and, it goes without saying, something that one hopes will spread.

Nasir Mansoor’s full report below:

15,000 workers of shipbreaking site at Gadani ( Balochistan) are going on all out strike from Tuesday 15th June for indefinite period.

The Gadani Shipbreaking Democratic Workers Union representing one of strongest militant workers contingent has given a legal strike notice on Saturday, 12 June to more than 40 owners of shipbreaking sites with demands to raise the daily wages, medical cover, adequate occupational safety measure and betterment in severe working conditions. The time period (3 days in legal term) of strike notice from the union is ended tonight and now workers have no choice but to go on strike to press for their just demands.

It was one and half year ago when owners negotiated with workers representatives and accepted some demands of the workers but now they haven’t been in mood to come in term with workers demands. It is interesting to note that there is boom in shipbreaking sector with huge profit since last agreement but workers have not being paid fairly out of this bumper profit.

Workers of shipbreaking are paid very low [6000 to 7500 Pakistani rupees (less than USD 100) monthly] with long working hours stretched from 10 to 15 hours and they have to work in very hazardous and dangerous conditions without any precautionary and safety measures. No proper canteen and residence for the shipbreaking workers.

There is no properly equipped hospital to cater the immediate needs of workers in case of emergency and accident at work place; workers are not cover under any health and security nets. Due to this working environment 17 workers have been died during the work with in one year with out any compensation from government or shipbreaking companies.

Due to all these condition their was great panic among workers and they have been forcing the union to start negotiation with employers on their basic demands but employers and managements are least bother about the demand and have not given any wait and serious thought to meet the demand or even start negotiation with workers’ representatives till filling of this report. They just requested to postpone the strike for day which was rejected by the union leaders with whole heartily consent of the workers.

Now workers are in very defiant and militant mood and their leader told me half an hour ago that complete strike will be observed from 7 am tomorrow till acceptance of their demands such as -

  • raise in wages
  • proper medical facilities
  • adequate safety measures at workplace
  • better working conditions
All friends of workers are requested to come forward and stand up with them.

Nasir Mansoor
Deputy General Secretary
National Trade Union Federation, Pakistan

Source: Progressive Pakistan. 14 June 2010

01 June 2010

Shipbreaking Involves Specific Asbestos Exposure Risks for Workers:

Shipbreaking is a growing industry in the United States and one that poses health and safety risks to workers because of the wide use of asbestos and other hazardous materials in older ships.

Shipyard workers are among the groups of workers who are at higher risk of developing mesothelioma, a cancer of the lining of the lung or abdomen associated with asbestos exposure, according to the National Cancer Institute. Asbestos was used extensively in ships.

A specialized part of the maritime industry, shipbreaking involves the dismantling and disposal of obsolete U.S. Navy and Maritime Administration ships as well as commercial vessels and offshore drilling rigs. It’s expanding in the United States because the federal government stopped exporting ships to foreign countries for scrapping in the late 1990s due to environmental concerns.

New guidelines published by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration outline employers’ obligations to provide safe work conditions for workers involved in shipbreaking.

Because of the structural complexity of larger ships, they are generally dismantled in sections. Each section is then moved ashore for further dismantling.

Specific hazards of shipbreaking noted by OSHA include asbestos exposure for workers removing thermal insulation, handling circuit breakers and cables and removing floor tiles. Additional asbestos exposures can occur from removing gaskets from pipes and from electrical systems. Engine rooms usually contain the most asbestos and take the longest time for removal of asbestos.

Before a section of a ship is cut away, OSHA guidelines say asbestos-containing material should be removed from all areas that are readily accessible.

When asbestos-containing materials are cut with power saws or moved, microscopic asbestos fibers can become airborne, increasing the risk of a worker inhaling the fibers. Inhaled asbestos fibers can lodge in the lungs and remain a lifetime, leading to development of asbestos-related diseases 30 to 50 years after exposure.

Many states require, and OSHA recommends that an asbestos inspector identify all asbestos materials prior to the start of shipbreaking.

Source: AboutMesothelioma.Net. Tuesday, 1 June 2010

Fatal Accidents at Chittagong ShipBreaking yard:

300 workers die in harness at shipbreaking yards, September 18, 2003

Chittagong, Bangladesh, Sept 18: Some 45,000 workers of the shipbreaking industry in Chittagong are now working in hazardous atmosphere risking life in handling of old equipment used to break ships and dealing with toxic chemicals in their daily routine work. In the absence of any protective measures at least 300 workers of the yards had so far died and about 550 were handicapped in accidents in harness in the last 18 years. At present the workers of 30 shipbreaking yards in Chittagong are working at high risk of accident particularly explosion of gas cylinder and oil tanker.

Sources said, 1 worker at a shipbreaking yard was killed and 3 others were injured in a gas explosion in a scrapped ship on April 9 this year at Shitalpur area under Sitakundu upazila in the district. The dead worker was the cutter man of the Lalbagh shipyard and identified as Sagar (21). The 3 injured were identified as Babul, Anwar and Suvash.

In another workplace accident, 2 workers at a shipbreaking yard were killed and 6 others injured when they were struck by a scrapped steel plate in August last year at Kadam Rasul area under Sitakundu upazila. The 2 victims were the cutter men of Ahmad Mujtaba Steel Industry and identified as Humayun (28) and Md. Belal (30). Another worker Selim Uddin (28) died in a similar accident in July last year.

The worst workplace accident at any shipyard in recent memory:

In the worst workplace accident at any shipyard in recent memory, at least 16 workers were burnt alive and 50 others injured seriously as an oil tanker caught fire during scrapping at ZN enterprise of Shitalpur ShipBreaking Yard on May 31 in 2000. The victims were identified as Azam, Giasuddin, Jamaluddin, Sumon, Hannan, Kuddus, Rafiq, Habibur Rahman and Hanif. The identities of the rest two could not be known.

Ship Breaking Yards (SBY) emerged as an industry in the country after 1985. Over the last two decades it has flourished as a large industry. At present 30 yards are running business in the industry in the port city. The ship-breakers buy the old ships, which are abandoned by the owners, at the Chittagong port. They break and cut the ships in the yards and sell the furniture, scrap metals, machines and other materials of the ships. There are big markets of the furniture, scraps and other materials of the broken ships in Dhaka and Chittagong

The owners of the scrapped ships have to procure a certificate from the explosive department but 70 per cent owners do not procure the certificates, sources said. On the other hand the officials of the explosive department never inspect the scrapped ships but issues certificates taking bribes, reliable sources said. The re-rolling mills depend on the SBYs for the supply of scrapped iron. The iron rods and other building materials available from the scrapped ships are not durable, sources informed. Buildings made of such scrapped iron rods and other materials are highly vulnerable to earthquake.

Sources said that despite the presence of oil, gas, chemical and other explosive materials in the scrapped ships, the workers cut the ships with gaseous oxidising flame without any protection that posed a threat to their life. They have no fireproof costumes or helmets. The workers of SBYs alleged that they did not know any rules and regulations of shipbreaking.

The owners never provide them with helmets, boots or jackets. The workers of SBYs said that many workers died, became handicapped and were injured in workplace accidents but they did not get any compensation from the owners. It is mandatory that if any worker is handicapped or dies at work, the owners of the yard have to pay Taka 50,000 to one lakh to the victim’s family as compensation. But the owners never paid any compensation to the family of any victim. Sometimes the owners even conceal the bodies of the victims of accident.

The workers complain that the owners of the yards manage the police, locally influential leaders and pay the terrorists to conceal the bodies of accident victims. The thana registers general diaries (GD) of the accidents but no case is filed in connection with such incidents. Moreover oil, gas and chemicals are discharged by the scrapped ships in the sea and land polluting the environment. The workers said, among the 45 thousand workers engaged in the industry, 20 thousand come from North Bengal. The cutting contractors employ the workers but do not collect their addresses and never maintain registers of the workers. (The Independent, 19. 09. 03)

Catastrophe at shipbreaking yard: Authority can't ignore the risks any longer

We share the concerns expressed by environmentalists over pollution taking place at and around the shipbreaking yard in Chittagong. Their worry stems from the recent disaster at Sitakunda after toxic gas spewing from the yard caused respiratory and skin problems as well as burnt trees and harmed animals in the area. In fact it should be an eye opener of sorts for the concerned authorities to the lack of proper management in order to prevent such disasters. In other words, if certain precautions were taken, such pollution could easily have been prevented.

So the obvious question would be why weren't any steps taken?
Didn't the authorities turn a blind eye to what was happening?
Maybe they were just waiting for a big disaster before taking any action?

We have reasons to feel that way. Though the recent development got widespread media coverage bringing the issue to the fore, such incidents had occurred in the area, maybe in a smaller scale, in the past. Explosions of gas cylinders while cutting iron with gas, fire erupting from the oil tankers had almost become a part of the daily work pattern in the yards. Many a labourer lost his life in those accidents, many lost either their limbs or arms, and almost all of them did not get any compensation.

Activists had many times in the past emphasised on proper precautions for the workers. They had also demanded a stop to using minor labour in the yards. But all the exhortations fell on deaf ears. Because those flouting the laws were not taken to task, they could get away with everything. None of the investigation reports on the accidents saw the light of the day; very few companies were either punished or brought to trial. It's high time the government took the matter more seriously. It would benefit the exchequer even further by fetching more foreign currency if shipbreaking were streamlined. It's not just a matter of individual gain or loss, lack of proper control over the trade can cause catastrophe to a larger number of people (Source: Editorial, The Daily Star. 21 September 2003).

Source: SOS-Arsenic.net. 1 June 2010