10 May 2014

The elusive black steel trade:

Sparks flying everywhere, tons of hot steel and chemical sludge trailing down the sand.

Typically, this is not what one pictures when thinking about tropical beaches.

But this is reality for the thousands of shipbreakers in Bangladesh.

Shipbreakers tear apart large barges and other types of ships, using only their bare hands, a blowtorch and a hammer, in order to recycle and reuse the steel.

Do you ever wonder where all of the metal used to build our infrastructure comes from?

Much recycled steel comes from cargo ships and bunkers that are outdated, unable to be renovated or unwanted.

Companies around the world buy these ships and break them down to recycle and sell its parts.

It is argued that the companies that do so in Bangladesh are the most socially irresponsible of these companies.

Bangladesh, one of the world’s most densely populated nations, is a developing country in South Asia.

Chinese-owned Internet marketplace, AliBaba.com, sells Bangladeshi steel and markets some of its products as “Bangladeshi China Steel.”

The use of this term suggests that it’s Bangladeshi, but it is difficult to understand where the origin of the steel is.

It could mean that Bangladeshi recycled steel could have been used to make the Bay Bridge.

Assembly Bill 144, signed into law by Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger in 2005, funded the Toll Bridge Seismic Retrofit Program, which used money collected at state-owned bridges in the San Francisco Bay Area to fund the new Bay Bridge.

If Bangladeshi recycled steel was used to make the Bay Bridge, the flaws could run deeper than the fissures in the steel.

Shipbreakers break down and carry tons of steel by hand every day.

It is very common for shipbreakers to get injured on the job, as they are not provided with safety equipment by their employers.

According to the book “Environmental Politics: Domestic and Global Relations” by Jacqueline Vaughn, “on average, at least one worker is injured each day and one dies each week in the scrapping operations.”

That would be 52 deaths a year, without factoring in deaths caused by illnesses developed from the toxins released by ship fuels and other chemicals.

According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, shipbreaking exposes workers to asbestos, polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), lead, hazardous materials and chemicals, excess noise and fire.
OSHA’s website states that it “promotes workplace safety to save lives, prevent injuries and protect the health of America’s workers.”

Many of these hazardous chemicals are carcinogenic, and can cause internal and external harm.

Unlike Bangladesh, OSHA requires that workers undergo a series of training and wear compulsory safety gear.

Bangladeshi shipbreaking has grown in popularity because it is a job that requires few skills and no education.

A World Bank Study found that the problem with shipbreaking is that there are no other employment options for the 200,000 Bangladeshi men that tear apart ships.

The shipbreakers live near the ships they break and work more than 10 hours a day.

“Delphine Reuter of the Shipbreaking Platform, a non-governmental organization in Brussels, described ship recycling as ‘close to slavery,’” said The Economist, in the article “Hard to Break-up.”

This poses a large question of whether or not the standards for shipbreaking are up to par and what exactly these shipbreakers are exposed to.

There is no clear-cut solution to fixing poor shipbreaking practices.

A 60 Minutes video titled, “The Ship Breakers of Bangladesh,” explained that it could be improved by imposing laws that make Western countries remove pollutants from the ships they bring to Bangladesh.

While this may seem like a far-reaching goal, signing petitions and spreading the information via social media can help bring attention to this disturbing issue.

The next time you pay a toll, you don’t want it to fund these practices.

Source: Spartan daily. 8 May 2014

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