Asbestos waste poisoning villages
West of Chaibasa, the headquarters of West Singhbhum district of Jharkhand, lie the Roro hills, home to an abandoned chrysotile asbestos mine. The Roro mines were closed down in 1983 after Hyderabad Asbestos Cement Products Ltd. (now Hyderabad Industries Limited) decided that they were no longer profitable.
Nearly 0.7 million tons of asbestos waste mixed with chromite-bearing host rock lies scattered here and there has been no environmental study conducted to assess the fate of this hazardous waste dumped improperly atop Roro hills. The waste material extends several meters below ground, spreading into the rice paddy fields around the foothills. About 40 centimeters of thick silty waste of crushed rocks spreads over the fields, poisoning the local residents.
The preliminary health survey of 14 villages around the Roro hills, with 45% of the respondents being former workers of the Roro asbestos mines, indicates a highly probable link between the asbestos exposures and several adverse health effects, such as low back pain, dyspnea (shortness of breath and difficulty breathing), hemoptysis (blood in the lungs, trachea, bronchi, or larynx), blindness, and cancer.
Old local newspaper clippings from Singbhumi Ekta, a weekly from Chaibasa, published between January and August 1981, include a press release from the late P. Mazumdar, the leader of the United Mine Workers Union (AITUC), which says that 30 workers from Roro mines had died of asbestosis.
The goal of this project was to found a stakeholder group that would communicate to the regional and national governments the severity of the issue. The committee would be comprised of community members, ex-workers, NGO representatives and journalists, among others; together, they would discuss and advise upon the issue of cleaning and rehabilitation of the site.
Asbestos contamination threatening the lives of this remote community is under planning for containment and safe disposal by a stakeholders group initiated and funded by Blacksmith institute. The hills around Roro are literally covered with asbestos dumped from extinct industry, and children play soccer and toboggan amongst the white landscape. Needless to say, lung cancers and other respiratory problems within the region are sky high. This stakeholders group, working with all key agencies, is the first effort initiated in this region to design a solution to this extensively contaminated area.
Future work in the site includes a number of elements. Mine reclamation will involve tree planting, wire netting, and water harvesting. To further these activities, assessments of the following will be performed: asbestos waste quantity, degree of underground developments, analysis of underground water, vicinity of other mines, availability of electricity and water, local infrastructure, and number of affected people.