Tackling Asbestos Contamination in India and Rwanda 

by Laurie Kazan-Allen



Action on pollution caused by the widespread use of asbestos building products is being taken in India and Rwanda. On March 10, 2010, news was received of a decision by the Kerala State Human Rights Commission regarding the presence of asbestos roofing materials in schools throughout the State. Considering a petition by the Occuaptional and Environmental Health Network of India, the Commission stated that:

“the use of asbestos for roofing of the buildings especially the school buildings, leads to severe consequences and the responsibility of the Government is to secure to all its citizens justice – social, economical and political as per the preamble of the Constitution.”

Concluding an Order issued on January 31, 2010, the Commission listed the following recommendations:

  • 1.“The State Government will replace asbestos roofs of all school buildings under its control with country tiles in a phased manner.
  • 2.The Government will take steps to see that the schools run under the private management also replace the asbestos roofs with country tiles by fixing a time frame.
  • 3.The Government should see that in future no new school is allowed to commence its functions with asbestos roofing.”1

Last year (2009), the Government of Rwanda set a 6 month deadline for the removal of asbestos from the national infrastructure; in Rwanda, asbestos-containing roofing material was widely used on public buildings, such as hospitals and schools, as well as on private dwellings.2 Following the Government's statement of intent, a feasibility study was done in 15 of the country's 30 districts; 68,000 square kilometers of asbestos-roofed houses were found which would cost over RWf2 billion (US$3.5 million) to remove, not including replacement or disposal.

To prevent the demolition of contaminated buildings or haphazard removal, both of which can cause widespread contamination, the Rwandan Ministry of Infrastructure has convened a team of experts to provide advice on the most effective and safest measures for dealing with this problem. It is ironic that the group includes Canadian specialists, as Canada has, for more than 30 years, led the global pro-asbestos lobby. Rwanda's Ministry of Infrastructure is trying to raise awareness amongst construction workers of the hazards posed by working with asbestos materials and the health and safety procedures which should be followed.

March 30, 2010


1 See: Order issued by the Kerala State Human Rights Commission, Thiruvananthapuram.

2 Kwizera C. Rwanda: Gov't Warns over Dangers of Asbestos. March 13, 2010.



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