While most scientists — and the World Health Organization — agree that asbestos can be deadly, a group in India is pushing asbestos as a savior for the country's poor.
India's Asbestos Cement Products Manufacturers Association claims that asbestos "brings roofs, walls and pipes to some of the world's poorest people," the Associated Press reports. India is currently the world's largest importer of asbestos, with as many as 100 plants manufacturing the mineral. But many countries, including the U.S. and all members of the European Union, have banned asbestos because of its health risks, as prolonged inhalation of its fibers can cause lung cancer.
At least two-thirds of India's population lives in poverty, and India's government uses asbestos in the building of government-supported housing. Asbestos lobbyists claim that asbestos has been "unfairly maligned" and that chrysotile, a.k.a. white asbestos, is safe for use. "Chrysotile you can eat for breakfast, lunch and dinner," Kanat Kapbayel, a member of Kazakhstan's United Minerals and a board member of the International Chrysotile Association, told the AP.
However, many scientists reject Kapbayel's claim, and controversy remains over India's use of asbestos. The International Labor Organization estimates that 100,000 people die annually from exposure to asbestos in the workplace.
"People outside of India, they must be wondering what kind of fools we are," Ajit Kumar Singh, a member of the Indian Red Cross Society, told the AP. "They don't use it. They must wonder why we would."