More than 200 people in 14 villages near Roro hill in Jharkhand are dying slowly because of an abandoned asbestos mine

During a film shoot at the beautiful Roro hill in Jharkhand’s Chaibasa district, the villain takes out his gun to kill a young man. The moment he shoots, onlooker Rango Deogam bursts into laughter and yells at the camera crew, “You are shooting a death scene on the hill of death.”

The shoot is stopped because of his outrageous act and Deogam is escorted out when he starts coughing blood.

The 65-year-old resident of the Roro village then clears his throat and says, “That’s death.” Deogam is not the only one in the Roro village who is coughing blood. An estimated 200 people in the 14 villages near the Roro hill are dying slowly from a lung disease called abestosis because of an abandoned crysotile asbestos mine in the area. “The exact number of the victims can only be known after an extensive medical camp is held in the affected villages,” says Punit Minz, convener of Bindrai Institute for Research Study and Action (BIRSA), a non-profit that has been working in the area for the past decade to educate the residents about the problems with asbestos.

Guidelines flouted

The crysotile asbestos mine—which was owned by Birla’s Hyderabad Asbestos Cement Products Limited (HAPCL)—was operational for 20 years between 1963 and 1983 at Roro hill. It was abruptly closed after the mine ran into huge losses. HAPCL has since then changed its name thrice and is now called HIL and is owned by C K Birla. The company website says it provides green solutions.

The company, which employed over 1,500 workers at the site, chose not to inform the workers about the health hazards because of exposure to asbestos. If the company would have sensitised the people, it could have saved the workers who are suffering from asbestosis, which is curable if diagnosed early. Asbestosis is a chronic disease that affects the functioning of lungs. Advanced asbestosis leads to heart or respiratory failure.

The development of asbestosis is slow and the disease becomes critical about 15 years after the first exposure to asbestos. Also, excessive exposure can result in death within 10 years.

“The company never told us about the health hazards of asbestos. It also never conducted medical checkups for the workers for the fear of getting caught. Most of us came to know about the disease long after the mine was shut down,” says Deogam, who worked with the company for five years. “There used to be lots of dust. By the end of my shift, I would look like a white ghost,” he adds. Read more

Courtesy: down to earth

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