Friday, July 27, 2007
New evidence submitted by the former project manager of SS Norway (Blue Lady) reveals that the toxic ship-for-scrap renamed Blue Lady and currently anchored 4000 feet off Alang coast has radioactive material on board in at least 5500 fire detection points. Americium 241 – a radioactive substance – concentrates in the bone, liver and muscle and can expose surrounding tissues to radiation, thereby increasing the risk of cancer. Ironically, this finding was made months after the Supreme Court-appointed Committee of Technical Experts (CTE) opined "the presence of radioactive materials in a passenger ship like "Blue Lady" is quite unlikely." "The new evidence exposes the shoddy state of science in this country. A body of experts appointed by the apex Court of the country confidently, and without evidence, rules on a subject that has far-ranging implications on worker health and environment." Supreme Court in the matter of Ship Breaking dealing with "Decontamination of ships before they are exported to India for breaking", has specifically directed that "Before a ship arrives at port, it should have proper consent from the authority concerned or the State Maritime Board, stating that it does not contain any hazardous waste or radioactive substances. AERB should be consulted in the matter in appropriate cases." There has been no compliance of these directions in the case of Blue Lady. No one has been punished for this lapse till date.
SS Norway (Blue Lady)"The ship admittedly contains more than 1200 tons of asbestos, significant quantities of carcinogenic polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) and other heavy-metal-laden substances. Export of such ships to non-OECD countries violates the Basel Convention. However, India has refused to challenge such imports despite the abysmal environment and safety record at its ship-breaking yard in Alang." The Final Report of CTE submitted to the apex court notes, "the average annual incidence of fatal accidents in ship breaking industry is 2.0 per 1000 workers while the All India incidence of fatal accidents during the same period in mining industry, which is considered to be the most accident prone industries, is 0.34per 1000 workers." The Final Report also notes of asbestos victims in the ship-breaking industry and cites the "Medical Examination of the Asbestos Handlers" by a team of National Institute of Occupational Health (NIOH) that concludes, " The X ray examination by NIOH showed linear shadows on chest X rays of 15 (16 %) of 94 workers occupationally exposed to asbestos. These are consistent with asbestosis…" but has failed to recommend any compensation as is required as per court's directions. "In such a context the imminent contamination from Americium-241 can occur to people/workers who work at or near a contaminated side through ingestion of food and water, or by inhalation is alarming." When inhaled, some Americium-241 remains in the lungs, depending upon the particle size and the chemical form of the Americium compound. The chemical forms that dissolve easily may pass into the bloodstream from the lungs. The chemical forms that dissolve less easily tend to remain in the lungs, or are coughed up through the lung's natural defense system, and swallowed. From the stomach, swallowed Americium may dissolve and pass into the bloodstream. That Americium-241 poses a significant risk if ingested (swallowed) or inhaled. It can stay in the body for decades and continue to expose the surrounding tissues to both alpha and gamma radiation, increasing the risk of developing cancer. Americium-241 also poses a cancer risk to all organs of the body from direct external exposure to its gamma radiation. Neither the Dismantling Plan submitted by the buyers of the ship nor any of the Reports/Affidavits by the Technical Committee or Environment Ministry envisage safe removal/destruction of such radioactive substances contained in the Blue Lady.