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Indian officials turn away asbestos laden former U.S. Navy ship

November 10th, 2009

The Indian government has blocked a former U.S. Navy ship from docking in its waters for dismantling after an investigation revealed that the ship was contaminated with toxic chemicals. A two day inspection of the ship by government officials revealed that the ship—formerly known as the SS Independence—was contaminated with toxic polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) and asbestos, a naturally occurring mineral that has been linked to a number of deadly diseases, including mesothelioma and lung cancer.

The ship was scheduled to be dismantled at India’s Alang ship breaking yard, the largest such facility in Asia. Although the ship entered Indian waters last month, Indian officials did not allow the ship to dock until they could complete their investigation into the vessel’s possible asbestos contamination.

Environmental campaigners have lobbied the Indian government to close the Alang ship breaking yard for many years, citing the negative environmental effects and health effects on workers at the facility. Workers use simple tools to dismantle ships that are brought to Alang, which opponents say is not properly outfitted to handle ships that have been contaminated with asbestos.

According to a study commissioned by the Indian government, one out of six workers at the Alang facility has shown signs of asbestos poisoning. Many of the workers display the early warning signs of asbestosis, an incurable lung disease caused by asbestos exposure. Workers who are exposed to asbestos may also be at risk of developing lung cancer or mesothelioma, a deadly cancer that can affect the lining of the heart, lungs or abdomen.

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