Executives in India believe asbestos can save lives by providing cheap roofs, walls and pipes for the region's poorest people, although medical officials in more than 50 countries say the material should be banned.
India is the world’s largest asbestos importer and Russia provides the majority of asbestos on the world market.
The World Health Organization and the International Labor Organization say that asbestos fibers lodge in the lungs causing disease, The Associated Press reported. The material causes 100,000 deaths from workplace exposure every year, according to the ILO.
"All types of asbestos fiber are causally implicated in the development of various diseases and premature death," said the Societies of Epidemiology in a 2012 statement.
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Indian executives held a meeting in New Delhi this week during which industry leaders said the risks of asbestos are overblown.
"We're here not only to run our businesses, but to also serve the nation," said Abhaya Shankar, a director of India's Asbestos Cement Products Manufacturers Association.
The use of asbestos has been curtailed in the U.S., but it is banned entirely in Japan, Argentina and throughout the entire European Union.
The asbestos lobby says Western nations have unfairly characterized the substance, claiming that chrysotile, or white asbestos, which accounts for more than 95 percent of all asbestos used since 1900 is actually safe.
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"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.
Medical experts disagree and say no form of the material is safe.
Toxicologist David Bernstein said chrysotile can cause disease if inhaled over prolonged periods or in large quantities.
At least two thirds of the Indian population lives in poverty and the industry claims it is bringing them affordable housing.
The New Delhi meeting was referred to as “scientific” although organizers admitted there was no new research on asbestos presented.
"People outside of India, they must be wondering what kind of fools we are," said Ajit Kumar Singh, a member of the Indian Red Cross Society. "They don't use it. They must wonder why we would."
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