Industry and environmental and occupational health issues

CFP: a panel for the American Society of Environmental History

I am writing to enquire if anyone would be interested in participating in a panel for the American Society of Environmental History conference next year. I am looking to form a panel on the link between industry and environmental and occupational health issues. In particular, I would like to examine this subject in the context of the relationship between industrializing countries and so-called "developed countries," although that is not essential.

I intend to present a paper that will focus on environmental and occupational health issues in Alang, India. The economic mainstay of the town is the breaking up of old ships, generally from the West, that have been decommissioned. At present, hundreds of workers are scrapping a liner called the "Blue Lady," formerly the SS France and until 2005 the longest cruise liner in the world.

This has prompted litigation from Greenpeace and environmental activists.The litigation, which has gone through the Indian Supreme Court and thus far failed, argues that the scrapping of the "Blue Lady" poses severe environmental and health risks because of the high quantities of asbestos, mercury, and other contaminants on board. One of the activists' main points of contention is that the workers are not provided with protective clothing, or shielded from the risks posed by the contaminants. Further, the activists have asserted that there are not adequate measures in place to dispose of the toxins, and that they pose a significant threat to Alang and the surrounding environment. The case is complicated by the fact that many of the workers come from impoverished rural areas and do not see themselves as victims, but rather welcome the chance to work for a regular wage.

The activism against the dismantling of the "Blue Lady" is by no means unique. Two years ago, Greenpeace successfully persuaded the French high court to recall an asbestos-laden naval ship, the "Clemenceau," that the government had sent to Alang. Greenpeace argued at the time that Western countries did not have the right to dispose of ships that posed severe environmental and health hazards in Asian countries. I will use Alang as a starting point to examine larger themes about industrial development in South East Asia and the dilemmas it poses.

If you would like to present a paper that fits with the panel's theme, or indeed if you have any suggestions about how the panel could be modified to incorporate your own research, please do not hesitate to get in touch.Thank you.

Richard Fry
Ph.D. Candidate, Wayne State University, Detroit