In Muzaffarpur, India, the construction of a new factory promised to bring a much-needed boost to the area’s economy.
As many as 500 job openings were promised to be created by the factory’s operations. While the villagers prepared for the new employment opportunities, their children were busy launching a campaign against the asbestos production site.
Citing their biology textbooks, the local students began teaching their parents about the hazards of asbestos.
The factory, which seemed to be a perfect answer to economic lag, held the potential to expose its workers to deadly materials that are responsible for thousands of yearly deaths worldwide.
Determined to protect their families from the mineral that causes life-threatening diseases such as malignant mesothelioma, the children launched protests that successfully halted factory construction.
Armed with information from their science and chemistry classes, the students began educating the adults in the town despite the low literacy rates among the farmers.
The battle against the asbestos factory began after students recalled what they learned in science and chemistry classes taken at the town’s government-run school.
Asbestos fibers are recognized as carcinogens and banned in most industrialized countries for their association with many serious illnesses.
Citing lessons about asbestos’ toxic nature, the children explained the dangers that the factory would pose to its employees.
The manager of the construction company issued statements that the information being circulated by the students was incorrect. Claiming that only blue asbestos was harmful, he insisted that the white asbestos intended for production at the factory poses no threat to the villagers.
Although Crocidolite (blue) asbestos is thought to be the most lethal form of asbestos, exposure to chrysotile (white) asbestos accounts for most asbestos-related diseases worldwide.
The movement has grown from a handful of adolescents to a considerable portion of the population. Faced with great opposition from the asbestos company and the government, the protests have gained national attention from social workers and Jairam Ramesh, India’s Environment Minister. Three farmers were injured by police intervention in January, and 24 more were injured in baton charges.
Despite the considerable opposition from India’s asbestos industry, the villagers refuse to ignore the facts presented in the textbooks.
The students who began the uprising hope that by generating awareness, they may save the lives of villagers who may have otherwise developed asbestos-related diseases after exposure at the factory.