Top exporters block move against white asbestos

Thursday, May 11, 2017

Chrysotile, otherwise known as white asbestos, will not be added to Rotterdam Convention’s list of hazardous substances, after six nations blocked the move during the eighth meeting of the Conference of the Parties in Geneva (COP-8).

While 157 countries, including Canada, advocated for the listing, India, Russia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Zimbabwe, Belarus and Syria objected. The decision must be unanimous.

A recent statement from the Asbestos Disease Awareness Organization expressed outrage that six countries blocked the listing.

“Asbestos-related diseases cause great human suffering. Death from difficult to treat cancers and suffocation caused by asbestosis are terrible ways to die,” said Arthur L. Frank MD, Ph.D., Professor of Public Health and Pulmonary Medicine, Drexel University. “The callous disregard of some countries for educating workers condemns many to unnecessary and painful deaths.”

Canada had previously opposed tough trade restrictions under the Harper government at a previous meeting. The move was criticized by Canada’s unions, health and safety advocates and the international community, as the World Health Organization declared asbestos a human carcinogen way back in 1987.

However, in the last year, Canada has become more of an advocate on the issue, announcing it will ban asbestos and asbestos-containing products in the country by 2018. In late April, Environment and Climate Change Canada and Health Canada released for consultation a proposed regulatory approach for prohibiting these products. Those regulations are expected to be published in December.

The Chemical Review Committee of Rotterdam first recommended listing of chrysotile asbestos in 2006. Until 2012, Canada was a major exporter of chrysotile — the most common form of asbestos and the only type not included in the list.

In the last year, organizations and unions have worked with the government to help secure a comprehensive ban on the import and export of asbestos in Canada.

“Unions campaigned long and hard for a ban on asbestos to make workplaces and public spaces safer for all Canadians, but also people around the world who were being exposed to asbestos,” said Canadian Labour Congress President Hassan Yussuff.

The next Rotterdam Convention takes place in 2019.

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