MAC: Mines and Communities

BANI Condemns Indian Government's Double Speak on Asbestos

Published by MAC on 2003-11-21

Ban Asbestos Network of India Condemns Indian Government's Double Speak on Asbestos

Just ended is a meeting of the Rotterdam Convention on Prior Informed Consent - which seeks to allow countries to be fully informed about the consequences of allowing the importation of certain hazardous chemicals and to prevent such importation if they so decide. This year the consequences of Canada and Russia continuing to export asbestos and dump it in the South was a matter of key concern. As you will see from the press release below, shamelessly India and Zimbabwe (themselves producers of asbstos) but also Colombia and - astonishingly - South Africa objected to the Convention being extended to cover bans on the world's most dangerous construction material.

Since the biggest use of asbestos today is in cement manufacture, one wonders whether the cement industry has been pulling any strings behind the scenes? Cemex and Holcim (respectively the third and fourth biggest global cement manfactuers) were also recently cited as being instrumemtal in framing Colombia's new legislation to privatise the country's mining industry.

Ban Asbestos Network of India Condemns Indian Government's Double Speak on Asbestos

November 21 2003

BANI Press Release

At the Rotterdam Convention meeting currently underway in Geneva (17-21 November), Canada and Russia led a revolt of asbestos producing countries against the inclusion of chrysotile asbestos (white asbestos) on the international list of chemicals subject to trade controls, despite scientific findings that this substance is harmful for human health and the environment, and in spite of the clear obligation, under the treaty, for such a listing.

Indeed, the Intergovernmental Negotiating Committee of the Rotterdam Convention on the Prior Informed Consent (PIC) Procedure for Certain Hazardous Chemicals and Pesticides in International Trade had recommended the inclusion of all forms of asbestos to the international list of chemicals subject to trade control. If the recommendation had been adopted, these chemicals would have become subject to the Prior Informed Consent (PIC) procedure.

The listing of chrysotile would have been an effective step to minimize future harmful exposures as the PIC Convention stipulates the need for exporters to provide transparent information on chemicals and pesticides, such as chrysotile, which have been banned or restricted by at least two countries in two parts of the world.

The support from Indian government representatives in Geneva is contrary to the interests of Indian workers and citizens many of whom are contracting asbestos-related diseases, says Ravi Agarwal, director, Toxics Link.

The Canadian actions were condemned by the WWF, the conservation organization, which said: "Canada's objection to listing chrysotile is embarrassingly self-interested and makes a mockery of the Convention's (Rotterdam Convention) intent which is shared responsibility for health and the environmental protection between exporters and importers of harmful substances." Julia Langer, Director of the International Conservation Programme at WWF-Canada, added: "Notwithstanding the hazards of asbestos at home, if developing countries really want to buy Canada's carcinogenic asbestos they should only do so with full disclosure.

The position taken in Geneva by Canada, which produces and exports chrysotile internationally, was supported by delegates from Russia, the Ukraine, China, Zimbabwe, India, Indonesia, South Africa and Columbia.

On 14 November, the Press Trust of India reported on the plight of asbestos-injured workers from Digvijay Cement Company, Gujarat Composite Limited and the A Infrastructure Limited; instead of supporting the financial interests of global chrysotile producers, the Indian government should have expressed its concern for its injured citizens by demanding the inclusion of chrysotile on the PIC list, says Gopal Krishna, a member of Ban Asbestos Network of India (BANI).

Our government must learn from countries like the EU, Chile, Australia, New Zealand, Norway, the United States, Brazil, Argentina, Gambia, Congo, Egypt and Morocco, which supported the listing of chrysotile/white asbestos to safeguard public health, adds Agarwal.

The EU and Chile undertook extensive risk evaluations before banning chrysotile and calling for the treaty listing, and the Convention's scientific review endorsed their findings by consensus. There is enough global evidence against chrysotile/white asbestos. There is no need for further proof for banning it, says Dr T .K Joshi, director, Centre for Occupational and Environmental Health, New Delhi.

While some Indian government officials kowtow to the financial clout of our country's asbestos cement producers and their foreign supporters, others acknowledge the truth. On 18 August 2003, in the Rajya Sabha home, the Union Minister of Health and Family Welfare and Parliamentary Affairs, Mrs Sushma Swaraj, had said, "Studies by the National Institute of Occupational Health (NIOH), Ahmedabad, have shown that long-term exposure to any type of asbestos can lead to development of asbestosis, lung cancer and mesothelioma".

Ban Asbestos Network of India (BANI), a coalition of civil society groups, supports the proposed listing of chrysotile on the Rotterdam Prior Informed Consent (PIC) Convention because it alerts potential importers that chrysotile asbestos is a known cancer-causing agent, which poses a risk even at very low levels. We urge the Indian Government to consult with groups representing Indian workers and with officials such as Mrs. Sushma Swaraj who will report the reality of India's asbestos epidemic and not the mistruths being spread by a greedy and hazardous industry.

For further details: 9811930574, 01124328006, 24320711

The following information on the Rotterdam Convention on Prior Informed Consent is from the "Hazardous Chemicals - Environment - Global Issues" page of the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, posted in April 2003.

Prior Informed Consent (PIC)

The Rotterdam Convention on the Prior Informed Consent (PIC) Procedure for Certain Hazardous Chemicals and Pesticides in International Trade is an international procedure that:

Helps participating countries learn more about the characteristics of certain potentially hazardous chemicals and certain severely hazardous pesticide formulations that may be exported to them;

Initiates a decision making process on the future import of these chemicals and formulations by the countries themselves and facilitates the dissemination of these decisions to other countries; and

Requires exporting countries to comply with the decisions.

The Convention covers industrial chemicals and pesticides (including in specific circumstances, severely hazardous pesticide formulations). The Convention does not involve international bans. Decision-making on future import of a chemical included in the Convention lies with each Party participating in the Convention.

The core of the Rotterdam Convention is information exchange.

Rotterdam Convention: negotiations and state of play

The growth in world trade in chemicals during the 1960s and 1970s led to increasing concerns about the environmental and health risks of using hazardous chemicals, one example being importation of pesticides by developing countries which did not have the necessary expertise or infrastructure to ensure their safe use.

These concerns led to the development of the voluntary Prior Informed Consent (PIC) procedure in 1989, which was embodied in the Food and Agriculture Organization's International Code of Conduct on the Distribution and Use of Pesticides and the United Nations Environment Programme's London Guidelines for the Exchange of Information on Chemicals in International Trade.

This PIC procedure was voluntary and unanimously accepted by member countries of the Food and Agriculture Organization and the United Nations Environment Programme, and was supported by the leading chemical industry associations and a variety of non-governmental organisations.

Responding to calls in a number of international fora, including the 1992UN Conference on Environment and Development, at a Food and Agriculture Organization Council meeting held in 1994, and a United Nations Environment Programme Governing Council meeting held in 1995, it was agreed that negotiations would begin for a draft Convention.

The Rotterdam Convention was adopted and opened for signature at a Diplomatic Conference held in September 1998, after the conclusion of three years of negotiations. At the Diplomatic Conference, it was decided that a new interim voluntary PIC procedure would replace the pre-existing voluntary arrangements until the Convention entered into force, in order to enable continuation of PIC activities during this period. This interim procedure mirrors the PIC procedure contained in the Convention itself.Australia is a participant in the interim PIC arrangements. Prior to entry into force of the Convention, governments are undertaking further work to prepare for decisions that have to be taken by the Conference of the Parties.

Australia signed the Convention in July 1999, adding to the more than 70 signatories to the Convention. 50 ratifications are required for the Convention to enter into force. At least 40 countries have ratified the Convention and the United States and a number of other countries have begun considering ratification of the Rotterdam Convention.

Chemicals included in the Rotterdam Convention

At the time the Convention was adopted in September 1998, 17 pesticides, 5 severely hazardous pesticide formulations and 5 industrial chemicals were included in Annex III of the Convention. Additionalchemicals have been added to Annex III of the Convention under the interim PIC arrangements and will need to be confirmed once the Convention has entered into force.

Chemicals currently subject to the Interim PIC Procedure (May 2002)
CAS number

Pesticides 2,4,5-T93-76-5
Ethylene dichloride*107-06-2
Ethylene oxide*75-21-8
HCH (mixed isomers)608-73-1
Mercury compounds
Dinoseb & dinoseb salts88-85-7
Ethylene dibromide (EDB)106-93-4
Severely hazardous pesticide formulations
Methamidophos soluble liquid formulations of the substance that exceed 600g active
ingredient per litre10265-92-6
Phosphamidon soluble liquid formulations of the substance that exceed 1000g active
ingredient per litre13171-21-6 (mixture, (E)& (Z) isomers)
23783-98-4 ((Z)-isomer)
297-99-4 ((E)-isomer)
Methyl-parathion emulsifiable concentrates with 19.5%, 40%, 50%, 60% active ingredient and dusts containing 1.5%, 2% and 3% active ingredient298-00-0
Monocrotophos soluble liquid formulations of the substance that exceed 600g active
ingredient per litre 6923-22-4
Parathion all formulations aerosols, dustable powder, emulsifiable concentrate,
granules and wettable powders, excluding capsule suspensions56-38-2
Industrial chemicals
Polychlorinated terphenyls (PCT)61788-33-8
Polybrominated biphenyls
(PBB) 36355-01-8 (hexa) 27858-07-7 (octa) 13654-09-6 (deca)
Tris (2,3-dibromopropyl) phosphate126-72-7
Polychlorinated biphenyls (PCB)1336-36-3

* Chemicals added during the interim procedure

Chemicals can be included (ie listed in Annex III) in the use categories of either industrial chemicals or pesticides, or in both categories. If a chemical has both industrial and pesticide use, it will only fall under the PIC procedure for the use category(s) for which it is listed.

The Convention excludes narcotic drugs and psychotropic substances, radioactive materials, wastes, chemical weapons, pharmaceuticals (including human and veterinary drugs), chemicals used as food additives, food, and small quantities of chemicals (not likely to affect human health or the environment) which are imported for research, analysis or personal use.

Addition of chemicals to Annex III

As a first stage, a notification of a chemical is made by an individual Party that has made an explicit national hazard/risk based decision to ban or severely restrict the chemicalin order to protect human health or the environment within its jurisdiction. Notifications must be received from at least one Party in two defined geographical regions before any consideration is given to the chemical being included in Annex III of the Convention. Developing countries or countries with an economy in transitionmay also nominate severely hazardous pesticide formulations that are causing health or environmental problems in their territory. Only one nomination is needed for this category.

After checking by the Secretariat to ensure that all necessary information has been received from the nominating countries, the notifications are examined by an expert group against the criteria for listing, including:

whether the regulatory action was to protect human health or the environment;

that the notifying Party undertook a risk evaluation meeting Convention requirements;

whether the regulatory action was sufficiently broad based to merit listing;
and that intentional misuse is not sufficient in itself.

The expert group then recommends to the Conference of the Parties whether or not the chemical should be added to Annex III of the Convention. For chemicals where listing is recommended, the expert group also prepares a draft Decision Guidance Document (DGD). This is an information package on the chemical and includes the rationale for the bans or severe restrictions in the notifying countries. If the recommendation for listing and the draft DGD are approved by the Conference of the Parties, the chemical is added to Annex III to
the Convention and the DGD is circulated to all participating countries for their decision on future imports of the chemical. This is the trigger for each country to consider the chemical and decide whether imports will continue to be allowed, including conditions associated with its import.

A similar, but slightly modified procedure, operates for the listing of severely hazardous pesticide formulations.Before the Convention enters into force, the work of the Conference of the Parties and the expert group is being carried out by interim bodies with similar responsibilities.

Chemicals can be removed from the Convention if new information indicates that the listing may no longer be justified. The expert group reviews the information and, if it decides on the basis of this to recommend that a chemical be removed, prepares a revised draft DGD and essentially the same procedure is then followed as for adding a chemical to the Convention.

Further information about the Convention and interim arrangements can be found
on the following internet sites:
Rotterdam Convention on the Prior Informed Consent (PIC)
Earth Negotiations Bulletin
United Nations Environment Program (UNEP)

Persistent Organic Pollutants (POPs)

Persistent Organic Pollutants (POPs) are pesticide and industrial chemicals that
are toxic, persist in the environment and animals, bioaccumulate through the
food chain, and pose a risk of causing adverse effects to human health and the
environment even at low concentrations.
POPs have been linked to adverse effects on human health and animals such as
cancer, damage to the nervous system, reproductive disorders, and disruption of
the immune system. Because they circulate globally via the atmosphere, and
other pathways, POPs released in one part of the world can travel to regions far
from their source of origin.

Many developed countries, including Australia, have taken strong measures to
reduce and eliminate releases of POPs. However, many developing countries still
use and produce POPs, for instance in agriculture and vector management
associated with disease control. In addition, stockpiles of unwanted POPs exist
in many parts of the world. In developed and developing countries, some
infrastructure and equipment (such as electrical transformers and capacitors)
contain POPs.

Stockholm Convention: negotiations and state of play

Multilateral negotiations on the Convention on POPs concluded in Johannesburg in
December 2000, after a negotiating period of about three years. The Convention
was adopted and opened for signature at a Diplomatic Conference held in
Stockholm in May 2001.

Australia and over 150 other countries have signed the Stockholm Convention. At
least 30 countries have ratified the Convention and the United States and a
number of other countries have begun considering ratification. 50 ratifications are required for the Convention to enter into force. It is possible that this Convention could obtain the 50 ratifications required for entry into force by 2003. Prior to entry into force of the Convention, governments are undertaking further work to prepare for decisions that have to be taken by the Conference of the Parties.

POPs included in the Stockholm Convention The Stockholm Convention will initially cover control measures on twelve POPs - DDT, aldrin, dieldrin, endrin, chlordane, heptachlor, hexachlorobenzene, mirex, toxaphene, polychlorinated biphenyls, dioxins and furans - identified for international action because of their persistence, bioaccumulation, long-range dispersion and toxicity.

The initial twelve POPs
DDT1hexachlorobenzene (HCB)1,2,3
dieldrin1polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs)2,3
endrin1polychlorinated dibenzo-p-dioxins (dioxins)3
heptachlor1polychlorinated dibenzofurans (furans)3
1Pesticide chemical 2Industrial chemical 3By-product

The Convention also includes provisions for further chemicals with similar
toxic, persistent and bioaccumulative properties to be added to the twelve existing POPs after a science-based review and assessment process and a decision by the Conference of the Parties. Article 8 and its related annexes include a science-based process for assessing chemicals nominated for addition to the Convention.

When considering nominated chemicals (and possible control measures), the Conference of the Parties will attempt to make decisions by consensus, and if this fails by a three-quarter majority. If a decision is taken by the Conference of the Parties that a chemical should be added to the Convention, Parties then decide individually whether or not to take on obligations associated with the new chemical. Further information the Stockholm Convention can be found on the following internet sites: United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) Stockholm Convention on persistent organic pollutants ( Earth Negotiations Bulletin

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