MAC: Mines and Communities

Russia and South Asian states back unacceptable asbestos trade

Published by MAC on 2008-11-10

As recently reported on this site, Canada continues to block a move to proscribe chrysotile asbestos as an internationally-traded toxic substance. See:

But we should also remember that the north American state is backed in its resistance to this essential measure by Russia (the world's biggest miner of asbestos), India (an increasing consumer of it ), and Pakistan.

Fatal white asbestos not on toxic list yet

Mail Today (New Delhi)

1st November 2008

INTERNATIONAL trade in Chrysotile asbestos will continue unhindered, as main players in this trade including Canada and India have blocked a decision to put this substance in the list of toxics whose trade is restricted under UN- sponsored treaty on hazardous chemicals.

The proposal to include Chrysotile asbestos in the list of toxic substances was postponed for lack of consensus at the fourth meeting of the Conference of the Parties of the Rotterdam Convention on the Prior Informed Consent Procedure ( PIC) for Certain Hazardous Chemicals and Pesticides in International Trade, which ended in Rome on Friday.

The 1998 convention requires exporters of certain hazardous substances to obtain PIC from importers, a measure meant to ensure that poorer countries do not let in products they may prefer to avoid. While inclusion on the so- called PIC list does not ban those products, it does highlight their highly toxic nature.

The convention is not about banning substances - it is about obligatory consent before import or export of the chemicals.

Chrysotile is the only type of asbestos that is still widely used, mainly in building products in developing countries.

" Russia, India, Pakistan and Canada compelled the UN conference to miss the opportunity to list chrysotile ( white) asbestos for the fourth time," said Gopal Krishna, a member of the Rotterdam Convention Alliance, who was an observer at the meeting. " These countries are blocking the will of the overwhelming majority of the countries.

They are putting trade before human health. The reasons they give are completely illogical and obstructive", he added.

" In an act of manifest sophistry and insincerity, officials of the ministry of environment argued that strategies for global chemicals management must respect nations' sovereign right to use chemicals for the national good, taking into account both socioeconomic and environmental concerns," Krishna pointed out.

Bakary Kante, an official of the United Nations Environment Programme, said the convention is not about banning chemicals, but rather informed chemicals' management.

Chrysotile asbestos - widely used in building materials - accounts for about 94 per cent of global asbestos production. The World Health Organization ( WHO) has identified it as a human carcinogen, and reports that at least 90,000 people die each year of asbestos- related diseases such as lung cancer and mesothelioma. The International Labour Organisation ( ILO) has also called for end to its use.

" India's position at Rome meeting is disgraceful. Not only does it not protect its own people from harm, India also denies other countries, especially poorer countries to protect its people from harm by depriving them of information," said Madhumita Dutta of corporate accountability desk of The Other Media, a Chennai- based NGO.

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