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World Nations Deny Dangers of Chrysotile Asbestos

05-24-2013

Seven nations won out against 143 others in the debate over whether chrysotile asbestos should be added to the United Nation’s Prior Informed Consent (PIC) list of hazardous substances in the Rotterdam Convention. India, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia, Ukraine, Vietnam, and Zimbabwe all objected to the addition at the sixth meeting of the Rotterdam Convention which took place April 28 – May 10, 2013, in Geneva Switzerland. It comes as no surprise that the countries which objected to the listing are home to a booming asbestos industry. Russia alone mines an estimated 1,000,000 tons of asbestos annually and is the supplier for half of the world’s chrysotile production.

In September of 2012, Canada, which was the sole objector to the addition at the 2011 conference, announced it would no longer object to the listing. Russia, which had not yet been party to the convention, quickly filled Canada’s place. In November of 2012, Russia hosted the “scientific” conference: “ Chrysotile Asbestos: Risk Assessment and Management”, at which “scientists” presented studies showing that chrysotile is safe and presents no danger to human health. The consensus at that conference was that chrysotile shouldn’t even be included on the Rotterdam Convention’s ballot for addition to the PIC.

The Russian Chrysotile Association’s website (eerily mirroring Canada’s taxpayer-funded “Chrysotile Institute” which closed its doors in early 2012) states that chrysotile is safe, and the attempts worldwide to ban its use are aggressive ploys by asbestos replacement products manufacturers. There is even a comic which depicts the big, bad corporations of alternative products pitting war against the poor, beleaguered working man, the hero of the story is Super Chrysotile, of course.

What does come as a surprise is India’s objection. They had received a standing ovation at the 2011 convention when they withdrew their objection to the listing. In this article, India’s own media expresses confusion as to why Indian representatives at the conference objected to the listing.

Thailand’s media also expressed frustration of their government’s handling of the asbestos issue in the article “ Asbestos kills, that's for sure” published April 26, 2013 in the Bangkok Post. It reports that the Thai government approved a ban on asbestos in 2012, but the ban has not yet been implemented. This article regarding trade between Russia and Thailand sheds some light on the issue stating: “Russia has urged Thailand to think carefully about a proposed ban on asbestos imports because of concerns over the health and safety of consumers. Thailand and Russia have set up a working committee to consider the issue. Romanov expects it to come up with concrete solutions to allow asbestos imports to Thailand.”

New additions to the PIC list of hazardous substances include the insecticide Azinphos-methyl, two flame retardants, PentaBDE and OctaBDE, and a fabric protector PFOS. The only two substances under consideration which were not added are chrysotile asbestos and the herbicide paraquat, whose addition was opposed by Guatemala and India.

Paraquat is toxic to human beings and animals and according to the Centers for Disease Control, research has shown that it is linked to development of Parkinson's disease. Ingestion of 2 teaspoons of paraquat is enough to cause liver, lung, heart, and kidney failure and lead to death. It is already banned in more than 40 countries, including Switzerland, the main manufacturer of the formulation.

The convention’s objective is to promote accountability among nations and protect human health. Inclusion does not imply that a substance has been banned, just that its import, export and use is severely regulated requiring warning labels and the exchange of information regarding safe handling practices. Decisions are determined by consensus, but groups such as the Rotterdam Convention Alliance are working to change procedure so that decisions are decided by the majority, and cannot be hijacked by a few Industry funded outliers who place profits above human health. If corrupt industry officials are allowed to influence the decisions of the convention, it defeats the purpose of the convention itself.

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