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Canada Drops Opposition to Chrysotile Addition to List of Controlled Hazardous Substances

The United Nation’s list of Controlled Hazardous Substances is maintained by an international treaty made up of representatives from around the world known as the Rotterdam Convention. The Convention’s purpose is to set standards of protocol for the regulation of global trade of hazardous materials in an effort to protect human health and the environment.

Chrysotile has been on the list of considered additions to the list of Controlled Hazardous Substances since the Convention’s first meeting in 2004. However, in order for chrysotile to be added, the vote needs to be unanimous among the represented countries. The addition of chrysotile has been strongly opposed by countries with large stakes in the asbestos industry including Brazil, Canada, China, India, Kazakhstan and Russia. Inclusion does not imply that the substance has been banned, but that its import, export and use is severely regulated.

India withdrew its objection to the addition of chrysotile at the 2011 Rotterdam Convention, but Canada, which was exporting thousands of tons of chrysotile asbestos to other countries, objected on the basis that it was a propaganda ploy by groups wishing to benefit from the trade of replacement products such as cellulose and ceramic.

That same year the last operating asbestos mine in Canada ceased operations and the Canadian government committed to lend the mine $58 million to restart production. But in 2012, the newly elected government announced it would not honor the commitment. The new Ministry also announced that it would no longer oppose the addition of chrysotile to the list of Controlled Hazardous Substances.

The sixth meeting of the Rotterdam Convention runs from April 28 to May 10, 2013 in Geneva, Switzerland. While it is unlikely that other countries in opposition will follow suit, Canada’s change in stance is an important step toward placing of public health above corporate gains.

Chrysotile asbestos is a fibrous magnesium silicate mineral that is the most abundant variety of asbestos found on earth. The largest known natural deposits of chrysotile are located in Quebec, Canada and the Ural Mountains in Russia. Chrysotile is most commonly exported to developing countries which have failed to implement proper safety regulations to protect citizens.

Due to the unyielding of vested corporate interests, the danger of chrysotile asbestos continues to remain a contentious topic. However, in February 2013, the World Health Organization and the International Agency for Research on Cancer called for an end to all uses of asbestos reiterating all forms of asbestos are carcinogenic and can cause asbestosis, lung cancer and mesothelioma.