Who is Informing the UN’s Asbestos Debate? 

by Laurie Kazan-Allen



Between May 12 and 15, 2015, members of the Rotterdam Convention (RC), gathered in Geneva at the 7th Conference of the Parties (COP7), will once again consider if chrysotile asbestos should be placed on a list of hazardous chemicals. The inclusion of a substance on Annex III of the Convention is not a ban; it is the first step in ensuring that importing countries receive the information they need to assess whether their nation is able to safely use this substance or products containing it.

The subject of chrysotile has not only absorbed much discussion time at previous COPs – where progress has been blocked on four occasions by asbestos stakeholders led initially by Canada and now by Russia – but also threatened the viability of a much-needed United Nations Convention designed to protect human health and the environment (see: Chrysotile Asbestos: Hazardous to Humans, Deadly to the Rotterdam Convention).

After the asbestos debacle at COP6, civil society groups denounced the actions of the so-called “Dirty 7” who held the RC to ransom over chrysotile in their press release: “The Convention has been hijacked by the asbestos industry which is determined to prevent the environmental and health protections of the Convention from being implemented” (see: Press Release: Rotterdam Convention in crisis, say civil society groups). Commenting on the Russian-led asbestos veto at COP6, Dr. Barry Castleman said: “By not listing chrysotile asbestos, the Convention is enabling the industry to carry on the same criminal cover-up of the hazards of chrysotile asbestos, which will result in hundreds of thousands more tragic deaths… This is a crime against humanity and the whole world should be scandalized.”

Considering the negative impact asbestos industry stakeholders have had on the RC, it seems inexplicable that delegates representing vested interests are included on the list of attendees of a RC technical workshop on chrysotile scheduled for March 30 and 31, 2015. Amongst the twenty-nine names from Brazil, China, India, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia, Vietnam, Zimbabwe, Indonesia are the following:

  • Mr. Vivek Chandra Rao Sripalle, Director
    Safety, Health, Environment
    Asbestos Cement Products Manufacturers’ Association
  • Mr. Oleksandr Sierkin, Chairman
    Association Ukrainian Chrysotile Corporation
  • Mr. Shame Chibvongodze, Secretary
    Zimbabwe National Chrysotile Taskforce

When enquiries were made on February 23, 2015 with the RC Secretariat about the inclusion of these individuals at a supposedly neutral information-sharing event, the response received was “I share your concerns.”

It does not take a rocket scientist to predict the input these vested interests will make to the March discussions. The presence of Vivek Chandra Rao Sripalle, Mr. Oleksandr Sierkin and Shame Chibvongodze will ensure that the concerns of the industry are heard. Once again, the voice of the victims will be missing from the conversation. The plight of those who have paid with their lives for the profits of this deadly industry seem of little interest to the Secretariat of the Rotterdam Convention. The time is long past when the oversights of the RC can be forgiven or excused as a product or ineptitude or lack of information. What hope can there be for a protocol that remains hostage to industry interests?

February 23, 2015



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