United Nations Supports Restrictions on Asbestos
An agency of the United Nations is calling for global trade restrictions on the sale of all forms of asbestos. On 21 February, 2002 an announcement was made by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP): "all forms of asbestos should be added to an international list of chemicals subject to trade controls." This decision follows a review of asbestos which had been triggered by unilateral bans adopted by the EU and Chile. The committee of government experts which studied the issued noted that the inhalation of asbestos fibres causes cancer and other illnesses. They said: "Asbestos is still used in seals, gaskets, joints, brakes, armaments, and other applications although cost-effective substitutes are increasingly available for most applications."
The Chairman of the Interim Chemical Review Committee (ICRC) Reiner Arndt of Germany said: "This decision of the Committee is another big step towards eliminating the risks associated with asbestos and its products. Even in countries like mine, where these products have been banned for a long time, they remain a major problem when decontaminating buildings and paying the huge costs of treating people with serious diseases caused by asbestos."
These deliberations have been taking place within the framework of the Rotterdam Convention on the Prior Informed Consent Procedure for Certain Hazardous Chemicals and Pesticides in International Trade. Although the Rotterdam Convention has been signed by 72 governments, it has only been ratified by 20 states1 It gives importing countries "the tools and information they need to identify potentially hazardous chemicals and to exclude those they cannot manage safely. When trade is permitted, requirements for labelling and providing information upon export on potential health and environmental effects promote the safe use of chemicals."
According to a paper entitled: Present Status of Asbestos Mining and Related Health Problems in India - A Survey by AL. Ramanathan and V. Subramanian which was published in the Industrial Health Journal in 2000, imported asbestos is widely used in India:
"In India raw material asbestos is received from Canada without any warning and India sends back the finished product to them along with the warning hazardous product. In India workers slice open the bags of Canadian asbestos with knives, then shaking the bags into troughs and mixing it with cement to make piping. Here the unprotected workers are completely covered in asbestos dust, where precautions are absolutely not in place."
It remains to be seen whether Canada and other asbestos-exporting countries will abide by the recommendations which will be considered by the Intergovernmental Negotiating Committee in Bonn from 30 September to 4 October, 2002. More information on the Rotterdam Convention can be found on the website: www.pic.int The website of the Pesticide Action Network UK (PAN UK) also has relevant information on PIC and the PIC Convention: www.pan-uk.org
March 15, 2002
1 As of 4 March, 2002 it had been ratified by: Bulgaria, Czech Republic, El Salvador, Gambia, Germany, Guinea, Hungary, Kyrgyzstan, Mongolia, the Netherlands, Nigeria, Norway, Oman Panama, Saudi Arabia, Senegal, Slovenia, Suriname, Switzerland and Thailand.