Canada Refused to Allow Asbestos to be Put on United Nations List of Hazardous Substances by Kathleen Ruff

At the UN Conference in Geneva June 20 to 24, the more than a hundred countries present were on the point of achieving consensus to add chrysotile asbestos to the Rotterdam Convention’s list of hazardous substances. Countries can still export substances on the list, but they must first obtain Prior Informed Consent. This enables countries in the developing world, who are being targeted by hazardous industries, to make informed decisions so that they can better protect the health of their people. They also have the right to refuse shipment into their country of a hazardous substance if they believe they do not have the means to handle it safely. The Convention is thus an important, practical tool to protect people in the developing world from being harmed by asbestos.

The asbestos lobby has used its political power over the past several years to prevent chrysotile asbestos from being put on the list of hazardous substances, as they deny that chrysotile asbestos is hazardous. So when at the meeting in Geneva, both India and the Ukraine withdrew their opposition and said they would support the listing of chrysotile asbestos, it seemed that the battle had been won. Tragically, this was not the case. After staying silent on the issue for the previous days, Canada suddenly intervened and said it would not agree to letting chrysotile asbestos be put on the Convention’s list of hazardous substances. Since there has to be consensus in order for a substance to be put on the list, this meant that Canada, single-handedly, destroyed consensus and prevented action. Canada refused to give any reason for its immoral and destructive conduct in sabotaging the Convention. As a consequence, the asbestos industry can continue selling asbestos to developing countries, without giving any information of its hazards.

At the UN Conference in Geneva June 20 to 24, the more than a hundred countries present were on the point of achieving consensus to add chrysotile asbestos to the Rotterdam Convention’s list of hazardous substances. Countries can still export substances on the list, but they must first obtain Prior Informed Consent. This enables countries in the developing world, who are being targeted by hazardous industries, to make informed decisions so that they can better protect the health of their people. They also have the right to refuse shipment into their country of a hazardous substance if they believe they do not have the means to handle it safely. The Convention is thus an important, practical tool to protect people in the developing world from being harmed by asbestos.

The asbestos lobby has used its political power over the past several years to prevent chrysotile asbestos from being put on the list of hazardous substances, as they deny that chrysotile asbestos is hazardous. So when at the meeting in Geneva, both India and the Ukraine withdrew their opposition and said they would support the listing of chrysotile asbestos, it seemed that the battle had been won. Tragically, this was not the case. After staying silent on the issue for the previous days, Canada suddenly intervened and said it would not agree to letting chrysotile asbestos be put on the Convention’s list of hazardous substances. Since there has to be consensus in order for a substance to be put on the list, this meant that Canada, single-handedly, destroyed consensus and prevented action. Canada refused to give any reason for its immoral and destructive conduct in sabotaging the Convention. As a consequence, the asbestos industry can continue selling asbestos to developing countries, without giving any information of its hazards.

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