Canada and chrysotile asbestos: Will the Rotterdam Convention bring anticipated change?

4 May 2015 by under Events, News

canada flag Canada and chrysotile asbestos:  Will the Rotterdam Convention bring anticipated change?According to a commentary held by the Canadian Medical Association Journal, experts believe the chrysotile form of asbestos should be banned from Canada, as well as added to the hazardous substances list of a United Nations treaty.

The , which begins next week in Geneva, is meeting with the parties of the treaty to discuss if any hazardous substances needed to be added. While Canada promised to not oppose the addition of to the list, the country will also not openly support it, drawing criticism from Canadian health experts.

“We would really like [Canada] to play an advocacy role and actually stand up and say, ‘This should be on the list,’ rather than just sit back and let others discuss it,” said Trevor Dummer, an associate professor in the Cancer Prevention Centre at the University of British Columbia’s School of Population and Public Health.

There is no safe level of exposure to asbestos. Since asbestos fibers are microscopic and so easily inhaled or ingested, those who work or live near asbestos may experience the development of asbestos-related diseases including asbestosis, a severe scarring of the lungs, or mesothelioma, a deadly form of cancer. Mesothelioma often affects the lining of the lungs or abdomen, but can even affect the lining of the heart. Although some of those diagnosed with mesothelioma have had success with radical or experimental treatments, there is no known cure for mesothelioma at this time.

Canada used to be known for its massive asbestos industry thanks to provinces like Quebec producing nearly 100,000 tons of chrysotile asbestos just five years ago. Fortunately, at the end of 2011, Quebec was forced to close its final mine in the province, resulting in Canada’s sudden willingness to drop its resistance to banning chrysotile asbestos.

Russia, the world’s largest asbestos exporter, will likely use the opportunity to keep chrysotile asbestos off the list of hazardous substances during the treaty’s meetings on May 12, 13 and 14. A country not willing to ban a hazardous substance is not forced to since it must be done by consensus. Kathleen Ruff, the Rotterdam Convention Alliance’s founding coordinator, believes Canada has the perfect opportunity to make a “huge difference,” if it were willing to stand in favor of banning chrysotile asbestos.

“The only reason we are not opposing it is because Canada is not exporting asbestos right now,” said Ms. Ruff, whose organization consists of various international public-interest groups and unions. “Because we’re not making money on exporting asbestos, it’s not worth our bother to oppose the listing because we derive no benefit from it. It’s a very cynical attitude and if the rest of world follows Canada’s example, then the convention is doomed.”

Since 1996, asbestos exposure, Canada’s top workplace killer, was found responsible in nearly 5,000 approved on-the-job death claims, according to a Globe and Mail investigation. Unfortunately, Canada was still responsible for importing $6 million worth of asbestos-laden products just last year. The total amount even increased approximately $1.1 million from 2013.

The Globe and Mail


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