Canada’s Deadly Export

The Rotterdam Convention is an agreement addressing international movement of hazardous substances, but of course there’s a great deal of debate about what qualifies as a hazardous substance. As convention parties met this week, several developing nations spoke up against adding asbestos to this list – and, according to one Canadian MP who attended the meeting as an observer, they did so at Canada’s behest. For CanWest News Service, Katie Daubs reports:

Chrysotile asbestos will remain off a watch list of dangerous UN chemicals for at least another two years, say observers attending the Rotterdam Convention talks in Rome.

On Tuesday, India, Pakistan, Vietnam and the Philippines made their opposition to chrysotile’s inclusion on the list known at the talks.

“Canada got others to do their dirty work for them,” said New Democratic MP Pat Martin, who was in Rome as an observer. ”The first speakers were our biggest customers.”

Martin said several other countries, like Zimbabwe, Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan, also were opposed, but the “overwhelming majority” of delegations were in favour.

“If it’s 126 countries here, it’s probably 115 or 120 who support inclusion and seven or eight who oppose”

“After the four initial speeches, they said, ‘There is clearly no consensus, so it was taken off the agenda to be revisited next time,'” he said from Rome.

A small number of mines in Quebec still produce asbestos, and 95% of their production is exported – presumably because few in Canada want to accept the terrible health risks that come along with asbestos use. Much of their asbestos ends up in developing countries where workplace health and safety laws are weak. A portion of it probably makes its way to the U.S., where we haven’t yet managed to ban the import or use of this deadly substance. (Read this Seattle PI article by Andrew Schneider and Carol Smith to learn how Canada helped scuttle an EPA attempt to ban the importation and sale of asbestos-containing products.)

According to this Montreal Gazette editorial, asbestos export sales earn only $110 million a year – so why, the writers ask, should this dwindling industry dictate national policy? They don’t answer that question, but they do conclude:

We’re all for exports, but the idea that this country defends the continued sale overseas of a product known to be dangerous should fill Canadians with shame.

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