Chrysotile asbestos measure dies

Instead of putting this as an Addendum to today's post, I'll let it stand by its ignominious self. Thanks, Canada.


  • The Rotterdam Convention is a multilateral environmental agreement designed by a United Nations agency to protect vulnerable populations by ensuring that hazardous chemicals which are added to the Prior Informed Consent (PIC) list can only be exported with full disclosure and documentation. Although five types of asbestos were PIC listed in 2004, action on chrysotile asbestos was blocked by asbestos stakeholders including Canada, China, Ukraine, Kazakhstan and India. At this week's meeting, the asbestos lobby again succeeded in blocking PIC list of chrysotile, despite UN agencies and the Treaty Secretariat accepting if fulfilled all the necessary criteria. See:
  • Chrysotile asbestos has been assigned a 'Group 1' cancer rating by the International Agency for Research on Cancer. It has been linked to greatly elevated levels of a range of cancers including mesothelioma and lung cancer as well as other fatal respiratory diseases.
  • The third Conference of the Parties to the Rotterdam Convention (COP3) met in Geneva from October 9-13, 2006. Because chrysotile listing was not agreed at this meeting, the status quo will remain till, at least, 2008.
  • The International Labor Organization estimates that there are 100,000 asbestos deaths a year, one person every five minutes. Other estimates put the global toll much higher.
  • Asbestos bans and restrictions by industrialized countries have shifted consumption to the developing world. Nowadays, Asian countries consume over 50% of global asbestos production, with the biggest users being: China (491,954 tonnes), India (192,033t), Thailand (132,983t) and Indonesia (75,840t).

Press Release from the Secretariat of the International Ban Against Asbestos:

Rotterdam Treaty Killed by Asbestos Disease!

GENEVA 13 OCTOBER 2006: An international treaty designed to protect developing nations from toxic trade has become the latest casualty of the global asbestos industry. Failure to list chrysotile asbestos under a global right-to-know scheme has left the Rotterdam Convention "discredited" health campaigners have warned. They are calling on the United Nations to take urgent action to restore the treaty's credibility.

The call came today after efforts to introduce stringent right-to-know controls on the worldwide trade in chrysotile (white) asbestos were blocked by a Canadian-government sponsored campaign. Together with other asbestos exporting nations, the Canadian-led lobby has again effectively vetoed a widely supported proposal to place chrysotile, an acknowledged and potent carcinogen (cancer causing substance), on the Rotterdam Convention's "Prior Informed Consent" (PIC) list.

This failure of this week's meeting of government representatives in Geneva means export warnings on deadly asbestos shipments will not be required until 2008 at the earliest.


BWI [internaitonal building workers union] believes the Canadian government is guilty of criminal neglect. BWI's Anita Normark said: "Asbestos deaths are predictable. Asbestos deaths are preventable. In the short-term that means strict rules governing exports, in the medium term a global ban. In blocking all attempts to introduce these measures, the Canadian government is condemning thousands of workers to a painful and early death and has fatality damaged the treaty too."

The Rotterdam Convention process is coordinated by two UN agencies, UNEP and FAO. The UNEP/FAO Rotterdam Convention secretariat made a clear recommendation that chrysotile met all the criteria for PIC listing. Other UN agencies, the International Labour Office (ILO) and the World Health Organisation (WHO) have clear policy positions consistent with the arguments put by those advocating PIC listing of chrysotile.

BWI believes the United Nations should have anticipated the actions of the Canadian government and taken measures to stop the Canadian-led lobby once more bringing the treaty into disrepute, the decision not to list chrysotile going against the recommendations of both the UN and the great majority of participating governments.

According to BWI's Anita Normark: "The ILO and WHO both agree the goal is to eliminate the use of asbestos in all member states and to prevent asbestos related diseases. The Rotterdam Convention does not go nearly so far in its objectives - it is not a prohibition on trading deadly materials, such as chrysotile. It is essentially a simple right to know mechanism for export and import of the most hazardous substances. Applying the PIC procedures to chrysotile would provide potentially life saving advice on hazards and how best to control them."

She added: "Of course the commercial interests of the Canadian government are well known, they are determined to protect their asbestos export market at all costs. The UN is well aware of this, so it is surprising that, after this same scenario occurred at the 2004 meeting, that steps were not taken to ensure that the terms of the treaty is respected. Chrysotile meets all the criteria for inclusion, so it is outrageous that this is being blatantly and persistently blocked by Canada. Canada wants to protect and expand their asbestos sales in developing countries by misinformation and deception, and they are with in their rights to do so according to the UN system.

"The question is: Why have such a Convention if the grounds for inclusion are not health based but are driven by commercial interests? It is very clear that there should be an urgent review of the current voting system which allows any country the right to veto a majority decision. In order for the Convention to be credible, there must be a mechanism to prevent this kind of abuse and manipulation.

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My homeland, Scotland, has an unpleasant history of asbestos-related illness. A range of workers were affected, as the asbestos floated loose in, for example, the hulls of ships where all sorts of tradesmen worked at the same time. Labourers building the Red Road flats in Glasgow were known as the white mice, because they came home covered in white asbestos dust. Many spouses contracted illnesses from laundering their menfolks overalls.

The health effects were known but nothing was done to protect the workers (who were reassured there was no danger); in fact employers ruthlessly ensured cases dragged out until the victim died, thus reducing or nullifying settlements. People are still dying from past exposure even now, and the law on claims continues to be an ass.

Seems like history is repeating itself elsewhere. To knowingly condemn human beings to such a miserable life and death is nothing short of evil.

Dizzy: Yes, indeed. Your homeland was afflicted by Turner and Newall asbestos company. I've seen the documents. They are incredibly heartless.

I'll repeat what I just posted below -- This is no surprise. The Canadian government has become the handmaiden of industry, pure and simple. Most Canadians naively believe that our versions of the EPA and FDA operate like yours with a protection-based mandate, but their main job is to facilitate the introduction of new products and to grease wheels (and palms, where necesary)for industry. Our international delegates have behaved no less shamelessly in other international arenas--killing efforts to control terminator seeds, I think was another recent example.

Our "generous" donations to Third World countries are tied to the purchase of Canadian goods & services (like asbestos roofing for building construction). We export other toxic wastes to the Third World, to be handled in ways we'd never permit at home. We import Third World labour and prostitutes to work here in slavery or near-slavery. Our mining and resource companies behave atrociously in Third World countries--lying, stealing, cheating and abusing native peoples with abandon while appearing to toe the line at home.

We're contributing relatively more to global warming than even you folks south of the border, but Our Prime Minister announced this week that we're abandoning our commitment to Kyoto in favour of a "Made in Canada" solution focusing on smog instead of greenhouse gasses (which the twit who passes for our Environment Minister contends are not a priority for Canadians!) and intensity-based targets that will allow emissions to increase as long as industry keeps growing. After all, we wouldn't want to harm Alberta's booming oil sector or Ontario's lucrative contracts to build SUVs and auto parts for the North American market.

Sorry folks, all those stereotypes about the nice Canadians, if there was ever any truth to them, are long gone, all gobbled up in the race to the bottom so that our companies can be tops on the world stage. Even our much-loved Mounties, those squeaky-clean, stalwart heroes in their spiffy red serge who are supposed to come to our rescue, are the focus of one lurid scandal after another--racism, paedophelia, brutality, corruption, cover-ups and worse.

You know, Revere, I'd write my Member of Parliament to complain if I thought it would do any good at all. Except he's the Minister responsible for promoting foreign trade and he's probably the bastard behind this nasty little piece of work.(No, I didn't vote for him)

Name is more or less correct. I wouldn't quite go as far as Name does, but certainly the Canadian government (particularly under that smirking corpse Harper) is responsible for some incredible malfeasances.

This is largely a problem with the economic elite that controls much of Canada's public policy and has since the 1980s. Substantive reform in this area would begin with dismantling the School of Economics at the University of Manitoba, firing the entire top eschelon at the Bank of Canada, convincing the media that the Frasier Institute and the Heritage Foundation are not credible sources of policy solutions, and getting foreign (generally US) think-tank money out of Canadian policy-development organisations.

As has been amply documented by Linda McQuaig among others, Canada's economic situation is a hothouse, devoted to growing and spreading neoliberal economic policy at home and abroad, while portraying economic globalisation (and its attendant cold trade wars -- softwood lumber, anyone? -- and other ill effects) as natural, normal, inevitable and even desireable, while simultaneously lowering domestic expectations of what government can and should deliver to its citizenry. (These people are, in fact, famous for creating crises -- one of the last Ontarian Premiers' cabinet even admitted as such -- in order to autocratically dictate radical policy changes to these ends.)

In terms of public health, these policies mean that pollution is going unchecked and unregulated, we're withdrawing from the Kyoto Protocol, worker safety laws are being re-written and ignored, drinking water is becoming dangerous (see Walkerton, Ontario), and, at least in some places, the legal work week is back to where it was in 1830. Where is our organised, radical labour movement? In part, acting like nothing's wrong, and in part coopted from within by machine politicians who have a vested interest in making sure people act like nothing's wrong.