Make India Asbestos Free

Make India Asbestos Free
For Asbestos Free India

Journal of Ban Asbestos Network of India (BANI). Asbestos Free India campaign of BANI is inspired by trade union movement and right to health campaign. BANI has been working since 2000. It works with peoples movements, doctors, researchers and activists besides trade unions, human rights, environmental, consumer and public health groups. BANI demands criminal liability for companies and medico-legal remedy for victims.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Canada moves to block listing of asbestos as 'hazardous'

Canada told the world Wednesday it opposes placing limits on the export of chrysotile asbestos — a "bombshell" expected to derail international efforts to list the mineral as hazardous.

The head of the Canadian delegation at a United Nations summit in Geneva made the statement late Wednesday after a consensus was emerging to label the known carcinogen mined in Quebec as hazardous.

If chrysotile asbestos is listed on Annex III of the United Nations' Rotterdam Convention, "Prior Informed Consent" would be required before countries could export the mineral. After being informed of the hazards, developing countries that import asbestos could refuse to accept the potentially cancer-causing material if they believe they could not handle it safely.

Until Wednesday's declaration, the Canadian delegation had remained silent — fuelling speculation from anti-asbestos campaigners that Canada was letting a handful of other countries do its "dirty work."

The stunning development — confirmed by the UN Environment Program and characterized by the Montreal-based Chrysotile Institute as a "bombshell" — appeared to contradict statements made by Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver just a day earlier, when he told reporters in Ottawa that the question of Canada's position was "moot" because four other countries — Vietnam, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Ukraine — had already spoken up against the listing.

Under convention protocol, unless consensus among countries is achieved, chrysotile asbestos remains off Annex III. The UN meeting ends Friday.

When pressed by reporters about the possibility of a consensus emerging in the face of Canada's silence, Oliver also suggested Tuesday that the federal government would accept the listing. "If they want it to be listed, then it will be listed," he said.

But on Wednesday, India, a major importer of Quebec asbestos, announced it would support the listing after remaining quiet.

As with Canada at past meetings, India either opposed the listing or remained silent, despite a long-standing recommendation of the convention's expert scientific committee that chrysotile asbestos, already banned in many countries, be placed on the list.

Then, Ukraine indicated it could accept the hazardous listing.

Following this development, the head of the Canadian delegation, David Sproule of the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade, intervened to pronounce Canada's objection.

Madhu Dutta, an anti-asbestos campaigner from India who is in Geneva to observe the UN proceedings, said Canada's manoeuvre on Wednesday was outrageous.

"Canada was hiding behind the smokescreen of dissenting voices of smaller exporting countries and a 'non-consensus' excuse, but when it sensed that there might be a consensus and chrysotile will be listed, it broke its sinister silence and said no," Dutta told Postmedia News from Geneva.

Guy Versailles, a spokesman for the Chrysotile Institute who is also attending the UN summit, also said it looked like Canada broke its silence only after it appeared a consensus was emerging.

Versailles called Ukraine and its partner, Russia, "heavyweights" at the negotiation table that "could carry the day, but I'm not sure Vietnam could have.

"So when they reversed their position, or were appearing to reverse their position, Canada spoke up," Versailles told Postmedia News.

The Chrysotile Institute, a government-funded organization that promotes the safe use of chrysotile asbestos, opposes the listing of the mineral on Annex III.

Versailles said the listing would likely result in a de facto ban of exports of chrysotile asbestos, which is now exported to developing countries after the Western countries shut their borders to the mineral a generation ago.

Between 1979 and 1984, a worldwide recession and a growing scientific consensus linking asbestos exposure to cancer led to a dramatic reduction in industry revenues — to $400 million a year from about $800 million — and a drop in Canadian jobs to 4,000 from about 8,000.

Today, there are between 450 and 500 asbestos mining jobs left in Quebec, although that number could increase if a planned expansion of the Jeffrey mine proceeds, Versailles said, adding that half of the additional production of the expanded mine is slated to go to India.

"It's Canada's hypocrisy. We were hoping other countries were going to do our dirty work by allowing them to stand in the way of listing asbestos as a dangerous substance, which everyone knows it is. India, in particular, backed away, and Canada was left on the hook, so Canada had to go to the mike and prove the minister a liar," said NDP MP Nathan Cullen.

Oliver released a statement Wednesday offering a different perspective.

"I have been clear that our government promotes the safe and controlled use of chrysotile, both domestically and internationally. Our position at Rotterdam clearly reflects the government's policy of the past 30 years."

By Sarah Schmidt,
June 22, 2011
Vancouver Sun

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