Adding chrysotile asbestos to the list of hazardous materials, which would make it harder for countries to export, was the major topic of discussion Monday when the United Nations Rotterdam Convention opened in Geneva, Switzerland.
More than 100 countries are represented this week by scientists, physicians and environmentalists, almost all calling for asbestos to be added to the list.
There is considerable pressure on the Canadian government, which has resisted — and effectively blocked — these efforts in the past. The exposure to asbestos is the primary cause of mesothelioma cancer. Asbestos is still mined in Quebec and exported to several developing countries, including India and Thailand.
Substances on the Rotterdam list are not banned from international trade, but putting them there forces the exporting countries to provide written warnings, and hopefully safer handling — to the importing countries.
If a substance is put on the list, importing countries also can refuse to accept it after determining that safe handling is not possible.
It has been estimated that 90 percent of the asbestos being mined in Canada is exported. The industry employees several hundred workers.
The Canadian influence was primarily responsible for blocking the asbestos warning during the 2006 Rotterdam Convention. At the most recent Rotterdam Convention in 2008, the issue of asbestos was tabled after a consensus could not be reached.
The current Conservative Party government of Canada has stood behind the asbestos industry in the past, despite the proven dangers that is brings and despite the overwhelming objections from both health and environmental experts.
The Convention’s scientific committee in the past has recommended that chrysotile asbestos, already banned in many countries, be place on the list.
Even Chuck Strahl, a former cabinet member within the Conservative government of Canada, has pleaded with his former co-workers to support limits on the export of asbestos. Strahl, who once worked in the asbestos industry, developed lung cancer from his exposure to the deadly mineral.