Still No Consensus On Adding Asbestos to Hazardous List At Rotterdam

Linda Reinstein, President of the Asbestos Disease Awareness Organization

Linda Reinstein, President of the Asbestos Disease Awareness Organization (ADAO), sounded the alarm Tuesday after delegates to the Rotterdam Convention in Geneva, Switzerland failed to reach a consensus that would have put chrysotile asbestos on the hazardous materials list, despite overwhelming evidence of its deadly effects.

Exposure to asbestos is proved to cause mesothelioma, a cancer that affects the lining of the lungs, abdomen and heart. An estimated 3,000 cases each year are diagnosed in the United States.

“The indisputable facts from the World Health Organization leave no room for doubt, that asbestos is a human carcinogen and there is no safe level of exposure,” Reinstein said. “As a mesothelioma widow, I’m appalled and disgusted to see politics compromise public health so horrifically.  We must prevent asbestos exposure to eliminate deadly asbestos-caused diseases.”

Although alachlor (an herbicide) and aldicarb (an insecticide) were added to the banned list, chrysotile asbestos was excluded because of an opposition from India, Viet Nam, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Sudan and Ukraine, United Nations Environment Program spokesman Michael Stanley-Jones said. The Russia Federation also was in opposition, although it was only as an observer Tuesday.

The convention’s scientific committee recommended several times adding asbestos to the list, but strong opposition has prevented it. The convention represents more than 110 countries.

“Although the Members Nations were unable to reach a consensus, there is an overwhelming consensus amongst the medical, scientific, labor, and asbestos victims’ communities that chrysotile asbestos must be placed on the Prior Informed Consent (PIC) list,” Reinstein said.

Substances on the hazardous list – officially known as Annex 3 – are not banned internationally, but those that are on the list are more difficult to trade. Countries exporting them must provide written warning of their hazards. And countries importing them can decline acceptance.

The mining of asbestos is prohibited in the United States, although it remains prevalent in both homes and workplaces that were constructed before 1980.  It is valued for its heat resistance and fireproofing properties and found in everything from construction materials to household items.

Its superior insulating properties — and low cost — offer manufacturers a way to strengthen buildings and products and protect them from fire and heat without adding much weight.

There is still significant mining of asbestos in Canada, although 90 percent of it is exported. The Canadian delegation was not part of Tuesday’s debate, preferring to remain quiet in the face of past criticism for opposing any effort to put asbestos on the hazardous list.

The issue is expected to return on Thursday.

This was the third time at the Rotterdam Convention that efforts to put chrysotile asbestos on the hazardous list failed. Efforts failed in both 2006 and 2008, in part because of opposition from Canada.  No official votes are taken under the rules of procedure of the Rotterdam Convention.

A committee was formed to explore other ways to designate substances for which no consensus can be reached to put them on the Annex 3 list.


Tim Povtak is an award-winning writer with more than 30 years of reporting national and international news. His most recent experience is in researching and writing about asbestos litigation issues and asbestos-related conditions like mesothelioma. If you have a story idea for Tim, please email him at tpovtak@asbestos.com

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