Number 8, November 2004

» Chrysotile not included in the Rotterdam convention
» An Asbestos Victims Association of Quebec (AVAQ)
» Asbestos liability in the United States
» 8 400 companies financial straights
» Radiographic Readers’ Interpretations – non-partisan and accurate?
» A “Package” deal for asbestos
» The American Congress and its fair act

Chrysotile not included in the Rotterdam convention:
Common sense triumphs over demagoguery

“Facts do not cease to exist because they are ignored.”
Aldous Huxley

On September 18th 2004, the member countries of the Rotterdam Convention rejected the proposal to include chrysotile in the Prior Informed Consent (PIC) procedure. Numerous countries, representing more than 3 billion people, expressed their opinion that the Rotterdam Convention was not the appropriate vehicle to protect the health of workers involved in the commerce, transformation and use of chrysotile.

This is a resounding failure for the European Union, Chile and others dedicated to the banning of chrysotile and in the fore-front trying to force the inclusion of this fibre with environmentally dangerous pesticides and chemicals. Some of these special interest groups expressed their frustration at having lost the battle by accusing countries, such as Russia and Canada, of having prioritized the economic interests of a few to the detrimental health risk of many.

These gratuitous insinuations should not make us lose sight of the fact that the primary objective of the countries and groups, which supported the inclusion of chrysotile in the Rotterdam Convention; it is the prohibition of the trade of chrysotile in order to benefit replacement fibres. Countries supporting the prohibition of chrysotile - in particular France and Chile - are among the principal producers of substitute products and fibres, such as various celluloses and refractory ceramic fibres. Thus, there are important economic interests at work.

Wherever the ban movement is active one notices the presence of anti-chrysotile groups implicitly supporting the replacement products industry, the asbestos abatement industry or law firms. It is therefore not surprising to hear them claim that substitute fibres are certainly safer than chrysotile, even if the safety of these fibres and products is far from being proven. This is a clear indication that certain groups sought to use the Rotterdam Convention and its PIC procedure for purposes it was never

Do not be mistaken. The countries present in Geneva last September all support the laudable objectives of the Convention. But, the majority of those countries were not fooled by behind the scenes maneuvers to use the Convention for commercial gain. The refusal to include chrysotile in the PIC procedure is not an opposition to providing information to developing countries, but rather the refusal to allow the Europeans and their allies to dictate the rules and conditions of international trade. Whatever the anti-asbestos militants claim, it was not limiting information to the workers that was in question, but simply the ban of chrysotile. In fact, in an interview reported by the Associated Press in November 2003, Dr. Reiner Arndt (Chairman of the Interim Chemical Review Committee [ICRC] who had proposed the inclusion of chrysotile on the PIC list), clearly stated that, “the treaty is primarily designed to protect developing countries by giving them a simple way to ban imports of products that they fear would be hazardous”.

There is no scientific or medical reason to justify the classification of chrysotile fibres with the most dangerous pesticides and chemicals listed. Contrary to other products covered by the Convention, the use of chrysotile does not pose an environmental problem. The inherent risks are limited to the workplace. The management of those risks are already covered by an international convention: ILO (International Labour Organization) Convention 162 entitled “Safety in the Use of Asbestos”, adopted by 145 countries and which governs the principles of its use.

It’s really a shame that the militants opposed to a policy which favours a safe and responsible-use will stop at nothing and use environmental concerns, which are very sensitive to public opinion, to advance their commercial activities. This approach inevitably creates a panic situation regarding the use of all asbestos fibres, including chrysotile, to support their pretensions and win this commercial war. Attempting to include chrysotile in the PIC procedure is part and parcel of their commercial strategy and is light years away from addressing the real questions of worker health and safety and more importantly the needs of developing and emerging countries.

The countries opposing the inclusion of chrysotile to the PIC procedure were concerned that the procedure could involuntarily result in the increased use of replacement products, which have not been adequately evaluated or regulated and which could potentially have higher risk. The inclusion of chrysotile, excluding other industrial fibres used in replacement products, would have been discriminatory. This would have created an unlevel playing field in the international trade of industrial fibres. Industries competing for the same markets as chrysotile would have an unfair advantage for several reasons, of which: exemption from heavy bureaucracy; and, not being associated with a list of highly toxic chemicals. Moreover, the results of the recent published bio-persistence studies demonstrate that a good number of replacement fibres are more persistent and very probably more hazardous to health than chrysotile.

We conclude that the inclusion of chrysotile to the PIC procedure would have been interpreted as a call to ban and to the substitution of chrysotile by replacement products. This consequence is against the expressed will of a large number of countries and their governments that favour the controlled and responsible-use policy.