A harmful form of asbestos, chrysolite asbestos, will not be added to an international hazardous chemicals list until 2013 at the earliest
One common form of Asbestos, chrysolite asbestos, will not be placed on a hazardous chemicals list that would allow countries to ban it from being imported. Countries including Canada, Ukraine, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Vietnam objected at recent convention that met to discuss hazardous chemicals in Geneva, Switzerland.
Chrysolite asbestos, the most abundant form of asbestos found in the United States, is used in pipes and roof shingles. It is inexpensive, strong and flame retardant and the fibers can actually be turned into thread and sewn into cloth. Canada, Russia and Italy are among the countries that mine and export it around the world. It is a major export product for the Canadian Province Quebec and Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper promised to protect this business during his campaign. Proponents from countries that blocked the addition to the hazardous list point out that it is not a threat to health when handled properly. Many opponents, however, claim it may pose a large health risk to people in developing nations who import it and do not have safety regulations in place.
Rotterdam Convention on the Prior Informed Consent Procedure for Certain Hazardous Chemicals and Pesticides in International Trade, simply known as the Rotterdam Convention, is a treaty that deals with how hazardous chemical are regulated in terms of import and lists them accordingly. If chrysolite ended up on the Annex III list, only countries that directly asked for it to be exported could receive it and the countries exporting it would have to label it properly, provide information on how to minimize risks from handling it and disclose its potential health hazards and Cancer mesothelioma.
Health officials who wanted chrysolite asbestos added to the list pointed out that an analysis of previous research suggests that it is harmful but there are still many countries that mine it and therefore are economically dependent on it. One would think that there are already international laws in place that any potentially hazardous chemical should be labeled and any information regarding safe handling and health risks must be disclosed. But it is probable that developing nations lag behind industrialized nations in terms of knowing the potential health risks, so health and safety laws to protect endangered workers and consumers would not be in place. Miners in Canada and elsewhere wear personal protective equipment when working with chrysolite because they know the health risks, so the idea of being unwilling to disclose those risks to the countries buying it seems preposterous.
It is the typical battle between industry and human health policy; a hazardous material has created an entire industry that provides jobs for many individuals but also poses serious health risks. Putting the chrysolite asbestos on the list would not be an outright ban. It simply ensures that those who are receiving a hazardous chemical are aware of the risks so they can take steps to minimize them. The import of chrysolite likely creates jobs for those developing nations so any fear that they would immediately stop importing it is unfounded.
There is simply too much known about the health risks from asbestos to not share life-saving information. The Rotterdam Convention’s tagline is “Share Responsibility,” but clearly that is not happening when it comes to this common form of asbestos.