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Deliberations on Chrysotile asbestos at 6th meeting of UN's Rotterdam Convention

Written By Gopal Krishna on Sunday, September 15, 2013 | 3:13 AM


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At its 6th meeting, the Conference of the Parties to UN's Rotterdam Convention adopted 16 decisions in Geneva, Switzerland.
The report of the Conference of the Parties to the Rotterdam Convention on the Prior Informed Consent Procedure for Certain Hazardous Chemicals and Pesticides in International Trade on the work of its sixth meeting deals with Chrysotile Asbestos as well. The text of the same is as under:

"Chrysotile asbestos
68. The representative of the Secretariat drew attention to the relevant documentation, recalling
that the Conference of the Parties had deliberated on the inclusion of chrysotile asbestos in Annex III
to the Convention at its third, fourth and fifth meetings and had agreed that the procedures set out in
Articles 5 and 7 of the Convention had been met. The President recalled that in spite of that agreement
the parties had not been able to reach agreement on whether to list chrysotile asbestos in Annex III and
said that the task at the current meeting was to try once again to see if consensus could be achieved.
69. In the ensuing discussion many representatives expressed support for listing chrysotile
asbestos in Annex III, arguing that the Chemical Review Committee had confirmed that the procedure
for listing had been followed and that the criteria for listing had been met. Several other
representatives, however, maintained their countries' opposition, saying that there was no clear
scientific proof of the toxicity of chrysotile asbestos to human health and suggesting that the
Committee had not fully followed the requisite procedures.
70. Several representatives referred to their national situations concerning chrysotile asbestos.
Several, including one speaking on behalf of a group of countries, emphasized that listing the chemical
in Annex III would not constitute a ban on its use; parties that considered it safe to do so could still use
the chemical, but the exchange of information required for chemicals listed in Annex III would enable
them to use the chemical in a more informed manner with information received from exporting
countries. Another representative suggested that a programme of work be developed to address the
concerns of some parties.
71. Other representatives, also referring to their national situations, said that chrysotile asbestos
continued to be used domestically, for example in the production of roofing for low-income housing,
contributed to employment in that sector and had not yielded any proof of harmful effects. One
representative said that although listing the chemical in Annex III was not a ban it would nevertheless
have a negative impact on trade. One representative said that consensus on the matter would be
difficult to reach and that any decision on listing should be postponed to a later date. Expressing
support for that view, several others said they could not support listing the chemical absent further
evidence of its harmfulness.
72. One representative said that there were insufficient scientific data to convincingly support the
listing of chrysotile asbestos in Annex III. Supported by other representatives, he said that the
alternatives to the substance had not been sufficiently examined to determine their safety and that they
might present an equal or greater risk than chrysotile asbestos itself.
73. One representative, speaking on behalf of a group of countries, said that his country, and
perhaps others in its position, would need technical assistance to move away from reliance on
chrysotile asbestos.
74. The representative of the World Health Organization (WHO) reported that the International
Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) had concluded that all forms of asbestos, including chrysotile,
were carcinogenic to humans, the latest information having been published in 2012. She said that
owing to the widespread use of chrysotile in building materials and other asbestos products it was not
possible to prevent the exposure of workers and the general public. Furthermore, the chemical could
not be used safely owing to the way in which products containing it were produced and handled and
degraded in situ, as well as the challenges that they presented in decommissioning and subsequent
waste management. She added that WHO and IARC had conducted an evaluation of fibrous chrysotile
asbestos substitutes and had concluded that safer alternatives were available.
75. In the light of the varying views expressed, the President requested the contact group
established to consider the listing of other chemicals in Annex III to discuss as well a possible way
forward for the listing of chrysotile asbestos, taking the draft decision set out in Annex IV to the report
of the Conference of the Parties on its fifth meeting (UNEP/FAO/RC/COP.5/26) as a possible starting
point.
76. During a subsequent session, the co-chair of the contact group reported that the group had been
unable to agree on whether to list chrysotile asbestos in Annex III to the Convention. At the invitation
of the President the representatives of some parties opposing the listing of chrysotile asbestos
reiterated the arguments against listing outlined above.
77. One representative, asking that his statement be reflected in the present report, then reiterated
his country’s reasons in favour of listing, saying that the costs of listing the substance were negligible,
while the failure to list would deprive developing countries of the ability to manage the risks posed by
the import of a substance that had been banned in 30 countries of the Organisation for Economic
Cooperation and Development; the arguments of those opposing listing, while relevant to each
country’s determination of how it should manage chrysotile, were simply not relevant to the question
of whether to list it in Annex III given that no one disputed that the criteria for listing set out in the
Convention had been satisfied. His country, he said, was paying, and would pay for generations to
come, the price for its past use of asbestos, and the price was paid not just in economic terms but in
immense human misery as well. He urged all parties to conclude that because the criteria for listing set
out in the Convention had been satisfied the substance must be listed.
78. The representatives of many other parties, including one speaking on behalf of a group of
countries, then took the floor to express support for the statement of the first. At the invitation of the
President owing to a lack of time for all to speak, most other representatives then raised their flags as a
show of support for the statement.
79. The Conference of the Parties decided, given the lack of consensus, to include further
consideration of the listing of chrysotile asbestos in Annex III of the Convention on the agenda of its
seventh ordinary meeting."

Indian delegation at the COP -6 misrepresented facts regarding chrysotile asbestos at the meeting under the influence of the representatives of Asbestos Cement Product Manufacturers Association who accompanied them. Although chrysotile asbestos is a hazardous substance under the Indian laws, the delegation led by Ajay Tyagi, currently Chairman, Central Pollution Control Board, Union Ministry of Environment & Forests took a contrary position which was acting on a flawed, inconsistent and irrelevant brief from Union Ministry of Chemical & Fertilizers. The brief was prepared based on a study of National Institute of Occupational Health (NIOH), Ahmedabad which was admittedly funded the chrysotile asbestos industry. Both these ministries seem to be working as branch offices of Asbestos Cement Product Manufacturers Association  with regard to chrysotile asbestos. At the 7th meeting of UN's Rotterdam Convention in Geneva in May 2015, India will have no excuse to oppose inclusion of chrysotile asbestos in the PIC list of the Convention.
 
Some 1,400 participants took part in the conference, which was held from 28 April to 10 May 2013, back to back with the ordinary meetings of the conferences of the parties to the Basel and Stockholm conventions, and the extraordinary meetings of the three conventions, including a high-level segment of ministers. 

The main outcomes include the listing of four new chemicals (the pesticide azinphos-methyl and the industrial chemicals PentaBDE, OctaBDE and PFOS) to Annex III of the Convention.





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