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Stage set for inclusion of chrysotile asbestos in UN list of hazardous substances

Written By Krishna on Tuesday, March 26, 2013 | 6:55 AM

Stage set for inclusion of chrysotile asbestos in UN list of hazardous substances

Canada removes life support system from its asbestos mining industry, India’s supplier   

Asbestos-related diseases cause of imminent predictable catastrophe of death  

Utkal Asbestos Company’s case against Bihar Govt to be heard on April 4

New Delhi: Banned in over 50 countries, chrysotile asbestos (white asbestos) is all set to be included to the UN list of hazardous substances under Rotterdam Convention on the Prior Informed Consent Procedure for Certain Hazardous Chemicals and Pesticides in International Trade at the upcoming sixth meeting of the Conference of the Parties to the Rotterdam Convention during April 28 -May 10, 2013. The Chemical Review Committee of the Convention had recommended the listing of white asbestos on the grounds of findings of World Health Organisation (WHO) that asbestos was a hazardous substance harmful to human health and environment which cannot be used safely in a controlled manner.

In a significant development, asbestos industry in Canada has been buried with the announcement in last week's Canada's federal budget. In the Canadian budget papers at page 241, headline reads: "Supporting the Economic Transition of Communities Economically Linked to the Chrysotile Asbestos Industry" in the Chapter 3.5 titled: Supporting Families and Communities. By 2010 Canada hardly any customers, its biggest customer is India with $41 million. India being the biggest customer of Canadian asbestos, will have to take steps to look for alternatives of asbestos and have to take steps to support workers, families and communities who have been adversely impacted by asbestos exposure without any legal or medical remedy.

The value of Canada’s raw asbestos exports has dropped 94 per cent between 1990 and 2011. Exports alone were worth $645-million in 1990 and fell to $41-million in 2011. The government’s promised $50-million over seven years represents about 8 per cent of what asbestos exports were in 1990. The relevant text of the Canadian Budget Plan is available at http://www.budget.gc.ca/2013/doc/plan/chap3-5-eng.html

Canada was one of the key suppliers of chrysotile asbestos which opposed its inclusion in the PIC list of hazardous substances. The purpose of the prior informed consent (PIC) procedure is to allow countries to make their own informed decisions on future imports of hazardous substances. The chemicals listed in Annex III of the Convention include pesticides and industrial chemicals that have been banned or severely restricted for health or environmental reasons by two or more Parties and which the Conference of the Parties has decided to subject to the PIC procedure.

Canada barely uses asbestos in its own country for several years. It has been spending millions to remove asbestos from the Parliament Buildings. Despite knowing the cancer causing nature of asbestos, Canada continues to ship some 150,000 tonnes of it to countries like India each year.

The listing of white asbestos is likely to happen after India announced its position on June 22, 2011 the third day of the 5th Conference of Parties (COP) of the Rotterdam Convention in Geneva amidst standing ovation at the plenary meeting. India was applauded for changing its stance on the issue. Listing of chrysotile asbestos in Annex III of the Rotterdam Convention or the Prior Informed Consent (PIC) list will mandate the exporting countries to share information on the hazards of the mineral with the importing countries. It may be noted that India is the chair for a smaller group to discuss and influence the position of Ukraine, Kazakhstan, Vietnam and other countries opposing the listing. The change in Indian position is attributed to recommendations of WHO, International Labour Organisation (ILO) and the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) besides the fact that asbestos mining and trade in asbestos waste (dust and fibers) is technically banned in India.  

In November 2011, the last of the asbestos mines in Canada stopped operating. After that the Parti Québécois, the current ruling party won the election in Quebec and Premier Pauline Marois pledged to pull the plug on a proposal by Liberal Premier Jean Charest to loan the asbestos industry $58 million. This guides the way for complete ban asbestos in all its forms.

Canada’s Economic Action Plan 2013 further reads: "Due to the decline of the industry, these communities are now exploring ways to diversify their local economies and create new jobs. Confirming the commitment made by the government in September 2012, Economic Action Plan 2013 proposes to provide $50 million over seven years to Canada Economic Development for Quebec regions to support economic diversification efforts in the communities of Thetford Mines and Asbestos." This money was first promised in September 2012. It was announced by Christian Paradis, the country's industry minister, who also represents Thetford Mines and Asbestos in Parliament and was born in Thetford Mines.

In the Union Ministry of Labour and Employment dated January 23, 2012 has constituted a 13 member Advisory Committee to deal with ‘ILO guidelines’ and ‘fresh resolution passed by ILO”. The International Labour Organization (ILO) passed a resolution in June 2006. The Ministry is acting in compliance with the Supreme Court orders dated January 27, 1995 and January  21, 2011 in the Writ Petition (Civil) N. 206 of 1986 and Writ Petition (Civil) No. 260 of 2004. The ILO has also made certain specific directions vide its Resolution of 2006 introducing a ban on all mining, manufacture, recycling and use of all forms of asbestos.

Union Ministry of Labour should have revealed that that the “Government of India is considering the ban on use of chrysotile asbestos in India to protect the workers and the general population against primary and secondary exposure to Chrysotile form of Asbestos" at page no. 28 of its concept paper at the two-day 5th India-EU Joint Seminar on “Occupational Safety and Health” during 19-20 September, 2011.

At the Ninth International Asbestos Disease Awareness (ADAO) Conference during March 22-24, 2013 in Washington, DC, Dr. Arthur L. Frank, chairman of environmental and occupational health at Drexel University in Philadelphia expressed concern India’s current unchecked dependence on chrysotile asbestos reflecting on multiple expert studies projecting a spike in mesothelioma and other asbestos-related diseases in Asia by 2030. Dr Frank who is a visiting professor at Maulana Azad Medical College, New Delhi as well said, “What we can expect is very predictable—an absolute catastrophe of death and disease and it is “all preventable.”

It is relevant to recollect a reply dated March 4, 2003 to a query (file: AD 3040-02-95/MD) under Canadian Access to Information Act revealed the correspondence through an email dated May 2, 2002 from Martin Barratt, the third Commercial Secretary at the Canadian High Commission in India, to officials in Canada. The email reads: “I met with Brigadier Sethi of the Asbestos Information Centre (AIC) on May 1, 2002.” The email further reads: “Brigadier Sethi advised me of a much more serious and potentially damaging issue. Some NGOs in West Bengal have filed a claim in the High Court, Kolkata asking the Court to issue an injunction against the use of Asbestos… It is entirely possible that the High Court could issue the injunction and stop the use of asbestos. Eventually the matter would reach the Supreme Court but there is no predicting the outcome….” Martin Barratt, the Canadian official advised Brigadier Sethi saying, “I think that it may be necessary at some point to prepare an advocacy campaign to counter the arguments of the NGOs.” Martin Barratt, Second Secretary (Commercial), Canadian High Commission in India says, “AIC is of the belief that problems with safe use of asbestos will arise in the unorganised sector. These include small manufacturers who cannot afford to either install the equipment necessary to safely use asbestos or invest in the health needs of their workers.” AIC accepts that “unorganised sector does use imported products that they acquire through agents.” He added, “A ruling which states that subjecting a worker to asbestos is a violation of human rights could have far reaching consequences whether or not it is binding.” This information was sent by Jean Bolais, Coordinator, Access to Information and Privacy, Natural Resources Canada to Ken Rubin of Ottawa, Ontario.

It is clear that Canada, one of the supplier largest suppliers of chrysotile asbestos was quite concerned about an order or verdict in India.  

The following chemicals are to be considered by the Conference of the Parties at its sixth meeting (COP-6) for listing in Annex III to the Rotterdam Convention: Azinphos-methyl; Chrysotile asbestos; Perfluorooctane sulfonic acid, perfluorooctanesulfonates, perfluorooctanesulfonamides and perfluorooctanesulfonyls; Pentabromodiphenyl ether (CAS No. 32534-81-9) and pentabromodiphenyl ether commercial mixtures; Octabromodiphenyl ether commercial mixtures; liquid formulations (emulsifiable concentrate and soluble concentrate) containing paraquat dichloride at or above 276 g/L, corresponding to paraquat ion at or above 200 g/L.

In a related development a case filed by Utkal Asbestos Company on March 4, 2013 in the Patna High Court complaining that local people of Vaishali have ransacked the premises of the proposed asbestos factory wherein first information reports (FIRs) have been instituted, but no action is being taken by the authorities in respect of incidents and against the accused named therein. Justice Jayanandan Singh passed an order on March 22, 2013. The March 22 order reads: “This Court considers it appropriate to hear the District Magistrate, Vaishali, at Hajipur and Superintendent of Police, Vaishali at Hajipur personally before proceeding further in the matter. Let the District Magistrate, Vaishali and the Superintendent of Police, Vaishali at Hajipur be personally present in Court on 4th of April, 2013” for orders.  

There are a total of 43 chemicals listed in Annex III, 32 are pesticides (including 4 severely hazardous pesticide formulations) and 11 industrial chemicals. They are: Alachlor, Aldicarb, Aldrin, Binapacryl, Captafol, Chlordane, Chlordimeform, Chlorobenzilate, DDT, Dieldrin, Dinitro-ortho-cresol (DNOC) and its salts (such as ammonium salt, potassium salt and sodium salt), Dinoseb and its salts and esters, EDB (1,2-dibromoethane), Endosulfan, Ethylene dichloride, Ethylene oxide,  Fluoroacetamide, HCH (mixed isomers), Heptachlor,  Hexachlorobenzene, Lindane (gamma-HCH), Mercury compounds, including inorganic mercury compounds, alkyl mercury compounds and alkyloxyalkyl and aryl mercury compounds, Monocrotophos, Parathion, Pentachlorophenol and its salts and esters, Toxaphene  (Camphechlor), Tributyl tin compounds, Dustable powder formulations containing a combination of benomyl at or above 7%, carbofuran at or above 10% and thiram at or above 15%, Methamidophos (Soluble liquid formulations of the substance that exceed 600 g active ingredient/l), Methyl-parathion (Emulsifiable concentrates (EC) at or above 19.5% active ingredient and dusts at or above 1.5% active ingredient), Phosphamidon (Soluble liquid formulations of the substance that exceed 1000 g active ingredient/l), Actinolite asbestos, Anthophyllite, Amosite asbestos, Crocidolite, Tremolite, Polybrominated Biphenyls (PBBs), Polychlorinated Biphenyls (PCBs), Polychlorinated Terphenyls (PCTs), Tetraethyl lead, Tetramethyl lead and  Tris (2,3 dibromopropyl) phosphate.

It is noteworthy that all forms asbestos except chrysotile asbestos is already in the UN list. It is hoped that the listing of chrysotile asbestos will pave the way for its eventual ban as per the recommendations of WHO and ILO.   

For Details: Gopal Krishna, ToxicsWatch Alliance (TWA), Mb: 9818089660 (Delhi)
Ajit Kr Singh, Convener, Khet Bachao Jeevan Bachao Jan Sangharsh Committee (KBJBJC), Vaishali, Mb: 09931669311, E-mail:ajeetsinghpushkar@gmail.com
Ravindra Prasad Singh, Khet Bachao Jeevan Bachao Jan Sangharsh Committee (KBJBJC), Vaishali, Mb: 8986980751  

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