Friday, July 20, 2012

United Nations defer decision on deadly chrysotile asbestos used mainly in cement products

The Rotterdam Convention on the Prior Informed Consent (PIC) Procedure for Certain Hazardous Chemicals and Pesticides in International Trade has 39 substances on its so-called PIC list, under which an exporting nation must ensure no substances leave its territory without the consent of the recipient country.

The member governments to a United Nations-backed treaty aimed at helping developing countries more effectively manage chemicals and pesticides have postponed a decision until 2008 on whether to add the world's most widely used form of asbestos, identified as causing cancer, to an international watch list.

Member States meeting in Geneva could not reach consensus on adding chrysotile asbestos, which is used mainly in cement products and accounts for about 94 per cent of current global asbestos consumption. All other forms of asbestos are already on the list.

The World Health Organization (WHO), which has identified chrysotile as a human carcinogen, reports that at least 90,000 people die each year of asbestos-related diseases such as lung cancer and mesothelioma.

Achim Steiner, Executive Director of the UN Environment Programme (UNEP), said in a statement that the deferral raises concerns for developing nations about how to protect their citizens. UNEP and the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) provide the secretariat to the Rotterdam Convention.

“While discussions continue over the next two years, exporters should feel a special responsibility to help importers manage chrysotile safely,” he said.

Alexander Müller, Officer-in-Charge of FAO’s Department of Agriculture, Biosecurity, Nutrition and Consumer Protection, said the inclusion of chrysotile “would not constitute a recommendation to ban its global trade or use. With many more actively traded chemicals likely to be considered for inclusion in the future, it is important now to think through the precedent that we may be setting for the Convention.”

A panel of experts decided in February that chrysotile meets the Convention’s conditions for listing, and this conference accepted that conclusion. A key requirement for listing is that two countries from two different regions must have banned or severely restricted the chemical in question, and in this case, Australia, Chile and the European Commission have done so.


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