Geneva, Switzerland - While countries like Canada opposed the addition of chrysotile asbestos to the United Nation’s dangerous chemicals list, Russia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and Zimbawe blocked its inclusion on Saturday. A vote takes place at each Rotterdam Convention in Geneva, which decides the chemicals to be restricted in trade. Exporters are then made to fully inform countries that will receive their chemicals about the health risks involved.
A unanimous consensus is required to add substances to the list so a single country can prevent an addition. With the four countries in opposition, this will be the fifth time asbestos has been blocked. Even the well-known chrysotile producer Brazil and longstanding opposing India did not vote against the inclusion.
With health experts stating asbestos causes cancer, the number of countries blocking the vote has decreased over the years, but this issue will not be revisited until the next Rotterdam Convention in 2017.
“The failure to list chrysotile asbestos means millions of exposed workers will stay ignorant of its deadly dangers,” said the head of health, security, and sustainable development for the IndustriALL Global Union, Brian Kohler. “Countries that support the listing must be more aggressive in preventing the Rotterdam Convention from remaining a farce.”
Other civil society groups and unions are outraged. According to the World Health Organization, 107,000+ deaths occur annually as a result of asbestos-related diseases. Asbestosis is a commonality along with the fatal mesothelioma cancer.
According to the World Health Organization, “Cancer risks have been observed in populations exposed to very low levels.” Almost 125 million workers are exposed mostly in mines, factories, and construction sites.
Yet chrysotile is still used globally in building materials and especially in developing countries. In fact, 2 million tons are produced and used each year by these countries that continue to believe it’s safe.
“Every year you do not list [asbestos,] thousands of people will be exposed to this substance, which means their death sentence,” said the co-coordinator of the Rotterdam Convention Alliance organization, Alexandra Caterbow.
A man named Sharad Sawant, aged 75 years of Mumbai, worked at a Turner and Newall asbestos factory, and attended the conference for the sole purpose of lobbying to add chrysotile to the list because he and his wife were diagnosed with asbestosis.
“My children know I’m suffering and that their mother is suffering,” said Sawant. Because of secondary exposure, in particular secondary household exposure, he thinks his adult children and grandchildren may have been exposed as well. “This is the fault of the asbestos company,” added Sawant.