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New reports reveal how the global asbestos industry has manoeuvred to rob asbestos disease victims of compensation, has lied about the financial impact of claims on its profits and has used a dirty tricks campaign to continue to push its deadly product.
Bill Ravanesi

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Asbestos: Prior Informed Consent (PIC)

18 September 2004 update

Global: Asbestos interests block global safety move

Asbestos producer nations have blocked the addition of chrysotile (white) asbestos to the UN list of highly dangerous substances that cannot be exported to developing countries without their knowledge and agreement. The blocking manoeuvre on "prior informed consent" (PIC) listing of chrysotile at the Rotterdam convention meeting in Geneva on 18 September 2004 was spearheaded by the Canadian and Russian governments.

The move drew protests from campaigners, while the European Union said it would set a negative precedent. "The failure to list chrysotile asbestos is a bad omen for the convention, risking serious harm by sending a signal that the convention's requirements do not need to be taken seriously," said Clifton Curtis, director of World Wildlife Fund's global toxics programme.

Global construction union IFBWW, which has been at the forefront of the worldwide union ban campaign on asbestos, expressed "profound disappointment and its determination to continue the struggle for a global ban." Supporters of the inclusion of chrysotile asbestos on the list are expected to keep up the pressure.

The asbestos lobby pulled off an identical blocking move at the 2003 PIC meeting. As the procedure has no mechanism to force signatories to play by the rules, Canada and other asbestos interests could feasibly block listing indefinitely. However, the strategy could totally discredit the Rotterdam Treaty, which could lead to increasing pressure on these nations to observe the spirit of the treaty.

In September 2004, the International Social Security Association joined international union and health organisations in calling for a global asbestos ban.

International Ban Asbestos Secretariat reportWWF news release

Background to the PIC 2004 vote

Asbestos ban fight hots up

Lobbying led by the Canadian government and asbestos industry bodies succeeded last year in blocking the addition of chrysotile (white) asbestos to the list of Prior Informed Consent substances.

The issue is due to be discussed again at the first meeting of the Conference of the Parties of the Rotterdam Convention, scheduled to be held in Geneva from 20 to 24 September 2004.

The Canadian government has already started its preparations for the meeting, and seems intend on once more blocking the addition of asbestos to the PIC list.

See the global asbestos special Hazards feature, February 2004. Find out what's happening in Canada

Prior Informed Consent Update - 5 September 2004
Laurie Allen of the International Ban Asbestos Secretariat reports on the growing pressure on Canada, the country leading a cynical campaign against listing of asbestos under the Rotterdam Treaty's Prior Informed Consent provisions.
Rotterdam Convention: Chysotile Update!

Chrysotile back on the agenda
The addition of chrysotile to the list of substances covered by the Prior Informed Consent system - a move that would make it more difficult to export white asbestos to developing countries, and that was blocked by a Canadian government led manoeuvre at a November 2003 meeting - is back on the agenda for the follow up September 2004 meeting. Asbestos: Minute of the November 2003 asbestos meeting Who represented your government at last year's meeting? [pdf] 636k

Canada will fight asbestos trade controls
The Canadian government has confirmed it will try to block a global agreement that aims to curtail trade in deadly chrysotile (white) asbestos. But the global union umbrella group ICFTU says all forms of asbestos must be banned, with "just transition" programmes introduced to provide work and training for displaced workers.
Risks 161, 19 June 2004

Stop "pretending asbestos safe" call
The Ban Asbestos Network (BAN) is demanding Canada stop pretending that asbestos is safe. BAN members, which include CUPE and CAW, Canada's largest public and private sector unions respectively, are also urging Canada to support "prior informed consent" (PIC) requirements for all forms of asbestos imported from Canada by other countries.
Risks 151, 10 April 2004

Lies and subterfuge
The paper "lies and subterfuge" gives excellent background on the Canadian government's underhand dealings on asbestos. It deals particularly with the role played by the representatives of governments who led the successful campaign last year to block the addition of chrysotile (white) asbestos to the PIC list.
Laurie Allen, Lies and subterfuge, International Ban Asbestos Secretariat, 12 March 2004.

The asbestos cancer epidemic
The asbestos cancer epidemic may take as many as 10 million lives before asbestos is banned worldwide and exposures are brought to an end says Joe LaDou in the March 2004 issue of Environmental Health Perspectives. The paper notes: "The protection and advancement of asbestos globally are mainly promoted by the Goverment of Canada, the largest asbestos-exporting country."
Joe LaDou, The asbestos cancer epidemic, Environmental Health Perspectives, volume 112, number 3, March 2004.

Canada "manipulating" the truth
A paper in the November 2003 edition of the American Journal of Industrial Medicine (AJIM) concludes: "The Canadian asbestos mining industry has a long history of manipulating scientific data to generate results that support claims that their product is 'innocuous'".
David Egilman and others. Exposing the Myth of ABC, Anything But Chrysotile: A critique of the Canadian asbestos mining industry and McGill University chrysotile studies,
AJIM, vol.44, issue 5, pages 540-557, 2003.

Canada's deadly campaign
A 2003 paper in the International Journal of Occupational and Environmental Health (IJOEH) concluded the continued use of asbestos "is testament to the effectiveness of a campaign, spearheaded by Canadian interests, to promote a product already banned in many developed countries."
Laurie Kazan-Allen, The asbestos war, IJOEH, vol.9, no.3, pages 173-193, 2003.

WTO confidential: The case of asbestos
International scientific organisations have been subject to repeated efforts by Canadian government officials and representatives of the asbestos industry to issue reports that would be favorable to the industry on questions of asbestos use and public health implications. In recent years these efforts have been met with international opposition from scientists, governments, unions, and environmental groups, and a pattern of improprieties, often involving the same individuals and tactics, has emerged.
Barry Castleman, WTO Confidential: The case of asbestos, International Journal of Health Services,
Volume 32, Number 3/2002.

Summary of Canada's preparations for PIC

Consultations on the Addition of Chrysotile Asbestos to the PIC Procedure of the Rotterdam Convention
[1 April 2004]
A consultation meeting is to be held on April 1, 2004 in Ottawa, Ontario. more

Consultations sur l’ajout de l’amiante chrysotile à la procédure PIC dela Convention de Rotterdam
[1 avril 2004]
Une réunion de consultation aura lieu le 1er avril 2004 à Ottawa,Ontario. plus

Backgrounder on the Health effects of chrysotile and other asbestos fibres (Prepared by Health Canada) Environment Canada: 26 February 2004 more

Document d’information sur les Effets sur la santé de l’amiante chrysotile et des autres fibres d’amiante (préparé par Santé Canada) Environment Canada: 26 février 2004 plus

Consultations on the Addition of Chrysotile Asbestos to the PIC Procedure of the Rotterdam Convention Environment Canada, 8 March 2004
The Government of Canada is undertaking consultations to obtain the views of Canadians on this issue. Comments received through this consultation will be considered in the development of a federal position for the September 2004 meeting of the Convention. more

Consultations sur l’ajout de l’amiante chrysotile à la procédure PIC de la Convention de Rotterdam Environment Canada, 8 mars 2004
Le gouvernement du Canada entreprend des consultations afin d’obtenir l’avis du public canadien sur cette question. Les commentaires reçus dans le cadre de ces consultations seront considérés lors de l’élaboration d’une position fédérale pour la rencontre de septembre 2004 des pays participant à la Convention. plus

Canadian information provided by: Ban Asbestos Canada / Bannir L'Amiante au Canada