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14 May 2015. Rotterdam Convention 2015 : chrysotile asbestose will not be included in the list of dangerous products. A Pyrrhic victory for the Russian asbestos industry

14 mai 2015

14 May 2015. Rotterdam Convention 2015 : chrysotile asbestose will not be included in the list of dangerous products

A Pyrrhic victory for the Russian asbestos industry

For the French version — Pour lire la version française cliquer ici

The theme chosen for the Convention was promising « From Science to Action. For a better Future ». In other words, let us use scientific knowledge to better protect populations from toxic product hazards. The Rotterdam Convention does not aim at the prevention of hazards, its lone modest purpose is to inform about those hazards.

The Rotterdam Convention is under the umbrella of United Nations and hence the following international organisations intervened :
- the World Health Organisation (WHO) recalled that all forms of asbestos are carcinogenic and there is no safe threshold. The Asian branch of WHO issued a short film « Chrysotile Asbestos : Voices from South-East Asia »

- the International Labour Organisation (OIT) recalled that, contrary to a frequent lie by the asbestos industry, the OIT Convention 162 on asbestos (1986) does NOT recommend controlled use of asbestos, quite the contrary the ILO position is to eliminate asbestos.

Nevertheless, during the soft, polite discussions of the Conference of Parties (CoP), 7 countries raised objections to the inclusion of chrysotile asbestos :

Russia, Kazakhstan, India, Kyrghyzstan, Pakistan, Cuba, Zimbabwe

The announced sabotage did occur and therefore chrysotile asbestos is not a product for which information about the hazards is required.

During the final plenary session only 4 countries underlined their opposition :
Russia, Kazakhstan et Kyrghyzstan (in Russian), and Zimbabwe (in English)

The delegates of these countries probably felt awkward during the only strong moment of the three days of the conference : Wednesday 13th May, the presentation of ROCA
(Rotterdam Convention Alliance, to which ANDEVA is taking part) by Alexandra Caterbrow, Sanjiv Pandita and Yeyong Choi, followed by the testimony of an asbestos victim from India.

Sharad Vittnal Sawant worked for 40 years in a Hindustan Ferodo, using chrysotile asbestos. Shortbreathed, speaking with difficulties he delivered a simple and moving message :

« I suffer from asbestosis, so does my wife. More than 400 of my colleagues have received a diagnosis of asbestos disease. I have come to ask you to include chrysotile asbestos on the PIC list of the Rotterdam Convention. »

Those simple words started a row of applause from hundred of delegates, in front of paralysed Indian, Russian, Vietnamese, Brasilian, Zimbabwean industry people and the Canadian lobbyists.

Why does a handful of countries sabotage the Convention ?

(less than 5% of countries)

The motives of each of the sabotaging countries (Russia, Kazakhstan, India, Kyrghyzstan, Pakistan, Cuba et Zimbabwe) are crystal clear and have nothing to do with the purpose and rules of the Rotterdam Convention.

Russia is the biggest global asbestos producer (1 million tonnes per year) ; of course the Russian government does not ignore the fact that asbestos is highly dangerous, but since there is no awareness of that danger within the Russian population, no register of cancers, and nobody to address those health problems in Russia, it chooses to protect the interest of two mining companies Uralasbest and Orenbourg Minerals. Those companies evaluate that the inclusion of chrysotile asbest on the list of hazardous substances would have a disastrous effect on their trade. Plainly they think, like their Canadian counterpart when they where still active, that if you warn the populations about the hazards of chrysotile asbestos, they will stop buying it. On this very last point and only on this very last point, they are not wrong.

India is the biggest importer of asbestos in the world, between 300 000 tonnes of asbestos is imported yearly in India, mainly from Russia, but also from Brazil and Kazakhstan. It is certainly cynical on part of the Russian government to oppose to information about the severe hazards linked to the asbestos trade, but it is monstruous on the part of Indian delegates to protect the interest of a handful of merchants, admittedly quite rich, to the detriment of the information of their people, admittedly very poor. During the Conference of Parties, one could see Indian official delegates embracing industry lobbyist and yet superbly ignore their countryfellow suffering from asbestosis.

Pakistan is often in conflict with India, they chose a wrong opportunity to agree.

Kazakstan is one of the four asbestos producers and the third asbestos exporter. Kyrghyzstan and Cuba are often aligned with Russia, in the present case their delegates probably saw a direct interest.

Zimbabwe has been in the past a big producer of asbestos, like South Africa. The asbestos mines are all closed in South Africa, because the country has banned asbestos. The mines are also closed down in Zimbabwe, but because of chaos and corruption. Dubious businessmen have convinced the government to oppose the listing of chrysotile, in case they would reopen the mines. The delegates probably also saw a direct interest.

The other countries declarations (selection)

Canada remained silent … This is quite remarkable when you remember that the government opposed listing of chrysotile four times (in 2004, 2006, 2088, 2011) before the abstention in 2013 and this year. What happened in 2012 ? The answer is simple : the last Canadian asbestos mine was closed down in 2012 and, according to the blunt and cynical confession of Minister Paradis (september 2012) « It would be illogical for Canada to oppose listing of chrysotile to Annex III of the Rotterdam Convention, when Quebec, which is the only province producing chrysotile, will forbid its exploitation ». Let us note that the Quebec authorities did not forbid or ban asbestos, they just stopped a loan-gift of 58 millions dollars for the Jeffrey mine, which was enough to close it down.

United states, not a member of the Convention but present as observer, supported the inclusion of chrysotile.

Ukraine broke away this year from Russia and did not oppose the listing of chrysotile. Neighbour Bielorussia is not a member of the Convention but rised critics about the documents prepared by the experts.

Except Zimbabwe the African states unanimously supported the inclusion of chrysotile asbestos. Benin, Liberia, Nigeria, Niger, Congo, democratic republic of Congo, Cameroon, Kenya, equatorial Guinea all underlined their support to the inclusion of chrysotile. Several of these countries insisted on their need of information on the toxic products.

The asbestos trade in Latin America is slowly but surely declining towards its end.
- The big and only producer is Brazil, which extracts 300 000 tonnes from the Cana Brava mine, exploited by Eternit Brasil ; half of the production is exported. The delegate from Brazil declared :
« The debate [on chrysotile asbestos] has evolved in our country, we are now aware of the effects and costs. We are willing to address these and support the listing »
- The two other main consumers in this region are Colombia and Mexico ; nevertheless Colombia declared
« We are sorry that we have not reached a consensus on this. The parties are not aware of the implications of its inclusion. Assessment of effectiveness of Rotterdam Convention should be discussed in contact group » :
- Peru, which is preparing to ban asbestos, Argentina and l’Uruguay, which have banned asbestos, supported the inclusion. The Uruguay delegate made a strong statement :
« We think the medical doctors present here in this CoP must claim that all types of asbestos cause cancer. WHO has classified it in group 1 [of carcinogenics], there is no safe exposure threshold. It is a toxic and potentially lethal product. After nine years of discussion all of us have to bear the deaths on our consciousness. The number of deaths would only come down in many years. Other international organisations have asked us to work on this. In the 2003 ILO and WHO recommended us to eliminate diseases. »

New Zealand backed the inclusion and Australia made a strong statement :

« We support PIC. The CRC had made a decision – we hear the same. arguments, We come to a crossroad, we need PIC for chemicals that are still traded. Australias interest comes from our own experiences. We used 500000t of chrysotile, we continued importing, however the damage is fatal. We expect a further 25000 deaths during the next 30 years. We paid a high price. In will continue to pay billions more of dollars. If we fail to reach agreement in this CoP, what is the meaning fort he future. Consider why we are here. We submitted a CRC that includes a possibility for further work. »

The European Community recalled it « strongly supports inclusion, it is not a ban, it is an information exchange. This continued failure undermines the credibility of the Convention. We risk to repeat this failure with other substances. We know that the few parties oppose and we hope that the reason for this can be discussed in a small use. We are firm believers in multilateral processes, we hope that we can find a solution. »

And about pesticides ?

Jointly with chrysotile asbestos, four highly toxic pesticides were proposed for inclusion on the PIC list : Fenthion, Paraquat, Methamidophos and Trichlorfon.

For each of them the delegate of the Russian FEderation declared in essence that :

« Russia does not use, does not produce and does not import this product [therefore] we support its inclusion ».

Nevertheless each product had a defenser and only Methamidophos will be listed.
For example India opposed to the inclusion of Paraquat and Trichlorfon, Soudan to the inclusion of Fenthion. Mexico initially opposed the inclusion of Methamidophos, but then withdrew its objections.


The failure of the Rotterdam Convention, in spite of the commendable effort from the overwhelming majority of technicians and delegates, is plainly obvious.

Concerning asbestos, the world is today divided in three parts :

- Countries that have banned asbestos : among them notably "Western" Europe, South Cone of Latin America, Algeria, Egypt and South Africa in Africa, Australia, Japan and Korea in Asia.
- The 4 producing countries (Russia, China, Brazil and Kazakhstan), and the dozen of countries which consume the near totality of the two millions of tonnes mined every year : countries of ex-USSR, Brazil and the large Asian states : China, India, Indonesia, Thailand, etc.
- The other countries, notably African countries, which are in strong demand of information on toxicity of products and the Asian countries with less corrupt authorities than India.

The conclusion is clear.

An overwhelming majority of countries wanted both paraquat and chrysotile asbestos to be listed in Annex III of the Rotterdam Convention. However, a small number of countries have denied these countries of the right to participate to the prior informed consent procedure (PIC). Due to this failure to receive information through the listing, after this Conference of Parties (CoP), these countries must redouble efforts to pass national bans on both substances. The countries blocking these listings may think that they preserved their export business but they have actually motivated other countries towards national ban decisions.

The inscrupulous industry has won a Pyrrhic victory and is, in fact, only accelarating the decline of this deadly trade.