The 141 member nations of the international Rotterdam Convention have once again failed to add asbestos to their list of banned chemicals, much to the disappointment of mesothelioma patients, doctors and researchers worldwide.
Asbestos has long been linked to the deadly cancer mesothelioma. It causes an estimated 2,500 new cases of mesothelioma in the U.S. each year and tens of thousands of cases elsewhere in the world. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), about 125 million people are exposed to asbestos in the workplace and more than 107,000 die each year from mesothelioma and other asbestos-related diseases. Although the mineral is now regulated (though not banned) in the U.S., many third-world countries use it as a cheap building material with little or no protection for workers.
The Rotterdam Convention, which met this year in Geneva, is a group of countries that considers the health effects of various hazardous chemicals each year. Their recommendation to add a chemical to the list means that exporters are legally compelled to warn importers about the health risks of importing and using that chemical. The ability for a chemical to act as a carcinogen and cause cancers such as mesothelioma and others is considered important evidence in adding a chemical to the list.
This year, chrysotile asbestos was the fourth chemical for consideration by the group, along with three pesticides. The pesticides were added, but the group could not reach a consensus on the banning of asbestos, despite the growing incidence of mesothelioma. Part of the problem is that several countries, including Canada and the Ukraine, are major producers and exporters of asbestos. Not surprisingly, they have vehemently opposed adding it to the list. The number of people diagnosed with mesothelioma in Canada has been steadily growing for decades. Most Canadian mesothelioma victims worked in the country’s mining, milling and manufacturing industries.
But Canada’s asbestos industry may be on the verge of collapse, despite the Rotterdam Convention decision. According to the Montreal Gazette, Quebec’s controversial promise to spend $58 million to bail out the country’s largest asbestos mine may be rescinded if enough private investors aren’t found by the mid-August deadline. As part of the deal, the government required $25 million in private investment for the Jeffrey Mine, which would employ approximately 500 workers.
At the same time, Montreal CTV television station is reporting that a private government memorandum suggests that the country’s last remaining asbestos mine is about to die. The Natural Resources Canada memorandum estimates that the life of Quebec’s Lac d’amiante du Canada will end in early 2012.
Perhaps when economic interests have subsided, asbestos can finally be banned and the number of future mesothelioma victims will finally be reduced.
Morris, Jim, “Canada resists adding deadly asbestos to toxics blacklist”, June 24, 2011, iWatch: The Center for Public Integrity
“Canada’s last asbestos mind about to run out of asbestos”, July 22, 2011, Canadian Press Report, CTV
“LaLonde, Michelle, “Minister hints at pulling plug on asbestos mine expansion”, July 7, 2011, The Montreal Gazette