Asbestos toxic, says India

Changes stand on mineral at Rotterdam Convention

By Savvy Soumya Misra
Published: Friday 15 July 2011

imageIN WHAT could prove to be a breakthrough in containing environmental impacts of white asbestos globally, India has agreed to label the mineral hazardous under the UN’s Rotterdam Convention. This is a historic shift in stance, as India has always claimed there was not sufficient data on the health risks of chrysotile asbestos.

Listing of chrysotile asbestos in Annex III of the Rotterdam Convention or the Prior Informed Consent (PIC) list will mandate the exporting countries to share information on the hazards of the mineral with the importing countries.

India announced its position on June 22, the third day of the 5th Conference of Parties (COP) of the Convention in Geneva, at a meeting of contact groups set up to discuss listing of chrysotile asbestos in the absence of a consensus. It received a standing ovation at the plenary meeting for changing its stand.

India was also nominated as chair for a smaller group to discuss and influence the position of Ukraine, Kazakhstan, Vietnam and other countries opposing the listing. What has triggered the change in stance remains a mystery. Some activists attribute it to the constant pressure they applied on the government and the ban recommended by the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC).

“This is a major breakthrough in ending the deadlock,” says Alexandra Caterbow, co-coordinator of Rotterdam Convention Alliance (ROCA). ROCA is an alliance of more than 500 environmental, health and labour groups from across the globe. “India’s change in position will have considerable influence in changing the opinion of the dissenting countries. Hopefully, chrysotile asbestos will be included in the PIC list by COP 5,” Caterbow adds.

In the third and fourth COPs, the Convention’s Chemical Review Committee had recommended inclusion of chrysotile asbestos in the list. But India, along with Kyrgyzstan and Vietnam, obstructed the addition, citing inadequate health risk data.

The COP meeting was to decide on the inclusion of chrysotile asbestos along with the pesticide endosulfan, herbicide alachlor and insecticide aldicarb in the list. The four-day meeting began on June 20. The Rotterdam Convention on the PIC Procedure for Certain Hazardous Chemicals and Pesticides in International Trade is a tool to protect humans and the environment by controlling trade of hazardous chemicals.

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