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Scientists condemn Canada's stand on asbestos exports

More than a thousand of the world's top epidemiologists, gathered in Montreal today, have condemned the role the Canadian government has played in preventing a United Nations body, the Rotterdam Convention, from listing the chrysotile asbestos mined in Quebec as a toxic substance.

As recently reported in The Tyee, Canada moved on June 22 to prevent the listing of chrysotile on the Prior Informed Consent list maintained by the UN body, despite calls for such listing from health and labour groupings around the world. The scientists in Montreal adopted a resolution expressing "extreme disapproval" of the Canadian stand.

News of Canada's success in again blocking the consensus required under Rotterdam Convention rules to add chrysotile to the toxics list has spurred scientists gathered at the 3rd North American Congress of Epidemiology to adopt a resolution condemning Canada. In a show of hands, over a thousand scientists supported the critical resolution and not a single one supported the Canadian position, according to Canadian Environmental Law Association campaigner Fe de Leon.

Ms. De Leon told The Tyee that the resolution was proposed by Dr. Colin Soskolne, president of the Canadian Society for Epidemiology and Biostatistics. The text, adopted without a single dissenting vote, reads:

"Yesterday, at the Geneva Conference of the Parties reviewing the United Nations Rotterdam Convention on the global movement of hazardous substances, Canadian Government representatives opposed the listing of chrysotile asbestos as a hazardous substance. The principle obligation under the Convention is to force exporting countries to warn recipient countries of any health hazards associated with substances listed under the Convention.

"Those countries could also then refuse asbestos imports if they didn’t think that they could handle the product safely. The Convention requires consensus and, yesterday, Canada was the sole country, with countries including Ukraine, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, India and Vietnam who had previously blocked the listing of chrysotile asbestos, changing their previous position to now support the listing of chrysotile asbestos under the Convention. As of yesterday, Canada is now alone in the world in having blocked the inclusion of this substance. . . for at least the next three years."

"We can register our extreme disapproval of the Government of Canada's position in blocking the listing of chrysotile under the convention that simply requires the "prior informed consent" of importing countries," Dr. Soskolne said in urging support for his resolution.

Tom Sandborn covers labour and health policy issues for the Tyee. He welcomes your feedback and story tips at [email protected].

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