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27 May 2015

Four countries block the addition of white asbestos to UN's dangerous substance list

For the fifth time, a handful of countries – Russia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Zimbabwe – succeeded in blocking the inclusion of chrysotile, also known as white asbestos, in the United Nations' Rotterdam convention on the international trade in hazardous chemicals.

The Rotterdam Convention, which covers other types of dangerous substance including numerous pesticides, does not prohibit the manufacture of or trade in the substances included in its Appendix 3, stipulating merely that the importing countries must be informed that these products are dangerous and that they have the right to refuse their import (Prior Informed Consent Procedure).

"The failure to list chrysotile asbestos means millions of exposed workers will stay ignorant of its deadly dangers. Countries that support the listing must be more aggressive in preventing the Rotterdam Convention from remaining a farce", commented Brio Kohler, head of health, security and sustainable development for the IndustriAll Global Union.

"Every year you do not list asbestos, thousands of people will be exposed to this substance, which means their death sentence", said Alexandra Caterbow, the co-ordinator of the Rotterdam Convention Alliance, a group of Environmental, Labour and Health organizations working to promote the full and effective implementation of the Rotterdam Convention.

According to the World Health Organization, about 125 million people are exposed to asbestos at work, mainly in mines, factories and on construction sites.

The number of countries opposed to the listing of chrysotile has been shrinking in recent years. This year, even longstanding chrysotile supporters Canada, Brazil and India, did not vote against the inclusion. The Rotterdam Convention requires full consensus by all signatory members, meaning that a single country can block a bid to list a new substance.

Russia is today the world's most prolific producer of asbestos. The vast majority of its production is exported, mainly to Asia. While China remains the biggest importer, India, Sri Lanka, Vietnam and Indonesia have all seen a steep increase in their imports since 2000.

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