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17 June 2011

The ILO tells Canada to get up to date on asbestos science

Canada has signed an international treaty that obligates it to follow the latest scientific evidence on the dangers of asbestos, the International Labour Organization is reminding the country. But the New Democrat Party has unearthed a 2006 Health Canada recommendation that suggests the Harper government isn't even following the advice of its own experts on chrysotile asbestos.

New Democrat Party MP Pat Martin said the Health Canada report "clearly directs the government" to list the carcinogenic fibre under the Rotterdam Convention on hazardous chemicals. The timing could be particularly embarrassing for the Conservative government.
A draft report from the Geneva-based International Labour Organization singled out Canada as having a particular obligation to "keep abreast of technical progress and scientific knowledge" because it is one of the world's main producers of the cancer-causing material.

The report, a product of the 100th anniversary convention of the ILO in Geneva, notes that the Canadian government recognizes "the dangers of exposure to asbestos in the workplace" and that Canada is a signatory to the 1986 Asbestos Convention. The convention obliges signatories to "take into account the evolution of scientific studies, knowledge and technology" since 1986, "as well as the findings of the World Health Organization, the ILO and other recognized organizations concerning the dangers of exposure to asbestos."

The report, although couched in dry bureaucratic language, helps set the stage for what could be a bruising month internationally for Canada on the asbestos file. Canada continues to export the cancer-causing fibres, with the explicit approval and encouragement of the Harper government in Ottawa and the Liberal provincial government in Quebec City. Despite domestic controls that amount to a near ban, Canada has been working for years to keep chrysotile asbestos off a list of hazardous substances under the 2004 Rotterdam Convention, to which Canada is also a signatory. The issue comes up again on June 20 when international delegations meet in Geneva to update the Rotterdam Convention — with asbestos dominating the agenda.

Source: The Canadian Press
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