WWF Slams Canada and Russia for Blocking Listing of Asbestos as a Dangerous Substance

World Wildlife Fund (WWF) condemns Canada and Russia for leading a revolt against the listing of chrysotile asbestos on a major international toxics convention, despite scientific findings showing that this substance is harmful for human health and the environment, and clear obligations under the treaty for such a listing.

WWF believes the proposed listing on the Rotterdam Prior Informed Consent (PIC) Convention is crucial because it alerts potential importers that chrysotile asbestos is a known cancer causing agent, which poses a risk even at very low levels. Government delegates attending this week's PIC Convention meeting in Geneva requested special listing procedures for five forms of asbestos, including chrysotile. Canada, which produces and exports chrysotile internationally, objected to its listing, along with Russia, and were supported by Ukraine, China, Zimbabwe, India, Indonesia, South Africa and Columbia. The EU and Chile undertook extensive risk evaluations before banning chrysotile and calling for the treaty listing, and the Convention's scientific review endorsed their findings by consensus.

Apart from the 15 EU member states and Chile, countries supporting the listing of chrysotile asbestos as a dangerous substance included Australia, New Zealand, Norway, the United States, Brazil, Argentina, Gambia, Congo, Egypt and Morocco.

"Canada's objection to listing chrysotile is embarrassingly self-interested and makes a mockery of the Convention's intent which is shared responsibility for health and the environmental protection between exporters and importers of harmful substances," said Julia Langer, Director of International Conservation Program at WWF-Canada. "Notwithstanding the hazards of asbestos at home, if developing countries really want to buy Canada's carcinogenic asbestos they should only do so with full disclosure."

The PIC Convention's objective is to provide an early warning system and transparent information on chemicals and pesticides that have been banned or restricted by at least two countries in two parts of the world. Once a substance is included on the Convention's Annex III list, governments are asked to indicate whether they will allow or prohibit imports.

"Russia's decision to support Canada is counterproductive and contradicts statements by government officials that they are responsible participants in multilateral environmental and trade agreements," said Alexey Kokorin, WWF-Russia's Toxics Program Coordinator. "Our government needs to join the international community in backing environmentally sound decisions such as this one which is now proposed for chrysotile asbestos under the PIC Convention."

"Today's failure to achieve consensus for listing chrysotile risks irreparable harm to the Convention if not reversed as an urgent priority," added Clifton Curtis, Director of WWF's Toxics Program. "Chrysotile unequivocally met the Convention's requirements, and those governments opposing its listing blatantly disregarded the treaty obligations."