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The Law And Global Trade In Asbestos

Many countries have correctly labeled asbestos a hazardous substance and restricted its use. Western nations, in particular, have enacted laws to prevent or reduce asbestos hazards. Asbestos abatement programs help remove the deadly substance from schools. In the United States, the Environmental Protection Agency sets emission standards for asbestos as it is considered a hazardous air pollutant. Superfund provides resources to address sites have become unusable due to the expense involved in removing asbestos. In Canada, asbestos has been classified as a hazardous substance. Unfortunately, international law has no such provision. Many developing nations have no regulations concerning asbestos and there are companies and nations seeking to profit from this.

The Rotterdam Convention is intended to address harmful pollutants and their use around the globe. The idea is to promote shared responsibility and ensure that international trade does not spread dangerous substances to places ill-equipped to manage them. Among the things being considered by the Rotterdam Convention is whether to list chrysotile asbestos as a hazardous substance. That designation would restrict the right of a nation to export products containing that form of asbestos. The measure has the full support of the scientific community and has been recommended by the Rotterdam Convention's Chemical Review Committee repeatedly over the years. 

Sadly, there is money to be made selling deadly asbestos to countries that haven't acted to protect their citizens from the hazardous material. Countries like Russia have made a significant investment in selling cheap, asbestos containing materials to developing countries. At the Rotterdam Convention, Russia, Ukraine, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, India, Zimbabwe and Vietnam have worked to maintain the asbestos trade. Canada has moved from supporting asbestos trade to remaining silent on the issue. The silence from Canada likely arose when the Quebec government chose to ban the export of chrysotile. With those mines closed, Canada has no immediate financial incentive to maintain the legality of selling a deadly substance.

There is no justification for selling asbestos. The companies that used asbestos in the past did so with the full knowledge that it was killing people. That proof that asbestos is deadly is clearer than ever. Taking advantage of people who lack the protection of the law or the opportunity to identify which substances are hazardous is despicable. Asbestos should not be produced anywhere or sold to anyone.

Source: Inside Halton, "Canada is on the sidelines when it comes to banning asbestos trade," by Kathleen Ruff, 1 March 2015 

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