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Rotterdam Convention a Scandal

Rotterdam ConventionA press release came across my desk this morning that is alarming to the protection of humanity. Today marks the final day of the Rotterdam Convention, a global treaty which promotes open exchange of information between countries and calls on exporters of hazardous chemicals to use proper labeling, include directions on safe handling, and inform purchasers of any known restrictions or bans.

This sixth meeting of the Rotterdam Conference began on April 28th in Geneva, Switzerland. Now for the fourth time, a handful of countries allied to the asbestos industry have refused to allow chrysotile asbestos to be added to the Convention’s list of hazardous substances, even though the Convention’s expert scientific committee has repeatedly recommended that it be listed. In the previous meeting of the conference in 2001, Canada was the only Western country that refused to allow the addition of chrysotile asbestos to the Rotterdam Convention.

Kathleen Ruff, co-coordinator of the Rotterdam Convention reports “It is outrageous that seven countries – Russia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Ukraine, Zimbabwe, India and Vietnam –are turning the Rotterdam Convention into a Convention that protects profits of the asbestos industry, instead of protecting human health and the environment.”

In her report, my sister, Laurie Kazan-Allen, coordinator of the International Ban Asbestos Secretariat describes this ruthless conduct as the end of innocence. “The Convention requires that countries practice responsible trade by obtaining prior informed consent before they export hazardous substances to another country. But these seven countries are determined to practice irresponsible trade and to hide the hazards of chrysotile asbestos,” said Laurie.

Last year, an Italian court sentenced two asbestos executives to 16 years in jail for criminally suppressing information about the hazards of asbestos. Their crime resulted in up to 3000 deaths, including citizens living near their asbestos-cement factories.

“By not listing chrysotile asbestos, the Convention is enabling the industry to carry on the same criminal cover-up of the hazards of chrysotile asbestos, which will result in hundreds of thousands more tragic deaths, which could and should be prevented,” said Dr. Barry Castleman, former consultant on asbestos to the World Bank. “This is a crime against humanity and the whole world should be scandalized.”

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