Representatives from the 143 countries in the United Nations are in the process of meeting in Geneva to discuss potential regulations for chrysotile asbestos, which is most notably mined in Quebec, Canada, reports the Montreal Gazette.
According to the news source, the specific type of asbestos is currently banned in the entire 27-country European Union, as well as Australia. Use of the substance is also substantially regulated in countries such as Chile.
This year, the material could become regulated in countries like Canada, one of its main exporters, as a number of health officials have written a letter to Prime Minister Stephen Harper supporting the Rotterdam Convention‘s chemical review committee’s recommendation that the substance become listed in Annex 3.
According to the website for the convention, chemicals that are listed in Annex 3 “include pesticides and industrial chemicals that have been banned or severely restricted for health or environmental reasons by parties.”
Carcinogenic Properties Concern Health Officials
The major reason why health officials in Canada are encouraging the Prime Minister to take action towards at least regulating chrysotile asbestos is that the carcinogenic substance has been proven to cause a range of serious illnesses.
In fact, in the letter itself, the 48 Quebec doctors point out that “there is general consensus among the scientific community that all types of asbestos fibers are carcinogenic… and can cause asbestosis, lung cancer and mesothelioma when inhaled.”
Malignant mesothelioma, which is a rare cancer, attacks the tissues surrounding the majority of the body’s internal organs.
In total, asbestos-related diseases kill approximately 107,000 people around the world each year, according to the World Health Organization.
Doctors’ Recommendations Go Beyond Politics
While these diseases are very real, Canada has remained steadfast in arguing that chrysotile asbestos can be used safely in materials such as cement as long as the fibers themselves are sealed.
However, recent research conducted by Britain’s chief scientific adviser Sir John Beddington suggested that “on the evidence available, there is no justification for an imminent change to the international scientific consensus on the classification of chrysotile as a Class 1 carcinogen,” according to the news source.
Additionally, the Quebec doctors say in the letter to Prime Minister Harper that the recommendation to put the substance into the Rotterdam Convention was also made by 31 “neutral scientific experts.”
“The whole medical and independent scientific community in Quebec, Canada and internationally is unanimous,” the letter states.