Canadian agreement to UN listing could be death-knell for country's asbestos mining industry


Canada has finally dropped its long-term resistance to global restrictions on asbestos, a move which will further affect the country's already-dying asbestos mining industry.

Asbestos Exposure restrictions

For many years Canada was the only G8 country to hold out against the listing of asbestos as a hazardous material under the terms of the United Nations' Rotterdam Convention.

Although listing obligates exporters to alert importing nations of any hazards and permits them to impose import bans, it does not on its own ban the sale of asbestos.

Other countries still objecting to the UN listing include Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Ukraine and Vietnam.

Christian Paradis, Canada's industry minister, said the change in position followed plans by Quebec's provincial premier-elect, Pauline Marois, to end production in the country's only region still mining asbestos, inhalation of which fibres is proven to cause the fatal cancer mesothelioma.

Ms Marois cancelled Can$58m (nearly £37m) in loan guarantees proposed by her predecessor to restart Quebec province's Jeffrey Mine.

Mr Paradis said: "As a direct consequence of her decision, Canada will no longer oppose the listing of chrysotile asbestos as a dangerous substance under the Rotterdam Convention."

The recent closures of the Jeffrey and Thetford units, the last 2 operating asbestos mines in Canada, marked the first time in 130 years that the world's former principal asbestos producer had suspended operations.

According to latest figures, in 2006 Canada's exports of asbestos totalled 750,000 tonnes, mainly to India, Indonesia and the Philippines.

Until measures were taken to ban it worldwide, asbestos was widely used in building and construction for its fire-retardant and insulating properties.

It is thought asbestos exposure continues to kill more than 107,000 throughout the world each year, with over 4,500 annual fatalities in the UK.

While welcoming the ban, Emma Costin, an expert in industrial disease at Simpson Millar LLP, believes it is long overdue. "Asbestos is still killing thousands of people in Britain, despite being finally banned here in 1999," Emma said. "That it's taken another 13 years for one of the world's largest producers of this dangerous material to finally halt production is worrying, especially given the long latency of asbestos-related diseases like mesothelioma."

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