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WECF co-organised International Expert Conference on Asbestos in Kiev, and demands phase-out of asbestos production and use in Ukraine

For the first time in Ukraine a public open debate was held to discuss the issue of chrysotile asbestos in Ukraine

06.04.2012 |Alexandra Caterbow

 For the first time in Ukraine, on March 29, a public open debate was held in Kiev to discuss various aspects of asbestos production and use in Ukraine, including the severe health problems caused by chrysotile asbestos, and possible ways to tackle the problem of asbestos use and production. The conference resulted in a common resolution, available in English, Russian and Ukrainian.

The conference was organized together with NGO MAMA-86 and was hosted in the Institute for Occupational Health of Ukraine on the 29th of March 2012.

In the opening session, among other welcome speeches, representatives from the Delegation of the European Union and the Embassy of Sweden highlighted the importance of the issue and shared the lessons learned in the EU, concluding that EU countries should have acted earlier to impose a ban of asbestos and that the cost of inaction and suffering of people are enormous.

During the session "Rotterdam Convention as tool for chemical management in Ukraine" Alexander Mangwiro from the Secretariat of the Rotterdam Convention explained the prior informed consent and informed about the fact that listing chrysotile asbestos under Annex III of the Rotterdam Convention does not imply a ban, but only is an agreement to exchange information. However, this is often misunderstood by representatives from EECCA region governments and agencies. Ukrainian representatives of the Ministry of Ecology and Natural Resources as well as from the Ministry of Health said that in their interpretation, the listing of chrysotile asbestos on the PIC list means a ban, and this explained why Ukraine opposed the listing at the last Conference of the Parties.
Download the presentation of Alexander Mangwiro here

The session "Use and production of chrysotile asbestos in Ukraine" provided information about the nature and scale of asbestos production and use in Ukraine, EECCA region and the lessons learned in the EU. WECF partners MAMA-86 and BIOM presented the findings of their inventories on asbestos in Ukraine (download here) and Kyrgyzstan (download here). The Ukrainian Chrysotile Association gave figures about the Ukrainian asbestos production, and the NGO EcoPravo-Khariv gave insights on the legislative measures in Ukraine. WECF presented the lessons learned and the high cost of inaction in the EU.

Three scientists of the Ukrainian Institute for Occupational Health presented their findings in the session "Asbestos and asbestos related diseases". Their findings were questioned by the following speaker Dr. Rokho Kim from WHO Regional Office for Europe, showing the scientific findings of health studies of WHO, IARC and ILO, as well as from other scientists. Asbestos related diseases are the most studied topic in epidemiology worldwide, proving that all types of asbestos cause various forms of cancer, mesothelioma and asbestosis, that there is no safety threshold level, and the best way to eliminate asbestos related diseases is to ban all uses of asbestos. It is strange that not one case of mesothelioma cancer in Ukraine as been traced back to asbestos exposure, whereas in all countries of the world, the main cause of this cancer is exposure to (chrysotile) asbestos. One of the conference participants, a lawyer, presented one of his cases, of a worker from the port area on the Black Sea, who is dying of mesothelioma and is suing his employer on this issue. There are apparently hundreds of cases of mesothelioma in Ukraine, except that they are not being related to asbestos exposure.
Download the presentation of Dr. Rokho Kim here

The conference closed with the development of national recommendations to the Government of Ukraine and a call for action that includes the following points:
  • Apply the principle of substitution, and actively promote development and use of safer substitutes to asbestos. Any new substitutes being developed should also be tested on their health effects according to the national and internatoinal screening processes.
  • Develop legislation to improve the labour conditions of workers exposed to asbestos, as well as the general public:
  • Protect workers and citizens from exposure to asbestos at the highest level, as recommended by WHO and ILO.
  • Assure safe handling of asbestos containing waste during the asbestos removal process.
  • Apply the principle of „right to know“ and promote awareness raising on the potent carcenogenic features of asbestos. Provide for transparency through access to information and raising awareness on all aspects of the asbestos problem. These activities should be conducted in accordance with the principles of the Aarhus Convention on Access to Information, Public Participation in Decision Making and Access to Justice in Environmental Matters:
  • Inform workers and users on the need of highest protective gear including indepedent oxygen supply when dealing with asbestos and asbestos waste.
  • Support non governmental organisations (NGOs), in education, awareness raising and information provision on harmful substances and the role of chemical conventions (Rotterdam, Stockholm, Basel conventions) in assuring elimination of harmful substances where appropriate with support of scientific experts.
  • Contribute to creation in higher educational establishments of new specialities for preparation of specialists in area of chemical safety.
  • Provide information to the population on the dangers of asbestos, in addition to other harmful subtstances, including information campaigns, warning labels on products etc.
  • Organize an annual national workshop on chemicals safety.
  • Request from the chrysotile asbestos industry a comprehensive report on their risk management systems in place comprising measures for protection of the health of workers and the residents living in the vicinityof the asbestos plants. The report and its review should be made publicly available.
  • Establishment of a national programme for elimination of asbestos-related diseases by 2015, according to the recommendations of the WHOand the ILO and taking into account the specific situations of the country. This includes among others:
  • Development of a national asbestos profile in Ukraine.
  • Establish a working group on identification of the most vulnerable groups of the population and asbestos waste sites.
  • We recommend the Government to support exchange of independent research and international scientific experience including reporting on the potential health impacts of asbestos exposure in the Ukraine in cooperation with IARC, ILO and WHO.
  • We recommend the Government to take immediate provide information about adequate risk management measures to everybody. Listing of chrysotile asbestos in Annex III will assure that importing countries will have this information available.
  • We suggest that the Government considers the suitability of including chrysotile asbestos in Annex III of the Rotterdam Convention taking into account sound scientific information, such as from CRC. Ukraine should play a leading role in the process of listing of chrysotile asbestos.

For more information contact: Alexandra.caterbow@wecf.eu and Olga Tsygulova, tsygulyova@mama-86.org.ua

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