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WECF disappointed by Canadian governments move to oppose listing chrysotile asbestos at Rotterdam Convention this week

“Now we have to wait for another two years to be able to protect the lives of thousands of people around the world”

24.06.2011 | WECF Press Release

Geneva, June 24 2011 – The decision to oppose the listing of chrysotile asbestos, a well known carcinogen, under the Rotterdam Convention at the meeting of the Parties in Geneva, the COP 5,  this week is a sad example how one single country, in this case it was Canada, can harm the lives of thousands of people around the world.

Canada is one of the main exporters of chrysotile asbestos, a hazardous substance which more than 50 countries worldwide have stopped using and which the World Health Organisation estimates to cause around 100.000 deaths each year.

The decision to list chrysotile asbestos on Annex III of the Rotterdam convention needs to be taken in consensus. Because Canada blocked the listing, it is impossible for countries to know whether asbestos is exported in their country or not. No prior information is required from the exporters. Therefore especially developing countries and countries with economies in transition are not able to protect their people from asbestos, which is highly carcinogenic, as they are not informed of the hazards and are not able to refuse to accept it if they believe they cannot handle it safely.

This time Canada, as one of the biggest producers of asbestos worldwide, was mainly opposing to this mechanism, for political reasons, which are solely domestically. Not only that Canada takes an irresponsible position, it also revealed it in the last moment, when other countries, which are Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Ukraine and Vietnam, all changed their position to be in favour of listing.

Soon after, Canada was awarded with a ‘Cancer Culprit Award’ from the anti-asbestos group, identifying Canada as a “rogue nation in the company of an unprincipled few”.

ROCA delegate at COP5 Madhu Dutta says:“There is no doubt amongst the observers in Switzerland, that Canada had planned to let other countries do its dirty work in perpetuating the chrysotile veto. When the opposition of the dissent vote looked close to collapse, Canada emerged from the shadows. The disrespect shown by Canada for other delegations and their countries and human health and for the survival of the Rotterdam Convention is breathtaking.”

WECF attended  the meeting on behalf of the Rotterdam Convention Alliance (ROCA), which represented civil society at the conference, was shocked by Canada’s behavior. WECF’s Alexandra Caterbow says: " Canada used shameful tactics. We were very close to reach consensus until Canada broke its silence. Now we have to wait another two years for the next COP, to achieve protection for many people."

Unless consensus among countries can be achieved, chrysotile asbestos will remain off Annex III, contrary to the recommendation of the UN convention's scientific expert committee. In Canada, many have expressed their disbelief with the Harper government’s move. Canada itself severy restricts the use of asbestos within its own country.

WECF is a network of a hundred women's and environmental organisations in 40 countries. WECF has three offices: in the Netherlands, Germany and France. WECF mobilises women to find affordable solutions to the environmental health problems in their communities and encourages women in decision making. WECF works for a healthy environment for all, including the safe management of chemicals.


Note for the editors

For more information, please contact Chantal van den Bossche, press officer WECF tel: 0031.6.28129992,, or

Read more on WECF's work as part of the Rotterdam Convention Alliance, (ROCA) at
Read more here about COP5 Rotterdam Convention:
For more information about the Cancer Culprits Awards, please contact:Aneil Jaswal, director Cancer Culprit Awards,