Jagdish Patel, National Coordinator, Occupational and Environmental Health Network of India, writes to Anil Madhav Dave, Union Minister of Environment and Forests, New Delhi on India’s position regarding listing of Chrysotile asbestos in the Prior Informed Consent (PIC) list of the Rotterdam Convention and the proposed amendment to the Convention:
We are a group of organizations and individuals who have been working on issues of occupational health and safety and are part of a nation-wide grassroots network called Occupational and Environmental Health Network of India. We have been researching, documenting and bringing to the notice of the central and state governments and concerned agencies issues pertaining to workers’ safety and health at workplace.
One of the issues that we are deeply concerned with and have been bringing to the notice of the Govt. of India for past several years is the continued promotion, production and trade of asbestos containing products in India. As you know, over 50 countries have banned the use of asbestos products. As recently as last week (on December 15th 2016), Canada, once the largest producer of Chrysotile asbestos in the world announced its intention to completely phase out asbestos and asbestos containing products by 2018.
They did so based on scientific assessments that asbestos in all forms is harmful to the human health. This is indeed a historic and laudable decision by a country that had once strongly advocated the production and use of asbestos, and was once the largest exporter of Chrysotile asbestos globally. Ten years ago, the International Labour Organisation and World Health Organisation had called for a global ban on the manufacture and use of all forms of asbestos and asbestos containing products due to it’s severe health impact on workers and communities. The World Bank has also issued a directive to avoid the use of asbestos products in construction projects, including disaster relief (1).
In August 2016, we were deeply heartened to see your statement in the national print media (Note 2) stating your concern regarding the harmful effect of asbestos on people of India and intention to find safer alternatives. We are sure you are taking steps towards fulfilling your mission and we would like to support you with any information or documentation that you might require in this regard.
Meanwhile, we wanted to bring to your attention to two issues regarding the COP 8 of Rotterdam Convention that will be held in April-May 2017. The first issue is regarding the listing of Chrysotile asbestos in the Prior Informed Consent (PIC) list of hazardous substances (Annex III) of the Convention. As you are aware, when a substance has been put on the Convention’s list, countries must obtain Prior Informed Consent from the country that would import it before exporting the substance.
The Convention thus provides a practical tool enabling countries to control their borders and protect the health of their populations more effectively. PIC list is not a ban list but a mechanism that enables transparency and exchange of information about specific substance prior to trade. In 2006 at the COP 3 of the Convention, the Chemical Review Committee (CRC) of the Convention had first recommended the inclusion of Chrysotile in Annex III.
CRC recommendations are based on rigorous scientific assessments that ensure that a substance meets the full listing criteria before they can be recommended for Annex III. However, the decision to list substances in Annex III is only made through consensus where all parties that are signatory to the Convention agree to the listing.
Since 2006, at every COP of the Convention, a few countries, including India has opposed the listing, thereby not only obstructing the inclusion of Chrysotile in the PIC list but also derailing the PIC process. You will be aware that in 2011 at COP5 of the Convention India had supported the listing of Chrysotile in the PIC list and had received a standing ovation at the plenary. But in 2013 at COP 6, India reversed its stand and opposed the listing . This unfortunate reversal of India’s stance was based on a study done by National Institute of Occupational Health (NIOH) that has been discredited by Indian and International scientific community (Note 3: Statement of Scientist enclosed dated 2015).
Sir, in 2017 (Geneva, Switzerland from 24 April 24, to May 5, 2017) at COP 8, India has another opportunity to do the right thing by supporting the listing of Chrysotile in the PIC list to show its commitment to an international process that seeks to create transparency in exchange of information prior to trade. This can be the first step toward protecting our national border and human health.
The other issue that we would like to make you aware of and seek your response is regarding amendment to the Rotterdam Convention that a group of thirteen African countries have submitted to the Secretariat and that will be discussed at COP8. The amendment would allow decisions to place a substance on the Annex III to be taken by a 75 per cent majority vote, only if achieving consensus has proven impossible. We believe amending the Convention would allow it to function effectively and go a long way in upholding the original purpose of the Convention of protecting national borders and health of people.
We would be grateful for your response on the two issues raised about related to COP 8 and if possible would like to seek an appointment with you at your convenience.