warnings urged as ottawa stakes out turf on asbestos
Canada’s chief public health officer said Monday it’s wise “as a general principle” to inform people of the risks if they’re handling hazardous materials like asbestos — a statement that came on the eve of an expected move by the Conservative government to block international efforts this week to warn importing countries about the risks.
Dr. David Butler-Jones, who leads the Public Health Agency of Canada, told MPs reviewing the agency’s budget that he couldn’t speak about Canada’s position at an international meeting taking place this week to decide whether to label the chrysotile asbestos as a hazardous material under the UN Rotterdam Convention.
If chrysotile asbestos is listed on Annex III of the convention, a special list that requires “Prior Informed Consent” before countries can export the hazardous products to another country, recipient countries must be informed of the hazards and can refuse to accept it if they believe they can’t handle it safely.
“In terms of the details of the negotiations, that’s not my area of expertise. I think as a general principle, people should know what they’re working with. It doesn’t matter whether it’s asbestos or any other chemical or drug,” Butler-Jones testified at a parliamentary committee Monday.
“It’s always a good principle that the least intrusive, most effective with the fewest side-effects — whether it’s medication or whether it’s something that we use in different industrial processes — knowing what it is. And that’s part of the reason why there are declaration sheets in Canada for different materials used in industrial settings, as a for instance.”
Butler-Jones made the statement after NDP MP Pat Martin pressed top health officials about the government’s position at the Rotterdam Convention meeting, emphasizing that placing chrysotile asbestos on Annex III “doesn’t ban asbestos. All it requires is if you’re selling asbestos it has to have a warning label on it so that people can take proper health and safety protocols.”
Butler-Jones’ comments came just hours after Chuck Strahl, a senior Tory cabinet minister until his retirement from politics in May, pleaded with his former colleagues Monday to stand with the world’s industrialized countries and list the carcinogen on Annex III of the Rotterdam Convention.
Strahl, a former B.C. logging contractor, developed lung cancer linked to his exposure to asbestos.
“The prime minister and Quebec’s regional minister have both said that they support the safe use of chrysotile asbestos. It’s hard to argue with that. By listing chrysotile in the Rotterdam Convention as a product that deserves to be handled carefully and with proper warnings, safe use is more likely to occur. Workers from all countries will be grateful for that notification — if not today, then a generation from now,” Strahl wrote.