UNbacked accord on hazardous chemicals considers adding all forms of asbestos

In 2001, the Interim Chemical Review Committee (ICRC) of the Rotterdam Convention on the Prior Informed Consent (PIC) Procedure for certain Hazardous Chemicals and Pesticides in International Trade recommended that the five remaining forms of asbestos – amosite, actinolite, anthophyllite, tremolite and chrysotile – be added to the interim PIC list. One – crocidolite – is already listed.The weeklong tenth session of the Intergovernmental Negotiating Committee beginning in Geneva today will consider whether to accept the recommendation.The Convention was agreed to in 1998 under the auspices of the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) and the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) to help governments, particularly in the developing world, prevent chemicals accidents and pollution. When it enters into force next year, governments will need to formally transfer asbestos and all other recent additions from the interim and voluntary PIC list to the Convention’s legally binding list.The attractions of asbestos include its high tensile strength, fibrous nature, resistance to heat, and inert chemistry, and it was once widely used as insulation for houses and specialized equipment but was eliminated in many countries when it was found that its tiny fibres were being inhaled into the lungs of workers and residents and caused cancer, other illnesses and death. It is still used in seals, gaskets, joints, brakes, armaments and other applications, although cost-effective substitutes are increasingly available for most applications.The meeting will also consider the pesticide DNOC, which is highly toxic to humans and poses a high risk to other organisms. Once widely used, DNOC and its salts (such as the ammonium salt, potassium salt and sodium salt) have been targeted for inclusion in the PIC procedure.The third group of substances under consideration are pesticides that are severely hazardous under conditions of use in developing countries, including dustable powder formulations that contain a mixture of pesticides: benomyl at or above 7 per cent, carbofuran at or above 10 per cent and thiram at or above 15 per cent. These formulations were found to cause severe problems in peanut cultivation in Senegal, including five deaths.