Prior Informed Consent (PIC) and Canadian Asbestos

In June 2011 the Canadian government joined its voice with the representatives of Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Ukraine, and Viet Nam in blocking chrysotile asbestos from being added to the Annex III list at the 5th Conference of the Parties (COP5) Summit. To clarify things further that would be the Rotterdam Convention on the Prior Informed Consent Procedure for Certain Hazardous Chemicals and Pesticides in International Trade. The Rotterdam Convention was created specifically to protect developing nations by providing critical information about hazardous products. When a chemical is listed in Annex III it means that the exporting country has to give information on the health and environmental hazard of said chemical to the importing country. That’s all. Prior informed consent (PIC) is simply a requirement for information; there are no other constraints to trade imposed. One would have to wonder why Canada would block such an important step in simply communicating the dangers of a proven carcinogen[1]. Perhaps, we could suppose, that the importing country had told Canada that it would stop importation if PIC was accepted. However, that isn’t the case at all. India, which is the largest importer of Canadian asbestos, stated at the conference that it was fine with reclassification and inclusion of asbestos into Annex III[2].

The laws which regulate asbestos use in Canada are strict, and the Canadian Hazardous Products Act lists chrysotile asbestos as a Schedule 1 toxic substance. This bans the use of asbestos in virtually all construction or cement applications, and strictly regulates its use elsewhere. Furthermore, section 5.4 of A Guide to Understanding the Canadian Environmental Protection Act 1999(CEPA), states that the government should add materials which are controlled in Canada to a control list when exporting[3].

Asbestos cause’s chronic lung disease and cancer because it crumbles easily and its’ fibers can enter deeply into lung tissue. It is slow acting and people exposed this year may not develop symptoms for 25-30 years.  Because of its latency and toxicity several international health organizations condemn the use of the mineral outright but in India it will be used as a component of cement for homes and public buildings. It will manipulated, drilled and cut without adequate protection and when buildings are demolished asbestos will get into the air and continue to cause disease and death[4].

Since Canada imposes strict controls on asbestos use at home it has a moral responsibility to at least follow an ethic of good practice and agree to the legal obligation to inform importing countries about its lethality.


[1] Call for a Ban on the Mining, Transformation and Export of Chrysotile Asbestos. (n.d.). Canadian Public Health Association. Retrieved October 22, 2011, from http://www.cpha.ca/en/search.aspx?cx=004708887294457467309%3A1gs3w1uselq&cof=FORID%3A11&ie=UTF-8&q=CPHA+POSITION+STATEMENT

[2] PIC COP 5 HIGHLIGHTS, Thursday, 23 June 2011, Geneva, Switzerland. (n.d.). IISD Reporting Services (IISD RS) – “Linkages” – A Multimedia Resource for Environment and Development Negotiations. Retrieved November 13, 2011, from http://www.iisd.ca/vol15/enb15187e.html

[3] Environment Canada – Acts & Regulations – A Guide to Understanding the Canadian Environmental Protection Act, 1999. (n.d.). Environnement Canada – Environment Canada. Retrieved October 10, 2011, from http://www.ec.gc.ca/lcpe-cepa/default.asp?lang=En&n=E00B5BD8-1

[4] Burki T., Health Experts Concerned over India’s Asbestos Industry.

(2010) Lancet, 375 (9715), pp. 626-627

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