Russia is enjoying quite a trumped up role in global politics lately, with newfound influence over U.S. policy. This week, Russia has manufactured another victory for itself that will cause more Americans and people around the globe to be unknowingly and needlessly exposed to asbestos.
Russia, along with five other countries, blocked the listing of chrysotile asbestos to the Prior Informed Consent (PIC) list of hazardous substances during the 2017 United Nations Rotterdam Convention, at which a delegation of 157 countries establishes regulations on the international trade of toxic and hazardous materials.
All six types of asbestos are carcinogenic, but chrysotile is the only type of asbestos not included in the PIC list. Russia leads the charge against its inclusion each and every year. In addition to Russia, India, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Syria, and Zimbabwe opposed the listing.
Incidentally, chrysotile also remains the only type of asbestos commercially exploited; in 2016, Russia, India and Kazahkstan were three of the top chrysotile producers in the world.
No “Right to Know” = No Chance at Protection
The Rotterdam Convention does not prohibit trade of the substances on the PIC list, but protects a “right to know” by requiring exporters to inform purchasers about the hazards related to the substances. Without this protection, carcinogenic chrysotile continues to flow freely across borders, with no requirements for labeling except in those countries with a ban.
Of course, America is not one of those countries. Despite decades of documented knowledge of the deadly nature of asbestos — from doctors, manufacturers, and government agencies alike — it remains legal and lethal in the United States, killing as many as 15,000 Americans every year.
Most Americans are unaware about the widespread, deadly dangers of asbestos. Without a federal ban on imports or any laws requiring asbestos contaminated goods to be labeled, asbestos finds its way onto our shelves and into our homes without us being any the wiser. In fact, more than $4 million worth of asbestos-containing products were imported in 2016. Asbestos is not only found in homes, communities, and workplaces, but has been even found in children’s toys and crayons in the U.S. as recently as 2015. No parent would knowingly put asbestos-laden toys into the hands of their kids, but without warning labels we’re left in the dark.
Regulation Rollbacks Help the Toxic Trade
Russia’s toxic chrysotile trade was dealt a great hand with the election of Donald Trump. The new president’s well-documented fondness for asbestos and distaste for regulations is a perfect combination to usher in a resurgence in use of the deadly mineral.
Since his first days in office, President Trump has mounted a series of attacks aimed at repealing and reducing as many regulations as possible, making it more difficult to enact new health and safety protections, and eviscerating the agencies whose job it is to develop and enforce these lifesaving policies, including the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the Department of the Interior.
President Trump’s stance is that regulations are excessive and bad for business. The reality about regulations is that they’re not arbitrary rules created to curtail business innovation. They’re almost always created in response to either a lawsuit or human pain and suffering, often both.
While asbestos importation and use in the U.S. has decreased since peak usage in the 1970s, we do continue to import more than 300 metric tons every year. While most of our asbestos comes from Brazil, in 2016, 5% was raw chrysotile imported from Russia.
As the leader in asbestos production, Russia profits significantly from chrysotile exports — and an increase in U.S. consumption of asbestos could be a huge windfall. While the U.S. government levied sanctions on Russia under President Obama, the Trump administration has set the goal of improving relations. Given these circumstances, it would shock no one if these improved relations included an increase in U.S. importation of Russian chrysotile asbestos, lining the pockets of the Russian asbestos industry and greedy corporations in the U.S., while leaving American to suffer.
Powered By Propaganda (aka The Original Fake News)
This is not the first time Russia has led the charge to keep asbestos off the PIC list. Powerful propagandists from the Russian chrysotile industry have worked for years to influence public perception of chrysotile and protect their continued use of the known killer.
Ironically, part of their tactic is to accuse their adversaries of bucking science, when in fact, they themselves — both producers and willing consumers alike — are doing just that:
“The anti-asbestos lobby, with the purpose of self-promotion, operating with anti-scientific facts, and the engaged environmental organizations and asbestos litigation law firms, basing their arguments on falsified data, will try to convince member states to include chrysotile asbestos into the list of severely restricted and banned chemicals and pesticides.
“The International Alliance of Trade Union Organizations Chrysotile declared that it will not allow the populism to win over science…”
This is a tough sell, when every major research agency — including the World Health Organization (WHO), International Agency on Cancer Research (IARC), the Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA), the U.S. EPA, and more — states that there is no safe level of exposure to any type of asbestos, chrysotile included.
Trade unions, NGOs, and advocates are mounting a tough fight to stop this toxic trade, but in the meantime — buyer beware. Your protections are being eroded by corruption and greed. Don’t turn a blind eye to what’s happening — it’s time to arm yourself with the knowledge you need to protect you and your family.