24 August 1998

UK, EU Consider Asbestos Ban:

The European Commission (EC) is considering an EU-wide ban on white asbestos (chrysotile), according to EU industry commissioner Martin Bangemann. Mr. Bangemann is quoted in the EC’s July meeting notes as saying that, “The Commission is preparing a draft proposal for a European-wide ban on the marketing and use of chrysotile asbestos and asbestos-containing products.” However, at a meeting earlier this year, Greece, Spain and Portugal expressed opposition to a complete ban, about which Mr. Bangemann noted that, “some exceptions and temporary derogations” may be necessary to get a ban passed.

Currently, eight of the 15 EU member-states have banned chrysotile asbestos. Britain last week announced it too was considering a ban: members of the UK construction workers union protested outside the UK Health and Safety Commission, calling for an immediate ban on the use of chrysotile asbestos.

The UK Health and Safety Commission will next month release a consultation paper proposing the ban on the supply, use and importation of chrysotile asbestos beginning in 2001. The Commission’s proposals are intended to “strengthen the existing legal duty to prevent exposure where reasonably practicable,” and would “significantly reduce future potential for asbestos related disease.” Upon release, the proposals will be subject to a three-month consultation period.

Canada, the world’s second largest producer of chrysotile asbestos behind Russia, this spring asked for formal consultations at the WTO against the French ban on chrysotile asbestos.(See BRIDGES Weekly Trade News Digest, vol. 2, no. 20). Consultations formally began in July. France, like other EU members, imposed the ban on health grounds. Extended exposure to high concentrations of asbestos is known to cause lung problems and cancer.

Canada argues that asbestos-related illness occurs through asbestos insulation blown into walls–a common practice earlier in the century, but banned in most markets since 1970. Ninety percent of Canadian asbestos exports are chrysotile asbestos used in cement, which keeps asbestos fibres from getting into the air. Other major exporters of chrysotile asbestos include Brazil, South Africa, Swaziland and Zimbabwe.

“EU drafting ban on white asbestos, Canada wary,” REUTERS, August 20, 1998; “Ban on use of asbestos comes closer,” FINANCIAL TIMES, August 19, 1998; “Canada threatens asbestos war with UK,” ENVIRONMENT NEWS SERVICE, August 21, 1998

Source: International Centre for Trade and Sustainable Development (ICTSD).24th August 1998