WTO Pushes For Ban On Canadian 'White' Asbestos

By Jack Gee Prompted by the 15-nation European Union (EU), the World Trade Organization (WTO) is campaigning for a ban on exports by Canada of chrysotile ("white") asbestos in a move to improve the trading group's credibility. WTO's image was tarnished last December when a turbulent meeting of government heads in Seattle stalled and was met with violent protesters who see WTO imperatives as anti-environment and anti-human rights. That setback has made WTO more sensitive to environmentalists' demands. Medical research in the U.S. and Europe has revealed that flaking asbestos is a carcinogen, particularly among construction workers who are exposed to the product for long periods. Tens of thousands of deaths a year in Europe are attributed to asbestos by the EU. In spite of national bans in some countries, asbestos has not been outlawed internationally. Europe's courts are overloaded with lawsuits by ailing former employees who were in constant contact with this "white" asbestos and other versions of the product. The WTO move against chrysotile is opposed by Canadian manufacturers who argue it is safe if workers use protective masks and clothing. Canada's white-asbestos industry is concentrated in Quebec Province, where four mines produce 370,000 tons a year. Most of the output is sent to Latin America and Asia for processing.

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