WHO Appeals to Countries to Eliminate Asbestos Use
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The World Health Organization (WHO) released a report assessing current policies on asbestos in Europe, noting that one in three people living in the WHO European Region are potentially exposed to asbestos at work and in the environment because they live in countries that have yet to ban the use of all forms of asbestos.

The report was launched during a high-level meeting on environment and health in Haifa, Israel.

The report aimed to assess current policies in WHO European Region countries, following on the Fifth Ministerial Conference on Environment and Health, which took place in Parma, Italy, in 2010.

WHO1 May 2015: The World Health Organization (WHO) released a report assessing current policies on asbestos in Europe, noting that one in three people living in the WHO European Region are potentially exposed to asbestos at work and in the environment because they live in countries that have yet to ban the use of all forms of asbestos. The report was launched during a high-level meeting on environment and health in Haifa, Israel. The report aimed to assess current policies in WHO European Region countries, following on the Fifth Ministerial Conference on Environment and Health, which took place in Parma, Italy, in 2010.

‘Towards the elimination of asbestos-related diseases in the WHO European Region’ finds that asbestos is responsible for about half of all deaths from cancers developed in the workplace. According to estimates, deaths from mesothelioma (a rare cancer of the protective lining that covers many of the body’s internal organs) in the European countries without asbestos bans cost society more than €1.5 billion annually. Around 85–90% of male mesothelioma cases are a result of occupational asbestos exposure. The report contends that all forms of asbestos should be considered “silent killers,” as health problems may take several decades after an exposure to appear, even if the exposure time itself was short. Both the WHO and the International Labour Organization (ILO) have recommend banning all forms of asbestos in order to eliminate asbestos-related diseases. Even when asbestos use stops, the organizations note, it remains in the environment, so safe removal and disposal is critical.

The meeting, which convened from 28-30 April 2015, appealed to all European countries to develop policies by the end of 2015 that will eliminate asbestos-related diseases “from the face of Europe.” The countries in the region that have yet to ban asbestos are: Albania, Andorra, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Georgia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, the Republic of Moldova, the Russian Federation, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Ukraine and Uzbekistan. These countries use asbestos for building materials, and some continue to produce and export it.

Meeting participants in Haifa also renewed their pledges to work toward: providing safe water and sanitation to all children by 2020; creating healthy and safe environments for children in their daily life by 2020; ensuring children’s indoor environments are tobacco free by 2015; safeguarding children’s environments from toxic chemicals by 2015; and developing policies to eliminate asbestos-related diseases by 2015.

The conclusions of the high-level meeting are an important milestone in the run up to the Sixth Ministerial Conference on Environment and Health planned for 2017, the WHO notes.

The issue of asbestos is also being addressed by the Conference of the Parties (COP) to the Rotterdam Convention, which is meeting in conjunction with the Stockholm and Basel Convention COPs in Geneva, Switzerland, from 4-15 May 2015. The Chemical Review Committee of the Rotterdam Convention will consider listing chrysotile or white asbestos (the most common form of asbestos) as a substance for which importing countries must give their prior consent to the exporting country before the trade takes place. [UN Press Release] [WHO Press Release] [UNRIC Press Release] [Publication: Towards the elimination of asbestos-related diseases in the WHO European Region] [IISD RS Coverage of Triple COP]


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