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UN expert panel calls for tight controls on asbestos, deadly pesticides

UN expert panel calls for tight controls on asbestos, deadly pesticides

All forms of asbestos, several deadly pesticides and two highly toxic lead additives used in gasoline should be subject to tighter trade controls, according to recommendations from a committee of government-appointed experts set up under a United Nations convention on hazardous chemicals.

The recommendations, published today by the UN Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) in Rome, called for adding five additional forms of potentially cancer-causing asbestos to the Prior Informed Consent (PIC) Procedure of the Rotterdam Convention along with the pesticides DNOC, parathion, a severely hazardous pesticide mixture of benomyl, thiram and carbofuran, and the two additives.

The Rotterdam Convention was adopted in 1998 under the auspices of the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) and the FAO as a response to increasing awareness of the health and environment risks associated with hazardous chemicals. In some cases, these chemicals can be used safely in developed countries, but not in developing countries, where access to protective equipment may be limited.

One form of asbestos, once widely used as insulation for houses and specialized equipment but now banned in many countries since its tiny fibres can cause cancer, other illnesses, and death when inhaled into the lungs, is already on the PIC list. The recommendation to add the five additional forms was triggered by bans to protect human health in Australia, Chile and the European Union (EU).

DNOC, an insecticide, weed killer and fungicide that is highly toxic to humans and poses a high risk to other organisms was included in the recommendations following bans in Peru and the EU. The review of the benomyl-thiram-carbofuran mixture was initiated by Senegal following thousands of reported cases of poisoning with fevers, chest and abdominal pains, vomiting, insomnia and a number of deaths.

The review of parathion, which can cause nausea, diarrhoea, blurred vision, and, in severe cases, respiratory depression, convulsions and death, was triggered by bans in the EU and Australia. Tetraethyl and tetramethyl lead are used as additives in petrol; lead poses a serious health risk particularly to children.

The recommendations will be discussed by the Intergovernmental Negotiating Committee of the Rotterdam Convention on PIC, which meeting in Geneva from 17 to 21 November. If adopted, these chemicals will become subject to the Prior Informed Consent procedure.


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