The Secretariat of the Pacific Regional Environment Programme (SPREP,) comprising 21 Pacific island and five metropolitan areas, voted to “restrict the importation, re-use and re-sale of products and wastes containing asbestos in Pacific island countries.”
The impetus for this move was the Rotterdam Convention’s failure in past years to list chrysotile asbestos on Annex III of the Convention. That failure–combined with results of an asbestos baseline survey of the Pacific region in 2014–revealed new asbestos-containing building materials are still being imported into the region. In addition, the survey uncovered over 145,000 square meters of confirmed high or moderate risk non-residential asbestos across 11 Pacific island countries.
This 2014 survey was conducted by PacWaste, a project funded by the European Union. Prior votes to ban asbestos at SPREP meetings were hampered by concerns for resourcing implementation of such a ban. The current vote to ban was supported by an announcement that the European Union would provide funding through a new project called PacWaste Plus.
Mr. Christoph Wagner, Head of Cooperation at the European Union Delegation for the Pacific, recognized this achievement saying, “We welcome this decision from Pacific Island nations to work towards joining 59 other countries, including all member states of the European Union, to ban asbestos. It’s a fantastic outcome for the health and wellbeing of communities across the Pacific region, and an effective recognition of the work undertaken through PacWaste and planned for PacWaste Plus.”
Unfortunately, the United States has not yet fully banned asbestos. Since asbestos-related diseases, such as lung cancer and mesothelioma, can take up to 50 years before diagnosis, it is important that a full ban of asbestos importation and use in products become law to save the lives of current and future generations.