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Canadian Asbestos: A Global Concern

Jamie Kneen Communications and Outreach Coordinator responsible for: strategic research, social media, and public engagement; our Africa program, environmental assessment, and uranium mining.

On September 12 to 13, MiningWatch Canada participated in a conference in Ottawa sponsored by the International Ban Asbestos Network entitled Canadian Asbestos: A Global Concern. The Conference was co-chaired by Joe Comartin (NDP MP for Windsor) and Elizabeth May of the Sierra Club of Canada. The almost 100 delegates came from trade unions, environmental and health organisations and asbestos victims groups around the world. The meeting included many prominent scientists and researchers.

Canada is currently the world’s second biggest chrysotile (white asbestos) exporter, sending this class 1 carcinogen to countries with few, if any, safeguards, where it is used by poorly trained and uninformed workers with little access to medical care or sickness benefits.

Dr. Jukka Takala, Director of InFocus Programme SafeWork at the International Labour Organisation (ILO), has estimated the number of work-related asbestos deaths from mesothelioma, lung cancer, asbestosis and other diseases worldwide as 100,000 every year, and growing.

The Canadian and Québec governments, the asbestos industry and the unions representing its workers maintain that chrysotile can be used safely under “carefully controlled conditions.” An intensive disinformation campaign in Canada and abroad is lead by the Asbestos Institute, a heavily subsidized industry public relations organization. However, Canada exports more than 95% of all the asbestos it produces and critics suggest that the Canadian principle of “safe use” is impossible to enforce in the third World countries where the asbestos in imported. They say “safe use” is a hypocritical ploy to profit from the export of a substance too hazardous to be used at home.

There are currently only three producing asbestos mines in Canada, employing fewer than 1000 workers. They are located in Québec. The conference recommended that Just Transition programs be established to prevent these workers from suffering from a closure of the industry.

The international epidemic of ill-health and death caused by exposure to asbestos has been raging for decades. Countries in the European Union and others like Chile have sought to control harmful exposures by implementing national prohibitions on the use of asbestos (including amosite, crocidolite and chrysotile). Even the World Trade Organization has upheld the ban.

In view of the rising asbestos death toll in manufacturing industries and communities around the world, delegates to the conference Canadian Asbestos: A Global Concern urged Canadian Federal and Regional Governments to renounce their backing of the asbestos industry and withdraw financial and political support from the Asbestos Institute, the Montréal-based body which has been orchestrating global pro-chrysotile support since the mid-1980s.

They also called for a ban on the use of all forms of asbestos in developed and developing countries; and the production of objective information about the health risks of “safer” alternatives to counter industry propaganda such as that being spread in India about the “virtues of chrysotile” by the Asbestos Cement Products Manufacturers’ Association. “No ‘virtues of chrysotile’ can excuse the continuing use of such a hazardous substance,” they said.

The delegates also agreed to form Ban Asbestos Canada/Bannissement Amiante du Canada, to carry the issues forward in Canada.

For more information: International Ban Asbestos Secretariat at http://www.ibasecretariat.org/