Canada Told to Stop Obstructing Safety Information on Asbestos: Ban Asbestos Network Calls For 'Prior Informed Consent'

(Ottawa) Ban Asbestos Canada network members, including the Canadian Autoworkers Union, the Canadian Association of University Teachers, Sierra Club of Canada and MiningWatch Canada, are demanding that Canada stop pretending that asbestos is safe, and support "Prior Informed Consent" requirements for all forms of asbestos imported from Canada by other countries.

"Why does Canada oppose regulations that would improve communication regarding asbestos risks in developing countries?"? asked Dr. David Egilman, the founder and President of Global Health through Education Training and Service, a non-profit organization based outside of Boston. Dr. Egilman has seen first hand many of the ravages of asbestos in the Third World.

In November 2003, Canada blocked an agreement at the United Nations that would have made it more difficult to unload Canadian asbestos on countries like Mexico and India. Canada derailed the inclusion of chrysotile asbestos in the Rotterdam Convention's Prior Informed Consent Procedure despite pleas from Chile, the European Union and a number of other countries.

Today, Environment Canada is asking for public comment on their position. "They are asking the public to decide if it is okay to export a deadly substance to other countries without their knowledge," says Joan Kuyek of MiningWatch Canada, "It is appropriate that they have chosen April Fool's Day to ask for public input on a question that should not have to be asked at all."?

The Canadian asbestos industry says that chrysotile asbestos can be mined and used safely, using airlocks, respirators and hazard suits. It also claims that it is no longer dangerous when it becomes a component of asbestos cement. However, there are few effective controls in the countries that import it. "We have seen workers and others horribly overexposed to asbestos in developing countries. The safe use campaign is at best a public relations strategy,"? says Dr. Egilman.

According to George Botic, National Health and Safety Representative for the Canadian Autoworkers, "These are just broken promises. Government and companies have been telling us for years that we could work safely with asbestos, and now we face an asbestos epidemic with our workers. Why should we believe in 'safe use' now?"?

The only remaining asbestos mines in Canada produce mostly chrysotile asbestos in the historic Thetford Mines area of Québec. Fewer than 1000 workers are still employed in the industry, and the rate of asbestos-related diseases in the area is one of the highest in the world.

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For more information: Joan Kuyek tel. (613) 569-3439 or cell (613) 795-5710.