Baljit Chadha: Asbestos Straw Man?
For some while now representatives of the Chrysotile Institute, the mouthpiece of Canada's moribund asbestos industry, have failed to answer press enquiries. Into the breach, stepped Bernard Coulombe, the President of the Jeffrey Mine. That his efforts were not a total success is something that even his loved ones would not dispute.1 On May 12, 2011 an interview with Coulombe was broadcast on the popular U.S. TV program The Daily Show, hosted by well-known satirist Jon Stewart. The fallout from the transmission of the five minute segment entitled Ored to Death, which has been categorized as a public relations failure, rebounded not only on Coulombe personally but also on the Canadian asbestos industry and the Quebec town of Asbestos, where the Jeffrey Mine is located.
Now that Coulombe seems to have fallen silent, comes the latest asbestos frontman: Baljit Singh Chadha. This Indian-born Montreal entrepreneur is spearheading efforts to secure the finance needed to revive Canada's asbestos industry. Chadha and a mysterious group of investors plan to develop underground asbestos mining facilities in Quebec which will provide enough chrysotile asbestos for Canada to remain a major producer for decades to come. In order to qualify for a $58 million loan guarantee from the Quebec Government, the international consortium has to stomp up $25 million. Two previous deadlines have come and gone without this money materializing.
As the October deadline loomed into view, Chadha embarked upon a highly personal quest to counter the escalation of anti-asbestos opinion in Canada. In separate meetings on September 26, he put the case for asbestos to MP Pat Martin and Steven Staples, President of the Rideau Institute. Neither man was converted. Commenting on the 90- minute meeting, the politican dismissed Chadha's promise to monitor the safe use of asbestos in India as implausible and said that Quebec's proposed loan guarantee was corporate welfare for corporate serial killers. Staples was also underwhelmed. No matter what he claims, Staples said Chadha is ignoring the opinion of medical experts in pursuit of his own private gain.2
Meanwhile, recent developments outside of Canada do not bode well for the future of the new mine. A background note distributed by the Indian Government in preparation for the September 19-20, 2011 India-EU Seminar on Occupational Health and Safety raised the spectre of an Indian asbestos ban:
The Government of India is considering the ban [of] the mining and use of chrysotile asbestos in India to protect the workers and the general population against primary and secondary exposure to [the] chrysotile form of Asbestos.
In New York, a meeting on the Prevention and Control of Non-communicable Diseases (NCDs) of the UN General Assembly issued a resolution calling on governments to: recognize the threat posed by NCDs, which include asbestos-related cancers and respiratory diseases, accept their primary role in the prevention of these diseases, and reaffirm the right of everyone to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health.3 Comparing data reports from Canada and India, it is clear that the Indian epidemic of NCDs will be worsened by increasing asbestos exports from Canada. The numbers of NCD deaths, male and female respectively, in India are nearly 30 and 22 times higher than in Canada.4 To cap it all off, a paper published online by the peer-reviewed academic journal Thorax on September 21 entitled A 37-year observation of mortality in Chinese chrysotile asbestos workers,5 concluded that there is:
strong evidence for increased mortality risks, particularly from lung cancer and non-malignant respiratory diseases, associated with exposure to chrysotile asbestos
In comments he made to a Canadian journalist Mr. Chadha admitted that his own family members and prospective employees need to be persuaded he is doing the right thing. Maybe Mr. Chadha should take a few minutes off from his asbestos wheeling and dealing to listen to them. 6
September 29, 2011
1 Kazan-Allen L. Down and Out in Quebec. May 11, 2011.
2Asbestos trader criticized by medical experts and asbestos victims. September 26, 2011.
6 Hamilton G, Van Praet. Chadha's asbestos gamble. September 28, 2011.