Chrysotile Institute – Mountebanks and Liars! 

by Laurie Kazan-Allen



As the Christmas deadline for Quebec's decision regarding funding for the asbestos industry looms ever nearer – previous July and October 2011 deadlines having come and gone without any decisions being made – the national asbestos debate within Canadian civil society has reached a tipping point.1 It seems that not a day goes by without another professional body, trade union, politician, municipality or victims' group denouncing Canada's double standards regarding asbestos: the substance being stripped out of federal buildings in Ottawa at huge expense while still being marketed overseas. Curiously juxtaposed to the escalation in ban asbestos rhetoric within Canada is the announcement that the country has now in fact run out of asbestos. Taken at face value this would make the Canadian debate over asbestos moot, were it not for the promise that millions more tons could be extracted should the Quebec funds be released this month.

Last week, the Chrysotile Institute (CI), the notorious mouthpiece for Canada's asbestos industry, published the latest issue of its newsletter.2 As usual, the text contains outright lies, misinformation and gibberish dressed up as fact. However, there is a whiff of desperation about this latest offering, reflected in the fact that the bumper issue runs to four times the length of previous newsletters the CI has produced irregularly over the years.

Some examples of the fabrications and misrepresentations contained within its pages are noted below:

CI Lie [Page 1]: “The current policy of the World Health Organization (WHO) does not support a chrysotile ban.”

In 2010, the WHO wrote:All types of asbestos cause lung cancer, mesothelioma, cancer of the larynx and ovary, and asbestosis (fibrosis of the lungs). Exposure to asbestos occurs through inhalation of fibres in air in the working environment, ambient air in the vicinity of point sources such as factories handling asbestos, or indoor air in housing and buildings containing friable (crumbly) asbestos materials…. Elimination of asbestos-related diseases should take place through the following public health actions: a) recognizing that the most efficient way to eliminate asbestos-related diseases is to stop the use of all types of asbestos; b) replacing asbestos with safer substitutes and developing economic and technological mechanisms to stimulate its replacement…”3

CI Lie [Page 6]: “…Mr. J. Takala, a well known anti-asbestos activist…”

Although Dr Takala was sanguine about this accolade, dismissing statements made by such an experienced occupational health professional with these scant words is unacceptable. Dr Takala has worked in occupational safety and health for more than 30 years. Having been employed by Finland's Occupational Safety and Health Administration early in his career, he subsequently rose to the ranks of Director of the International Programme on Safety and Health at Work and the Environment (SafeWork) at the International Labor Organization. From 2006 until September 2011, he was the Director of the European Agency for Safety and Health at Work. He is now an Adjunct Professor at Tampere University of Technology, Finland. Commenting on the CI's newsletter, Dr Takala wrote:

“The pro-asbestos campaign arguments have been systematically countered, and do not contain any scientific evidence. The science is clear on this issue. The ILO recently issued a statement saying that the ILO Convention No. 162 cannot be interpreted in such a way as the pro-asbestos campaigners do. The ILO Resolution of 2006 International Labour Conference is fully in line with 162 and takes into account the latest knowledge and scientific evidence of asbestos risks, in particular, those of chrysotile asbestos. The European Union and many other countries have banned the use of all kinds of asbestos. It is unethical to continue promoting asbestos and asbestos containing products including chrysotile.”

CI Lie [Page 9]: “The numerous health problems encountered in Europe, North America or Japan are related to conditions and work practices that are no longer permitted.”

Some while ago, research undertaken by Canadian civil servants established that compliance with Quebec's health and safety measures for minimising hazardous occupational exposures to asbestos was 0%. In other words, not one workplace investigated in Quebec was providing the level of protection deemed necessary.

CI Lie [Page 9]: “It is not true that there is nowhere in the chrysotile industries where its safe use is not possible.”

Who writes this bilge – Charlie Brown?

CI Lie [Page 9]: “Activists calling for a global ban of chrysotile insist that chrysotile is so dangerous, even if it is a crucial element in the economies of some developing or emerging countries, its production must be stopped and this as soon as possible.”

The statement that chrysotile is “crucial” for developing countries is not true. No country needs to use chrysotile. When all costs are factored into the equation, developing countries incur unnecessary expense by using chrysotile. It is only because asbestos users off-load the costs for asbestos-related diseases, environmental pollution and the decontamination and disposal of asbestos debris, that the costs for using chrysotile appear to be lower than those of safer alternatives.

CI misinformation [page 17]: “We stand for the controlled use of chrysotile in accordance with ILO Convention No.162…

The ILO does not support the controlled use of chrysotile. The 2006 ILO Resolution Concerning Asbestos stated: “the elimination of the future use of asbestos and the identification and proper management of asbestos currently in place are the most effective means to protect workers from asbestos exposure and to prevent future asbestos-related diseases and deaths…”4 The ILO believes that the only safe use of asbestos is no use.

Judging by the recent past, it seems unlikely that the Quebec Government will make a decision regarding potential funding for the new asbestos facility this month. If an announcement is made, however, it is likely to contain various provisos and quantifiers so that the situation remains unclear for some months to come. Canadian civil society cannot afford to decrease its pressure on elected officials and civil servants regarding asbestos until a national ban on production and use is in place

December 1, 2011


1 The most recent information available suggests that the Quebec Government would make an announcement on whether or not it will provide a $58 million loan guarantee to a private consortium planning to develop underground asbestos mining operations in Quebec before Christmas.






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