Asbestos Poisons, Industry Profits
If more evidence were needed of Canada's schizophrenic attitude to asbestos, examine the following contradictory developments:
Members of Parliament are not permitted to change light bulbs or hang pictures up in their offices in the West Block of the Ottawa Capital building because of the presence of crumbling asbestos-containing material;
The federal government continues to fund and endorse the work of pro-asbestos lobbyists; added to a $775,000 Ottawa donation made in 2003 is $600,000 given in October, 2004 by the Government of Quebec to enable the Chrysotile Institute to defend the principle of controlled use.
It is ironic that even as MPs clamor for comprehensive and urgent action to decontaminate the neo-Gothic heritage building on Parliament Hill, representatives of the newly renamed Chrysotile Institute travel the world seeking new customers; amongst the latest to sign up are: Angola, Senegal, Swaziland, Angola and the United Arab Emirates which are making in excess of C$3 million worth of purchases of Canadian asbestos a year.1
Separate reports by the body supervising Public Works in the Parliamentary precinct and a House of Commons Committee on the state of the West Block agree that the asbestos problems are serious. According to Bruce Lorimer, Public Works' director general of the Parliamentary Precinct:
The situation in the West Block is unique The 1960s renovation (of the West Block) used asbestos for fire-proofing. It was permitted in the building code at that time. And from what we can see there was what's called an over spray of asbestos. They probably thought they were doing a good thing. And since that time the over spray has crumbled and it lies on the ceilings and duct work and other surfaces above the ceiling. In any other building the asbestos is contained but in this case it is more easily made airborne.2
A distinct lack of urgency has been evinced by the powers-that-be who have announced that it will be several months before a new action plan is created. Even then, who knows if the funds required for the decontamination work will be made available; Prime Minister Paul Martin has imposed a freeze on major capital projects.
Asbestos in Parliament constitutes a health risk to federal politicians, their staff and the people who use the building; Canadian asbestos exported to developing countries exposes foreign workers and the public to avoidable hazards. It is immoral for Canada to deal with one problem and ignore the other.
November 16, 2004