Asbestos Profit & Loss
As Zimbabwe rakes in increasing sums from chrysotile asbestos exports, Canada is starting to uncover the human cost of its asbestos past. According to the Minerals and Marketing Corporation of Zimbabwe, there was an 11% increase in annual chrysotile production in 2006 which generated US$27.1 millions of much needed foreign exchange for the Mugabe regime.1 Throughout 2006, Canadian asbestos stakeholders continued to reap the benefit of federal support even as the lid was lifted on the price paid by ordinary Canadians for their government's pro-chrysotile policy. The report Five Deaths a Day: Workplace Fatalities in Canada 1993-2025,2 published in December 2006 by The Centre for Study of Living Standards (CSLS), concluded that exposure to asbestos is responsible for the majority of deaths from occupational disease in Canada:
Asbestos-related deaths alone accounted for about 340 deaths in 2005, 61 per cent of deaths from occupational diseases and 31 per cent of total workplace fatalities
In Canada in 2005, of the 383 deaths attributed to non-metallic minerals except fuel, around 89 per cent were due to asbestos exposure, making 340 asbestos-related deaths that year. This is up from less than 60 asbestos-deaths in 1996. Thus about 70 per cent of the increase in the number of workplace fatalities in Canada since 1996 are (sic) due to asbestos... despite the known carcinogenic properties of asbestos, and although countries around the world have implemented bans on the use of new asbestos, Canada is one of the world's largest miners and exporters of this dangerous mineral-based fibre."
The report pointed out that in 2006 Canada helped stonewall efforts by the United Nations to place chrysotile asbestos on the Prior Informed Consent list of hazardous substances subject to trade restrictions under the Rotterdam Convention. MP Pat Martin, who himself suffers from an asbestos-related condition, is highly critical of Ottawa's position on chrysotile. He was shocked at the data revealed in the CSLS report saying:
Asbestos is the greatest industrial killer the world has ever known And Canada is in complete denial of the health risks... We're still the second largest producer and exporter of asbestos in the world but we won't say 'boo' because all the mines are in Quebec.3
Three days after the CSLS report was published, the Canadian Government announced emergency funding to assist members of the Tsu T'ina First Nation to move out of temporary accommodation whilst refurbishments are carried out at their former homes at Black Bear Crossing in Calgary. According to Jim Prentice, Minister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development, the sum of $2.2m was allocated as humanitarian assistance; the funds will be dispensed over the next 18 months by the First Nation to provide safe housing for 500 band members who are currently being accommodated in properties with unacceptably high levels of chrysotile asbestos.4 Class-action lawsuits are ongoing in British Columbia, Alberta and Saskatchewan over the Government's alleged negligence in subsidizing the widespread use of asbestos-contaminated Zonolite insulation products in housing construction and in units on military bases and First Nation reserves between 1977 and 1984.5
When it comes to chrysotile asbestos, Canadian politicians have consistently engaged in schizophrenic behavior. As billions of dollars are spent on removing chrysotile from buildings on Parliament Hill, government support of the Chrysotile Institute, the mouthpiece of the Canadian asbestos industry, continues unabated. Having blocked global efforts to alert unsuspecting consumers in developing countries of the harmful effects of chrysotile by scuppering the listing of chrysotile under the Rotterdam Convention, Ottawa makes millions of dollars available to members of the First Nation to vacate properties containing chrysotile. If Canadian politicians and members of the First Nation need to be protected from the hazards of chrysotile exposure, why don't Canadian, Indian or Thai workers? Canada's asbestos policy is illogical and indefensible and it is no wonder that when the Government is forced to divulge documents in the asbestos file under the Access to Information Act it does so only after they have been heavily censored.
January 5, 2007
1 According to the article Surging mineral prices help Zimbabwe earn more from its minerals by Frank Jomo, Dec. 22, 2006 on website: http://www.mineweb.net/african_renaissance/532632.htm; in 2006, Zimbabwe produced 92,479 tons of chrysotile worth $27.1m; in 2005, it produced 83,687 tons worth $20.7m.
3 Beauchesne E. Work kills five Canadians a day. December 12, 2006. Website: http://www.canada.com/topics/bodyandhealth/story.html?id=76848442-6516-4c54-ac02-3813a5e6be2d&k=52206&p=2
4 Press release: Indian Affairs Minister Jim Prentice Announces Transitional Housing Assistance for Harvey Barracks residents. December 15, 2006. Website: http://www.cnw.ca/fr/releases/archive/December2006/15/c7980.html
5 Macafee M. Ottawa to ask Canadians about attic use to prep for insulation lawsuits. Jan. 3, 2007. Website: