Canadian Asbestos: The Naked Truth
On November 15, 2007, data (Appendix A) was obtained which revealed the increasing consumption of Canadian asbestos by developing countries, all of which have a dismal record in regulating hazardous asbestos exposures to workers, the public and consumers. For the period January-August 2007, marked increases of Canadian asbestos imports were reported, compared with the same period in 2006, as shown below.
|United Arab Emirates||111.2%|
One of the startling revelations contained within these figures is the fact that even as proposed legislation to ban asbestos in the U.S. was being discussed in the Senate, the country's use of asbestos rose by 15.4%! The seemingly insatiable Canadian thirst for asbestos profits has incentivized JM Inc. and LAB Chrysotile Mines, rival Quebec asbestos companies, to cooperate in the creation of a joint sales agency: Chrysotile Canada Inc (CCI) which will, so industry lobbyists say, help the industry counter stiff overseas competition. We need, said Simon Dupere, President of LAB Chrysotile, to protect our markets and keep our mines operating.1
The week before the export data was released in response to a parliamentary question submitted by Canadian MP Pat Martin, a paper was published documenting the serious public health threat posed by decades of asbestos mining operations in Thetford Mines, Quebec. The authors of Exploratory Sampling of Asbestos in Residences near Thetford Mines: The Public Health Threat in Quebec,2 reported the results on samples of air and soil from 26 domestic properties in this area; more than half of these homes had asbestos levels which exceeded AHERA criterion: If these houses were schools in the United States, they would be shut down until effective corrective measures were taken to bring down dust levels below this criterion. Concerned about the impact on the health of local people, the authors of this paper made a series of recommendations including a ban on entering the asbestos-contaminated waste dumps, an immediate halt to the use of mine waste and help for local people to decontaminate properties in which asbestos waste had previously been used. One of the paper's coauthors, William Charney, raised additional asbestos-related topics in a letter to the editor entitled Canada's Asbestos Legacy3 in which he highlighted Quebec's reluctance to:
incorporate international standards for diagnosis of disease, compensation of asbestos-related disease, sampling and analysis of asbestos in workplaces and public buildings, or certification of radiologists for identifying asbestos-related diseases. This opting out of international norms and standards have left both the occupational health of workers and the public health of Quebec citizens at high risk.
Provincial authorities countered the revelations of toxic conditions in Quebec on November 10, 2007 by releasing results from tests conducted by the Quebec Ministry of Environment in 2004 which prove that ambient levels of asbestos don't present any risk to residents.4
Unfortunately for Canada's asbestos stakeholders, opposition to the country's global leadership of the pro-asbestos lobby is growing. On October 31, 2007, the Canadian Labour Congress broke three decades of silence on asbestos when its President, Ken Georgetti, called for a ban on asbestos exports at the annual Saskatchewan Federation of Labour (SFL) convention. SFL President Larry Hubich said that asbestos was a major public and environmental catastrophe. RightOnCanada, a human rights NGO, is spearheading a letter writing campaign to Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper which calls on the Government to ban the use and export of asbestos;5 to date, more than 800 letters have been sent.
The Canadian asbestos industry's former grip on the national media has weakened dramatically. A recent article Asbestos Shame in the Globe and Mail generated considerable commentary throughout the press;6 Journalist Martin Mittelstaedt contrasts the fact that even as asbestos is being removed from Parliament buildings, the federal and provincial governments are actively promoting overseas sales. Seventy-five per cent of Canadian asbestos exports go to Asian countries; the top 5 regional markets are:
|Country|| Imports for |
Canadian officials refused to be interviewed for this article. Questions put by Mittelstaedt to Natural Resources Canada, the lead federal agency dealing with asbestos, were evaded with stock responses such as:
These soporific and baseless reassurances were exposed by Dr Barry Castleman, an internationally respected expert on asbestos, who commented:
Anyone who says there's a controlled use of asbestos in the Third World is either a liar or a fool.
The reality of asbestos use in India, Canada's biggest Asian customer, was depicted in 10 black and white photographs accompanying the Mittelstaedt article. The images taken by photojournalist Louie Palu showed workers from auto parts plants where asbestos-contaminated working conditions and a complete absence of ventilation and protective equipment are everyday facts of life. Slum dwellers in New Delhi and Ahmedabad were photographed surrounded by broken, corroded and cracked asbestos-cement sheets and tiles.7 With 32 chrysotile-processing factories throughout India generating an annual turnover in excess of US$500 million, the asbestos industrial sector is a well organized and powerful lobbying group in India. As profits continue to flow, workers contract occupationally-caused respiratory ailments; almost none of the injured receive medical treatment or compensation. According to Dr. T K Joshi, of the Centre for Occupational and Environmental Health in New Delhi, current exposures will result in an increase in (asbestos) related malignant illness in the future.8 In the article, Dr. Joshi is highly critical of Canada's role in the global asbestos scandal saying: As a developed country, you expect more civilized behavior. He categorizes Canada's promotion of asbestos exports as a black spot on a sparkling white dress.
November 19, 2007
1 McDougall S. Rival Asbestos Firms Join Sales Forces. The Gazette (Montreal) November 1, 2007.
2 Marier M, Charney W, Rousseau R et al. Exploratory Sampling of Asbestos in Residences near Thetford Mines: The Public Health Threat in Quebec Int J Occup Environ Health 2007;13:386-397.
4 Mittelstaedt M. Asbestos Concentrations Okay, Quebeckers Told. The Globe and Mail. November 10, 2007.
6 Mittelstaedt M. Asbestos Shame. The Globe and Mail. October 27, 2007.
8 Castleman B, Joshi TK. The Global Asbestos Struggle Today. Eur. J. Oncol, vol. 12, n.3, pp. 49-154, 2007.
|Title||Canadian Total Exports|
|Industries||NAICS 212394 - Asbestos Mining|
|Destination||ALL COUNTRIES (Detailed)|
|Period||Year to Date - Current Year vs. Previous Year|
|Units||Value in Canadian Dollars|
| Jan-Aug |
| Jan-Aug |
| % Change |
|United Arab Emirates||965,114||2,037,981||111.2%|
|United States (U.S.)||464,261||535,872||15.4%|
|TOTAL (ALL COUNTRIES)||60,622,884||52,333,138||-13.7%|
|Source of data: Statistics Canada|
|Report Date: 15-Nov-2007|