Canadian Asbestos: A Global Concern
Canada, a country with an international reputation for protecting the environment, is engaged in the global trafficking of a lethal commodity. Between 1900 and 2000, mines in Québec, Newfoundland, British Columbia and the Yukon produced a total of 61 million tons of chrysotile (white asbestos). In recent years, Canada has exported more than 95% of all the asbestos it has produced, making it the 2nd biggest chrysotile exporter in the world. Canadian disinclination to use this carcinogenic substance at home reflects growing international reluctance to expose the public and the environment to well-established risks. Such civic concern does not, however, prevent asbestos stakeholders from promoting Canadian chrysotile for sale abroad, claiming it can be used "safely under controlled conditions." Such "controlled conditions" do not exist in Canada or the US and most definitely not in India, Thailand or Korea.
For decades, the Canadian asbestos industry has enjoyed close, some would say intimate, links with the Governments of Canada and Québec, both of which have been more than generous with their financial and political support. With the backing of the Canadian establishment, the industry suppressed public debate on asbestos, ensured that thousands of Canadian asbestos victims remained unacknowledged and created mountains of asbestos tailings which remain, to this day, untreated and unsecured. The powerful pro-chrysotile forces, used to getting their own way, were however unable to prevent a landmark conference being held in the very heart of their country's capital. On September 12, 2003, one hundred delegates converged on Parliament Hill, Ottawa to explore the harmful repercussions of Canadian asbestos production.
The three-day conference entitled Canadian Asbestos: A Global Concern was the first international meeting to be held at which Canadian workers and asbestos victims were free to speak publicly about the damage done by the mining and use of Canadian chrysotile, the agendas and attendance at previous gatherings having been dictated by asbestos stakeholders.1 News of this event clearly unsettled the industry which responded in a variety of ways, including an orchestrated fax campaign to Members of Parliament (MPs)2, a fanfare of publicity for the release of yet another discredited report "exonerating chrysotile" and the mass transportation of protesting workers and residents from Thetford, one of Québec's asbestos communities, to Ottawa to "defend our product." Gaston Nadeau, of Thetford Mines, told reporter Elizabeth Thompson of The Gazette that this conference was "an attempt by foreign interests to cut off the lifeblood of their communities." While placard-carrying protesters expressed concern for their jobs outside the Canadian Parliament, inside the conference hall Canadian speakers revealed a national scandal long denied by both the Government and industry; representatives from India, Lebanon and Peru described the appalling human tragedies caused by the use of Canadian chrysotile in their countries.
Heightened police security inside and outside the House of Commons allowed the conference to proceed unhindered. Two days of plenary sessions were followed by a strategy session on Sunday morning for campaigners. An outstanding panel of international and Canadian scientists, academics, medical personnel, epidemiologists, trade unionists and public health experts exposed the ways in which industry has countered the increasing mass of evidence about the hazards of chrysotile; steps taken by the pro-chrysotile lobby include personal attacks on public health campaigners, pressure on international organizations such as the World Health Organization and the International Labor Organization by asbestos-industry linked "experts" and legal threats by industry representatives such as the Asbestos Cement Products Manufacturers' Association (India). Elizabeth May and Daniel Green from the Sierra Club of Canada, Mary Cook, Jim Brophy and Margaret Keith from the Occupational Health Clinics for Ontario Workers (OHCOW), Cathy Walker and Nick De Carlo from the Canadian Autoworkers Union3, Joan Kuyek from Mining Watch, Canada, Dr. Louise De Guire from the National Institute of Public Health in Québec and several individuals whose lives have been devastated by asbestos-related deaths of husbands, fathers or children presented graphic and conclusive evidence of the damage done by occupational and environmental exposure to chrysotile in Canada. International speakers detailed an almost universal absence of health and safety regulations in developing countries which ensures that the current use of chrysotile in these countries constitutes a serious ongoing risk to public health.4
Setting the Scene
During the opening session of the conference, Joe Comartin, the conference President and the MP for Windsor-St. Clair, Ontario, deplored Canada's role in an industry which has spread death and destruction throughout the world.5 Before becoming a politician, Mr. Comartin was a lawyer representing asbestos-injured workers in the town of Windsor, home to the Bendix brake factory. Many local people had contracted debilitating and fatal diseases after working with asbestos at this plant. In Canada, Mr. Comartin said, the asbestos industry maintains that more research is needed to prove the link between exposure to chrysotile and disease; the effect of chrysotile exposure on the Bendix workers was proof enough of the hazards of this carcinogen. Calling for the introduction of a policy of "just transition" to retrain or retire former asbestos workers, Joe concluded his comments by saying: "an absolute ban (on asbestos) is the only solution."
Kyla Sentes, a Canadian political scientist, set the tone for the morning session with her presentation: The Canadian Asbestos Industry: A Short History. Kyla explained that the support industry had cultivated amongst regional and federal governments and some trade unions had enabled it to control the national asbestos agenda for one hundred years. The enormous profits earned from the global popularity of asbestos ensured that this Canadian industry had influential and well-connected friends: to protect its interests, rubber-stamp numerous tax incentives, secure financial assistance for expansion and forestall the introduction of health and safety regulations. Clearly, in Canada, the political, economic and social importance of the asbestos industry has traditionally outweighed the repercussions of asbestos exposure to the community and environment.
Although the first medical diagnosis of an asbestos-related condition in Canada was made in 1900, none of the information gathered on the hazards of asbestos exposure was shared with those mining or processing the fiber. Throughout the 1920s, the Canadian Department of Health and the Department of Mines routinely gathered "information from international sources on the effects of asbestos," but the Federal Government made no effort to inform workers or trade unions of these findings. Kyla stated: "The Canadian Government was actually providing American asbestos corporations with a great deal of research on the effects of the dust by the 1930s." It is hardly credible that the Canadian Government would share information with American asbestos companies, whilst denying it to their Canadian competitors.
As Canadian asbestos producers reaped the profits from the explosion in asbestos use during WWII, nothing was done to minimize exposures to this most-valued of natural resources:
"The public was not, however, told of the deteriorating working conditions in mills and plants during the war which were increasing the risk of exposure There was no regulatory system in place on either the provincial or federal levels to ensure that asbestos companies would follow any definite standards of safe production. And the public also wasn't told that government-controlled companies were the chief offenders in the health and safety area."
The pattern of industrial and government collusion persisted; information released on the dangers of asbestos was censored to exclude mention of tumors and cancers. "More shocking, however," Kyla maintained "was the fact that many of the workers who had developed these diseases were not properly informed about their condition. If the diagnosis was revealed, then management would falsely tell workers that continued exposure really would not exacerbate their condition and that they would be much better off were they to continue working as long as possible. It was deemed as cheaper for the companies to allow workers to stay on the job than to pay out compensation and lose the labour."
Throughout the 1950s, federal and provincial governments rode the asbestos bandwagon turning a blind eye to the unsafe working conditions which persisted:
"Surveys of various Québec mines and mills, including those owned by CJM (Canadian Johns-Manville) and Bell Asbestos, revealed levels ranging between 23 and 720 f/cc. The conditions in the manufacturing plants were not much better. Employees were found covered in dust, asbestos mixing areas were wide open with fibres all over, and no masks were being worn by workers. In 1964, at the New York Academy of Sciences Conference, Irving Selikoff presented his studies revealing the high rate of cancer related to asbestos dust exposure at Thetford Mines in Québec. It was becoming increasingly apparent that pure chrysotile killed."
The creation of the Institute of Occupational and Environmental Health research (IOEH) in 1966 was the Canadian Government's reaction to the damaging findings about chrysotile. The IOEH worked closely with the Québec Asbestos Mining Association (QAMA) to disparage detrimental evidence. They were practised liars, claiming that there had been "no new asbestosis cases in Thetford since 1946 even though the number of claims for asbestosis was continuing to rise dramatically along with the incidence of mesothelioma." Truth was an expendable commodity in the battle to safeguard the image of chrysotile, known to its fans as "white gold." The QAMA campaign to "whitewash" chrysotile was comprehensive:
"Hundreds of publications were disseminated to the public, targeting schools, architects, construction companies, and mining communities, describing how 'safe' our white asbestos was. None of the articles ever went into details over health and instead focused on how important the fibre was to technology and the overall economic well-being of the country."
Canada's asbestos companies were making billions of dollars; in 1974, Canadian Johns-Manville had an operating profit of $96,229,000. Despite this embarrassment of riches, the producers resisted efforts to lower the "voluntary" limit of dust exposure from 5 f/cc to 2 f/cc claiming that the introduction of regulations would cost the industry millions of dollars. Needless to say, the QAMA backed this resistance claiming that "applying absolute standards on asbestos would be impossible and, if a standard was set, they would have to receive government aid to reach it." As many Western countries imposed tighter restrictions on the use of chrysotile, the Federal Government:
"continued to cooperate with the industry in diverting attention away from health issues to ensure that the asbestos export business was unrestricted in its endeavours. Even organizations like the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA) were commissioned to help provide grants to ensure expansion... The asbestos industry worked side by side with the World Bank, International Development Industry, CIDA, Inter-American Development Bank, African Development and Asian Development Banks to help fund specific development projects that frequently involved the use of asbestos products. Canada, along with the above-mentioned organizations, began to take part in the controversial practice of tied aid: assisting countries on a contingency basis requiring that they use Canadian asbestos and asbestos products in their development programs. In doing so, Canada was exporting a carcinogenic mineral to countries that were not only unschooled about its risks but, in addition, would have little recourse even if they were to become informed of the risks."
The risks to workers in the developing world were of little concern to Canadian producers. In 1982, the President of the Soci‚t‚ Nationale de l'Amiante (National Asbestos Society), an amalgamation of several asbestos companies which was taken over by the Government of Québec in the late 1970s, was quite candid when he told delegates to the World Asbestos Symposium in Montreal that as life expectancy in developing countries was only 35, most people in the developing world would be dead from other causes before asbestos-related cancers could kill them. Kyla was appalled that in 2003, there was so little public awareness in Canada of the damage done by asbestos; she urged workers in Canada and abroad to:
"ask the Canadian government why it is supporting a dying industry, why does it continue to deny the costly lessons of the past and why does it continue to show so little regard for the workers who face dying along with the industry."
Daniel Green, a Scientific Advisor to the Sierra Club of Canada, concentrated on problems relating to non-occupational exposure in his presentation: Asbestos Issues in Québec. Referring to the town named Asbestos, a mere 4 hours away from the Canadian capital, Daniel quipped that in Québec: "we are not afraid of carcinogens. Indeed we name our towns after them." The mining of asbestos in Canada began at the Jeffrey mine in the town of Asbestos in the late 19th century. In 1974, a total of 1,549,000 tons (t) of chrysotile was produced in nine Québec mines, making the province one of the world's biggest suppliers; 22 companies in the province manufactured asbestos pipes, drying pads, brake pads, textiles, tiles, paper and asbestos-cement. As demand for chrysotile fell, production was scaled down; between 1992 and 2002, Québec output halved with total production of 250,000 t last year earning the province C$75 million. Although the province of Québec supplies 22% of current global demand, local asbestos processing now utilizes a mere 2% of production (6,000 t); the remaining 294,000 t is exported. The low usage of chrysotile in Québec has led the Provincial Government to devise a new stratagem for increasing consumption: The Policy Concerning the Increased and Safe Use of Chrysotile Asbestos was adopted in August, 2002. This scheme aims to double domestic consumption in the medium term by:
encouraging government agencies and municipalities to increase the use of chrysotile products such as asbestos-cement pipes, sheets and paving materials;
providing assistance for the research, development and marketing of new asbestos products: Daniel discussed proposals to replace wooden utility poles with asbestos-cement poles in Québec.
The concentration of asbestos mining and production in the province of Québec resulted in environmental contamination. In 1970, asbestos fiber airborne emissions in Québec were 13,325 t. Tests of non-filtered surface water of a lake in Thetford Mines showed 172 x106 fibres/litre; this is, Daniel said, more than three times the amount of contamination which was responsible for the outcry over the use of asbestos filters in the processing of French wines some years ago. In 1997, local people, well used to pollution from asbestos processing, received another industrial polluter into their community. The company, Magnola Metallurgy Inc., 80% owned by Noranda and 20% owned by the Québec Government, began construction of a $730 million facility to produce magnesium from the processing of 57.5 million t of asbestos mine tailings, part of the region's asbestos legacy. The plant, located near the asbestos towns of Asbestos, Danville and Shipton, was sited in an area in which much of Canada's milk production took place.
The first phase of magnesium production began in September, 2000; the company expected that production during 2002 would equal 30,000 t of magnesium, half the predicted capacity. At full production, the plant would be the largest magnesium production facility in the world and the only one extracting magnesium from mining waste. The company employed 365 people in 2002 and planned to double capacity by 2010. By-products released during the processing of asbestos waste included acids and a range of persistent organic pollutants such as polychlorinated biphenols (PCBs), hexachlorobenzene, dioxins and furans.
After years of quiet acceptance of the deadly risks of asbestos, local residents opposed the newest asbestos-related plague to be visited upon them. Organizations against the processing of the asbestos tailings included: Coalition for a Clean Magnola (Coalition pour un Magnola Propre: CPM), the Joint Action Group Against Persistent Organic Pollutants (Collectif de lutte aux organochlores: CLF), Society Against Pollution, Greenpeace, Friends of the Earth, International POPs Elimination Network. The CPM took the position that:
"the release of POPs by Magnola is a major environmental and human health threat that must be independently documented and monitored with as short term goal forcing ongoing modifications at the plant to reduce emissions, and as long term goal the exposure of unacceptable human health risks that will force the plant to either adopt a process that does not use chlorine electrolysis or shut down."6
The CLF organized a demonstration in May, 2001 at which eight protesters were arrested. One of them, Roch Lanthier, was prosecuted. At the culmination of his five day trial, Judge Danielle Cote found him guilty but gave him an unconditional absolution "because of his sincerity and the importance of his cause." According to Mr. Lanthier:
"The predictions for toxic emissions from Magnola were much too high according to the experts but even then the company's predictions for dioxins and furans were exceeded by more than 50%. Finally, in the Spring of 2003, the Magnola plant closed on the pretext that the magnesium price had dipped too low on the market."7
While the newest polluter has shut down, the Jeffrey asbestos mine, the biggest local employer, creaks on despite serious financial problems. In October, 2002, the mine, one of three remaining chrysotile mines in Québec, ceased production and applied for protection under the Companies' Creditors Arrangement Act, the Canadian version of Chapter 11 in the US The shut-down reduced total production in Québec by 40%.8 A company spokesperson maintained that although production had stopped, the mine was not closed. Sure enough, within two months the company received court approval to recommence mining operations. It is still operational.
The next speaker was Laurie Kazan-Allen, one of the conference organizers and the Guest Editor of a special asbestos issue of the International Journal of Occupational and Environmental Health (IJOEH). Launching this issue of the IJOEH during her session, Laurie explained that its title: The Asbestos War was adapted from the subject header of an email circulated by the Asbestos Institute (AI) last year.9 The "WAR report" email, which originated in the UK, was circulated by an AI Director to asbestos stakeholders in the Government of Québec, the Federal Government, the asbestos industry and pro-asbestos trade unions. These included:
Jean Dupere - President of LAB Chrysotile
G. Bernard Coulombe - President of the Jeffrey Asbestos Mine
Clement Godbout - a Director of the Asbestos Institute
Jean-Louis Caty - Deputy Minister Associated with Québec Mines in the Ministry of Natural Resources
Louis Perron - a Senior Policy Advisor to the Canadian Government
Gerard Docquier - Canadian National Director of the United Steel Workers of America
Michel Arsenault - United Steelworkers' Director for Québec
The content of the email and its recipients illustrate one of the ways in which the industry works with its partners to manipulate the global asbestos debate.
Citing data from the International Labor Organization and independent medical experts, Laurie attempted to quantify the international epidemic of asbestos-related diseases. The number of work-related asbestos deaths has been estimated at 100,000 per year worldwide by one authority, who admits this is probably a serious underestimate. In Western Europe, epidemiologists predict that 500,000 asbestos-related male deaths will occur between 1995 and 2029. This appalling situation gives serious cause for concern. However, when public health campaigners speak out about the hazards of asbestos use, Laurie said, they are condemned by pro-chrysotile apologists as being ill-informed, hysterical or corrupt. Replying to the charge of being misinformed, she detailed the impressive expertise of speakers appearing at the conference including:
Dr. Barry Castleman, author of: Asbestos: Medical and Legal Aspects, now in its fourth edition, United States;
Dr. Annie Thebaud-Mony, the Director of Research at the National Institute of Health and Medical Research at the University of Paris, France;
Professor Joe LaDou, Director of the International Center for Occupational Medicine at the University of California and the Editor of the International Journal of Occupational and Environmental Health, United States;
Lic. Eva Delgado Rosas, Sociologist and Teacher in Occupational Health from Lima, Peru;
Nigel Bryson, formerly the Director of Health and the Environment of the GMB Union, United Kingdom;
Dr. Jock McCulloch, author of: Asbestos It's Human Cost and Asbestos Blues, Australia.
The presence of so many world-class authorities on asbestos clearly disproved the accusation that public health campaigners were misinformed on these issues.
The idea that the Governments of Iceland, Norway, Denmark, Sweden, Austria, Holland, Finland, Italy, German, France, the United Kingdom, Ireland, Latvia, Argentina, Chile, Spain and Luxembourg were hysterical for banning asbestos is not credible. Nor can European Union bureaucrats who spent more than seven years debating the issues be judged to have reacted hysterically when they decided to implement a ban on chrysotile. The International Programme on Chemical Safety and the Collegium Ramazzini are two eminent international bodies which have linked exposure to chrysotile to asbestosis, lung cancer and mesothelioma; these scientists are not prone to fits of hysteria. In 1999, the fellows of The Collegium Ramazzini called for an International Ban on Asbestos:
"To eliminate the burden of disease and death that is caused worldwide by exposure to asbestos, The Collegium Ramazzini calls for an immediate ban on all mining and use of asbestos. To be effective, the ban must be international in scope and must be enforced in every country in the world... Multinational asbestos corporations present a deplorable history of international exploitation."
Dismissing the charges of being misinformed and hysterical, Laurie addressed the accusation of corruption. In issue number 1 of the AI Newsletter (January 2002), it was stated:
"For many years, the anti-asbestos lobbies aided by the producers of alternative products and by media hype, have caused people to panic in the face of so-called dangers of products containing chrysotile... Sensing large fees, legal firms joined the fray, one in particular was responsible for the permanent secretariat of the British Asbestos Newsletter and the international secretariat of Ban Asbestos."
While the language of the underlined portion of the preceding paragraph is unclear, it seems the author was suggesting that the British Asbestos Newsletter, of which Laurie is the Editor, and the International Ban Asbestos Secretariat (IBAS), of which she is the Coordinator, earned "large fees." Laurie was categorical:
"This is not so. The newsletter and the secretariat are non profit-making enterprises. The newsletter covers costs and is run as a public service to inform asbestos victims and their representatives of current developments. The Secretariat makes no charges for its services - access to our website is free, the conferences we help organise are free. We believe that knowledge is power and that asbestos victims have been disadvantaged for too long by a lack of accurate and current information. We are only able to provide these free services because of the generosity of our supporters."
The virtual network of concerned citizens with which IBAS works has no well-paid directors or plush suite of offices - this is, after all, a virtual network. Unlike the AI which has an office at a prestigious address in downtown Montreal, there are no trappings of wealth.10 The contrast between photographs of Laurie's 12 year old Nissan micro and small suburban house and the luxurious high-rise building in which the AI has its office could not have been more telling; the David and Goliath nature of this battle was clear!
The Human Cost of Canadian Asbestos Production
The first talk after the morning break, The Chrysotile Debate, was given by historian Dr. Jock McCulloch. During more than twenty years of research and travel, Jock has pieced together the ways in which the asbestos industry has succeeded in selling a known carcinogen to customers all over the world. The policy of "controlled use," so beloved by the Canadian asbestos industry, is a complete myth according to Jock; once the raw fiber leaves Canada for the developing world, there are no health or safety controls on its use. Jock believes that industry's control of information and support by national governments have enabled it to sustain its campaign of lies and disinformation:
"The industry had various tools with which to protect itself. They ranged from collusion with state and regulatory authorities, generating favourable publicity about the safety of its products, and even espionage. Arguably its most potent weapon was the corruption of science from within to create a counter-discourse and thereby promote doubt about the toxicity of asbestos."11
Where particular scientists posed a risk, the industry had ways to sequester them. Jock described the case of one much-lauded scientist who had been in the secret pay of a US asbestos corporation for 16 years; beginning in 1986, Dr. X received the sum of approximately $7,500 a month from a law firm in South Carolina which represented the manufacturer.12 The sums received varied from a few hundred dollars to $7,500; payments totalling $300,000 have been traced. Jock displayed a check from the law firm to this scientist and said that this sorry tale illustrates a wider truth - that the industry would stop at nothing to protect the bottom line. With the drying up of funding from academic and other sources, researchers are increasingly vulnerable to corporate influence.
Jim Brophy and Margaret Keith from the OHCOW clinic in Sarnia and Windsor, Ontario made a joint presentation on the topic of The Human Cost of Production at the Holmes Foundry, Sarnia and the Bendix Factory, Windsor. Sarnia in south-western Ontario is home to 20% of Canada's oil refineries and 40% of the country's chemical industry. Factories belonging to Shell, Dow and Imperial Oil have thrived in this area, now nicknamed: Chemical Valley. The extensive use of asbestos in local petrochemical facilities exposed workers and residents to the risk of contracting asbestos-related diseases. Data collected for the years 1992-1998 show an elevated incidence of lung cancer, mesothelioma and asbestosis in Sarnia; the town is now the mesothelioma capital of Ontario.
Asbestos used in the production of insulation material at the Holmes Foundry from 1919 to 1988 took a heavy toll on employees. Dust levels in the factory were "hundreds of times in excess of the legal limit;" on one occasion, brand new air monitoring equipment used by government scientists broke down, overwhelmed by fiber levels in the factory. On January 15, 1973, government inspectors recorded fiber counts at Holmes of 852 f/cc. In their report, they noted: "The figure of 852 is probably the highest asbestos fiber concentration ever recorded." A 1987 report entitled Mortality among Employees of a Sarnia Ontario Factory which Manufactured Insulation Material from Amosite Asbestos by Dr. Murray Finkelstein, a Ministry of Labor scientist, documented elevated occupational mortality rates amongst 152 Holmes workers in the period 1956-1974:
"there was a six-fold increase in lung cancer mortality (four deaths observed; 0.66 expected), a seven-fold increase in respiratory disease mortality (three deaths observed; 0.42 expected), and there were two deaths from mesothelioma. A third death from mesothelioma has occurred since the close of the follow-up of this study, and two additional deaths from mesothelioma are known to have occurred among former Holmes workers not on our roll. Three of the five men dying of mesothelioma were less than 50 years of age at death and all were less than 60 years. The 152 former workers we could identify and place on the study roll are only a subset of employees who worked with asbestos at the factory."13
In the early 1990s, the Ministry of Labor for the Ontario Government compared data from 4 plants in Ontario: the lung cancer rates amongst former Holmes workers was four times the expected rate.
For years, injured Holmes workers were afraid to talk about their illnesses fearing reprisals from employers who controlled jobs, sick benefits and pensions. After years of campaigning by asbestos widows, grieving husbands, workers and activists, victims began to come forward. A turning point was a public meeting held on September 8, 1998 at the Communication, Energy and Paperworkers' Hall in Sarnia. Three hundred former Holmes workers and their relatives attended. Sarnia's tragic asbestos legacy was no longer a secret!
The OHCOW Clinic in Windsor has worked closely with groups in Sarnia to research government reports and files, disseminate information and collect medical data. It has assisted local people to claim compensation for their asbestos-related injuries. Jim believes that the sorry tale of Sarnia illustrates the collusion between government and industry to control information and disempower workers and residents whose injuries remained unacknowledged and uncompensated. Two years ago, the city of Sarnia became the first Canadian city to call for adoption of a national asbestos ban and a policy of "just transition" for workers at risk of unemployment. In addition, City Councillors of Sarnia have requested "that the government take action to make the Canadian people aware of the many sources of exposure to asbestos that exist across the country."
The next speaker, Dr. Louise De Guire, from the Institut national de santé publique du Québec (National Institute of Public Health in Québec), presented the paper: Portrait of Asbestos-related Disease in Québec. Figures presented by epidemiologist De Guire for the period 1984-1996 served to expose the fallacy which underlies the asbestos industry's reassurances about the non-hazardous nature of chrysotile by documenting Québec's asbestos death toll. While the the incidence of mesothelioma amongst Québec men was more than four times that of Québec women, women in Québec were twice as likely to contract mesothelioma as Canadian women generally. These levels rank high amongst worldwide incidence rates for mesothelioma:
"For men, only some parts of the United Kingdom, Australia and the Netherlands had rates significant higher than in Québec. For woman no country surpassed Québec."
Although the rate of mesothelioma mortality for men under 60 remained stable during this period, mortality for older men increased; the worst affected cohort consisted of men born between 1930 and 1939. Comparing the number of mesotheliomas diagnosed (832 for 1982-1996) to the number compensated by the Workers' Compensation Board (WCB) (261 for 1967-1997), it is clear that there is a vast number of uncompensated mesothelioma patients in Québec. Of the 3,500 Québec patients diagnosed with lung cancer in 1998, few applied to the WCB for compensation: "WCB cases represent 0.3% of Québec Tumor Registry cases." The lack of claims from asbestosis sufferers was also substantial according to Dr. De Guire; from 1988 to 1996, "3.6 more Québecers (were) hospitalized for asbestosis than (made) claims to the WCB."
These statistics are the result of recent research, but the effect of asbestos exposure in Québec has been known for many years:
"The first studies on mesothelioma among the Québec workers were published in the 1960s. The first study among the Québec asbestos miners was published in 1958... a cohort of 11,000 miners showed 38 mesothelioma cases, 657 lung cancer cases and 108 pneumoconiosis cases. In 1981, asbestosis, mesothelioma and lung cancer cases were described among the Québec insulators."
An analysis of asbestos-related disease victims for 1988-1997 found that high-risk occupations were: mining (34.7%), maintenance and repair (25%) and construction (16.6%). Calling this "an old problem still present," Dr. De Guire noted that inspections on 300 constructions sites in 1999, showed that health and safety asbestos regulations were being flouted at nearly 40% (118) of them. Similar findings were reported at asbestos processing plants on Montreal island; over a five year period beginning in 1992, 7 out of 23 (35%) "exhibited problems respecting the threshold norms." Papers detailing the research of Dr. De Guire and her colleagues will be published on the web site of the Institut national de santé publique du Québec (http://www.inspq.qc.ca) on November 17, 2003.
A panel discussion on The Effect on the Individual, Family and Community was the final session of the morning. Chairperson Margaret Buist began by telling delegates about her husband Harry's fatal battle with mesothelioma. Harry was exposed to asbestos in his native Scotland and later in Canada where he worked for Imperial Oil. When his symptoms developed, Harry was teaching the safe removal of asbestos and so was well aware of what a diagnosis of mesothelioma meant. He and Margaret decided that as the treatments on offer were "unlikely to prolong his life," they would "get as much living done in the limited time he had left."
Margaret told the conference:
"The most frustrating thing was the lack of any acknowledgement in the local community that there was a serious problem. In only a three week period I collected 16 names of men who had died of mesothelioma. Sarnia is a small city with a population of 70,876. Lambton County has 126,971. Meetings at the local hospitals, the Health Unit, and local unions, showed us very clearly that no one wanted to know about this problem."
The Buist's experience with the medical profession left much to be desired; some of the medical experts they encountered took industry's side, with one doctor alleging that Harry's illness could not have been contracted from exposure to asbestos at Imperial Oil as that company used the "good asbestos." Harry was determined that by becoming the public face of this illness he could help. He and Margaret worked with the local Cancer Society to organize a public information session on mesothelioma in June, 1994 to which 150 people came. The following year, they had meetings with the Minister of Labor and Dr. Murray Finkelstein, whose study of local factories highlighted the impact of asbestos on the community. A support group was formed with asbestos widows to "inform and educate people about occupational illness."
Sadly, Harry died on March 10, 1996. Margaret said:
"My former life ceased to exist. For the first time my home was empty without Harry in it - no more companionship or dancing which was a passion of ours. No more car rallies or trips, quiet dinners or happy times with our girls. My life is busy now but there remains a void created by Harry's death. Life is simply not the same. I am determined that Harry's wish to make a difference for new workers will be fulfilled."
Maria La Court's family was torn apart by the death of her son Donald in 1989; after eight months of treatment which included heart surgery, chemotherapy and radiation, Donald died of mesothelioma at the age of 15. In a hushed voice, Maria told delegates:
"Even now, to talk about what a difficult time it was is still very hard. It has affected us in so many ways. Financially we healed; emotionally we are still fighting that battle. They say time heals all wounds, it has been 14 years and the wound is still very deep. Not only with the void left in our lives, now there is anger and guilt left behind. I have anger that we could not do anything to help him to live, anger that all my children had to live through this. I feel guilt that I washed Donald's infant clothes in the same washer as his father's work clothes from the Holmes Foundry... We need to educate the public about what asbestos can do, as it causes asbestosis, tumors, pleural plaques and mesothelioma. Even though it is too late to save my son we need to remember there are many others who suffer from complications due to asbestos."
You could tell from her body language that Martha Fracalanza was not comfortable sitting on a raised stage in a huge conference hall, the center of attention. Martha's determination and courage enabled her to share her experience and that of her husband Frank who was occupationally exposed to asbestos at Holmes Insulation from 1956 to 1976. Many of Frank's co-workers and friends have died from mesothelioma; his brother died of lung cancer ten years ago. At that time, Frank was diagnosed with pleural thickening and pleural plaques. His condition has worsened and he is now suffering from asbestosis. Martha, who was previously diagnosed with pleural thickening, has now also contracted asbestosis. She said: "Many wives and children of Holmes' workers are suffering or have died due to asbestos exposure. To prevent this tragedy from happening to other workers and families we have felt compelled to speak out."
From the time she was a little girl, Kyla Sentes knew about her dad's illness. The asbestosis which Ray Sentes contracted through exposure as a young construction worker colored his family's life in many ways. Kyla said:
"As a very young child I had an awareness that things were a little bit different for our family. I knew my dad could never play outside with us quite as long, and he often had to rest. But as he had always made up for his lack of physical endurance by spending time with us doing other activities my sister and I never felt any poorer."
The damp climate in Ontario exacerbated the illness and the family moved to find milder weather. The fact that Ray tired easily meant that some jobs proved too strenuous for him and he was forced to change employment:
"The illness took a heavy economic toll on our family; in later years my mother was unable to work as she was taking care of dad. And my father was obviously limited as to what kind of work he could do - even working at the university became difficult - he couldn't climb the stairs to his office and even his briefcase became too heavy for him at times... But the hardest economic burdens came when his speaking out resulted in him losing work because of his hard line on preventing future deaths and hardships caused by asbestos."
Kyla and her sister knew to be quiet from 2-4 p.m. as Ray had to rest; it must have been hard for teenage girls to tell their friends not to phone the house during these hours. Yet, the strain of this debilitating illness on the family seemed to draw them even closer; the warmth and fondness with which Kyla spoke of Ray emphasized the desperate loss to his family, friends, colleagues and students when he died after a 25 year fight with this disease in April, 2000. Kyla concluded her talk by quoting from one of Ray's interviews on asbestos:
"There are many ways to die. Asbestos can kill you through its physiological effects, but it can also contribute to you killing yourself. It's something that is there 24 hours a day, with every breath you take. Every single breath. Every breath you take you are reminded of your mortality. Some days it's worse. Some days it's better. It's a tremendous strain to place on a man, on his family, on his children. It's an incredible stress. That's what we're talking about banning."
When Susanne met Bob Auger in 1969, little did they know that he was already incubating a cancer that would rob the family of its future. As a 16 year old high school student Bob began work during the Summer vacations in the boiler room of a rubber plant in Kitchener: "part of his job entailed stripping the boilers when the plant shut down for two weeks in the summer. There were asbestos fibres everywhere." To raise money for university expenses, Bob spent four Summers at this plant. Twelve years after Susanne and Bob married, Bob experienced difficulty in swallowing, shortness of breath, severe back pain and pleural effusions. Doctors were mystified by the physical deterioration of this former athlete even though a series of X-rays showed something suspicious; one specialist even accused Bob of being a compensation scrounger. Unable to make a diagnosis, doctors told the Augers to "forget about getting a diagnosis. Whatever was wrong with him hadn't killed him so far and so would not kill him in the future."
In April, 1996 doctors finally decided to treat Bob's painful pleural effusions; the extensive tumour which was found came as a shock to the doctors, who Susanne wryly commented, seemed to need comforting by the Augers. In their attempt to understand his medical condition, Susanne and Bob contacted former work colleagues from the plant, most of whom had trouble remembering a temporary worker from 25 years ago:
"It seemed almost impossible to unravel the maze. We were helped in our investigation by the Workplace Safety and Insurance Board. Bob's case became very well documented. His discussions with the WSIB were candid and helpful to many people working with him throughout his illness and death. Bob worked to help others who were also fighting the battle of their lives. When he went to hospice meetings, he was often mistaken for a volunteer instead of a client due to his tireless efforts to support and encourage others at the facility."
Bob was, Susanne said, a survivor and fought mesothelioma valiantly for four years. He died in March 2000, shortly before his 51st birthday. In his memory, Susanne and her children made the decision "to give a face to this disease." Having spoken publicly on asbestos issues on many occasions, she remains appalled that Canada continues to sell this hazardous material. "Canada has a good reputation in the world for peacemaking and peacekeeping," Susanne said; "exporting a product known to shorten lives betrays that reputation."
Herve Rousseau and his family live on a farm in the asbestos mining region of Thetford Mines. In 1958, five years after he moved to this property, the Flintkote company started asbestos mining operations which continued for twelve years. Directly across from the Rousseau home is a 300 foot mountain of asbestos tailings; one surveyor estimated that there are millions of tons of tailings on this site. Half a mile from the Rousseau property is the abandoned Flintkote property which consists of a large pit and an enormous and unstable pile of tailings; there are no warning signs or fencing to keep out the public. An analysis of samples taken from this site revealed a chrysotile content of 10%.
Herve said that after a few years on the farm, the animals started to die. Eventually he realized that the hazardous material which was causing ill-health amongst the asbestos miners in the town had also been responsible for the death of his animals. The asbestos dust was everywhere in the mining towns; in the Winter there was as much asbestos as snow. Clearly, the Rousseau house and environment were polluted. It was hard to keep the home clean and the family did not invite guests to visit as they feared for their safety. Seventeen years ago, Mrs. Rousseau died of an asbestos-related disease; many of the neighbours have had similar fates. Two years after his wife's death, Herve began to work with local people to publicize the town's problems. Herve told the local newspaper that he would be coming to Ottawa to inform the conference of the appalling situation in the mining region. He subsequently received threatening phone calls; although other residents were too frightened to come to Ottawa, three members of the Rousseau family made the journey. Days before they came to Ottawa, Herve and his children were informed by an independent asbestos specialist that their home was too contaminated for human occupation. Readings of 289.8 structures per mm2 were more than four times the maximum US levels for re-occupying buildings after asbestos abatement (US level: 70 structures per mm2).
At the completion of the Family Panel, the audience rose to their feet and gave these brave Canadians a resounding and prolonged standing ovation. There was a consensus that what we had witnessed during this hour-long session marked a turning point in the Canadian debate on asbestos. If the conference were to achieve nothing else but provide these compassionate and public spirited individuals with a platform from which to publicize the horrors of asbestos exposure within their country, it would have been well worth the effort.
"Controlled Use" of Asbestos - Reality or Myth?
Directly after the lunch break, international asbestos expert Dr. Barry Castleman addressed the subject: The Fallacy of "Controlled Use": The Canadian WTO Case. Barry said that the term "controlled use" when applied to asbestos was an attempt by industry to "present a picture of an industrial hazard that is not a threat to health because of precautions taken in the manufacture and use of asbestos products." The idyll in which asbestos could be used "safely" under "controlled conditions" does not exist anywhere; the idea that it could be imposed in countries such as Thailand, India and the Philippines is a fantasy.
The vast majority of asbestos fiber has been used in asbestos-cement (A-C) materials. Publicly, industry maintained that asbestos in A-C products was safe as it was "locked in" by a cement matrix that prevented fiber liberation. Asbestos manufacturers knew this was untrue; industry tests proved that high asbestos exposures could occur from common uses of A-C construction materials:
"At a government-industry conference in 1976, a Johns-Manville official reported that the use of power saws on A-C sheets could cause exposures over 250 f/cc; with well-designed and properly operated local exhaust ventilation, he said, this could be reduced to 0.8 f/cc."
The system needed to bring exposures down to an acceptable level relied on expensive ventilation equipment and power tools rarely used by the construction industry in either developed or developing countries.14 In 1977, an A-C trade association in the US made public the results of tests which showed that "abrasive disc saws, commonly used in construction work involving A-C pipe, created exposures measured at 26-109 f/cc in saw operators and 10-49 f/cc among saw operators' helpers." While some steps were taken in the US to end these high-risk practices, in Japan they continued with predictable consequences:
"Exposures from repair work (in Japan) on A-C pipes using high-speed disc cutters inside and outside holes dug in the ground to gain access to the pipes were recorded as: 49-170 f/cc (mean value 92) inside the hole, and 1.7-15 f/cc outside."
To further illustrate the absurdity of the "controlled use" principle, Barry cited previously confidential documents submitted by Canada to the World Trade Organization in its case against the French asbestos ban. Lawyers explained the Canadian government's scenario for "controlled use" as follows:
"With regard to the downstream use sectors, 'controlled use' implies that all distributors/manufacturers of asbestos will be required to have an import permit. This permit will be withdrawn if the company does not meet the following commitments:
to distribute its products only to companies (users) licensed to purchase these products. Those companies must have workers trained and licenses to install products, and must be in compliance with regulations...
to provide products cut to specification and to establish centres equipped to cut the products to size, and where persons cutting the products are trained and are licensed to work with asbestos; and
to police the downstream users in co-operation with the government. The product manufacturer visits, monitors and reports on the performance of the downstream users at regular intervals."15
To anyone who has ever been to traffic-clogged cities such as Bangkok or SÆo Paulo, the idea that construction workers would transport asbestos sheets for cutting from a building site to a designated fabrication center is nonsensical. The Canadian assertion that asbestos manufacturers could be made responsible for vetting the use made of their products by customers was also ludicrous. How realistic was it to expect asbestos suppliers to blow the whistle on customers' hazardous working practices? This, Barry pointed out, has never happened in any industry in any part of the world!
The title slide of the presentation on The Impact of Canadian Chrysotile in Peru, by Sociologist Eva Delgado Rosas was illustrated with a photograph of a sack of JM White Asbestos. Printed on this sack were the words "product of CANADA" and the code number 7H-19; the Canadian maple leaf symbol was featured in two places on the sack. For over fifty years, asbestos manufacturers in Peru have been importing raw chrysotile fiber from a number of sources.16 Imports peaked in 1987 at approximately 10,000 t. Although purchases collapsed to 1,253 t within two years, by the mid-1990s, they had risen to 5,642 t. Trade statistics covering the period from 1989-2003 reveal that over the last 15 years, the predominant supplier of chrysotile to Peru has been Canada. In 1989, Canada supplied 75% of the national market; by the mid-1990s it was supplying 95%. Over recent years, Canada's market share has fallen and by 2002, it satisfied just over half the domestic market.
Dramatic pictures of conditions in Peru showed that occupational, environmental and domestic asbestos exposures were everyday occurrences; piles of loose fiber were observed in several factory settings, lack of protective and respiratory equipment was usual and unsupervised building and demolition work was rife. The human consequences of these hazardous practices are predictable. In 2000, medical examinations of 197 asbestos and former asbestos workers found that 60% of them had asbestosis; the health of a further 39% provided cause for concern. The General Hospital in Lima has diagnosed 133 cases of mesothelioma. Little has been done by the authorities or employers to help asbestos victims such as Rafel Carhuachin and an unidentified female mesothelioma sufferer, whose photographs were shown during Eva's presentation. After intensive lobbying by the Asbestos Victims' Group, AFA-PEART17, there is now discussion in government circles about a possible national ban. During the consultation process, personnel from the Canadian Asbestos Institute have attempted to persuade Ministers in Peru to continue the country's discredited policy of "controlled use."
While the epidemic of asbestos-related disease in many Western countries has been on-going for decades, the Japanese epidemic is just beginning. In the next four decades, male deaths from malignant pleural mesothelioma in Japan will be nearly 50 times higher than in the 1990s, reflecting the widespread use of asbestos in construction and manufacturing during the 1970s and 1980s. Sugio Furuya, Secretary General of Ban Asbestos Network Japan (BANJAN) addressed the topic: The Impact of Canadian Chrysotile in Japan. Although asbestos use in Japan has been decreasing, Japan was formerly one of the largest asbestos consuming countries in the world and an important customer for Canadian chrysotile; in 2001, Japan imported 79,463 t of chrysotile, of which 55.6% (44,203 t) came from Canada. Crocidolite (blue asbestos) and amosite (brown asbestos) were prohibited in 1995, but the use of chrysotile is still legal.
In June, 2002 Dr. C. Sakaguchi, Japan's Minister of Health, Labor and Welfare, signalled a reversal of government policy when he announced plans to introduce a unilateral ban on asbestos. A survey conducted to identify asbestos consumption patterns in Japan revealed that asbestos was used in the manufacture of 197 products divided into 10 product groups, half of which were for construction. An investigation into the feasibility of introducing asbestos-free substitutes was undertaken by a scientific committee which issued its report in April, 2003; safer non-asbestos alternatives for 7 product groups, accounting for more than 90% of total consumption, were identified. Simultaneously, a Canadian trade mission arrived in Japan to object to the change from a "controlled use" to "no use" policy. In August 18, 2003, the Government rejected Canada's arguments; the World Trade Organization was informed of the Japanese decision to introduce these prohibitions.
It is widely believed that the timetable for the introduction of the asbestos ban will be made public during the Autumn of 2003. Sugio was proud of the effectiveness of BANJAN's sustained campaign and promised that BANJAN would continue to press for other much-needed improvements such as new measures to: monitor the level of asbestos-related disease, provide appropriate medical treatment and care for victims and their families, implement equitable compensation payments for victims, compulsorily audit asbestos-containing products in building and ensure that workers and the public are protected from exposure to asbestos during maintenance, repair, removal and demolition work. Inviting all the conference delegates in Ottawa to the Global Asbestos Congress in Tokyo in November, 2004, Sugio urged colleagues to work together towards our common goal: the global ban of asbestos!
Dr. Tushar Kant Joshi (TK), Director of the Center for Occupational and Environmental Health in New Delhi, made the presentation: Expose: Industry's Strategy in India. TK said the concept of "safe use of chrysotile" is totally meaningless in countries such as India where there is "poor infrastructure and difficult access to primary health centers." The $2,000 needed to treat individual lung cancer patients in India is unavailable; many cancer patients in India are never treated in hospital. The Cancer Institute in Chennai, India estimated that 3-4% of all lung cancers in India are asbestos-related; there is no mesothelioma registry so data on this disease is unavailable. Employers in India do not pay compensation for occupational diseases. Average life expectancy in India is now 60 which means that people live long enough to die from asbestos-related diseases.
The Asbestos Information Center, founded in 1980 by asbestos cement products' manufacturers in India, admits there are 100,000 workers in the asbestos industry; including downstream users of asbestos and asbestos products, TK believes that up to 1 million people in India are currently being occupationally exposed to asbestos. Although the International Labor Organization and the World Health Organization agree that the misuse of asbestos in developing countries is hazardous, neither body has credible data on the scale of the problem; this lack of information makes it possible for asbestos producers to continue off-loading this carcinogenic substance on consumers in emerging nations.
Annual asbestos consumption in India of 100,000 t cannot be satisfied by domestic mining companies which produce 20,000 t of fiber from operations in the states of Andhra Pradesh, Rajasthan and Bihar. For 1997-1999, average annual imports of asbestos were 71,688 t. TK estimated that: "about three-fourths of the needs of Indian asbestos manufacturers are met through imports, mainly from Canada." Explaining the difficulty he had in obtaining a Canadian visa to attend the conference, TK observed that if the import and use of asbestos in developing countries was as strictly controlled as immigration to Canada, hundreds of thousands of lives could be saved:
"Human biology is the same everywhere, if asbestos of all kinds including chrysotile/white asbestos is a carcinogen in over 30 countries how can it not be hazardous in India... How can we allow asbestos to cause havoc while waiting another 30-40 years for an Indian study to conclude that asbestos is a carcinogen."
It was a scandal that a country such as Canada was exposing innocent people in India and elsewhere to risks deemed too hazardous for Canadian citizens.
Ninety per cent of the asbestos used in India is incorporated into asbestos-cement; there is a strong and wealthy trade association representing these interests which recycles Asbestos Institute propaganda with frequent use of the well-worn phrases: "controlled use," "responsible use" and "non toxicity of chrysotile." In full page advertisements in Indian newspapers, industry proclaims that:
current disease levels are due to past exposures; improvements have been made which ensure that the current use of asbestos is perfectly safe;
asbestos was harmful when chrysotile was mixed with the "lethal forms of asbestos;" on its own, chrysotile is harmless.
Of course, TK laments, this is untrue. There is absolutely no health and safety supervision in the construction industry or at the docks; workers remain uninformed and unaware of the hazards they are experiencing on a daily basis:
"The Central Pollution Control Board under Union Ministry of Environment and Forests monitored eight major asbestos products manufacturing operations in India. Six of them were not complying with the emission standards, and for the remaining two, compliance or noncompliance status could not be ascertained. In most cases, there were no monitoring platforms; bag houses and stacks were not properly maintained, and operations were intermittent."
Surveys conducted in 1997 by government agencies recorded airborne levels of between 2-488 f/cc in occupational settings; the Indian standard for permissible airborne concentrations of chrysotile is 2 f/cc.
In April, 2002, occupational health professionals and NGOs met in New Delhi to consider their response to the Government's continued inaction. It was decided to form a new association: The Ban Asbestos Network of India. Its first act was to issue a public call for a ban on asbestos mining and manufacture in India!
The final presentation of the first day of the conference was Case Study: Protest Against Asbestos-Cement in Lebanon, by Dr. Emile Makarem, formerly the chief microbiologist of the Central Laboratory for Public Health, Ministry of Health, Beirut, Lebanon. A few years ago, the Lebanese Government decided to replace old pipework for water and sewage systems in selected villages and towns. The original pipes in Emile's home town of Ras-El-Metn were made of steel and font; the Government proposed replacing them with A-C pipes. No one knows why this town was the only one designated to receive A-C pipes; there was considerable opposition to these plans. Following a town meeting to discuss the dangers of asbestos, local people secured a temporary halt on construction work. However, after interference from local deputies, work recommenced. The completion of this phase of the project was something of a pyrrhic victory as the townspeople prevented the newly laid A-C pipes from being connected to the main reservoir by staging a peaceful sit-in. After the 1996 demonstration was shown on television, meetings were held with the then Minister of Water and, more latterly, his three successors.18 To this day, the A-C pipes remain unconnected!
The Canadian Embassy was an active participant in the Lebanese asbestos debate. On May 21, 1998, it organized a seminar entitled "The Responsible and Safe Use of Chrysotile Asbestos," in the Al-Buston Hotel, Beit Mery, Lebanon. The session was opened by Daniel Marchand, the Canadian Ambassador to Lebanon, who maintained that there was a scientific consensus that chrysotile could be used "safely." Marchand said:
"I am pleased to say that we have with us some of the world's leading experts on chrysotile asbestos... This seminar is tangible evidence of the Government of Canada's commitment to play a constructive leadership role. The Government of Canada is committed to support initiatives in targeted consuming countries to ensure that workers in those countries will be able to manufacture chrysotile asbestos products responsibly and safely... Canada has seen no scientific evidence to support the banning of chrysotile asbestos or its substitution by other products."
The Lebanese Ministers of Environment and Health repeated the assertion that white asbestos was not hazardous in air or water. The heavily-biased program included contributions from the following "so-called experts":
Denis Hamel, a director of the Asbestos Institute, who reassured delegates that industry's "Memorandum of Understanding" prevented asbestos from being sold to companies which misused it!
Dr. Kevin Brown, former Group Medical Adviser for Cape Industries Ltd., one of the UK's biggest asbestos groups, reviewed a selection of epidemiological studies and concluded that while exposure to amphiboles could cause disease, chrysotile was blameless.
Professor Jacques Dunnigan, one-time Director for Health and Environment for the Asbestos Institute, concentrated on the relative safety of A-C roofing material and sheets. (According to Emile, Dunnigan explained that chrysotile was physically, chemically and biologically different from the amphiboles and that there were no studies which showed an association between exposure to chrysotile and mesothelioma.)
Despite the blandishments of the "experts," Lebanese customers remained unconvinced and the A-C factory went into bankruptcy 3 years ago. Even though the Ministry of Labor announced that A-C pipes would no longer be used, reports from the north of the country reveal that they are still being laid. Emile concluded his remarks by posing key questions:
why was Ras-El-Metn singled out for A-C pipes?
is it true that some Lebanese Ministers had investments in the A-C industry?
why is the Government lying about the current use of A-C pipes?
what influence, both official and unofficial, did the Canadian asbestos industry exert on the Lebanese Government?
Anthony Pizzino, Chair for the afternoon session, closed the proceedings promptly at 5 p.m. Two hours later, many of the conference participants and organizers gathered in a charming restaurant in the picturesque Byward market area of Ottawa for the conference dinner. The Courtyard Restaurant is located in a 19th century limestone building which had, over the last hundred years, been a tavern, a small hostelry, a hotel, a federal garrison, the headquarters of the Geological Survey, a branch of the Mines Department and an emergency center during the 1911-1912 typhoid epidemic. The Canadian fusion menu and authentic locale provided international guests with a taste of the Canadian experience. Personally speaking, my favorite was the maple sugar pie a la mode although Annie adored the grilled Atlantic salmon with thyme and citrus butter.
Challenges of the North American Asbestos Experience
Professor Joe LaDou began the Saturday morning session with his presentation: An International Review of Occupational and Environmental Asbestos Issues. Joe, who has been studying the global migration of hazardous industries, such as the asbestos industry, for decades, highlighted the failure of international agencies such as the World Health Organization (WHO), the International Labor Organization (ILO) and the United Nations to tackle the growing asbestos epidemic. One WHO official recently said:
"At present, WHO has no activity on asbestos in progress - mainly as WHO work is more geared toward risk assessment than risk management - and quite apparently, asbestos at present is more a problem for risk management - especially of course in building renovation all over the world, and in many areas, increasingly in developing countries."
The lack of action, Joe said, is inexplicable in view of the gravity of the situation:
"The asbestos cancer epidemic may take as many as 10 million lives before asbestos is banned worldwide and exposure is brought to an end... The battle against asbestos is in danger of being lost where the human cost may be the greatest, in developing countries desperate for industry."
Global asbestos stakeholders have used their considerable financial resources to successfully lobby international bodies; industry consultants and experts lull the WHO and ILO into inaction by distorting the scientific evidence of the epidemic. The innocuous-sounding International Commission on Occupational Health (ICOH) received special attention during this presentation. The ICOH is a private organization of occupational health and safety specialists, most of whom are employees of major corporations or asbestos industry consultants:
"When called upon as experts, they avoid the suggestion of 'conflict of interest' by stating that they are representatives of an unbiased international commission."
Thus protected by their "seemingly neutral ICOH affiliations" they manipulate the data and obscure the truth in the service of their corporate masters. Several ICOH members were outed by Joe whose use of an official ICOH photograph drew laughter from audience members. If the political will existed to deal with this problem, the fact that the majority of asbestos producers and users are concentrated amongst a small number of countries could simplify negotiations: six countries are responsible for 96% of global asbestos production while six others account for 80% of consumption.
The conference organizers, unable to bring the photographic exhibition Breath Taken: The Landscape and Biography of Asbestos to Ottawa, did the next best thing by inviting Photographer Bill Ravanesi to make a presentation: Photographic Exhibition: The North American Asbestos Experience based on the unique Breath Taken collection.19 Twenty-three years ago, when Bill's father, Anthony Ravanesi, was diagnosed with malignant mesothelioma no one in the family had any idea what that meant. Anthony had worked in the Boston shipyards during WWII; prior to his illness he was 6 feet tall and weighed 220 pounds. Within months of the diagnosis, Anthony was dead.
In the years which followed, Bill learned that Anthony's death was one of many; generations of American workers had been deemed "expendable" by those who should have been protecting them. Bill said:
"My own agonizing encounter with asbestos, together with my newfound awareness from Brodeur's book (Expendable Americans), led me to asbestos as the subject of my next project."
Bill began work on the asbestos project in January, 1984 and over the coming years was to interview hundreds of victims, scores of bereaved relatives, and dozens of medical, legal and scientific experts; he visited shipyards, manufacturing plants and mines in Canada and the US: "I did all of this in an attempt to use my art to document this avoidable human disaster, and to come to grips with my outrage."
Drawing on twenty years of asbestos campaigning, Bill suggested the following action points:
government funds should be redirected from supporting the asbestos industry towards retraining Canadian workers and developing safer substitutes;
the Asbestos Institute should be dismantled;
strategies for dealing with asbestos and asbestos products already incorporated within national infrastructures must be developed;
the US and Canadian Governments should retrain foreign workers at risk of unemployment through the imposition of asbestos bans.
At first glance, the slide of the open-cast Jeffrey Mine gave little impression of the vastness of the asbestos mining operation on this site. It wasn't until Bill explained that the small yellow vehicles shown in the photograph were actually the biggest land vehicles in existence, and showed us photographs to prove it, that it was possible to grasp the awesome scale of the undertaking. A description by Arthur J. Sabatini of the Jeffrey mine photograph is enlightening:
"Ravanesi's mesmerizing ashen grey, green and direct brown photographic dissection of this vast site is a summary statement on the beauty and might of industrial power as well as a commentary on the authority of landscape photography. The sizable 30" x 40" mural is detached and meticulous in its textures and subtly changing hues... Clumps of asbestos spill out from jagged rocks and the clawed body of the hills. Massive mustard colored tractors and heavy equipment, like randomly scattered children's toys, are pitched on the roads... A sulky oyster grey band of ragged clouds fill in the top border of the picture. In the far background, the town of Asbestos, Québec sits precariously. At 3 PM each day it is rocked by explosions that loosen serpentine rock and asbestos dust."20
The Jeffrey mine, the largest asbestos open pit in the Western hemisphere, is 2 km across and 350 metres deep. When Bill went to the mine in 1986, he saw signs advertising it as: "The Eighth Wonder of the World." Tour buses would decamp 30-40 tourists per hour and Bill watched them walk through the asbestos slurry, trailing lethal dust back into the bus. Over the period 1950-1970 the mine was expanded 3 times. Most of the 60 billion pounds of asbestos used in the US came from Canada; the majority of it originated at this mine!
As the Managing Director of Occupational Health Clinics for Ontario Workers Inc. (OHCOW), Mary Cook was the ideal choice to address the topic: Repercussions of Asbestos Use in Canada.21 In the late 1990s, personnel working at the OHCOW clinic in Windsor raised the alarm over the increasing number of asbestos-related cases amongst former Holmes Foundry and Insulation workers in nearby Sarnia. Mary said that the human cost of asbestos production in Ontario has been a well-kept secret for decades. In 1949, when physicians at the Johns-Manville Jeffrey asbestos mine, X-rayed 708 miners, they found only 4 with normal lungs: "they left without informing anyone of their findings." An official policy of silence continued "right into the 1960s when American government hearings revealed a massive industry conspiracy with governmental participation." The industry assertion that "asbestos is an old problem," is not true:
"The legacy of asbestos in Canada can be viewed from the experience of thousands of workers and their families in communities across the province and across the country. It is ironic that the Federal Government would spend 1 billion dollars to remove the asbestos in the very building we are situated in, the parliament buildings, while it uses the World Trade Organization to stop the European ban on the importation and use of asbestos."
In Sarnia, the OHCOW clinic has registered 2634 clients of whom 1000 experienced respiratory problems; the largest exposure risk identified within this group was asbestos, which accounted for 55% of cases:
"The Sarnia OHCOW clinic has documented one of the most compelling sets of occupational diseases found anywhere in North America. The historical exposure to asbestos and silica still dominate this substantial cohort of occupationally-related disease."
The OHCOW database shows that high-risk categories include construction and building workers, maintenance staff and shipyard workers.
While the US and Europe compile data on the occurrence of asbestos-related diseases, Canada does not. This is, Mary said, a national disgrace:
"In Canada there is no central registry of asbestos cases as there is in other countries and therefore no prediction can be made on the problem that we are now facing. As a result the diseased remain invisible. Because the workers are invisible there is no research being conducted into asbestos related diseases nor action taken to prevent exposures. We need to demand that a national registry be created."
Furthermore, Mary added, it was "heartless and crass" that Ottawa tried to stop the President of Chile from signing his country's bill to ban asbestos. The time had come to recognize the full extent of the problem both at home and abroad and to ban asbestos.
Nick De Carlo, Bill Hicks and Karen Willsey of the Canadian Autoworkers' Union (CAW) addressed the subject: The CAW's Asbestos Experience. Nick explained that trade unions in Canada have found it difficult to come to terms with the Canadian asbestos legacy. Although CAW personnel had acted on local asbestos issues, such as the high level of disease amongst union members at the Holmes plants, and voted to adopt a pro-ban position, other unions refused to recognize the country's asbestos problems. The Canadian Labor Congress (CLC), which purports to unite "2.5 million Canadian workers, pursuing social and economic justice for working people," has not taken a position on asbestos; a search for the key word "asbestos" on the CLC website produced only 2 minor references. Considering the fact that Canada has been one of the world's leading asbestos producers for a hundred years, this lapse of the CLC is more than a little curious. Nick explained that in the 1980s the CLC had attempted to debate asbestos issues at its annual meeting; the Steelworkers' Union, which has traditionally aligned itself with Québec asbestos interests, stormed out of the conference. The potential secession of the Steelworkers' was such a serious risk that the CLC dropped asbestos from that and every subsequent agenda.
Bill Hicks, a CAW Health Rep and a member of the Local Advisory Committee for the OHCOW Clinic in Sarnia, and Karen Willsey, a Workers' Rep, who gathers information required for asbestos compensation claims, discussed their personal involvement with the CAW's asbestos program.
In the paper Grass Roots Activism in Sarnia, Keith McMillan from the Communication, Energy and Paperworkers Union (CEP), focused on the circumstances in which surviving spouses of petrochemical workers from the Holmes Foundry and Owens Corning factory in Sarnia came together to establish the Victims of Chemical Valley (VOCV).22 During the peak years of asbestos use in this area, up to 15,000 people were being occupationally exposed every year. There were few if any controls on exposure levels until the 1980s. Workers most at risk included insulators, pipe fitters and those in the construction trades such as carpenters and electricians. There was general resignation amongst workers that premature death was an occupational hazard. The community grew tired of lives lost due to asbestos. A series of initiatives and meetings raised local awareness:
the formation of Health and Safety Committees by the Sarnia Labor Council;
in 1998, 167 people attended a compensation clinic held for workers from Fibreglass Canada;
a few weeks later, 300 people turned up to a CAW meeting;
another clinic, held a few months after the CAW one, was attended by 300 building trade workers.
In 1999, the VOCV was founded by one hundred and fifty people. It is "a community based support organization serving Sarnia-Lambton and surrounding area." It works to "enlighten and support workers and citizens who have contracted a disease or injury as a result of their work or due to exposures to industrial substances."
Trade Unionists and Asbestos Victims Speak Out!
The first presentation after the morning break was UK Trade Union: Asbestos Awareness Campaign by Nigel Bryson, Director of Health and the Environment at the General and Municipal Boilermakers' Union (GMB) from 1992-2002.23 Under Nigel's leadership the GMB became the UK's most vocal union on asbestos issues, participating in national and international campaigns to raise awareness of asbestos problems. In leaflets, at seminars, on the GMB website and in training courses, GMB members were educated on where asbestos products are to be found and how to deal with the hazardous situations they create. The GMB's 1995 initiative: Asbestos: It's Still a Killer was a practical and sustained campaign; literature produced included a pamphlet showing examples of asbestos-containing roofing, construction and insulation materials in situ. Countering industry's on-going propaganda, Nigel wrote the publication: White Asbestos: It's Still a Killer, copies of which were distributed in Ottawa. The GMB has been working closely with UK government agencies to develop stricter health and safety legislation; this resulted in the adoption last year of the Control of Asbestos at Work Regulations 2002 which introduced a new "duty to manage" asbestos. Recognizing the importance of European developments, the GMB has cooperated with bodies such as:
the Social, Health and Family Affairs Committee of the Council of Europe. (The Committee's report on asbestos recommended a comprehensive ban; this policy was adopted in April, 1998 by the Council of Europe);
a European Commission group tasked with developing asbestos removal training standards for European Union (EU) operatives and supervisors;
a Working Group on Asbestos, under the auspices of the EU Senior Labour Inspectors' Committee, which observed and commented on asbestos controls in France, Spain, Sweden and the UK in 2000.
Nigel brought to Ottawa news of important European developments. From September 3-6, 2003, he was one of 160 participants at a conference held in Dresden, Germany by the EU and the ILO to consider asbestos issues in current EU Member states and ten accession countries. Acknowledging the global asbestos "time bomb," delegates declared:
"Eradicating asbestos-related health risks means disseminating the experiences of Europe and adopting these to the needs of other states. The European Conference Asbestos 2003 expresses its convictions that the ultimate goal is a worldwide ban on asbestos production and use."24
Reiterating the call for a global ban, Nigel understood the fears of Canadian asbestos miners: "it would be better for both the Federal and State Governments to develop a 'just transition' policy so that those affected by the mine closure can be supported and retrained for other less hazardous work." The short-term financial gain of the few does not justify the mass murder of the many!
Jim Fite, a veteran campaigner for the rights of US asbestos victims, gave the presentation: The Work of the White Lung Association (WLA). The WLA, one of the sponsors of the Ottawa conference, was founded in San Pedro, California on December 17, 1979 with the mission "to educate the public to the hazards of asbestos exposure." While most of the original members were shipyard workers, these days members come from diverse backgrounds and occupations reflecting the truly democratic nature of asbestos-related diseases. Having witnessed the appalling tragedy of the US epidemic, the WLA strongly advocates the adoption of a global ban on asbestos. Until this is achieved, global capital will continue to play workers from one country off against workers from another. When construction workers in Baltimore objected to high levels of occupational exposure to asbestos, employers imported workers from Mexico, El Salvador and Guatemala. According to the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health, asbestos has now replaced silica and coal dust as the major occupational and environmental killer in the US. If you are looking for a weapon of mass destruction, look no further, Jim commented; by any definition you like, asbestos fits the bill!
While victims die, industry continues to: deny, defy, degrade and deceive. This year, there has been a new attempt by US insurers and asbestos defendants to dump their asbestos liabilities: a bill presented by Senator Hatch is working its way through Congress. Jim said:
"This Bill was conceived and pushed through the Judiciary Committee over the objections of the White Lung Association and asbestos victims everywhere. The legislation was written in the spirit of consultants and lawyers for the toxic industries... The Bill strips asbestos victims of their constitutional rights and makes them second class citizens."
The WLA is lobbying harder and louder than ever to represent the voice of those too sick to speak out. This Summer, four busloads of WLA members went to Washington, D.C. to warn politicians of the dire effect the proposals would have. Asbestos industrialists are the real terrorists, Jim said; the WLA will expose this weapon of mass destruction and press for equitable treatment for all. A worldwide fund should be set up, funded by industry, to compensate asbestos victims. The WLA will, Jim promised, continue to fight!
In her talk Compensation for Asbestos Victims in Holland, Yvonne Waterman, recently voted onto the Board of the Dutch Committee of Asbestos Victims, discussed the national asbestos situation. According to government statistics, 10,000 people worked in the primary asbestos industry between 1945 and 1995:
"There also used to be an extensive secondary asbestos industry in the Netherlands, such as the shipyards, which used vast amounts of asbestos... The building industry alone used some 200,000 tons around 1980, of which 75% was used as roofing material and the rest as fire resistant wall insulation. Much of this is still about. It's everywhere... About 330,000 people were exposed to asbestos in the secondary asbestos industry."
Scientists predict an excess of 40,000 asbestos-related deaths in the Netherlands between 1996 and 2030: 19,000 from pleural mesothelioma, 19,000 from asbestos-related lung cancer, 700 from peritoneal mesothelioma and 400 from asbestosis.25 Until relatively recently, a restrictive legal climate in the Netherlands frustrated victims' claims for compensation. During the 1990s, the number of asbestos personal injury cases increased dramatically. Over the last ten years, more than one thousand cases have been settled out of court but the legal process is time-consuming.
Since 1995, the Dutch Asbestos Victims' Committee has been fighting for justice and compensation for injured people occupationally, domestically or environmentally exposed to asbestos. One of its aims is to shorten the "legal agony of mesothelioma victims" by obtaining compensation whilst claimants are still alive; committee members worked with employers' organizations, insurance companies, the Government, also a large employer, and trade unions to create the Institute for Asbestos Victims (IAV). When the IAV opened its doors three years ago, it was hoped that its protocol of standardized procedures and rates, strict time limits, preclusion of appeals and development of expertise would produce significant benefits for victims particularly by securing compensation whilst victims were still alive.
Unfortunately, the IAV is not fulfilling expectations. A serious lack of funding means that it still lacks the requisite in-house expertise. In addition, the fact that 40% of cases are rejected by the IAV is unacceptable. Asbestos victims entitled to apply to the IAV are limited to mesothelioma patients with traceable employers/insurers whose exposure occurred within the thirty-year limitation period. The IAV is unable to mediate for victims with asbestosis or lung cancer or for the 30% of mesothelioma patients whose exposure took place more than thirty years ago. Asbestos victims find it hard to understand why it can take months for the IAV to communicate with them; as Yvonne says: "they might expect this from the insurer but not from 'their' Institute. There is no excuse for this." Concluding her talk, Yvonne said: "There are many fights still to be fought on behalf of Dutch asbestos victims."
Rounding off the morning session was the Trade Unionists' and Workers' Panel coordinated by Cathy Walker, Director of Health and Safety of the CAW. Panel participants included:
Anthony Pizzino, National Health and Safety Director for the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE);
Laura Lozanski, Occupational Health and Safety Officer from the Canadian Association of University Teachers (CAUT);
Eric Rosendahl, Environmental Committee Chair of the Communications, Energy & Paperworkers Union (CEP);
Wayne Butler, CAW representative from Newfoundland;
Jim Bidner, Compensation Specialist for the Building Trades Workers Services;
Jim Brophy from OHCOW Clinic in Sarnia;
Nigel Bryson from the GMB Union in the UK.
Anthony said that CUPE, many of whose 500,000 members have experienced occupational exposure to asbestos, was happy to be supporting this conference. His union has attracted a lot of criticism over its well-established and outspoken position on asbestos. CUPE, like the majority of Canadian trade unions, supports the introduction of a "just transition" policy for those threatened by the shut-down of Canada's toxic industries. While CUPE has pressed for a ban on the production and use of asbestos since 1981, the Canadian Labor Congress (CLC) has, under pressure from unions in bed with Québec asbestos interests, maintained a deafening silence on this issue. The fact that not even one CLC delegate attended this conference illustrates the CLC's head-in-the-sand attitude to asbestos despite its policy of zero exposure to all carcinogens; perhaps, Anthony suggested, they mean all other carcinogens. The level of asbestos-related disease amongst trade unionists is a clear indication that the use of asbestos is hazardous. Even now, school custodians are being told by their employers to clean up small amounts of asbestos. In the last few years, there have been many asbestos-related deaths of CUPE members including Québec dock workers and TV production staff who used asbestos to represent snow.
In the past few months three professors who are CAUT members have been diagnosed with mesothelioma. This development, Laura Lozanzki said, was a wake-up call to the union which has responded by setting up a Health and Safety Department. As a shipyard machinist, Wayne Butler came across many dangerous substances. Whilst employers and the Government knew about the hazards of asbestos on-board ships, no one informed the shipyard workers. Twenty-five of his workmates under the age of forty-five have died from cancer over the last few years. These preventable deaths have provided the impetus for a campaign to raise trade union and public awareness on these issues. Nigel Bryson said that in the UK the asbestos story is one of missed opportunities. The first national regulations to minimize occupational exposure to asbestos were passed in the UK in 1931. The failure of these regulations resulted in the needless deaths of thousands of workers. It took nearly seventy years for the UK to finally ban the use of asbestos. This was only accomplished after a five year campaign by asbestos victims' groups, trade unionists, community activists, NGOs, medical specialists and health and safety professionals. As Nigel said: "Everyone did their bit." To maximize the effectiveness of the campaign, it was important to: develop strategies, coordinate lobbying efforts and identify political opportunities at regional, national and European levels.
The Politics of Asbestos
Environmental issues were the focus of the first two afternoon presentations with Elizabeth May, Executive Director of The Sierra Club of Canada (SCC), addressing Asbestos and the Canadian Environment and Joan Kuyek, from Mining Watch, Canada, looking at Mining of Asbestos in Canada. Elizabeth committed the SCC to working with Canadian groups to shut down the propaganda machine supporting Canadian asbestos exports to developing countries. By cutting off the head of this multi-headed hydra, the Asbestos Institute, we could, Elizabeth said, hasten the day when asbestos would be banned globally. Joan Kuyek's talk explained how industry's stranglehold on the national asbestos agenda came into being:
"In 1949 there was a lengthy and ferocious strike at Thetford Mines over wages and dangerous working conditions. It set off a period of political upheaval in Québec and that led to the Quiet Revolution. The strike also created the context for the nationalization of large parts of the asbestos industry in 1978 as the Soci‚t‚ Nationale de l'Amiante. The public ownership of the industry, which lasted until September, 1992, was part of the "Maitres Chez-Nous" strategy to take control over the profits that were being taken from Québec by US and Canadian firms. The fierce pride that accompanied this strategy is part of the difficulty in dealing with the industry today. The industry is heavily supported by government pension funds, the trade union solidarity funds and the Québec crown corporations.
By 1967 there were ten active mining companies in the region, employing about 6200 workers, and there were three sizable mining towns: Black Lake, Thetford Mines and Asbestos, with a total population of more than 35,000."
In 1983, J.M. Asbestos Inc. took over the Jeffrey Mine. In the last few years, the company invested $125 million to develop underground mining at this site; $65 million of this was a government loan, 70% of which was guaranteed by the Québec government. The permanent closure of the Jeffrey Mine could have a serious impact on the coffers of the Québec Government. In 1965, Québec set up the Caisse de Depot and Placement to "manage public sector pension savings for all workers in Québec." If the Jeffrey Mine shut down permanently, the CDP could lose $59 million!26 Although J.M. Asbestos filed for bankruptcy on October, 2002, temporary authorizations to recommence mining operations have been granted by the Courts.
The remaining two asbestos mines in Québec are owned by LAB Chrysotile, Canada's biggest asbestos producer; on September 12, 2003 the company announced an eleven week closure of the Bell Asbestos Mine (250 workers) and a thirty week closure, until Easter, 2004, of the Black Lake Mine (400 workers). It is believed that the decision to close down these facilities was taken to "keep the Jeffrey Mine open." Why would a commercial operation make such a sacrifice? Although close financial and political links between LAB and the Québec government could be the reason, we may never know the answer to this question as the industry remains cloaked in secrecy: "statistics on wages, costs and value added for asbestos are excluded from the Canadian Minerals Yearbook as they are considered to be 'confidential'. No other mineral is treated this way."
Annie Thebaud-Mony, a leading European campaigner, discussed the origins and importance of the: Ban Asbestos Network. By the early 1990s, asbestos victims' groups existed in some countries; there were few international links between them. The early steps taken to create an international network occurred in Europe. On June 12-14, 1991 anti-asbestos campaigners from France, Italy, England and Switzerland met at the European Parliament in Strasbourg for the first time. It was decided to form a "federation of international groups." The second meeting of the Ban Asbestos Network took place in 1992 in Strasbourg. Delegates considered the possibility of extending BAN's contacts to Eastern Europe and the developing world. At the BAN meeting in Milan in April, 1993, the presence of Fernanda Giannasi, an engineer employed by the Ministry of Labor in SÆo Paulo, Brazil, reflected the widening of the federation's horizons. A crucial decision was taken which led to the international seminar: Asbestos: Controlled Use or Ban in SÆo Paulo in March, 1994.
During 1995-96 BAN continued broadening its activities through discussions with scientists, doctors, trade unionists, politicians, ecologists, victim support and other public interest groups. On May 22-23, 1996, BAN members from the UK, Italy, Belgium, France and the US participated in discussions in Strasbourg about plans for a European asbestos ban. In 1999, after a meeting in Paris with BAN members and consultation with international colleagues, it was decided to set up the International Ban Asbestos Secretariat (IBAS). IBAS works closely with members of the Ban Asbestos Network and national asbestos victims' groups such as ABREA in Brazil, ANDEVA in France and the Asbestos Diseases Society of Australia. The conference in Ottawa is just one manifestation of this collaboration. Annie said:
"The global campaign to ban asbestos has given a visibility to a problem long denied by industry. It has given strength and support to asbestos victims in many countries who have benefited from the information we have shared through our network. With this conference, we have contacted many asbestos victims in Canada and we now know that the Canadian position on asbestos is not reflected by the government's aggressive and imperialistic stance. We extend the hand of welcome to all our Canadian brothers and sisters who have been injured by asbestos and welcome them to this virtual network of concerned citizens. Together we will bring to an end one hundred years of asbestos deaths."
The session after the afternoon break, was led by Keith McMillan, the Chair of the Resolution Working Party. Prior to the conference a draft resolution had been written and circulated amongst working party members. The agreed draft, a copy of which was distributed to delegates in their conference packs, was projected onto the screen for discussion. Over the next hour, Keith led the discussion, putting each amendment to the vote. By the end of this session, the text had been unanimously adopted by delegates (Appendix 2). It calls on the Canadian Federal and Regional Governments to:
"renounce their backing of the asbestos industry and withdraw financial and political support from the Asbestos Institute, the Montreal-based body which has been orchestrating global pro-chrysotile support since the mid-1980s. Further be it resolved that the Canadian government immediately join in the global ban on the use and importation of asbestos. Be it further resolved that since the Canadian government has played a direct role in maintaining the asbestos industry globally that it must assume responsibility for harm done to workers, their families and their communities where Canadian asbestos has been used. This liability includes providing the necessary financial resources for the health and compensation of asbestos victims and for assisting in the just transition for workers who are employed in industries that utilize Canadian asbestos."
Acknowledging the group effort which went into putting on the conference, Laurie Kazan-Allen singled out the conference officers, Joe Comartin, Anthony Pizzino and Elizabeth May, presenting each with an autographed copy of Bill Ravanesi's Breath Taken: The Landscape and Biography of Asbestos. In addition, she recognized the efforts of Jessica Adley, the Sierra Club Summer Intern, who had worked with enthusiasm, initiative and dedication on this project; Jess received a Certificate of Special Achievement and a small honorarium with the appreciation of the conference delegates.
The conference's premier honor, The Ray Sentes Award 2003, named after a dedicated Canadian educator and public health campaigner, was conferred by his daughter Kyla on Ms. Fernanda Giannasi, a Brazilian Labor Inspector and Activist. Kyla said:
"Fernanda is a founding member of both the Asbestos Victim's Association in Brazil and the Ban Asbestos Network... During a civil service career of more than 20 years, she has reported unacceptable risks from asbestos exposures experienced by workers. Even where firms are aware of the risks, she reports that they continue to treat asbestos as just another raw material; no safety measures or protective equipment are used as employers preferred to pay fines which are cheaper than implementing adequate controls. Inspector Giannasi says: 'It is very cheap to kill and injure Brazilian workers'.
Engineer Giannasi's efforts have brought her into conflict with the Government of Canada, global asbestos lobbyists, multinational corporations, Brazilian employers, some trade unionists and many government officials. She has received death threats on several occasions... In memory of my Father, I am proud to declare that Ms. Giannasi has been selected to receive this award for her long-standing dedication to asbestos victims and her determined campaign to ban asbestos in Brazil, Latin America and globally."
Final Thoughts - The Way Forward
The quality of all the presentations made at this conference were of a uniformly high standard, this is the reason for the length of this report. The real importance of this event, however, transcends the sum total of the factual information presented. The supportive atmosphere of the conference enabled some Canadians to speak publicly for the first time; their discovery of the existence of a highly developed and accessible network of support for asbestos victims, local pressure groups and campaigners came as a total revelation. One delegate from Western Canada was a civil servant working for local government; like many of her colleagues, she has contracted pleural plaques. She said that since her diagnosis, she had become obsessed with asbestos and was appalled by the almost universal ignorance on asbestos issues in Canada. Having spent much of her free time tracking down relevant information, she was ridiculed by her employer as a "hysterical woman" when she attempted to share this knowledge. Two days before the conference, she found out about the event by viewing an article on the web. Within minutes, she had booked her plane ticket. After being a lone voice in the wilderness for so long, she was almost overwhelmed by the encouragement she received at the conference.
As residents in asbestos mining towns die, corruption amongst civic leaders, medical personnel, community health workers and the media ensure that the true nature of these deaths remains unacknowledged - such is the ability of the asbestos industry to influence every facet of life in these company towns. If chrysotile is safe, as industry claims, there can be no asbestos-related deaths; the lack of Canadian cancer data reinforces industry's position. A few weeks after the conference took place, a detailed analysis of industry's influence on Canadian researchers was published in the American Journal of Industrial Medicine. Dr. David Egilman's paper evaluates studies conducted by McGill University researchers which were funded by the Quebec Asbestos Mining Association. Dr. Egilman concludes:
"The Canadian asbestos mining industry has a long history of manipulating scientific data to generate results that support claims that their product is 'innocuous'. Researchers complicit in this manipulation seem to be motivated by a variety of interests, including a desire to support an important national industry and a pre-existing ideological commitment to support corporate interests over worker or community interests. Conducting industry-friendly research can also anchor an academic career by guaranteeing the steady stream of funding necessary to stay afloat in the 'publish or perish' environment of the university."27
Not wanting to know the truth does not make the truth go away! In Québec, Dr. De Guire told us, the levels of asbestos-related deaths were amongst the highest in the world. Information on Canada's asbestos epidemic is now becoming available; the industry and its supporters cannot suppress the truth for much longer!
Initiatives announced at the conference included:
the formation of: Ban Asbestos Canada to continue the work begun by this conference;
the circulation of the Conference Resolution to all Members of the Canadian Parliament;
a three-day event in Tokyo, Japan being organized by BANJAN and its supporters. The Global Asbestos Congress will be the first meeting to concentrate on developments in Asia and the Far East. It will take place in Tokyo, in November, 2004;
the commencement of sampling operations of asbestos-contaminated communities in Canada and India;
the initiation of dialogue between the Ban Asbestos Network of India and Canadian parliamentarians.28
The Ottawa conference marked a watershed in the history of the global movement to ban asbestos. For the first time, a cross-section of Canadians, including trade unionists, publicly disavowed the Canadian Government's pro-chrysotile position. The formation of Ban Asbestos Canada as a direct result of the conference brings a new voice to the national debate on asbestos. As the flow of independent information increases and channels of communication develop through which victims can tell their stories, industry's control of the Canadian asbestos agenda will end. Shackled by increasing opposition at home, Canadian coordinators of the pro-chrysotile lobby will become less able to operate in the global arena; this will expose remaining exporters to the growing hostility of consumers and governments opposed to the use of asbestos. More than two thousand years ago, a Chinese philosopher said: "A journey of a thousand miles must begin with a single step." The developments described in this report are evidence of the giant strides being made toward our common goal: a universal ban on asbestos.
CANADIAN ASBESTOS - A GLOBAL CONCERN
200 West Block, House of Commons, Ottawa
Friday, September 12, 2003
Morning Session – Chairperson: Elizabeth May
||Opening Remarks / Conference Overview – Joe Comartin (Conference President), Elizabeth May and Anthony Pizzino (Vice Presidents)|
||Canada's Asbestos Legacy – Joe Comartin|
||The Canadian Asbestos Industry: A Short History – Kyla Sentes|
||Asbestos Issues in Québec – Daniel Green|
||The Asbestos War – Laurie Kazan-Allen|
|| Coffee Break|
|| The Chrysotile Debate – Dr. Jock McCulloch|
|| The Human Cost of Production at the Holmes Foundry, Sarnia and the Bendix Factory, Windsor – Jim Brophy and Margaret Keith|
||Mesothelioma Epidemiology in Québec – Dr. Louise De Guire|
|| PANEL: The Effect on the Individual, Family and Community – Coordinator: Margaret Buist|
|| Lunch |
Afternoon Session - Chairperson: Anthony Pizzino
|| The Fallacy of "Controlled Use": The Canadian WTO Case – Dr. Barry Castleman|
|| The Impact of Canadian Chrysotile in Peru – Lic. Eva Delgado Rosas|
||The Impact of Canadian Chrysotile in Japan – Sugio Furuya|
|| Tea Break|
||Expose: Industry's Strategy in India – Dr. Tushar Kant Joshi|
|| Case Study: Protest Against Asbestos-Cement in Lebanon – Dr. Emile Makarem|
Saturday, September 13, 2003
Morning Session - Chairperson: Joe Comartin
||An International Review of Occupational and Environmental Asbestos Issues – Professor Joe LaDou|
||Photographic Exhibition: The North American Asbestos Experience – Bill Ravanesi|
|| Repercussions of Asbestos Use in Canada – Mary Cook|
||The CAW's Asbestos Experience – Nick de Carlo|
|| Grass Roots Activism in Sarnia – Keith McMillan|
||UK Trade Union: Asbestos Awareness Campaign – Nigel BrysonS|
|| The Work of the White Lung Association – Jim Fite|
||Compensation for Asbestos Victims in Holland – Yvonne Waterman|
||PANEL: Trade Unionists and Workers – Coordinator: Cathy Walker|
Afternoon Session - Chairperson: Mary Cook
||Asbestos and the Canadian Environment – Elizabeth May|
||Mining of Asbestos in Canada – Joan Kuyek|
||The Ban Asbestos Network – Dr. Annie Th‚baud-Mony|
||Tea Break |
||Discussion: Conference Resolution – Keith McMillan|
||Presentations – Laurie Kazan-Allen and Kyla Sentes|
Resolution: Canadian Asbestos: A Global Concern
The international epidemic of ill-health and death caused by exposure to asbestos has been raging for decades. As Western countries have sought to control harmful exposures by implementing national prohibitions on the use of asbestos (including amosite, crocidolite and chrysotile), global asbestos producers have targeted consumers in developing countries.
Canada is currently the world's second biggest chrysotile (white asbestos) exporter, sending this class 1 carcinogen to countries with few, if any, safeguards, where it is used by poorly trained and uninformed workers with little access to medical care or sickness benefits. Although Canadian asbestos stakeholders maintain that chrysotile can be used safely under "controlled conditions," Canada exports more than 95% of all the asbestos it produces; critics suggest that the Canadian principle of "controlled use" is a hypocritical ploy to profit from the export of a substance too hazardous to be used at home. By advocating this double standard, Canadian interests are promoting occupational and environmental racism in consuming countries.
In view of the rising asbestos death toll,29 delegates to the conference Canadian Asbestos: A Global Concern urge Canadian Federal and Regional Governments to renounce their backing of the asbestos industry and withdraw financial and political support from the Asbestos Institute, the Montreal-based body which has been orchestrating global pro-chrysotile support since the mid-1980s. Further be it resolved that the Canadian government immediately join in the global ban on the use and importation of asbestos. Be it further resolved that since the Canadian government has played a direct role in maintaining the asbestos industry globally that it must assume responsibility for harm done to workers, their families and their communities where Canadian asbestos has been used. This liability includes providing the necessary financial resources for the health and compensation of asbestos victims and for assisting in the just transition for workers who are employed in industries that utilize Canadian asbestos. Be it further resolved the conference start the process of negotiating for a United Nations agreement for the worldwide ban of asbestos. This agreement would be negotiated in the framework of the United Nations Environmental Programme (UNEP).
We wish to make the following recommendations to the International Labour Organisation, the World Health Organisation, the United Nations, the European Union and all national governments:
ASBESTOS BAN: The use of all forms of asbestos should be banned in developed and developing countries; objective information about safer alternatives is needed to counter industry propaganda such as that being spread in India about the "virtues of chrysotile" by the Asbestos Cement Products Manufacturers' Association. No "virtues of chrysotile" can excuse the continuing use of such a hazardous substance. The influence of Canada has been applied to oppose efforts in other countries to ban asbestos. Some authorities in Canada are encouraging the use of asbestos in asphalt mixtures for road repairs to generate sales for the ailing local asbestos industry. In the name of occupational health and public safety, these practices must cease.
MINIMISATION OF RISK: Labelling of asbestos products contained throughout national infrastructures should be mandatory.
National groups of experts and workers with expertise in minimizing exposure to asbestos during maintenance, reconstruction and demolition work should be convened in order to identify approved protocols; these protocols must be enforced.
Research into procedures for disposing of asbestos-contaminated waste is needed. All nations should ratify the Basel Convention which classifies asbestos as dangerous waste.
The ILO and WHO must adopt the recommendations of "Chrysotile" (International Programme on Chemical Safety - Environmental Health Criteria Document 203: Chrysotile Asbestos, 1998) in line with the decision by many countries to ban asbestos.
The ILO and WHO must be encouraged to update asbestos-related measures such as ILO convention 162 (adopted 1986!) and Chrysotile Criteria 203 in line with the adoption by many countries of asbestos prohibitions.
RAISING AWARENESS: Campaigns for raising awareness of the hazards of asbestos must be carried out amongst the public and exposed sectors of the workforce. Trade unions and NGOs have a pivotal part to play in the education process; medical professionals have an ethical obligation to spread knowledge about these problems.
INFORMATION: Information on safer alternatives and national experiences of implementing non-asbestos technologies should be shared. As asbestos-cement products account for 90% of all the asbestos used, it is of paramount importance to disseminate accurate and independent information on substitute materials. The ILO and WHO should produce and distribute literature on these subjects.
RESEARCH: Funding is urgently needed for the development and implementation of diagnostic and therapeutic approaches to asbestos-related diseases.
Commitments to monitor the current burden of asbestos-related diseases, update epidemiological predictions and conduct medical surveillance of exposed populations are urgently needed; the establishment of national mesothelioma registers should be a priority.
COMPENSATION: Laws or procedures for compensating victims, including bystander victims, of asbestos-related diseases must be approved. Governments must take a positive role in providing medical surveillance if this is not done by employers.
JUST TRANSITION: Where the implementation of an asbestos ban displaces workers, a policy of "Just Transition" (in line with the Canadian Labour Congress policy on "Just Transition") should be adopted to safeguard the income, employment and welfare of affected workers and their communities. Plans should be put in place to guarantee a pension to all workers displaced from the Canadian asbestos industry; health care should be provided for them and their families. Former asbestos workers should be permitted to work, should they choose to, while receiving their pensions; their expertise could be put to good effect in decontaminating affected buildings and areas.
CORPORATE RESPONSIBILTY / OPERATIONS OF ASBESTOS MULTINATIONALS: Corporations that engage in the use of asbestos should be liable under both civil and criminal law. The application by multinational companies of double standards in the treatment of workers, consumers and the public in developed and developing countries must be exposed and terminated; multinationals involved in the mining of asbestos and the marketing and use of asbestos products should accept responsibility for compensating asbestos victims and cleaning up contaminated areas.
In many developing countries, multinationals are selling off asbestos interests to ruthless and powerful local entrepreneurs; the ILO and WHO should take up asbestos problems directly with national governments.
Adopted on September 13, 2003 in Ottawa, Canada
October 23, 2003
1 The event was organized and sponsored by a range of Canadian and international groups including: the New Democratic Party, the Canadian Union of Public Employees, the Sierra Club of Canada, the Canadian Autoworkers Union, the Occupational Health Clinics for Ontario Workers, Mining Watch Canada, the White Lung Association (USA), the Society of Occupational and Environmental Health (USA), the International Ban Asbestos Secretariat and the Global Ban Asbestos Movement. The Officers of the conference were: Joe Comartin (President); Elizabeth May and Anthony Pizzino (Vice-Presidents).
2 The fact that hundreds of letters protesting the conference were faxed to the offices of two MPs is more a measure of the effectiveness of the industry in mobilizing its employees than a spontaneous outpouring of public sentiment. Virtually all the faxes were identical in layout and content, the only difference being the handwritten name and address at the bottom of the typed page. The French text of the faxes deplored the involvement in the conference of MP Joe Comartin, accusing him of trying to destroy Thetford's chrysotile industry. Furthermore, the petitioners complained, Comartin and his colleague Jack Layton were endangering 25 years of progress during which working conditions in the chrysotile mines and factories in Canada had immeasurably improved.
3 The full name of this union is: the National Automobile, Aerospace, Transportation and General Workers Union of Canada (CAW-Canada).
4 The program for September 12 & 13, 2003 is attached in Appendix 1.
5 The first day of the conference was recorded by CPAC and was shown on their website on several occasions during the last two weeks of September. A copy of the tape with English or French audio can be purchased from CPAC; website: http:// www.cpac.ca
6 Catherine Coumans: Magnola Metallurgy Inc. November, 2002; paper obtained at the conference.
7 Roch Lanthier. Magnola Magnesium Smelter: The POPs trial; paper obtained at the conference.
8 In recent years, the Jeffrey mine has been working under capacity, producing 125,000 t annually.
9 Since the mid-1980s, this Québec-based association has been working with Canadian and international asbestos interests to promote global sales of chrysotile despite mounting evidence that it causes a variety of diseases.
10 The AI is located at 1200 McGill College Avenue - Suite 1640, Montreal. Clearly, the AI is able to afford these premises; it has, after all, received C$54 million between 1984-2001 from the Federal Government, the Québec Government and the asbestos industry.
11 Jock McCulloch: Notes for Presentation to the Ottawa Conference. September 12, 2003.
12 Due to strict libel laws in the UK, I will not name the scientist identified; however, Jock plans to name him in an academic paper to be published shortly.
13 Jim Brophy and Mark Parent. Documenting the Asbestos Story in Sarnia. New Solutions, Vol. 9(3)297-316, 1999.
14 Responding to a letter from Barry in 1986, the head of the Brazilian Environmental Protection Agency admitted that such devices were not used in Brazil.
15 Canada's Comments on the Experts' Responses to the Questions from the Panel. December 13, 1999, European Communities - Measures concerning Asbestos and Asbestos Containing products.
16 There was an asbestos mine in Peru but it was only operational for two years.
17 The Asociacion Frente al Asbesto - Programa de Estudios del Asbesto y Riesgos del Trabajo (AFA-PEART/Association Against Asbestos - Program for Study of the Occupational Risks of Asbestos).
18 Since 1996 there have been four Ministers of Water in the Lebanese Government.
19 The shipping of the entire exhibition is a massive operation as it includes 90 large photographs, 35 vintage photographs, actual asbestos products, asbestos advertisements, packaging, archive documents, a 2,000 item bibliography and a "Wall of Shame" listing negligent asbestos corporations, insurers and individuals.
20 A J Sabatini. Taking Photographs, Making Statements: Bill Ravanesi's Asbestos Project. The Breath Taken catalogue. 1991. p.13.
21 The first OHCOW clinic was set up in Hamilton in 1989 by the Ontario Federation of Labour. Since then, clinics have been opened in Sarnia-Lambton, Sudbury, Toronto and Windsor. They are funded by the Workplace Safety and Insurance Board.
23 The GMB membership of 720,000 includes asbestos removal workers, gas service engineers, construction workers, former asbestos product manufacturer workers and shipyard employees, all of whom are considered to be at high-risk of developing asbestos-related diseases due to current and/or previous exposures.
24 The Dresden Declaration on the Protection of Workers against Asbestos adopted in September, 2003.
25 Segura O, Burdorf A, Looman C, Update of Predictions of Mortality from Pleural Mesothelioma in the Netherlands. Occupational and Environmental Medicine 2003;60:50-55.
26 Ian Bussieres, Reuters Canada. La mine Jeffrey reprend temporairement ses activities. September 7, 2003.
27 Egilman D, Exposing the "Myth" of ABC, "Anything But Chrysotile": A Critique of the Canadian Asbestos Mining Industry and McGill University Chrysotile Studies. American Journal of Industrial Medicine 2003;44:540-557.
28 A letter from BANI was presented by Gopal Krishna to Joe Comartin, Conference President, on September 15, 2003; on September 26, 2003, Joe wrote to the President of India and 18 other high-ranking officials: "As a fellow parliamentarian and someone with a concern for the well being of your constituents, I would urge you and the Parliament of India to consider enacting the necessary legislation to ban the importation and use of asbestos in your country."
29 Dr. Jukka Takala, Director of InFocus Programme SafeWork at the International Labour Office has estimated the number of work-related asbestos deaths worldwide as 100,000 every year. In a private communication, he agreed that this number "underestimated" the problem (by as much as 42%!) as it was based on conditions in Finland, where the use of asbestos was subject to restrictions for decades, unlike the laissez-faire approach in most of the developing world. Takala wrote: "The global figure is growing as more people will die from (asbestos) cancer as communicable diseases are reduced... reductions (in asbestos-related deaths) will take place maybe only after 2020 if China and India introduce quickly measures against asbestos."