Monday, August 2, 2010

Exposing the Dangers of Asbestos

For most people, asbestos is the stuff we desperately try to remove from old buildings because of its cancer-causing properties. But in much of the developing world, asbestos continues to be used, causing an estimated 100,000 deaths per year.

Canada plays a role in this situation by continuing to mine asbestos and export it around the world. Even though 52 countries ban the use of asbestos, Canada exports it to India, China, Mexico and other countries, where controls on its use have been shown to be lacking.

The International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, working with the BBC and journalists around the world, recently released an expose on the problem called Dangers in the Dust: Inside the Global Asbestos Trade.

Among other things, the series looks at a global network of lobby groups that has spent nearly $100 million since the mid-1980s to preserve the market for asbestos. It exposes relationships between governments, industry and scientists to promote the continued production and export of asbestos.

One of those lobby groups is Canada's Chrysotile Institute, based in Montreal. Asbestos mining has been a traditional industry in Quebec, one which governments continue to support.

The ICIJ report says Canada exported 153,000 tonnes of chrysotile, or white asbestos, to India, Indonesia, Thailand, Mexico, Sri Lanka, Pakistan and the UAR. Only a small fraction of that amount is used back home.

There is currently a debate over enhanced funding for the expansion of an asebstos mine in Quebec. The Canadian and Quebec governments support the production and export of asbestos, while arguing that end users need to ensure the product is handled safely. The Canadian Cancer Society is urging government not to extend loan guarantees to the Jeffrey Asbestos Mine. The town of Asbestos in Quebec retaliated by cancelling support for the society's Relay for Life fundraising effort next year.

The ICIJ works collaboratively with reporters in many countries to produce investigative reports. This expose involved reporters in eight countries, though Canada was conspicuously absent.

A year ago, the CBC broadcast a powerful documentary on the asbestos issue called Canada's Ugly Secret. Reporter Mellissa Fung showed how workers in India handled Canadian asbestos with virtually no protection, exposing them to long-term health hazards.


  1. We agree that Canada's asbestos export debate has mantained a conspicuously low profile at home in spite of the well-appointed attempts recently made by some of our mainstream journalists.

    Asbestos is the leading annual cause of occupational death in Canada, accounting for ever 60% of all deaths - except in Quebec where this is a staggering 84%. You can bet that if these fatalities were caused annually by workers falling off hydro poles that Ottawa and the provinces, would do something about hydro poles!

    Even more surprising and hugely dissapointing is that while 9500 physicians, the Canadian Cancer Society and nationa victims' group The Canadian Society of Asbestos Victims plus International health organizations and unions plead with them to reverse their decision for the urgent matter of sparing lives at home and abroad, neither the nations health minister nor Quebecs provincial health minister stand behind the export ban.

    How can this be, when asbestos, even chrysotile, kills people? It is a moral failure of these elected officials to continue the support of exporting Canadian-mined asbestos to developing nations where health and safety precautions are unregulated. While, even in Canada, the number of former workers and their families dying from exposure grows daily.

    How can the leaders in Canada not ban the export of a product with this deadly track record? Even if it means giving up the more than a century long love affair Canada, and particularly Quebec has had with the Magic Mineral.

    What can average Canadians do to stop this insanity? Write your MP's and party leaders. Write editorials. Write blogs. Speak out!

    Yes, this means you.

    Thank you for reading.

    Sheryl Thompson

    The Canadian Society for Asbestos Victims

  2. Like asbestos another form of sickness and death is crystalline silica. In Ontario and on the rise is Pits and Quarries without any environmental assessments. From the MOE not one Pit or Quarry has been tested for contaminates. I had a sample tested where my wife was suffering respiratory distress until she died, it was then I found crystalline silica present.
    Not one person or corporation did anything to prevent what had happened in fact they have tried to bury the truth. I don't believe the MNR would want assessments on all their sites so the public would be aware of the hazards.