Arguments Over Asbestos Ban In Canada Continue

A Quebec news source, The Montreal Gazette, has recently reported on the debate over Canada’s asbestos mines and their continued exportation of the dangerous substance. According to the article Canada’s stance on asbestos mining and exportation to third world countries has continued to tarnish international opinion of Canada, noting that “asbestos has become Canada’s new sin, tarred as an evil at home and abroad.” The article claims that in “just three years asbestos went from being one of the country’s great exports, supported by all political parties at the House of Commons, to being vilified by politicians of all stripes, including some Conservatives.” The Gazette interviewed New Democrat MP, Pat Martin who has been fighting to have asbestos mining banned in Canada since he was first elected in 1997. Martin noted that Canada has “reached a tipping point in our attitude toward asbestos and so has the world.” He continued to comment on the world’s view of Canada, stating “in many circles, we’ve become an international pariah.” The argument over whether or not to continue mining asbestos in Canada has been a topic of controversy for the last several months, especially earlier in 2011 when the Canadian government, according to The Gazette, “blocked international efforts to label the chrysotile asbestos-the kind mined in Canada-as a hazardous material under the UN Rotterdam Convention.”  The article also cited a press release in which the members of Parliament expressed concerns over the “serious harm to the health of workers mining asbestos, the processing and use of which is already banned in the EU.” The Gazette article also interviewed prominent anti-asbestos campaigner, Kathleen Ruff who stated “people can’t believe that Canada is acting as a rogue country and that Canada is the biggest public-health obstacle internationally to making any progress on the asbestos issue.” Ironically enough the article mentions that “the mineral is banned in Canada and the government is spending millions to remove it from building across the country, including the Parliament buildings and the prime minister’s residence.” A main point of criticism over Canada’s actions is their exportation of the substance to third world countries that may not have safe guards in place concerning proper handling of asbestos. The article cited a recent documentary of the Australian Broadcasting Corp. which showed that “according to the World Health Organization, asbestos kills an estimated 8,000 people each year in India—a situation described as an ‘epidemic’ in the documentary.” The article also noted that “the WHO estimates that globally, more than 100,000 people die from asbestos-related illnesses, including cancer, every year.” To better understand the effect of asbestos on the world The Gazette interviewed asbestos expert at the Illinois school of public health, Leslie Stayner, who stated he “fears that in the future, there will be an epidemic of cancer and other diseases as a result of exposure to asbestos in developing countries.” The article notes that Stayner was “a key member of a federal government expert panel on asbestos who delivered a report that noted the ‘strong relationship’ between lung cancer and chrysotile asbestos.” Unfortunately, the article also states that this report was “held back by Ottawa for 13 months before it was released in 2011.” Stayner went on to say that the “science is very clear, and a number of international bodies have reviewed the issue and have all come to the same conclusion that all forms of asbestos, including chrysotile, are hazardous and cause cancers in humans. That’s not going to change.” Even with all of the facts and statistics supporting the carcinogenic affects of asbestos and the substance’s relation to health hazards, debate in Canada remains. The Gazette’s article concluded by stating NPD’s Martin has called on Quebec to “seize the opportunity to let the province’s struggling asbestos mines die their natural death,” with the hope that such an action would allow Canada to regain respect in international circles. Martin believes the closing of the mines in Quebec is paramount, concluding that he believes “we’re within striking distance of victory in terms of banning asbestos.” Reference:
  • White, Marianne. (December 29, 2011). “Asbestos Canada’s latest sin.” Retrieved on January 3, 2012, from The Montreal Gazette.
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