Canada: asbestos booster

Chrysotile asbestos is the only version of the material that is still sold. Nonetheless, it has been judged to post major risks to human health and the environment. As such, it is especially shameful that Canada has been trying to prevent its international restriction, apparently in deference to a few companies in Quebec that still produce it.

The other states seeking to block its inclusion in the Rotterdam Convention are India, Iran, Kyrgyzstan, Peru and Ukraine. All its inclusion would mandate is the “prior informed consent” of both exporting and importing states, before the substance is traded internationally. In practical terms, that means the material must be properly labelled and include instructions for safe handling. It also requires that importers be informed of any known restrictions or bans on the use of the material. The Canadian Medical Association has accused Canada of participating in a “death-dealing charade.”

Hopefully, the Canadian government can be shamed into changing its position. The fact that Parliament has spent more than a decade laboriously removing asbestos from its own buildings is a clear sign that they understand the danger.

Author: Milan

In the spring of 2005, I graduated from the University of British Columbia with a degree in International Relations and a general focus in the area of environmental politics. In the fall of 2005, I began reading for an M.Phil in IR at Wadham College, Oxford. Outside school, I am very interested in photography, writing, and the outdoors. I am writing this blog to keep in touch with friends and family around the world, provide a more personal view of graduate student life in Oxford, and pass on some lessons I've learned here.

46 thoughts on “Canada: asbestos booster”

  1. Chrysotile

    “Chrysotile, as well as other forms of asbestos, is considered to be a human carcinogen by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) and by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Asbestos exposure is associated with parenchymal asbestosis, asbestos-related pleural abnormalities, mesothelioma, and lung cancer, and it may be associated with cancer at some extra-thoracic sites. Chrysotile has been recommended for inclusion in the Rotterdam Convention on Prior Informed Consent, an international treaty that restricts the global trade in hazardous materials. If approved by the parties to convention when they meet in October 2008, exports of chrysotile would only be permitted to countries explicitly consenting to receive it. Canada, the major producer of the mineral, is currently resisting efforts to include it in the treaty. All other forms of asbestos are already listed in the treaty.”

  2. It was my understanding that the only people who suffered health problems due to asbestos were those who were exposed to it as part of their regular employment. I.e. repetitively over a long period of time.

  3. Health issues

    Chrysotile asbestos, like all other forms of industrial asbestos, has produced tumors in animals. Mesotheliomas have been observed in people who were occupationally exposed to chrysotile, family members of the occupationally exposed, and residents who lived close to asbestos factories and mines

  4. In any event, the people working with the asbestos we are exporting – along with their families and those nearby – are threatened with some very serious medical conditions as a result of that exposure.

    No company in Canada would use asbestos, either out of concern for their workers or fear of liability. Aiding companies overseas to do so seems far from ethical.

  5. “There are lots of reasons to have different labour standards in different markets’

  6. A death-dealing charade?

    That’s pretty awful. I think I will write a letter to my MP, and include the Globe and Economist articles.

  7. Tristan,

    1) Aren’t you showing yourself to be equally inconsistent, in also choosing seemingly contradictory sides in different arguments?

    2) There is a big difference between saying:

    “We should only import goods from Bangladesh if Bangladeshi firms pay the Canadian minimum wage and otherwise meet Canadian labour standards”

    and saying:

    “We should only export toxic substances to Bangladesh accompanied by appropriate warnings about the dangers they pose and their safe handling.”

    This is not a case of accepting that states at different levels of development cannot (and perhaps should not) always apply the same standards. It is a case of pandering to Quebec by selling dangerous materials abroad with inadequate safeguards.

  8. Asbestos mortality: a Canadian export

    Amir Attaran, LLB DPhil, David R. Boyd, LLB and Matthew B. Stanbrook, MD PhD

    Next week, a handful of Canadian bureaucrats will fly to Rome for the 4th Conference of the Parties to the Rotterdam Convention, a treaty governing trade in substances that harm human health and the environment. Their mission? If past experience provides an accurate guide, they will be there, on behalf of the Government of Canada, to protect this country’s asbestos industry, even if that means contributing to asbestos-related illnesses and deaths in the developing world.

    That is a harsh indictment, but Canada is the only Western democracy to have consistently opposed international efforts to regulate the global trade in asbestos. And the government of Canada has done so with shameful political manipulation of science.

  9. “In essence, [it]the Rotterdam Convention] is a regime of politeness. The convention does not ban trade in hazardous substances and need not take away even a gram from Canada’s asbestos exports — unless, of course, an importing country’s government, when asked for consent, thought better of it and said no.

    You might think that Canada’s government could have no possible objection to the convention and the polite rule of notice and informed consent. Yet you would be wrong. For several years, Canada has led a ferocious diplomatic opposition to listing chrysotile under the convention. Not a single Western democracy supports Canada’s position, so Canada has made allies of a few less picky countries including Iran, Russia and Zimbabwe.”

  10. “Canada is more than just a major asbestos exporter. To keep the export industry alive, it has become an avid asbestos cheerleader. Ottawa has poured more than $19 million into the Chrysotile Institute, an advocacy group formerly called the Asbestos Institute before that name became unfashionable. Along with funds from the Government of Quebec, the institute is dedicated to promoting the safe-use canard and defending the beleaguered mineral from its critics.

    Strangely, Canada’s largesse runs out when it comes to helping developing countries deal with the decades-long aftermath of asbestos exposure. There are “no Government of Canada chrysotile asbestos programs that provide direct financial support to developing countries.”5 It is subterranean ethics where Canada takes the wealth from asbestos exports, but abandons developing countries to their own devices to care for people made ill by asbestos or to institute alternatives to asbestos cement, which appear to be about 30% more expensive.”

  11. “For Canada to export asbestos to poor countries that lack the capacity to use it safely is inexplicable. But to descend several steps further to suppress the results of an expert committee, pour millions of dollars into an institute that shills for the industry and oppose even the Rotterdam Convention’s simple rule of politeness is inexcusable. Canada’s government seems to have calculated that it is better for the country’s asbestos industry to do business under the radar like arms traders, regardless of the deadly consequences. What clearer indication could there be that the government knows what it is doing is shameful and wrong?”

  12. I think I will write a letter to my MP, and include the Globe and Economist articles.

    That seems a good idea. I might send a copy to the premier of Quebec, as well.

  13. Milan,

    “1) Aren’t you showing yourself to be equally inconsistent, in also choosing seemingly contradictory sides in different arguments?”

    I don’t understand what you are referring to. Also, I don’t think consistency is an absolute moral value. But it would still be interesting to understand how I am being inconsistent: please clarify.

    “2)” I don’t understand. I haven’t given my position. If you want it, my position is Canada, insofar as we should not attempt to dissolve the state, ought not do any business with states which are beyond reason immoral, and should instead open its borders to people from that state would would wish to come here. I think any state within which companies find it acceptable to use asbestos in such a way that workers are exposed to it consistently over time meets the criterion of “beyond reason immoral”.

    How am I being inconsistent again?

  14. Tristan,

    My sense was that you were demanding equal labour standards in states we import from, while also advocating lower safety standards when it comes to asbestos.

    It seems like quite a stretch to say that permitting asbestos use makes a state illegitimate. It is a further stretch to say that Canada “ought not do any business” with any such states. That seems like an awfully blunt approach to policy, and one that is unlikely to produce a better outcome. After all, there is no state out there that couldn’t endure a trade embargo from Canada.

    If the aim is to produce global standards for health or labour, Canada needs to engage with multilateral processes, not make pointless gestures of protest.

  15. I was not advocating lower safety standards for a dangourous product – I was questioning whether asbestos was actually a dangorous product.

    If we do business with states that allow the use of asbestos we are tacitly approving of its use. It’s not very different from allowing it here, unless you think it’s justifiable to have different labour standards in different markets.

    The point is – there isn’t a big difference between exporting asbestos to states who then use it unsafely, to tacitly consenting to the unsafe use of asbestos.

  16. Ottawa funding group that promotes work of climate-change skeptics

    (CP) – 2 days ago

    MONTREAL — Ottawa has been funding an asbestos lobby group that promotes the work of prominent climate-change skeptics.

    The revelation comes as Canada’s delegation struggles to avoid being cast as the villain at the Copenhagen climate conference, and environmentalists are urging the government to stop financing the group.

    On its website, the Chrysotile Institute promotes a chapter that it says debunks the asbestos health-risk hoax from the 2007 book titled Scared to Death – From BSE to Global Warming: Why Scares Are Costing Us the Earth.

    But Chrysotile Institute president Clement Godbout says his organization actually has no position about the book’s chapter on climate change.

    He says his group is only promoting the book for outlining how the science of asbestos, and its potential health risks, have been systematically exaggerated by the “anti-asbestos lobby.”

  17. Jeffrey Simpson
    Playing a dirty game: exporting asbestos

    Somewhere between a national shame and a national scandal lies Canada’s export of asbestos.

    The federal government promotes asbestos exports – they have risen sharply in the past year – despite the fact that the use of asbestos has all but disappeared in this country. Why? Because scientists, governments, industries and unions have concluded that the product can lead to a variety of health-related problems and, in some cases, to death.

    Indeed, while the federal government promotes exports, a multiyear construction project is refitting the Parliament Buildings, among other reasons to remove asbestos. What our parliamentarians won’t have in their buildings apparently will be in buildings in the developing world.

    The reason the federal government will not stop defending asbestos is politics – Quebec politics, in fact. The asbestos produced in Canada comes from Quebec, from the Jeffrey and LAB Chrysotile mines that employ about 700 people. A large town in Quebec is even called Asbestos.

    No federal government has had the courage to say: Enough is enough! We’re not exporting to developing countries any product we won’t use at home for health reasons. Fear of offending Quebec has put a sock in the mouth of federal governments, and fear of losing a few votes has forced Quebec governments into acrobatic flights of hypocrisy to defend the indefensible.

    It was reported in the Quebec media that asbestos represents 11 per cent of Quebec’s exports to India, a tidy sum of $427-million. Half of India’s asbestos comes from Quebec, of the chrysotile variety with fibres so fine they can penetrate some filtration masks and so enter lungs, where they can create a variety of health problems, including lethal ones.

  18. Inside the global asbestos trade

    Banned or restricted in more than 50 countries, white asbestos continues to be widely used in China, India, Russia and Brazil, and many developing countries. The BBC’s Steve Bradshaw and Jim Morris from the ICIJ report on an industry supported by a global network of lobby groups.

    The Jeffrey asbestos mine in Quebec is an astonishing sight. “Big and beautiful,” says one of the regular flow of tourists and locals who peer into its depths from a public observation deck.

    Kites glide above the tiny azure pool far below.

    Elsewhere in Quebec Province, Janice Tomkins, an amateur watercolourist, is painting birds for the first time. She does not know how many more she will paint because she has mesothelioma – a rare illness linked to asbestos.

    Janice believes she is ill because of exposure decades ago to blue and brown asbestos – forms of the mineral now banned.

    What is mined in Quebec is a different kind of asbestos – white asbestos or chrysotile – the only kind now used commercially worldwide. Countries like Russia, China, Brazil, and India – although not Canada – use it widely as a cheap and effective building material.

    The president of the mine, Bernard Coulombe, told us their chrysotile is “sold exclusively to end-users having the same industrial hygiene practices as Canada,” and said the federal and provincial governments have proof this is the case.

    But, despite still being mined in Quebec, white asbestos is now banned or restricted in some 52 countries, on the grounds that any form of asbestos can cause devastating illnesses like Janice’s.

  19. Pingback: Export ethics
  20. Government investment in asbestos is morally bankrupt

    Quebec has lent Jeffrey Mine Inc. $3.5-million to keep it alive when the asbestos industry should be allowed to die a natural death

    Andre Picard

    From Thursday’s Globe and Mail Published on Wednesday, Sep. 08, 2010 12:48PM EDT Last updated on Wednesday, Sep. 08, 2010 7:48PM EDT

    Investissement Québec, a government agency, has provided Jeffrey Mine Inc. with a $3.5-million loan, allowing it to continue mining asbestos for a month longer and giving it one last gasp at attracting foreign investment.

    One has to wonder why.

    Why are the governments of Quebec and Canada so hell bound in their support of a deathly, dying industry?

    How can a country and a province that claim to care about human rights and international health justify peddling tonnes of a carcinogen to the developing world for a few shekels?

    What horrors are being wrought in the name of economic development, and in a bid for a few votes?

    To date, 52 countries have banned asbestos. It is a cancer-causing product, and we have known so since the 1950s. The tiny fibres, when inhaled, can cause lung cancer, mesothelioma and asbestosis.

    Asbestos was once a miracle fibre because of its resistance to fire, rust, rot and termites.

    In Canada, the “white gold” was once used liberally, in everything from pipe insulation to car brakes, modelling clay to talcum powder.

    As a result, we have one of the highest rates of asbestos-related cancer in the world. In Quebec, asbestos is responsible for half of all workplace-related deaths.

  21. The federal government also provides $250,000 a year to the Chrysotile Institute so it can flog asbestos abroad and propagandize at home.

    The institute is a master of Orwellian doublespeak: It calls asbestos “chrysotile”; it promotes the “safe use” of the product, glossing over the scientific evidence that there is no practical means of safe handling; its lobbying is responsible for the fact that, in Quebec, the “safe” level of exposure to asbestos is 10 times what it is in other provinces; and one of the group’s favourite rhetorical claims is that asbestos is invaluable and safe because even NASA uses it.

    Indeed, asbestos is used on the space shuttle so that it won’t catch fire during launch and re-entry. But the reality is that the principal buyers of asbestos are India, Bangladesh and Indonesia, where the mineral is used in construction. Needless to say, the workplace safety standards in these countries aren’t exactly comparable with NASA’s.

    “When it comes to the asbestos industry, you readily abandon science and put forward the lie that Quebec asbestos can be safely used, when even your own government health experts have told you this is not true,” Mohit Gupta, co-ordinator of the Occupational and Environmental Health Network of India said in a stinging letter to Quebec Premier Jean Charest.

  22. Canada’s arms sales to the Middle East

    Canadian companies exported $21.3-million in arms to the Middle East from 2006 to the end of 2010. That figure comprises just 1.6 per cent of Canada’s total arms sales for those years, but it shows that Canada is a minor player in the worldwide arms trade to the region.

    Small as they may be compared to the total, what’s interesting about those numbers is this question, Are countries such as Libya using these weapons against their own people?

    Put another way, are Canadian companies indirectly complicit in Moammar Gadhafi’s assault on his own people, an assault that now has him up for war crimes charges?

    Of course, there is no way of knowing if any of the weapons being used by Gadhafi supporters came from Canada. To date, there are no YouTube moments featuring supporters carrying firearms with the words “Canada” emblazoned in large enough letters for the world to see.

  23. Here’s a suggestion for Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff. Instead of trying match the Conservatives’ largesse, why not demonstrate that you are willing to take a political risk in Quebec on an issue of integrity? Why not promise that if voters throw the Harper Conservatives out, Canada will quit exporting deadly asbestos to developing countries?

    Does that sound goofy? Will it enrage Quebecers? Oh, some of them will grouse that asbestos mining is part of Quebec’s history. But Quebecers aren’t stupid – they know that asbestos kills people. So do voters in the rest of Canada.

    The ancient Greeks used asbestos in cloth, the Romans in building materials.

    The Egyptians used it in clothing to increase durability and embalmed pharaohs in it. During cremation, the Persians wrapped bodies in asbestos linen, so they could gather the ashes for burial.

    Worth noting: both the Greek geographer Strabo and the Roman naturalist Pliny the Elder observed that asbestos damaged lungs of the slaves who mined it. Pliny was against purchasing slaves from asbestos mines because “they die young.”

    Canadians have been tearing asbestos insulation out of buildings for several decades. The federal government has spent many millions eradicating it from its own buildings.

    But Canada continues to allow its export, arguing that chrysotile asbestos does not present a health hazard if careful precautions are taken.

  24. Canada labelled ‘immoral asbestos pusher’ as Harper visits Quebec mining town
    Stephen Harper says he won’t allow a substance synonymous with cancer to be reintroduced in Canadian homes or schools but he’s firmly behind allowing Quebec’s maligned asbestos industry to export its product to willing buyers abroad.
    The Conservative Leader made a campaign stop in Quebec’s Eastern Townships to show the failing asbestos industry some support, a move the Tories are hoping will enable them to win a seat in the area.

  25. The Quebec government approved the expansion of the mine in April and has guaranteed a $58-million loan for the cash-strapped mine under condition that the promoter drums up additional financing.

    The move caused an outcry from health experts, labour groups and activists around the globe.

    The mineral, also known as chrysotile, is a popular construction material, and much of Canada’s exported asbestos goes to India.

  26. Back in February, The New York Times ran a long piece by its Canadian correspondent Ian Austen describing this country’s asbestos scandal, a subject this space has described on several occasions. It noted the ongoing support by the Harper and Charest governments for a small Quebec-based industry whose product kills anyone in contact with it. A tiny lobby wants to continue sending our asbestos, effectively banned in Canada, to poor countries like India and Indonesia where it will kill those who work with it.

    The Times article caught the attention of someone at The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, and before you could say lung cancer, Aasif Mandvi, one of the show’s several “correspondents,” had found Kathleen Ruff in British Columbia. No one in the world has been more active in exposing Canada’s asbestos shame. Mr. Mandvi soon realized he had the perfect material for a classic Daily Show interview with a sucker who was guilty of wrongdoing and was glad to boast about it on television.

  27. Health Canada’s asbestos advice rejected by government
    By Gil Shochat, CBC News Posted: Jun 13, 2011 9:10 PM ET Last Updated: Jun 13, 2011 10:31 PM ET

    The Canadian government rejected advice from Health Canada that asbestos be added to a global list of hazardous materials in 2006, CBC News has learned.
    According to documents obtained under Access to Information, a senior Health Canada bureaucrat wrote that the agency believed that chrysotile — a form of asbestos that has been linked to cancer — should be added to a UN treaty known as the Rotterdam Convention.
    “[Health Canada’s] preferred position would be to list — as this is consistent with controlled use — i.e. let people know about the substance so they have the information they need, through prior informed consent, to ensure they handle and use the substance correctly,” wrote Paul Glover then director general of Health Canada’s safe environments program, in 2006.
    The 2006 Rotterdam Convention comprises a list of hazardous substances that require countries to disclose any restrictions imposed for health or environmental reasons by exporting countries. Importing countries would then decide whether to import the substance, ban it, or restrict it, something known as prior informed consent.

  28. Canada has stepped in to block the listing of chrysotile asbestos on an international list of hazardous chemicals.

    Putting chrysotile asbestos on the Annex III list of the Rotterdam Convention would let countries where companies import it to turn it away if they don’t think they can safely handle it.

    Canada kept quiet throughout the sessions so far this week, relying on other countries to register their objections. Officials in Ottawa refused to answer repeated questions about whether they would oppose the listing.

    But the delegate from Ukraine dropped the country’s objection Wednesday, prompting the Canadian delegation to speak up in opposition.

    The convention needs consensus to be able to make changes to the list. The only countries still objecting are Canada, Kazakhstan, Kyrgystan and Vietnam, said Alexandra Caterbow, who represents 500 non-governmental organizations as an observer at the meeting.

  29. Asbestos: Canada is spending millions to remove it from politicians’ offices while exporting it by the ton.
    By Stephen Davis
    Updated: Jun 30, 02:09 PM

    The Canadian Parliament Buildings were completed in 1927, after one of the original 19th-century structures was destroyed by fire. According to a Government of Canada website, they offer “a fascinating blend of stateliness and vibrancy.” If you drop by for a visit, you’ll see beautiful vaulted ceilings and walls decorated with “saucy faces [that] grin at passers-by.” The buildings, which sit high on the banks of the Ottawa River, are the home of Canada’s federal government and a destination for tourists.

    They’re also packed with asbestos, the material that has for years been indisputably linked to various cancers and other diseases. So it’s no surprise that a massive renovation that will include the removal of the deadly substance from the Parliament Buildings is under way. Three major buildings on Parliament Hill—West Block, East Block, and Centre Block—will have asbestos removed. An email from government spokesman Bill Badets gives a sense of the project’s massive scope. Fifty members of parliament vacated the West Block building so that the renovation could begin. The upcoming rehabilitation of the East Block and Centre Block buildings will require 154 MPs to relocate their offices, according to Badets.

  30. “This massive project makes recent events surprising, particularly Canada’s opposition, at an international conference in Switzerland, to adding chrysotile asbestos to the Rotterdam Convention, a U.N. treaty on hazardous substances. If asbestos were added to the Rotterdam Convention, Canada and other exporters would be required to warn all importing countries of the dangers of asbestos and inform purchasers how to mitigate risks.

    The listing would not have required Canada to ban asbestos exports. It would have forced Canada and other countries to acknowledge what asbestos is: a material that has, repeatedly and consistently, been linked to various forms of cancer and other diseases. Canada now appears to be either oblivious to the health effects of asbestos or to be willfully ignoring them in the pursuit of export income. “

  31. Asbestos’s last, lonely champion
    Sunday, June 26, 2011
    By Susan Riley, Ottawa Citizen

    I still remember the shock and dismay I felt walking through the ByWard Market in 2005, when I noticed newspaper headlines announcing that Chuck Strahl had been diagnosed with a deadly form of asbestos-related cancer.

    Not only was Strahl fit and strong (fortunately, he still is), he was a well-liked Reform, then Conservative, MP and, subsequently, a successful cabinet minister in a number of posts. He decided not to run in the last election – his son Mark took over his B.C. seat on May 2 – and has returned to Chilliwack, his cancer apparently in remission.

    This memory makes Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s adamant support for Quebec’s asbestos industry in recent weeks seem even more confounding and cold. After all, within his own cabinet he had sobering evidence of the cost of unprotected exposure to asbestos.

    Strahl was exposed to the carcinogen as a young man operating huge logging vehicles with asbestos-clad brakes in the B.C. interior. In those days, he recounts, wearing protective gear was considered insufficiently macho and the dangers of breathing in asbestos fibre not as well known.

    Decades later he was diagnosed with mesothelioma, a form of lung cancer that usually kills its victims within a few years – a shocking prognosis for a regular jogger and non-smoker. With the help of his family and strong Christian faith, however, Strahl beat the odds and played an active role in cabinet until his retirement.

    Throughout his ordeal, he never wanted to be a poster boy for asbestos-related cancer or mount, as he wrote this week, “a personal crusade.” Nor does he favour an outright ban, even today.

  32. Pro-asbestos lobby decries critics, applauds Canada

    Quebec’s asbestos lobby is lashing out at international critics of Canadian support for the controversial industry.

    The president of Quebec’s pro-chrysotile asbestos movement, Serge Boislard, said many anti-asbestos groups are lobbying for the sale of alternative building materials because they have something to gain financially.

    “They aren’t doing it because they are concerned about people’s health,” Boislard told CBC News. “They are doing it for their own wallets.”

    But an environmental consultant with the World Health Organisation said Boislard’s claim isn’t true.

    “We are public-health workers who are concerned about the lethality of asbestos and in recommending substitute materials, we see that this is the solution,” said consultant Barry Castleman.

    Castleman, who lives in the United States, said the international community is horrified that Canada is supporting what he said is clearly a dangerous industry.

  33. FACTS & ARGUMENTS / THE ESSAY The legacy of asbestos My father carried the fibres home from his factory job, and now my mother is dying just as he did. I fear for myself

    HEIDI VON PALLESKE When I was a child, I went to a Christmas party at the factory where my dad worked. There was a Santa and presents. My siblings and I went along with the other children on a tour of the factory.

    I didn’t care about the machinery or how it worked. I only marvelled at the fairy dust in the air and how it seemed to sparkle when the light hit it. To me, it was magical, not something that would be a carrier of death.

    Death has its own sound. It is the rattle of my mother’s lungs as she struggles for air. The purring sound she makes when the breath finally finds its way in. The rasp of her voice as she speaks.

    My 79-year-old mother is dying. She’s dying just as my father did four years ago. There is no way to slow the process. No hope for a cure. There is no relief. Once mesothelioma is discovered, it is already too late.

    We have only just recovered from my father’s death at 79. My daughter still cries over him. On her birthday, she releases a balloon into the air, telling her Opa how old she is and how she misses him.

    She used to make me bake him a cake on his birthdays and she always left him a piece by the window. The first year she cried and cried when she discovered it was uneaten.

    My daughter is not good with change. She doesn’t find any comfort in the thought of death releasing her grandmother from pain. Death frightens her. She has not developed the faith in the afterlife that, thankfully, my mother has.

  34. We have white asbestos in Australia and from what i’ve heard the white asbestos isn’t that bad its the blue asbestos you have to be really worried about.

    In saying that however white asbestos is always contaminated with blue asbestos

  35. Canada’s asbestos industry strikes back at critics in high-stakes PR battle

    Andy Blatchford

    MONTREAL – The Canadian Press

    Last updated Sunday, Sep. 25, 2011 11:47AM EDT

    A prominent asbestos merchant is headed to Parliament Hill as part of a broader counter-offensive to salvage the reputation of his beleaguered industry.

    Baljit Chadha is fighting back this week after Canada’s asbestos sector has absorbed a public-relations pummelling, both here and abroad, in recent months.

    The public-relations battle comes at a critical time.

    The Quebec government is considering whether to help Mr. Chadha save one of Canada’s last two asbestos mines, in the town of Asbestos, with an Oct. 1 deadline looming on a decision.

  36. Baljit Chadha, the entrepreneur behind Quebec’s controversial asbestos exports, has earned a rare public rebuke from an official with the World Health Organization for distorting its position on the safety of the carcinogenic product.

    “We have been receiving a lot of expressions of concerns from around the world that the WHO has been misquoted,” Ivan Ivanov, the team leader of occupational health at the WHO Department of Public Health and Environment, said in a phone interview from Geneva.

    Dr. Ivanov was critical of Mr. Chadha for stating in a recent newspaper commentary that a WHO-sanctioned level of exposure to asbestos “poses no health risk.” “There is no safe threshold of exposure to all forms of asbestos,” Dr. Ivanov said

  37. Anti-asbestos lobbyists say former Canadian politicians, ambassadors and bureaucrats acted in a morally bankrupt fashion when they successfully lobbied two decades ago to prevent the carcinogenic material from being banned in the United States.

    Laurie Kazan-Allen of the International Ban Asbestos Secretariat, a group based in Britain, told a news conference Tuesday that, “as a consequence of the legal and political actions mounted by Canadian interest, a further 3,000 tons of Canadian asbestos was used in the United States and vast amounts of asbestos-containing products were incorporated into the United States infrastructure.” Ms. Kazan-Allen obtained documents from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to show that former Conservative prime minister Brian Mulroney lobbied his friend, then-U.S. president Ronald Reagan, in the mid-1980s about the EPA’s plan to ban asbestos.

  38. If the asbestos industry in Canada proves one thing, it’s that once a business is established politicians are never going to shut it down, regardless of how unethical it is.

    The message climate activists must take from that is that we cannot let them develop the oil sands any further. Once they are built, any new facilities will be impossible to shut down.

  39. Note that Minister Oliver’s claim about some forms of asbestos being safe directly contradicts the statements of Ivan Ivanov, the team leader of occupational health at the World Health Organization Department of Public Health and Environment. Ivanov has stated clearly: “There is no safe threshold of exposure to all forms of asbestos”.

  40. Quebec asbestos miner declares bankruptcy


    The head of one of Canada’s last two remaining asbestos mines said Wednesday that declaring bankruptcy is the only way the cash-strapped operation has a chance of saving its workers’ jobs.

    Simon Dupéré, president and chief executive officer of Quebec-based LAB Chrysotile, said in a telephone interview that he’s confident many of the 350 jobs at the mine will be saved.

  41. Asbestos mine loan gives Charest ‘good reason to be ashamed’

    The announcement was described as a national embarrassment, the crass political manoeuvre of a desperate Quebec government trying to hold on to a Liberal seat at the cost of public health.

    Critics lined up with speed and in number on the long weekend to blast Premier Jean Charest for green-lighting a $58-million loan to Canada’s last asbestos mine late on the Friday of the unofficial start of summer vacation season.

    The loan stunned environmentalists, the medical community and cancer-fighting groups while promoters of the controversial relaunch of the Jeffrey Mine were more difficult to find. Even the province’s own public-health doctors are outraged.

    Mr. Charest “has good reason to be ashamed,” said Yv Bonnier Viger, head of Quebec’s association of public-health specialists. “He is relaunching the exploitation of an extremely dangerous material that will cause the suffering and death of thousands of people in poor countries, at only marginal benefit to a desperate community.”

    The province, led by retiring minister and local Liberal member of the legislature, Yvon Vallières, announced the loan and reopening before hundreds of thrilled residents of the economically depressed town of Asbestos.

  42. Ottawa does U-turn on asbestos mining

    Canada is ending its much-maligned practice of defending asbestos mining on the world stage, a reversal of a stand that made it a pariah in some international circles.

    The Harper government, which until Friday unflinchingly defended Canada’s right to export the cancer-causing mineral from Quebec, is blaming the incoming Parti Québécois regime for its change of heart.

    Premier-designate Pauline Marois’s party,which will soon take office in Quebec, pledged during the provincial election campaign to cancel a government loan guarantee designed to resurrect the big Jeffrey asbestos mine in Asbestos, Que. It would have been the only mine operating in an otherwise moribund industry.

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