The Guardian 7 September, 2005
Campaign against millions more deaths
A worldwide campaign is in progress to ensure that Canada halts the production of chrysotile asbestos (white asbestos). Canada is the third largest producer of chrysotile (white asbestos), which is the main form of asbestos in use today.
The Canadian industry employs fewer than 1600 miners and centres on just three mines in the eastern townships of Quebec province.
Ninety-five percent of the estimated 250,000 tonnes of asbestos produced each year is exported, mainly to newly industrialised countries (Mining Annual Review 2004 figures).
While Japan, Australia and other developed countries in the European Union have banned chrysotile production and use, Canada continues to spread the killer fibre around the world.
Asbestos dangers in Canada’s own backyard
At the same time as it tells the world that asbestos is safe for "controlled use", the Canadian government has forbidden its own politicians from changing light bulbs or hanging pictures in their parliamentary offices because of the presence of crumbling asbestos-containing material in the Ottawa Capital building.
A 2004 report that appeared on the website of the Canadian National Institute of Public Health has confirmed high rates of pleural mesothelioma among Quebec’s male population.
The researchers identified 832 cases of pleural mesothelioma between 1982 and 1996, exploding the Canadian asbestos industry’s assertions that chrysotile is safe.
"Quebec men and women also show significantly higher rates of mesothelioma of the pleura than men and women in the rest of Canada and several other countries", the report states.
The government of Canada also funds an industry lobby group, the Chrysotile Institute, which promotes the "controlled use" of white asbestos in developing countries, even though there is overwhelming evidence in Canada and overseas that exposure to all forms of asbestos has caused cancer among workers and their families.
The Canadian Government has pressured poor countries like Chile to resist moves to ban the use and production of all forms of asbestos.
It has also spearheaded the campaign to block the addition of chrysotile asbestos to the UN list of highly dangerous substances that cannot be exported to developing countries without their knowledge and agreement.
Such hypocrisy is a damning indictment on a country as wealthy as Canada.
It shows how the drive for profit and political interests override the health and safety of people in capitalist economies.
It betrays a callous disregard for the lives of workers in poorer countries who do not have the protection of strong health and safety laws.
Demand Canada join the asbestos ban
With over one million people dying of asbestos related diseases worldwide each year, the Canadian government must seriously consider its policies on asbestos production and export.
It must ratify the UN Rotterdam Convention, listing chrysotile as a toxic product which cannot be exported to developing countries without their prior, informed consent.
It must cease to promote chrysotile asbestos as safe for "controlled use".
Finally Canada has to stop this hypocrisy and join the worldwide movement to halt the production and use of chrysotile asbestos.
Join the campaign
Raise the issue in your workplace, in your union and seek out more information.
Protests will take place in Sydney on September 9.
For more information about global anti-asbestos campaigns:
Ban Asbestos Network of India contact Toxics Link: http://www.toxicslink.org
International Ban Asbestos Secretariat: http://www.ibas.btinternet.co.uk
On the lack of a ban in the US, EWG Action Fund: http://www.ewg.org
For regular updates see Hazards and LabourStart Health and Safety Newswire: http://www.labourstart.org/docs/en/000077.html
Acknowledgements to John Sutton and Trade Union International
for Workers in Construction, Wood and Building Materials (UITBB)