Monday 7 July 2014

Killer Dust

Originally posted here:
Written by: Nic Fleming

© David Ryle

Killer dust

Why is asbestos still killing people? Nic Fleming finds out in a twisting tale of industry cover-ups and misinformation that spans decades.

A long vertical pipe sits against white-painted brickwork in the corner of a cramped storeroom. Two men wearing orange boiler suits and gloves crouch at its base. One uses a scraper to remove lumps of what looks like wet papier-mâché from the outside of the pipe, into a red bag held by the other.
Both men are breathing through facemasks, their air sucked from outside the isolation unit: a short, makeshift corridor constructed from black plastic panels and transparent polythene sheeting. An extractor fan hums relentlessly.
It might look like a scene from a horror movie in which scientists fight to contain a virus, but the truth is more banal – though no less deadly. The two men are removing asbestos insulation from a heating pipe in a west London hospital.
Ordinarily there would be bright yellow tape with the words “WARNING asbestos” on it, the site supervisor tells me. But this is an especially sensitive job. The neighbouring ward’s beds are filled by patients with acute respiratory conditions, and the hospital’s management decided that advertising the true nature of the work might cause alarm.
An asbestos removal operative stands in blue transit overalls outside a building.
© David Ryle
Blue transit overalls are worn over the orange ones on transit between the decontamination unit and the asbestos site. Transit routes are kept free of debris.
Thirteen people a day in the UK die from exposure to asbestos – more than double the number that die on the roads. In the USA, asbestos will be responsible for around 10,000 deaths this year, meaning it kills close to as many people as gun crime or skin cancer.
Health fears associated with asbestos were first raised at the end of the 19th century. Asbestosis, an inflammatory condition affecting the lungs that causes shortness of breath, coughing and other lung damage, was described in medical literature in the 1920s. By the mid-1950s, when the first epidemiological study of asbestos-related lung cancer was published, the link to fatal disease was well established.
Yet in 2012, rather than falling, worldwide asbestos production increased and international exports surged by 20 per cent. A full ban did not come into force in the UK until 1999, and the European Union’s deadline for member states to end its use was just nine years ago. Today, asbestos is still used in large quantities in many parts of Asia, eastern Europe and South America, while even in the USA and Canada, controlled use is allowed.
The remarkable endurance of this magic mineral turned deadly dust is a complex tale. One of scientific deception and betrayal, greed, political collusion, the power of propaganda, and, above all, the willingness of some executives to knowingly subject hundreds of thousands of vulnerable people around the world to severe illness and even death in the pursuit of profit.
Carefully removing a ceiling on an asbestos site.
© David Ryle
Carefully removing a ceiling on an asbestos site.

Living proof

One man for whom the risks of asbestos are all too clear is Winston Bish. Two years ago the former carpenter, now aged 70, took part in a questionnaire study on lung health. Among the half of participants randomly selected to have a CT scan, he was subsequently diagnosed with mesothelioma, a rare cancer that develops in the protective linings of organs, most commonly the lungs. There is no cure.
“When the doctor said ‘mesothelioma’, I didn't really know what it was,” says Bish in a hoarse whisper, caused by cancer-related nerve damage to his vocal cords. “Now I know it's the worst form of lung cancer you can get.”
As a boy, Bish was good with his hands and used to stay behind after class for extra woodwork lessons. He left school at 15 and spent his working life in the building industry. He had frequent contact with asbestos in a variety of forms, including in guttering and roof panels.
“We were cutting those up from sheets with handsaws and knocking nails into them,” Bish says. None of his employers warned him or his co-workers of the dangers of working with asbestos, and doing such work without facemasks or ventilators was commonplace, he says. It’s a far cry from the precautions taken by specialist asbestos removal teams today.
Preparing to seal the asbestos waste bags, ready for removal.
© David Ryle
Preparing to seal the asbestos waste bags, ready for removal.
Bish and his wife Jennifer married in 1966 and had two children. In the mid-1970s, he built a four-bedroomed detached house on the outskirts of St Ives, Cambridgeshire, as the family’s home. As was normal practice at the time, he put asbestos fireproofing panels in the garage roof – they are still there.
It was not until the 1980s that Bish remembers fears about asbestos spreading among building workers. “We became aware through word of mouth in the industry,” he says. “I don’t remember any big advertising campaigns at that time. Even now there is very little awareness.”
In October 2012, he had the lining of his right lung removed surgically, and now lives with the knowledge that the survival rates for mesothelioma patients are poor. Only about four out of every ten people diagnosed are still alive a year later, although the outlook is better for those able to have surgery to remove the cancer. Bish has recently completed a course of chemotherapy, and is hoping to be enrolled in a trial of a novel drug. Removal men
An asbestos operative preparing to seal the asbestos waste bags, ready for removal.
© David Ryle
Preparing to seal the asbestos waste bags, ready for removal.

Magic minerals

Asbestos is a generic term used to describe six naturally occurring minerals made up of thin fibrous crystals. Chrysotile, or white asbestos, is the only form still in use, and accounts for 95 per cent of the asbestos mined and used by humans historically. Its curly fibres make it more flexible than a family of five other forms known as the amphiboles – amosite (brown asbestos), crocidolite (blue asbestos), anthophyllite, tremolite and actinolite – which all consist of needle-like fibres.The age of asbestos
The characteristics of asbestos – strong, lightweight and heat-resistant – and the fact it could be split into fibres, mixed with other materials and easily shaped meant that use of the mineral soon caught on. Large-scale mining began in the second half of the 19th century in the USA, Italy and Canada, and during the 20th century it was incorporated into a huge variety of products, especially building materials such as concrete, pipes, cement, bricks, tiles and insulation for buildings and ships. It was also used in car parts, protective clothing, mattresses and even cigarette filters. The industry significantly expanded during both World Wars.
You may not have to look hard to find asbestos where you live or work. Many buildings still have asbestos-based components, including pipe insulation, decorative coatings, ceiling boards, fireproofing panels, window in-fill panels and cold water tanks.
Research into precisely how asbestos causes mesothelioma and other forms of lung cancer is ongoing. The fibres are so small that most can only be seen under a microscope. Billions can be inhaled in a single day with no immediate effect, but longer-term the consequences can be deadly.
The fibres can become lodged in the lining of organs such as the lungs, causing damage that interrupts the normal cell cycle, leading to uncontrollable cell division and tumour growth. Asbestos is also linked to changes in the membranes surrounding the lungs – the pleura – including pleural thickening, the formation of scar tissue (plaques), and abnormal collections of fluid (pleural effusion).
“There is absolutely no doubt that all kinds [of asbestos] can give rise to asbestosis, lung cancer and mesothelioma,” says Paul Cullinan, Professor of Occupational and Environmental Respiratory Disease at the National Heart and Lung Institute, Imperial College London. “It’s probably the case that white asbestos is less toxic in respect to mesothelioma than the amphiboles. The industry tries to argue that you can take precautions so that white asbestos can be used safely, but in practice, in the real world, that is not what is going to happen.”
This is the firm scientific consensus. But not everyone agrees.

A town named Asbestos

Two hours’ drive east of Montréal, Canada, opposite a meat-packing factory, a blue-and-white advertising hoarding stands on a piece of scrubland. It reads: “Batir l’avenir ici: Terrains industriels a vendre” (“Build the future here: Industrial land for sale”). There are many similar signs in the town of Asbestos. Asbestos, Quebec: A graphic novel
Such efforts to attract new businesses and jobs gained greater urgency in the summer of 2012. It was then that the town’s Jeffrey Mine, a hole in the ground measuring a little over a mile across (and into which the Eiffel Tower could fit), ceased production of white asbestos after 130 years. 
Named after its most notable export, the town once met approximately three-quarters of the world’s demand for asbestos. Attempts to diversify have had limited success, and jobs are thin on the ground. Halfway between the advertising hoarding and the mine is the town’s newest building, a cancer clinic. Most locals, however, appear to believe the industry’s claims that white asbestos can be safely used.
“They believe that if you have cancer, it is because you smoked,” says Dr Jessica van Horssen, an environmental historian at York University, Toronto, who has a forthcoming book on the relationship of the town’s population to their environment, and how it affects their identity and attitudes. “The view is that asbestos can be handled safely now. The industry covered things up and it’s as if the people learnt that this is what you are supposed to do. You must say it’s not so bad, that it saves more lives than it kills, and if we say it’s okay enough times people will believe it.”
Many outsiders have suggested the town is on borrowed time. The mine only survived following the collapse of the global industry in the 1980s thanks to government subsidies. Its population, now around 6,000 (down from 10,000 in the 1970s), is ageing as well as shrinking. There were once ten primary schools, now there are two. Many homes are boarded up. 
“It’s a bit of a ghost town,” says van Horssen. “There are few people out on the streets. When outsiders walk around, the locals will turn and look, and if you go into a local café everything goes quiet.” In 2006, the Mayor, Jean-Philippe Bachand, proposed that the town change its name, as those trying to attract new businesses reported it was an obstacle. One of his suggested alternatives was Phoenix. The population voted against the name change, then voted Bachand out of office.
Where once their fathers and grandfathers were hailed as war heroes for providing the asbestos to make uniforms, buildings and military vehicles fire-resistant, now the town’s inhabitants are branded international pariahs, says van Horssen. Little wonder that they don’t take kindly to the criticisms of outsiders, she adds.
“Many of the people who campaign against and write about asbestos have never visited a mining community. There is also a class issue of working-class inhabitants being told by educated uppers what is best for them. Some of it can be quite patronising and their response is ‘You’ve never been here and you don’t know me’. Generations have lived and died with this mineral. It’s who they are, and they can’t be ashamed of it.”

Birth of an industry

Some 3,000 miles from the hoarding in Quebec is another sign: “Asbestos: Once a magic mineral, but always a killer dust”. The plaque is on the ground opposite the town hall in Rochdale, north-west England – to many, the birthplace of the modern asbestos industry. The Turner Brothers Asbestos Company, which later changed its name to Turner and Newall (T&N), began weaving asbestos cloth in the town in 1879.
Within just 20 years, the Chief Inspector of Factories for Britain had highlighted that working with asbestos could cause lung injuries and called for ventilation of workplaces. The first death officially attributed to occupational exposure to asbestos, however, was that of Nellie Kershaw, a yarn spinner who worked at the Turner Brothers factory in Rochdale for almost five years before her death in 1924, at the age of 33. She had been signed off work two years earlier, diagnosed with “asbestos poisoning”. The company refused Kershaw’s request for compensation and later declined to contribute to her funeral costs. Her remains lie in an unmarked grave.
“One of the first things that strikes you when you look at asbestos is just how long ago it was discovered to be toxic,” says Geoffrey Tweedale, former Professor of Business History at Manchester Metropolitan University. Following a US legal case in 1995, Tweedale and fellow historian David Jeremy obtained a copy of the T&N company archive. They studied the almost one million documents and Tweedale went on to co-write two books on asbestos and the industry.
What this extraordinary collection of internal papers showed was how much some senior figures in the asbestos industry knew about the damage they were causing to their workers, and how their response was to launch a campaign of scientific concealment and distortion, and public misinformation that dates back over 80 years and continues today.
In 1927 a doctor called Ian Grieve wrote a detailed study of the health of workers at the J W Roberts asbestos textile plant in Leeds. He used X-rays to confirm his evaluation that the hand-beating of asbestos mattresses for locomotives (to remove lumps) could cause asbestosis within five years. A government enquiry set up a year later found that a quarter of workers with five or more years of experience in asbestos textile factories had fibrosis, rising to half of those who had worked in the industry for ten years. Regulations on dust control, medical surveillance and compensation were introduced in Britain in 1931.
Two years after Grieve’s findings, executives from US asbestos companies Johns-Mansville (the owners of the Jeffrey Mine) and Raybestos (a manufacturer of automotive parts) asked Metlife, the country’s largest insurer, to investigate whether the mineral was an occupational hazard for workers at five textile mills. It was found that only 17 of 108 male workers studied and three of the 18 women were free of asbestosis. These results were not published.
Nor were those from a 1930 study by physician Dr George Slade, who found that most of the workers at the T&N-operated New Amianthus asbestos mine in Eastern Transvaal, South Africa, suffered shortness of breath and weight loss and had asbestosis. Evidence of high levels of asbestosis and other health problems among Johns-Manville workers in Asbestos and the nearby Thetford Mine was similarly covered up. Contrary to the evidence on their desks, asbestos company executives claimed workers in the Canadian mines showed no signs of asbestos-related diseases, and that any ill health was the result of conditions in factories further down the production line.
Industry-backed research carried out at the Saranac Laboratory in New York State in 1940, showing that 80 per cent of mice that inhaled asbestos fibres developed pulmonary cancer, was not published. Before and during World War II, Johns-Manville company doctors closely monitored the health of Jeffrey Mine workers, telling them they were sick because they smoked or made other poor lifestyle choices, while telling their bosses that asbestos was the real culprit.
During the 1940s and 1950s, when miners died, their lungs were secretly autopsied and smuggled to the Saranac to be studied. The findings, that asbestos fibres caused cancer, were suppressed. “The whole community was treated as a giant laboratory, with the miners acting as lab mice,” says van Horssen. “History shows working-class people and other marginalised populations have often been used in this way, as guinea pigs.”
The epidemiologist Professor Richard Doll, famous for his work linking smoking to lung cancer, published a study showing that Rochdale textile workers were at elevated risk of lung cancer in 1955. Yet even the growing evidence emerging during the 1950s and early 1960s still had little impact on the asbestos industry. Between 1960 and 1980, production entered its fastest period of growth. A US Geological Survey study found that 80 per cent of world production during the 20th century came after 1960, by which time it was clear that asbestos caused lung cancers such as mesothelioma.

Manufacturing uncertainty

As Tweedale and co-author Jock McCulloch, Professor of History at the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology, explain in their 2008 book Defending the Indefensible, each time the evidence showing that industry lobbyists were wrong became overwhelming, they just changed tack.
When independent research began to show irrefutable evidence of hazards, the industry began to argue that disease was only common in older workers because conditions in the past had been poor, and that new measures taken to control dust inhalation meant safe production was possible.
In 1960 a scientist named J C Wagner identified 33 cases of mesothelioma in South Africans living near an asbestos mine. Crucially, most did not work at the mine. In 1964, New York physician Irving J Selikoff found high levels of asbestosis, lung cancer and mesothelioma in insulation workers. The industry shifted position again, now arguing that while forms such as blue and brown asbestos were responsible for diseases, white asbestos from Canada could be safely used.
Scientists who published inconvenient results were vilified and harassed. Following the publication of Selikoff’s findings, for example, Johns-Manville began recording and circulating his talks to executives and company medical researchers. Internal documents with titles such as ‘Discredit Selikoff’, released years later, reveal the lengths they went to in seeking to undermine him and his work.
An array of organisations combining industry research with public relations was established across the world, using names such as the Asbestos Research Council and the Asbestos Information Committee. The Quebec asbestos mining industry funded the setting-up of the Institute of Occupational & Environmental Health at McGill University. Any natural gaps or uncertainties in the research that showed asbestos caused disease were highlighted and exploited in an early version of the now-prevalent ‘manufactured uncertainty’ tactic. If these strategies sound familiar, there's a good reason: the industry was being advised by a US public relations company that had previously defended big tobacco. 
“The first thing I noticed, looking at the documents, was that the asbestos industry used Hill & Knowlton, the same public relations firm that the tobacco industry were using,” says Tweedale. “There are clear parallels in the way they approached their problems.”
The redefinition of white asbestos as an entirely different and safer mineral has formed the core of the industry’s defence from the 1960s to the present day. The Asbestos Institute, an international umbrella industry organisation, changed its name to the Chrysotile Institute in 2004. The industry has carefully selected the research it has funded in order to serve its interests. Using normal gaps in scientific knowledge about precisely how asbestos causes disease and about the relative toxicity of the different forms, it has in many places successfully undermined the truth that all asbestos is potentially dangerous in a world where damage and poor monitoring of building components is inevitable.
Because the asbestos industry encompassed so many different types of job, trade unions were slow to present a united front to defend their members on the issue. The social position of the majority of victims also helps explain why it took so long for countries to introduce legislation on asbestos use.
“Asbestos-related diseases disproportionately affect working-class people in semi-skilled or unskilled jobs, their relatives and others who lived near the factories,” says Tweedale. “There was this tremendous death toll but it didn’t have big repercussions because they were ‘just working-class people’."
Bish agrees. “In manufacturing industry, there have always been casualties in the workforce,” he says. “If it had affected the lives of politicians and high-living people rather than just the general working public, I think things would have been different. It would have been banned much sooner.”
The views of the people in the town of Asbestos are echoed elsewhere in Canada, right to the highest levels of public life. Trade unions in Quebec have aggressively supported the industry. Canadian law, in backing “controlled use” of asbestos, stands in opposition to calls from the Canadian Medical Association, the Canadian Cancer Society and the Canadian Public Health Association for a ban.
Just as in the west London hospital and other workplaces and homes throughout the UK, asbestos components are being ripped out of the ceilings and walls of many Canadian public buildings. However, they are still being installed in others. In 2011, asbestos cement drainage pipes were fitted in the new McGill University Health Centre in Montréal.
In September 2012, things in Canada changed. The incoming government of Quebec – the only Canadian province that was still producing asbestos – kept its promise to cancel a CAN$58 million loan that would have reopened the Jeffrey Mine. Announcing the plans, the then Industry Minister Christian Paradis said that the federal government would spend up to CAN$50 million on diversifying the economy in asbestos-mining areas. He also announced that Canada would no longer oppose adding white asbestos to the UN Rotterdam Convention, a list of hazardous substances to which trade restrictions apply.
While Quebec’s actions received some praise from anti-asbestos campaigners, many feel that the government of Canada has much more to do.
“The Canadian government does not support the science on asbestos,” says leading anti-asbestos campaigner Kathleen Ruff. “It has not banned asbestos in Canada. We still import thousands of products that contain asbestos. Those in government oppose the views of the whole Canadian and world scientific community,” says Ruff. “They are not stupid, so I can only conclude it’s cynically done for political expediency.
“The industry has hired scientists in the same way the tobacco industry did, who claim the risks are not there,” says Ruff. “Their research has been used to delay action to protect people from asbestos and to prevent it being banned. Many have been exposed and have died as a result. There’s no doubt it’s been very lucrative for those scientists who have gone down that path. But it’s also a complete betrayal of scientific independence and integrity, and of their responsibility as human beings not to harm others.”

New markets

In another tobacco industry parallel, the asbestos industry explored new markets as compensation claims and media criticism snowballed and governments tightened regulations. During the 1970s and 1980s, some large asbestos companies moved manufacture of particularly hazardous products to lower-income countries.
Funded by the Canadian and Quebec governments and mining companies, what is now the Chrysotile Institute sent delegations to Asia, Latin America and Africa to claim the mineral could be used safely. “When the UK and other developed countries stopped using it, the industry reinvented itself, creating a whole new geography of victims in developing countries,” says Ruff.
From a peak of 5 million tonnes around 1980, asbestos production fell to 2 million tonnes around two decades ago, and has hovered around that mark ever since. Russia accounts for half of world production, with the other large producers China, Brazil and Kazakhstan. As of April 2013, bans on all types of asbestos use were in place in 54 countries – fewer than the number in which it is still used. China and India consume the most, together taking almost half of world production. Thailand, Indonesia, Sri Lanka, Brazil and Russia use significant amounts.
In 2013, an attempt to add white asbestos to the Rotterdam Convention was blocked by Russia, Kazakhstan, Ukraine, Kyrgyzstan, Zimbabwe, India and Vietnam. Supporters of the move said it would have led to improved labelling, handling and safety regulations, and saved thousands of lives. Opponents said it would increase shipping and insurance costs.
The World Health Organization estimates that 107,000 people die every year as a result of occupational exposure to asbestos. In the UK, the Health and Safety Executive puts the figure at about 4,700: in 2011, 2,300 British people died from mesothelioma, 2,000 from other related lung cancers and 400 from asbestosis. Tradespeople are at particularly high risk.
Attempts to calculate likely future deaths have produced widely varying results over the years, partly because the greatest risks of developing mesothelioma come between 30 and 50 years after exposure. A 2010 study predicted that 61,000 men in the UK will die of mesothelioma between 2007 and 2050 – compared with 30,000 between 1968 and 2007. The peak year for mortality was predicted to be 2016. 
While most cases occur among those who work directly with materials containing asbestos, others become sick through more casual environmental exposure. In 2004 it was reported that hospital workers and school teachers ranked fourth and eighth respectively in a list of the most frequently cited occupations on mesothelioma death certificates, and that a quarter of US deaths from the disease occurred in those who had not worked directly with it.
Some healthcare workers report that this proportion may be growing. Liz Darlison is a consultant nurse at University Hospitals of Leicester NHS Trust and a founder of Mesothelioma UK, which provides information and support for patients.
“It is still predominantly carpenters, joiners, laggers,” says Darlison. “But those of us who work with this disease are fearful because increasingly we are seeing more women and more people who've had casual exposure such as teachers, doctors, nurses, secretaries, and people who have sat on the knee of a dad who has worked with asbestos.”

No cure

Winston and Jennifer Bish still live in the pretty, well-kept home he built for them and their children in the 1970s. He is comfortable there and had hoped it would be where he would spend many years of happy, healthy retirement. Perhaps he’ll be lucky, but it’s a vision that could be robbed from him any day.
Winston Bish at home with his dog
CC-BY: Ben Gilbert/Wellcome Images
Winston Bish at his Cambridgeshire home with his daughter’s dog, Toby.
Bish, though, is much more concerned that others are informed of the dangers, so they do not end up in his shoes, than with blaming anyone for his condition. “I just hope that people are made more aware of the problems linked to asbestos. It’s still there in schools, offices and housing, and anyone who does DIY can come into contact with it. It can lay dormant for 40 to 50 years, and there’s no cure.”
“I enjoyed working in the building industry – very much so – but if I’d known the risks back then I wouldn't have gone into it,” he says. “I realise now it was like playing Russian roulette. Some take the bullet, others don’t. I was one of the unlucky ones.”
In west London, meanwhile, a man carefully tapes up another red bag containing wet asbestos, then places it into a clear bag, which he also tapes up. The contractors remove their orange overalls, place them in a bag for disposal, then hoover each other down. Leaving the ‘dirty end’ of the three-stage airlock through plastic sheeting, they enter the middle stage, where they squirt water over their hair and masks. In the final ‘clean end’, they put on new overalls. The asbestos is taken away, destined for a hazardous waste landfill in Ipswich.
Their job is far from finished. The team will continue working at the hospital over three summers, as work can only be carried out when the heating is off. The contract for this work is worth over £400,000.
Given that asbestos could be present in any building refurbished or built before 2000 in the UK – homes, hospitals, schools, offices – it’s likely that the specialist removal companies will be busy for years to come. So too will be the clinics and hospitals dealing with the human casualties of the appalling legacy of a mineral called asbestos.

Friday 20 June 2014

Canada needs to take a new look at asbestos

Laurena Smith
Features Writer, Canadian Cancer Survivor Network

With the closure of the last two asbestos mines in 2011, Canada’s export industry for the toxic mineral is not expected to make a return any time soon. Even Premier Jean Charest’s promised 58 million in loans to reopen the Jeffrey Mine in aptly named Asbestos, Quebec went unfunded when the Parti Quebecois  won the 2012 provincial election by promising to keep it closed. It’s 2014, and while Liberals are back with a majority government in Quebec, but asbestos mining barely registered on the election radar [1].

Meanwhile, the Harper government is not saying whether they will be joining the over 50 countries that have banned the import and export of the known carcinogen. In fact, they are not saying much of anything at all.

Repeated questioning from the Opposition in the House of Commons has not yielded much in the way of a response.  Natural Resources Minister Greg Rickford, answering for Labour Minister Kellie Leitch after she remained silent during Question Period, stated that the government would not block the listing of chrysotile at the upcoming 2015 Rotterdam Convention [2]. The Rotterdam Convention, a United Nations treaty which includes 52 signed nations, requires the exporters of hazardous substances to disclose the risks [3].

With a dead industry and no exports, Canada has little reason to block the list of the mineral. 
Harper’s Quebec lieutenant, Christian Paradis explained that because the previous Parti Québécois government refused to revive the bankrupt Quebec asbestos industry, causing its shutdown, there was no point in Canada blocking the listing of chrysotile asbestos. As economic interest waned, the government had no issues with changing their stance, never mind the very real health threat the mineral poses to Canadians.

Ottawa’s position maintains that chrysotile, the ‘less deadly’ version of other asbestiform minerals, when handled safely and responsibly poses only a minimal health risk. Health Canada states, ‘it is generally accepted that chrysotile asbestos is less potent and does less damage to the lungs’ [4]; yet chrysotile represented 95 per cent of all asbestos used over the past century [5]. It also remains the top killer in Canadian workplaces and is responsible for a reported 2,268 on-the-job deaths from 2007-2012 [6]. This does not account for deaths which occurred outside the workplace.

Exposure to asbestos remains a major issue: older schools, hospitals, homes and building materials can contain the substance, leaving many Canadians to become exposed without their knowledge [7]. Furthermore, neglect of safety procedure when removing asbestos from properties can endanger not only workers but people in nearby vicinities, their families, friends and other bystanders [8]. Exposure to these fibres can cause painful lung-related diseases, including two deadly forms of cancer: mesothelioma and lung cancer [9].

As more asbestos is uncovered, demolished, and removed; rates of mesothelioma, a cancer caused almost exclusively by exposure to asbestos, are expected to rise dramatically. Once diagnosed with mesothelioma, individuals are expected to only live between six months and a year [10]. The Canadian government has a responsibility to protect not only those individuals affected by mesothelioma, but to ban and remove asbestos completely from the Canadian market and ensure the standards for the safe removal of asbestos are met.


[1]"Asbestos Mine Was Not An Issue in 2014 Quebec Election." Asbestos Facts Canada. Asbestos Facts Canada, 11 May 2011. Web. 18 June 2014. <>.
[2] Galloway, Gloria. "Government Silent as Questions Mount about Asbestos Danger." The Globe and Mail. The Globe and Mail, 17 June 2014. Web. accessed 18 June 2014. <>.
[3] "No Safe Use: The Canadian Asbestos Epidemic That Ottawa Is Ignoring." The Globe and Mail. The Globe and Mail, 14 June 2014. Web. accessed 18 June 2014. <>.
[4] "Health Risks of Asbestos." Health Canada. Government of Canada, 14 Oct. 2012. Web.  accessed 18 June 2014. <>.
[6] "No Safe Use: The Canadian Asbestos Epidemic That Ottawa Is Ignoring." The Globe and Mail. The Globe and Mail, 14 June 2014. Web. accessed 18 June 2014. <>.
[7] ibid.
[8] ibid.
[9] "What Are Asbestos-Related Lung Diseases?" NIH. National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute, 1 May 2011. Web. accessed 18 June 2014. <>.
[10] "No Safe Use: The Canadian Asbestos Epidemic That Ottawa Is Ignoring." The Globe and Mail. The Globe and Mail, 14 June 2014. Web. accessed 18 June 2014. <>.

Friday 6 December 2013

Health advocates call on Indian government to end all use of asbestos

MEDIA RELEASE: New Delhi, India, December 2, 2013

Over 300 scientists and health defenders from 36 countries condemn dangerous misinformation being disseminated in India by asbestos industry organisations

In a letter released today, over 200 scientists and over 100 labour and health organizations from 36 countries strongly condemned efforts by asbestos industry organisations to promote use of chrysotile asbestos in India. The letter, sent to Health Minister Sh Gulam Nabi Azad, Labour Minister Sh Sis Ram Ola and Environment Minister Ms Jayanthi Natarajan, noted that the asbestos industry is on a mission to enhance its profits and urged the National Government of India to put the health of the Indian population ahead of the vested interests of the asbestos industry.

“The International Chrysotile Association and the Asbestos Cement Products Manufacturers’ Association of India (ACPMA) are disseminating deadly, deceptive misinformation about chrysotile asbestos, that will cause suffering and loss of life for years to come,” said Dr. Joseph LaDou, Emeritus Chair, Division of Occupational and Environmental Medicine, University of California School of Medicine, USA.

“These organisations claim that scientific research shows that chrysotile asbestos can be safely used,” said Professor Luiz Augusto Facchini, Department of Social Medicine, Faculty of Medicine, Universidade Federal de Pelotas, Brazil. “This claim is utterly false. The International Agency for Research on Cancer and the World Health Organization, as well as numerous other scientific organisations, have all called for an end to the use of chrysotile asbestos in order to prevent further tragic epidemics of asbestos-related diseases.”

“While a handful of scientists financed by and allied to the asbestos industry, deny the health risks of chrysotile asbestos and promote its continued used, not a single reputable scientific body in the world supports this position,” said Dr. Fernand Turcotte, Professor Emeritus of Preventive Medicine and Public Health, Laval University, Québec, Canada.

In the face of the public health disaster caused by asbestos, 54 industrialized countries have banned any use of asbestos. The asbestos industry, in order to ensure its continued profits, is aggressively targeting Asian countries for sales. Just six Asian countries – China, India, Indonesia, Vietnam, Thailand and Sri Lanka – now represent 70% of world asbestos consumption.

India imports more asbestos than any other country in the world, with imports having risen from 253,382 tons in 2006 to 473,240 tons in 2012, an increase of 186%. “These vast amounts of asbestos, being placed in homes and schools across India, are a deadly time bomb that will go on causing suffering and deaths for decades to come,” said Dr V. Murlidhar, Pneumoconiosis compensation board, TN Trust, UK and Trauma surgeon, Mumbai, India.

As a result of increased use of asbestos in Asia, asbestos experts, Dr. G.V. Le and Dr. K. Takahashi have warned: “A surge of Asbestos Related Disorders (ARD) in Asia should be anticipated in the coming decades. Asian countries should not only cease asbestos use but also prepare themselves for an impending epidemic of ARD.”

One of the ‘eminent’ speakers at the forthcoming conference, Dr David Bernstein was found by a New York court early this year to have committed potential crime-fraud by publishing a number of scientific papers that were financed and controlled by an asbestos products company.

The independence of a 2012 study conducted by the National Institute of Occupational Health titled ‘Health hazards/ environmental hazards resulting from use of Chrysotile variety of asbestos in the country’ commissioned by the Ministry of Chemicals and Petrochemicals was tarnished by the participation of the asbestos industry behind the scenes.

Commenting on the study, Dr Arthur Frank, Professor of Public Health, Drexel University, USA stated: “There are so many things wrong with this study it is hard to know where to begin. Perhaps the single most damning statement in the whole document is to be found on page 106 – All workers were using personal protective equipment device such as a piece of cloth as mask. Who could possibly believe that a piece of cloth acts as a piece of protective equipment?”

“It shows cynical indifference on the part of the asbestos industry that they are holding their event to promote a toxic product on the anniversary of the Bhopal tragedy,” said Pralhad Malvadkar, Occupational Health and Safety Centre, Mumbai. “The millions of tons of asbestos that are being placed in homes and schools in India will create thousands of innocent victims, while this irresponsible industry reaps the profits. A slow motion Bhopal is being created. It may be reliably predicted that the toll of death and disease from asbestos in India will be at least 10 to 100 times as great as that from the disaster in Bhopal. The corporate mentality that is the cause is the same in both cases”.

We call on the three government ministers to reject the discredited propaganda of a tainted, irresponsible industry and instead show leadership that respects reputable science and protection of health.

We call on the national government to adopt an enlightened policy and to support the WHO’s recommendation to end all use of asbestos in India.


Mohit Gupta, Occupational and Environmental Health Network of India,

Krishnendu Mukherjee, Barrister,

Madhumita Dutta, Occupational and Environmental Health Network of India,
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Monday 28 October 2013

Asbestos Legislation in Canada

In Canada, the laws concerning asbestos can at times appear contradictory. The country has put nationwide regulations in place banning the use of certain types of asbestos in many products, yet the country continues to export chrysotile asbestos to developing countries around the world, a scenario that many Canadians find to be quite perplexing.

Asbestos legislation in Canada can best be characterized as a struggle between the government and the asbestos industry, opposed by medical organizations, labor unions and concerned citizens who truly understand the dangers of asbestos use. Recently, a number of politicians have supported the asbestos ban, rallying to pass laws that will eventually lower Canada’s startlingly-high rate of asbestos-related deaths. Many people, however, still defend the industry.

Regulations on Asbestos Use

The Canadian Government has indeed imposed some regulations on asbestos use. According to Health Canada, "The sale of pure asbestos and certain high-risk consumer products that are composed of or contain asbestos fibres is strictly regulated under the Hazardous Products Act. In addition, the emissions of asbestos into the environment from mining and milling operations are subject to the Canadian Environmental Protection Act."

Currently, the country is spending billions of dollars to remove asbestos from schools, factories, plants and other commercial buildings.

Until just recently, laws permitted the use of chrysotile asbestos in certain children’s toys in Canada, and as recently as 2010, the government was considering the possibility of reopening the open pit Jeffrey Mine in Quebec, which would allow the asbestos exports industry to grow. Proponents claim that the industry promotes safe use of asbestos in the countries to which they sell. Those who oppose the asbestos exports industry claim that most of these countries do not have proper health and safety regulations in place to regulate use of the material.

Due to the controversy surrounding the asbestos industry in Canada, it is not expected that an overall ban on asbestos will happen soon. Canada successfully led a campaign to block the listing of asbestos as a toxic material on the Prior Informed Consent list at the Rotterdam Convention in 2004 and then again in 2008, backed by a number of other countries with an interest in asbestos mining.

Health Canada Study

In early 2008, it was revealed that Health Canada had quietly begun a study on the dangers of chrysotile asbestos. The organization said it was undertaking the research to "help further Canada's knowledge of chrysotile asbestos fibres in relation to human health" and to update the World Health Organization's last published assessment on the subject from 1998.

Unfortunately, the two scientists on the project were supporters of the chrysotile asbestos industry, and the organization refused to announce when the results of the study would be released. In a written statement, Health Canada said that they found chrysotile asbestos to be "safe when used under controlled conditions," and safe use of the material would be regulated by Canada both domestically and abroad.

Tuesday 10 September 2013

Precautions to Take After Being Exposed to Asbestos

If you've been following CCSN for any amount of time, you've probably amassed a considerable amount of knowledge about the health complications that can develop after asbestos exposure. However, you may also have spent a considerable amount of time racking your brain for times when you could possibly have been exposed to asbestos.

If you've identified any potential exposures, you may now be dealing with intense feelings of anxiety. You’re not alone! This is a reaction we hear often at The Mesothelioma Center.

You’ll be relieved to know that many people who are exposed to asbestos never become ill. Those who do develop asbestos-related diseases were often exposed to high quantities of the fibers for prolonged periods of time. Most people – including those who inhale one or two fibers in the home or environment – won’t have to worry about mesothelioma.

That said, certain precautions can give you peace of mind. It’s important to monitor your health so that in the rare event that a tumor does develop, your medical team will be able to make a quick diagnosis.

If you've been exposed to asbestos, we suggest that you:

• Ask your primary doctor to make a note of your exposure in your medical history. If, in the future, you note any abnormal symptoms, your medical team will know that you have a history of asbestos exposure. This insider knowledge will help them narrow down the causes of your symptoms – and hopefully catch any malignancies in their earliest stages.
• Register for respiratory screenings and other routine imaging scans. These tests can provide easy tracking of your health over time. If your doctors note a decline in lung function (or any suspicious spots inside your body), they’ll be able to immediately pursue further testing.
• Schedule a home inspection to prevent future exposure. Knowing that your home is free from asbestos hazards offers you – and your family – added peace of mind.

Faith Franz is a writer for The Mesothelioma Center. She likes to spread the word about the benefits of alternative medicine.

Thursday 18 July 2013

Former Asbestos Cheerleader Christian Paradis is the new Minister for International Development

As part of the changes to his cabinet on Monday, July 15th, 2013, Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper named Christian Paradis to the post of Minister for International Development. Twice the Member of Parliament (MP) for the riding Megantic-L'Érable, Paradis was Minister for Natural Resources from 2010 to 2011 and Minister of Industry from May 2011 until this past Monday when the most recent cabinet shuffle was announced by the Canadian government. Paradis is Harper's Quebec lieutenant and has also long been associated with the asbestos debate in Canada.
Paradis was once a vocal supporter of asbestos but he and the federal Conservative government have recently been forced to change their tune as a result of the election of Quebec Premier Pauline Marios, who stopped her predecessor's fifty-eight million dollar loan guarantee to the Quebec asbestos industry. The federal government has since begun promoting a plan to diversify the economies of towns reliant upon the asbestos industry.

The global asbestos industry over the past couple of decades has shifted its focus to market to developing countries. Before the Canadian mines closed in 2011, much of the asbestos exported to developing countries (mostly in Asia) was from Quebec, Canada. As a supporter of the asbestos industry, Paradis therefore also supported the export of asbestos to developing countries, without concern that it is often mishandled in factories and also by consumers due to lack of safety regulation and enforcement. Unfortunately, asbestos exposure often results in dangerous health consequences like asbestosis and cancer.

So the question is: Can Mr Paradis succeed in promoting healthy development around the world in the role of Minister for International Development with a past coloured by his support of the asbestos industry?

Paradis was born in the Quebec town of Thetford Mines, which was the home of one of the world's largest asbestos mines. Thetford Mines' open pit and underground asbestos mines were open from the late nineteenth century until 2011. Paradis has a legal practice in the town. He is also the head of the town's chamber of commerce.

As the Prime Minister's top Conservative MP in Quebec, Mr Paradis was a long-time cheerleader of the asbestos industry in Canada. He was part of a Canadian tradition, both Liberal and Conservative, to support the asbestos industry, even as the rest of world was on the opposite side of the argument.

In 2011, Canada stood alone in front of the world at the Rotterdam Convention, the lone voice in opposition of the decision to officially recognize chrysotile asbestos as a hazardous material. In 2012, though, Paradis announced that Canada's official stance on the issue changed - Canada would no longer block the placing of chrysotile asbestos on the list of hazardous materials at the 2013 Rotterdam Convention. (However, the listing was blocked by seven countries, who mine or import chrysotile.)

Despite the fact that the change in Canada's stance was a positive note in the anti-asbestos fight, it is important to note that this decision did not come freely from the government of Canada. The decision was the result of the newly elected Parti Québécois leader Pauline Marios delivering on an election promise; that, if she was elected, she would halt the fifty-eight million dollar loan promised by former Quebec Premier Liberal Jean Charest to reopen asbestos mines in the province.

She was elected and she stopped the loan from reinvigorating the Quebec asbestos mines, forcing the federal government to acknowledge the death of the entire asbestos industry since the Quebec mine are the only ones left in the country.

Paradis said that that it would be illogical to continue blocking the listing of chrysotile asbestos on the Rotterdam Convention after Canada was no longer in the business. Kathleen Ruff has written that this sends a clear message to the world: If you have economic interests in a dangerous or hazardous industry, you should fight against efforts to control or regulate that industry.

Ruff has also called Canada's change in heart too little too late and even cowardly. She says it is easy to stop opposing the listing of chrysotile asbestos as a hazardous substance when you don't have anything to lose (because you won't lose money since the mines are already shut down). But it takes courage to commit to change because it is the right thing to do to protect the health and therefore prosperity of all citizens.

Though the Canadian government has taken this first step, however small, it is troubling that there was no mention of the terrible health effects of asbestos at all by the government when discussing its decision to not block the listing of chrysotile on the Rotterdam Convention. Instead, Paradis lamented the negative economic impacts that the closing of the mines for good would have on the community.

To combat the jobs lost as a result of the end of the asbestos mining industry in Quebec, Paradis also announced in 2012 that the Government of Canada would pledge up to fifty million dollars to economic diversification in area in which the local economy was reliant upon asbestos.

But it is important to ask if Premier Marios had not stopped the loan Charest had promised to the asbestos mines, would Paradis and the Canadian government have announced this plan at all or would they have allowed the mines to continue exporting deadly asbestos fibres around the world and into unprotected consumers' lungs?

While job loss as a result of the closing of the mines can be handled with this plan, the health consequences of mining and exporting of a carcinogenic fibre will haunt mining communities in Quebec and communities in developing countries all around the world for years to come.

Monday 15 July 2013

Canada and Asbestos Today - A Guest Post from Kathleen Ruff

Now that Canada no longer mines or exports asbestos, what are the next steps we should be taking as a country?

The last two asbestos mines in Quebec have finally shut down after more than a century of operation. Other asbestos mines in BC, Ontario, Newfoundland and the Yukon closed down years ago.

Finally, Canada, which, for the past century, was a leading world producer, exporter and promoter of asbestos, is no longer in the asbestos business.

But much remains to be done. While the asbestos mines have shut down for economic reasons, the Canadian government continues to support asbestos use, continues to fail to protect Canadians from asbestos harm and continues to fail to provide assistance and support to asbestos victims and their families.

Shockingly, the Canadian government continues to deny the science on asbestos and, instead, supports the discredited propaganda of the asbestos industry, which claims, against all the evidence, that asbestos can be safely used.

The Harper government opposes the recommendation of the World Health Organization that all use of asbestos should stop. And the government has rejected requests from the Canadian Medical Association, the Canadian Cancer Society, the Canadian Public Health Association and many other health, labour and public interest organisations that the Canadian government take action to stop the use of asbestos in Canada and to protect Canadians from asbestos harm.

Over 50 countries have banned asbestos, including all the countries of the European Union. Because Canada has not banned asbestos, products are allowed to be imported into Canada that contain asbestos. Millions of dollars’ worth of asbestos-containing car brakes, for example, are imported into Canada each year. Over past decades, many auto mechanics have died from having been exposed to asbestos when grinding and repairing brakes. This will continue to happen, as long as Canada does not ban asbestos.

The Canadian government needs to show leadership on the threat to the health of Canadians posed by asbestos that was placed in thousands of homes and buildings decades ago. Construction workers, carpenters and electricians are especially at risk when they renovate or demolish old buildings.

Many people cannot afford to hire trained professionals to do renovation work on their homes and so they do the work themselves. They usually lack protective equipment and training regarding asbestos and are thus at risk of being exposed to asbestos fibres, as they are unlikely to even recognize it in the walls, ceilings and floors they are cutting into.

While the Canadian government is failing to protect Canadians from asbestos harm, it is spending millions of taxpayers’ dollars on removing asbestos from the Parliament Buildings and from the Prime Minister’s residence. Apparently, the government believes that members of Parliament and the Prime Minister should be protected from asbestos harm.

Many Canadians think, wrongly, that asbestos is a problem of the past. Other countries have national programs to inform and educate the public about the continuing dangers of asbestos. But not Canada. This, in spite of the fact that, every day, more Canadians fall victim to an asbestos-related disease.

When Canadian workers are repeatedly exposed to asbestos because of wanton negligence on the part of their employers, the Canadian government does not lay charges of criminal negligence against the employers, even though the Criminal Code has a provision allowing for such charges to be laid. Thus there are no serious repercussions. The employer may have to pay a fine under occupational health regulations, but, when an employer repeatedly pays the fine and continues to expose workers to asbestos harm, clearly the fine is not a sufficient deterrent.

Because the last asbestos mines have been closed down,Canadians can be glad that we are no longer exporting asbestos to harm people overseas.

The Canadian government should, however, set up reparation funds in those countries to which, to our financial profit, we exported huge amounts of asbestos for decades. These funds would help pay for health care and compensation to all those whose lives will be harmed and help pay for removing asbestos from schools, homes and buildings overseas once those buildings begin to deteriorate and threaten to release asbestos fibres into the air.

As an immediate priority, the Canadian government should take action to protect Canadians from further asbestos harm by banning asbestos, by setting up an asbestos registry and initiating a national program to inform Canadians of the ongoing threat posed by asbestos already placed in so many buildings.

Furthermore, the Canadian government should take responsibility for the asbestos the government itself placed in homes on First Nations reserves and in homes on military bases. The government has washed its hands of this problem and the deaths it has caused.

It is time for this callous and irresponsible conduct to stop.

Kathleen Ruff is founder of the human rights website and author of Exporting Harm: How Canada markets asbestos to thedeveloping world