Monday, 24 June 2013

Will Quebec Finally See the Truth About Asbestos?

In April 2013, CBC News published an article about the possible end of Quebec’s asbestos promotion policy. After 11 years of encouraging local construction companies to use asbestos products, the Natural Resources Minister Martine Ouellette finally admitted that there seems to be no safe way to use the fibres. Nearly 40 years after Sweden enacted the world’s first chrysotile asbestos ban, could Canada be finally following suit?

Today, Canada is one of the few industrialized nations that doesn’t ban the known carcinogen. (The United States is another.) In fact, Quebec has been home to a highly profitable chrysotile mining industry since 1879.

Asbestos fibres
Asbestos Use

For years, Canada has been one of the largest exporters of asbestos. Developing nations are especially willing to buy the inexpensive fibres, which they use to add a fireproofing element to many common building products. (These nations consume about 90 percent of Quebec’s asbestos.)

However, Quebec does use plenty of its own chrysotile. A recent survey found asbestos in at least 180 health care sites, including long-term care homes. Abatement is now underway.

Until recently, however, governing bodies insisted that chrysotile asbestos was safe to handle. Lobbyists – often funded by The Chrysotile Institute – argued that the fibres didn’t share the cancer-causing properties of other forms of asbestos, like serpentine. These lobbyists even managed to keep asbestos off the U.N.’s list of toxic substances.

Asbestos Promotion

In the past, the Parti Québécois promoted its use, saying, “Unequivocally, they believe the future of asbestos and asbestos products can play a leading role in many specific sectors.” They suggested that encapsulated asbestos products (such as bricks) were not harmful at all, because the individual fibres weren’t likely to make it to the surface, where they could be inhaled. However, this promotion failed to consider the repercussions that could occur as those products aged naturally or were damaged by construction.

Now, however, the parties in power are starting to consider such factors.

“I don't think we're there anymore,” Natural Resources Minister Martine Ouellet said, when asked about their policies of asbestos promotion.

As a first step, the Pauline Marlois-led government rescinded the previous government’s offer of a $50 million incentive to re-launch production at Quebec’s Jeffrey Asbestos Mine. And while they’ve stopped endorsing production, there’s still plenty of room to improve. Perhaps a complete ban of asbestos will be next.  

Faith Franz writes for The Mesothelioma Center at She encourages patients to consider the benefits of alternative medicine.

CBC News. (5 April 2013). Quebec’s Asbestos Promotion Policy May be Ending. Retrieved from http://www.cbc.canewscanadamontrealstory20130405quebec-asbestos-policy-jeffery-mine-chrysotile-export.html

CBC News. (26 March 2013). Asbestos in at least 180 Quebec Health Care Sites. Retrieved from http://www.cbc.canewshealthstory20130326quebec-asbestos-health-care-contamination.html

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