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.

References

[1]"Asbestos Mine Was Not An Issue in 2014 Quebec Election." Asbestos Facts Canada. Asbestos Facts Canada, 11 May 2011. Web. 18 June 2014. <http://asbestosfacts.ca/information/asbestos-issue-2014-quebec-election/>.
[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. <http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/politics/federal-opposition-raises-asbestos-policy-issue/article19214039/>.
[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. <http://www.theglobeandmail.com/report-on-business/no-safe-use-as-the-top-workplace-killer-asbestos-leaves-a-deadly-legacy/article19151351/>.
[4] "Health Risks of Asbestos." Health Canada. Government of Canada, 14 Oct. 2012. Web.  accessed 18 June 2014. <http://healthycanadians.gc.ca/environment-environnement/outdoor-air-exterieur/asbestos-amiante-eng.php>.
[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. <http://www.theglobeandmail.com/report-on-business/no-safe-use-as-the-top-workplace-killer-asbestos-leaves-a-deadly-legacy/article19151351/>.
[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. <http://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/health-topics/topics/asb/>.
[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. <http://www.theglobeandmail.com/report-on-business/no-safe-use-as-the-top-workplace-killer-asbestos-leaves-a-deadly-legacy/article19151351/>.

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