Immoral Exports

Thu, Apr 23, 2009


By exporting asbestos, a carcinogen, to developing countries despite its well-known health risks, Canada does not only export harm to the environment and health, but is also establishing a dangerous precedent that may cause a major setback to an effective international environmental convention. In the April 21, 2009 edition of the Ottawa Citizen, Kathleen Ruff writes that “Canada’s willingness to peddle asbestos to the world’s most vulnerable populations, all for the sake of a few dollars in Quebec, is a long-standing disgrace.”

Read the full article below.

The Ottawa Citizen
Immoral exports
April 21, 2009
For too long the federal government, to its shame, has denied and avoided evidence about the dangers of chrysotile asbestos, a product that Canada mines and exports around the world.

The new release of a Health Canada report, documenting as it does a “strong relationship” between lung cancer and exposure to chrysotile asbestos, means the government can rationalize its irresponsible behaviour no longer, and must finally ban these exports. Canada’s reputation as a moral player on the international stage is being jeopardized by its willingness to ship asbestos to some of the poorest parts of the world.

As one of the largest exporters of chrysotile asbestos in the world, Canada has fiercely protected this dying industry, which now supports only about 550 jobs in Quebec. Canada’s official position has been that chrysolite asbestos is safer than other asbestos products because it has shorter fibres, and with proper handling and practices is acceptable for use.

A number of experts behind the Health Canada report criticized the “safe-use” idea. One said that it’s “misleading” for Canada to suggest that a poor country like India, which receives the bulk of Canada’s chrysolite asbestos, will find a way to use it more safely than it has been used in the
wealthy West.

In 2006, Canada had a particular shameful moment when it led a group of countries that blocked the naming of chrysotile asbestos as a hazardous chemical in the Rotterdam Convention. The inclusion of this product would not have banned sales but would have required exporting countries to provide information to importing countries about the dangers of the stuff.

Moreover, not only has Canada taken a lead in blocking international efforts to make the use of chrysotile asbestos safer but the government has stalled on making public its own expert report on the subject.

The report, commissioned by Health Canada, was completed more than a year ago yet was only made public this month by Canwest News Service, which had waited 10 months — yes, 10 months — for a response to an Access to Information request. Indeed, the British chair of the panel that wrote the report had accused the Canadian government of “misusing science” and, in failing to make the report public, of practicing “needless government secrecy.”

Ultimately, the debate about whether one form of asbestos is more likely to cause certain types of cancer than others is not the point. It’s sufficient that the newly-released study shows that exposure to chrysotile asbestos is not safe. As panellist Leslie Stayner, director of epidemiology and
biostatistics at the University of Illinois School of Public Health, put it: “The fundamental question of whether it’s hazardous or not is clear. I think the answer to that is, yes, chrysotile is a hazardous substance.”

Canada’s willingness to peddle asbestos to the world’s most vulnerable populations, all for the sake of a few dollars in Quebec, is a long-standing disgrace. The current federal government is notorious for its ability to dismiss empirical data and the counsel of scientific experts, but perhaps the Health Canada report will be one study that even this government will be too embarrassed to ignore.

C Copyright (c) The Ottawa Citizen

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One Response to “Immoral Exports”

  1. Mary McEachern Says:

    I remember the incident which was developed into a drama broadcast by CBC radio entitled “Charbonneau et le chef” about the PQ premier’s inducement of church authorities to remove Bishop Charbonneau to a remote assignment to curtail his public opposition to the exposure of miners to the heakth risks of asbestos mining.

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