Canada’s Asbestos Policy Bears Bitter Fruit at Home

Regular readers may recall that the Canadian government, so admirable for its advanced and progressive social policies otherwise, has taken a misguided and harmful position in its protection and endorsement of its domestic asbestos industry. Canada is one of the last two nations on the planet (Russia is the other one) in which companies active in the production of asbestos are allowed to operate and market their product, most of which is exported to developing nations.
While it is not the only reason, it seems that the birds of this policy are coming home to roost. According to Dr. Wayne Peppard at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, there will be as many as 1,500 deaths among Canadian construction workers from asbestos-related illnesses over the next five years. His colleague from the UBC School of Environmental Health, Dr. Paul Demers, is in agreement.

He states: “The conservative estimate is 65-70 mesothelioma cancers and 130-140 asbestos related lung cancers per year… there are also cases of asbestosis, as well as mesothelioma that is misdiagnosed and other asbestos-related cancers (larynx, colorectal, stomach, etc.) pushing the number of new cases up to 250-300 per year and most will eventually die from these diseases.” A spokesman for B.C.’s Heat and Frost Insulators and Allied Workers union says that construction workers whose jobs involve handling insulation are particularly at risk. The spokesman, Wayne Laxton, said that most doctors are unaware of mesothelioma and related asbestos cancers, and urged “…widows of deceased workers to demand an autopsy,” adding that “…it’s the only way to know for certain that the death was caused by asbestos or mesothelioma.”

These death statistics are not being reported in official records, which is not surprising given the Canadian government’s endorsement of asbestos and the power of lobbyists for the industry, which is based largely in Quebec. Dr. Peppard said, “It’s long past time that the Canadian and Quebec governments stop the production and use of asbestos–it’s simply too dangerous a substance and these statistics prove it.” Members of Canada’s New Democratic Party are exerting pressure on the government to reverse its asbestos policies, while a grassroots activist group based in Edmonton and Toronto, Ban Asbestos Canada, is working to raise public awareness on the issue.