Canadian Politician Calls for Halt of Asbestos Exports

OTTAWA—A Canadian politician who once worked a Yukon asbestos mine is charging that his country is wrongly exporting asbestos material.

Manitoba NDP MP Pat Martin has made a motion before the House of Commons to declare April First an asbestos-disease awareness day.
He’s attacking the Canadian asbestos industry and the country’s practice of exporting asbestos to developing nations, where it is used as an additive to strengthen cement building products. The government approves exports of more than 200,000 tons of asbestos each year. Martin has drafted a request to Prime Minister Stephen Harper, asking that the use an export of asbestos products be phased out.

In Canada in 2005, a majority – 61 percent, totaling 340 people – of all workplace-disease deaths were from asbestos-related diseases.

Asbestos is a naturally occurring fibrous mineral, which is extremely resistant to heat. Its strength and lightweight nature make it an idea additive to building materials and insulating materials.

Asbestos exposure can cause lung cancer, asbestosis, and mesothelioma, which is a particularly aggressive and fatal form of cancer. The disease usually does not manifest until decades after the initial exposure, at which point the cancer is untreatable. According to estimates by the World Health Organization, some 90,000 people die every year worldwide due to asbestos-related diseases.

A spokesperson for the Canadian Cancer Society, Paul Lapierre, said that “We are stating factually that all forms of asbestos cause cancer.” At particular issue in Canada is chrysolite asbestos, which proponents say is less dangerous than other forms. The country had previously opposed the addition of chrysolite asbestos to the Rotterdam Convention, an agreement which lists toxic substances and informs countries of the dangers thereof when the substances are imported.

The Canadian Cancer Society has petitioned Harper to take the money currently being spent to support the chrysolite asbestos industry, and use it instead to create a registry of asbestos-containing buildings.

The Asbestos Institute, a non-profit industry association, will receive $250,000 from the country in 2009-2010.

Martin, who is also campaigning for improved diagnosis and treatment for individuals with asbestos diseases, spent two years as a young man mining asbestos in the Yukon.

“I resent the asbestos industry profoundly,” said Martin, owing to the fact that he was not aware at the time of his asbestos mine employment of the mineral’s potential danger.

Added Martin, “We’ve fooled the world with phoney science for too long.”