Ottawa and Moscow Drop the Ball on Asbestos

There is much to admire about Canada. Canadian society is far less violent; people in Canada often leave their doors unlocked while running errands during the day. The Canadian government, overall, takes far better care of its citizens; no Canadian citizen or legal resident need fear that an illness or injury will result in financial ruin since Canada’s Medicare system covers everyone for necessary medicines and surgery, regardless of income or “pre-existing conditions.” Canadian industries do not abandon their workers and ship their operations overseas in order to take advantage of cheap labor abroad. Small wonder that increasing numbers of Americans cast their eyes north of the U.S. border with some longing; many have even crossed over. However, Ottawa has a dirty secret: asbestos. Next to Russia, Canada is the second-largest exporter of asbestos in the world. Amphibole asbestos has been banned to be sure; however, chrysotile is still embraced wholeheartedly by the Canadian Government. On the Environment Canada website, there is the following declaration: “The Government of Canada recognizes that all forms of asbestos fibres are carcinogenic. However, recent literature reviews indicate that chrysotile poses significantly less risk for mesothelioma, and probably lung cancer than amphibole asbestos forms… Chrysotile, used safely under controlled conditions, can continue to provide valuable benefits to society.” The current government of Russia agrees. World Social Security Forum delegate Yevgeny Kovalevsky said in September of 2007: “…for the general population, there aren’t significant risks [from chrysotile]… I haven’t seen a single scientific study that shows the need for a ban.

Mr. Kovalevsky has not been looking very far. In fact, numerous studies have demonstrated that as far as long-ranging health effects are concerned, chrysotile is no less harmful than amphibole. In Michael Bowker’s book Fatal Deception: The Terrifying True Story of How Asbestos is Killing America, Dr. William Nichols and colleagues from Mount Sinai Medical Center and the UC San Francisco School of Medicine are quoted as stating that “Clinical and epidemiologic studies have established incontrovertibly that chrysotile causes cancer of the lung, malignant mesothelioma…[and] asbestosis… Comparative analyses have established that chrysotile is 2 to 4 less potent than crocidolite in its ability to cause malignant mesothelioma, but of equal potency of causation of lung cancer… Chrysotile is an important cause of human illness and death.” Business first, however… Quebec’s chrysotile mines constitute a major industry and source of revenue… and most of this asbestos is exported to developing countries. Inside the country, Canadians of conscience are starting to speak out against their government’s misguided policy. Ban Asbestos Canada, a non-profit organization based in Edmonton, Alberta, as well as Ontario, is dedicated to ending Canada’s asbestos trade.