Quite a Contradiction

In almost all areas, Canada is far ahead of the U.S. when it comes to progressive policy. The Canadian government does a far better job of providing safety nets for its citizens; Canadians enjoy a high level of prompt healthcare when needed at no charge, and there is far less of the “off-shoring” of factories and jobs to China and Mexico. Although Ottawa has its fair share of corporate lobbyists, it does take steps to regulate toxic substances and keep Canadians safe. For example, while the U.S. government’s National Toxicology Program has expressed “some concern” that a certain chemical used in plastic bottles–known as bisphenol-A, or BPA–presents serious health hazards to humans, Ottawa recently took decisive steps toward banning the substance altogether. Even Wal-Mart–which has never been the model of corporate responsibility–has even started removing BPA-containing products from the shelves of its Canadian stores. In contrast, no U.S. agency has taken any action whatsoever to protect Americans from the substance, nor even to educate them–not surprising, since corporate manufacturers have assured the Federal government that BPA is “safe” in low doses. Whether these manufacturers have human health or corporate profits in mind, is of course, an obvious question.

On the other hand, several members of the U.S. Congress–led by Senator Patty Murray (D-WA) have stood up to the asbestos industry, and are attempting to join the rest of the industrial world by banning the substance altogether. This is far more than can be said for the Canadian Parliament, which continues to embrace Quebec’s asbestos industry wholeheartedly. While the New Democratic Party of Canada has called for a ban on asbestos, the corporations that continue to mine and produce the substance continue to have a stranglehold over Parliament–despite the fact that Thetford, Quebec, is almost certain to become the next Libby, Montana. Why the concern over BPA and nearly none over asbestos in Canada, but the opposite here in the U.S.? The answer as always is money. Most BPA is produced in the U.S.; although the Canadian market for this plastic may soon be inaccessible, chances are that while there are other markets for BPA, production and sale of plastic bottles will continue–at least until enough citizens are educated. Asbestos on the other hand is a major industry in Quebec, as well as a significant export–mainly to developing countries. The last U.S. asbestos mine, located in California, closed in 2002.