Ottawa—A British scientist is accusing the government of Canada of covering up his findings in order protect the Ottawan asbestos industry.
Trevor Ogden, who was once a top advisor to the British government, was assigned to head a 2007 panel to study the risks of chrysotile asbestos. Although the report, commissioned by the organization Health Canada, was finished in March 2008, it has only recently been made available after requests from Canadian media under the Access to Information Act.
Canada, the United States, Britain and other developed nations mostly ban the use of asbestos, or allow it only in existing structures. The importation of asbestos to developing nations continues, however, with Canada a major exporter of asbestos.
The mineral, which is fibrous and strong, can be added to cement building products or woven into industrial cloth for insulation purposes. In addition to being inexpensive, it resists extreme temperatures, fire, chemical corrosion, and other biological processes.
When asbestos-containing products are disturbed, the microscopic fibers are released into the air and can then be breathed into the body by workers or even bystanders. Once inside the body, these fibers lodge in the soft tissues and pose a severe health risk. Exposure to asbestos is the only known cause of mesothelioma, a deadly cancer which affects the tissues surrounding the lungs, heart and stomach. It can also lead to other lung diseases and asbestosis, and has even been linked to ovarian cancer.
Mesothelioma is a particularly aggressive cancer, but its symptoms may not become apparent until years, or even decades, after the initial exposure to asbestos. This makes it difficult to treat, and impossible to cure.
Dr. Ogden’s report, which said that chrysotile shows “a strong relationship of exposure with lung cancer,” also found that the dangerous mineral usually contains trace amounts of tremolite, an even more harmful variety of asbestos.
Health Canada claims that they delayed the report’s release pending review. It says that a copy of the report will be made available to anyone who requests one, but will not be publishing the report on its website—a standard practice for its other scientific studies.
Another scientist who served on the panel, epidemiology professor Leslie Stayner, expressed a reluctance to work with Health Canada again. He claims that the governmental agency “violated” the understanding that it would publish the panel’s findings.
Since the mid-1980s, Ottawa has launched an assertive marketing campaign abroad, spending nearly $20 million to promote asbestos. Canada is the world’s largest exporter of asbestos, shipping over 200,000 tons of it abroad each year.