The Asbestos Monster of the North Grows Stronger

Even as the Canadian people and their representatives are demanding that their country join the Australia, the E.U., Japan and South Africa in banning asbestos, the Canadian asbestos monster continues to grow like a malignancy. By August of 2007, Canadian exports increased markedly over the previous year. Exports to the world’s wealthiest and most impoverished nations doubled, as shipments to the United Arab Emirates and the Dominican Republic increased by 100% or more. Even Canadian asbestos imports into the U.S. increased by over 15% at the same time Senator Patty Murray’s asbestos bill (see “EWG Director Praises ‘Landmark Asbestos Legislation'” posted on 26 September) was being considered in the legislature. The tragedy is that most of the countries to which asbestos is exported have little or no regulation to protect workers. Despite the Canadian government’s assurances about “controlled use,” Dr. Barry Castleman, an expert on asbestos issues, says, “Anyone who says there’s a controlled use of asbestos in the Third World is either a liar or a fool.” Recently, events surrounding Canada’s asbestos industry took a sinister turn as former corporate rivals JM, Inc., and LAB Chrysotile Mines have reached an agreement to form a “joint sales agency,” to be known as Chrysotile Canada, Inc. (CCI). According to LAB president Simon DuPere, the sales agency is necessary in order to “protect…markets and keep…mines operating.”

In the meantime, it’s not just victims abroad who are suffering. Quebecois who live near the asbestos mines in Thetford face tremendous health hazards that the Harper administration refuses to even recognize as such. Samples taken of a number of residential properties in the region showed that over half were contaminated with levels of asbestos that would be in violation of most U.S. standards. The report states that “…if these houses were schools in the United States, they would be shut down until effective corrective measures were taken to bring down dust levels below this criterion.” The good news is that anti-asbestos voices in Canada are growing louder, and lobbyists for Canada’s asbestos industry are losing control over media messages. An October article published in The Globe and Mail has caused a major stir among Canada’s news providers, and the office of PM Stephen Harper has received over 800 letters from outraged Canadian citizens.