Tragedy of a Manitoba Family

Imagine six victims of asbestos disease in one family. This is what has happened to Raven ThunderSky of Brantford, Manitoba. During the last week of March, her half-sister Rita Swain became the sixth member of her family to die from asbestos disease–in this case, peritoneal mesothelioma, which affects the lining of the stomach. Raven, who has been battling her country’s government for years over the use of asbestos insulation, suffers from asbestosis herself. She and her four sisters, now all dead, grew up in a house in Berens River that was insulated with the W.R. Grace & Company product Zonolite. This product, made from vermiculite that was mined in Libby, Montana, was invariably contaminated with deadly tremolite, an amphibole form of asbestos that causes mesothelioma. Raven’s MP, Pat Martin of Winnipeg, has been speaking out in the Canadian parliament, trying to pressure the conservative Harper government to help Canadian citizens eliminate asbestos from their homes. Martin was quoted in a local newspaper as saying, ” I honestly don’t think there has ever been a cluster of mesothelioma patients anywhere in the world like that.”

The tragic fact is that the Canadian government–in a move that smacks of corporate lobbying and interference by W.R. Grace–had strongly encouraged homeowners to install Zonolite insulation between 1977 and 1984, even going so far as to cover the costs for as many as 300,000 families across the country. It was also government policy to install Zonolite in military housing as well as that located on the reserves of First Nations (Indian reservations). Finally, in 2004 the Canadian Ministry of Health issued a warning to homeowners, and the government has started asbestos abatement on military installations. However, no similar asbestos removal projects have been implemented for the homes of First Nations members like Raven ThunderSky. MP Martin says that Ottawa, which stubbornly defends its asbestos policy when it comes to chrysotile, has an obligation to all Canadian citizens to assist them in ridding themselves of Zonolite, being as how it was government policy that convinced them to install it in the first place.