Where Does Canada Really Stand on Asbestos? – Part 1

In an editorial published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal, the Canadian government is accused of continuing to promote asbestos products to third world nations while restricting their use at home. According to the editorial, the government does not seem to care about the lives lost to asbestos in developing countries, which face a high incidence of asbestos-related diseases and poor medical care to treat them.

The editorial came just days before the UN Rotterdam Convention, October 27-31, 2008, where for the second time since 2006 members debated the addition of chrysotile asbestos to its watch list of hazardous substances. In 2006, Canada could not find any supporters from the western world to support its stance to keep chrysotile from being added to the list, but it did find support from Zimbabwe and Iran. These pro-chrysotile nations were successful in lobbying to keep that form of asbestos from the watch list in 2006. The same decision was again discussed at the 2008 Convention, and again chrysotile was left off the list. Inclusion on the UN watch list would not have banned the trade of chrysotile, but it would have required the approval of both the importing and exporting nations before it is shipped out.

While experts from around Canada and even the Canadian government agree that asbestos is a known carcinogen, the government persists in promoting chrysotile to foreign nations, saying that it is a less toxic form of asbestos than others, and if it is used safely will pose no threat.

Safety policies surrounding the use of asbestos in developing nations to which Canada sends it, such as India, are not under the control of the Canadian government. There is no assurance that those in poorer countries are able to properly handle such a hazardous material as chrysotile asbestos.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), over 100,000 deaths occur annually from asbestos exposure that could easily be prevented.