Canada blocks move to protect third world from deadly asbestos

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M. Spector M. Spector's picture
Canada blocks move to protect third world from deadly asbestos


M. Spector M. Spector's picture


The federal government has helped to scuttle an effort by a UN-organized body to place [b]chrysotile asbestos[/b] on the list of the world's most hazardous substances.

The decision is a blow to international public-health efforts to limit exports of asbestos to developing countries, but it is a victory for the Canadian government, which opposed additional controls on the controversial cancer-causing substance.

[b]Canada is the world's No. 2 exporter of asbestos[/b] after Russia.

The UN body, known as the [b]Rotterdam Convention, compiles a global watch list of substances that are so dangerous to the environment or human health that countries have to agree in advance to accept any shipments.[/b]

The convention operates by consensus, so [b]Canada was able to block the move to list chrysotile[/b], the most widely sold type of asbestos, by issuing a statement that it objected to the move.
"I think it's morally reprehensible. I think it's a complete contradiction of what Canada purports to stand for," says Larry Stoffman, Vancouver-based chairman of the National Environmental and Occupational Exposures Committee.
The World Health Organization says that chrysotile is a cancer-causing substance, and estimates that at least 90,000 people die each year of asbestos-related diseases, such as mesothelioma and lung cancer. [url=

[url=]NDP's reaction[/url]


It's too bad that Stephen Harper has decided to make continuing this long-standing Liberal policy on asbestos one of the hallmarks of his international 'leadership.'

Once again, Canada's 'new government' is leading, and not in a good way:


Canada, whose French-speaking Quebec province is a major asbestos producer and exporter, led opposition to the addition of chrysotile asbestos to the list, according to environmentalists tracking the talks.

"What the Canadians are trying to do – what they're all trying to do – is delay this as long as they can so they can make as much money as they can."

[Laurie Kazan-Allen of the International Ban Asbestos Secretariat] said that for every worker in the Canadian asbestos industry, two people die every year.

"For public health worldwide this is truly tragic. It's also very sad that a multilateral environmental agreement which had so much promise has been brought to its knees by people who are more interested in the pennies in their pockets than the number of people dying."


So, according to Harper, threats to Canadians' health must be addressed by a 'Clean Air Act' (his replacement for another multilateral environmental agreement).

It's 'tough luck,' though, for people in developing countries whose health is threatened by the asbestos trade from which we profit.

Canadian 'leadership' at its finest.

[url=]International Ban Asbestos Secretariat.[/url]

[ 14 October 2006: Message edited by: sgm ]

M. Spector M. Spector's picture


The Canadian Government is in an invidious position; it advocates the use of chrysotile abroad but does not promote its use at home. Canada exports more than 95% of all the asbestos it produces; the cynical observer might be inclined to ask: “If Canadian chrysotile is safe enough for foreigners to use, why isn’t it safe enough for Canadians?” The Ottawa Government’s behaviour is immoral and is social dumping of the most cynical kind. The paper by Dr. Jim Brophy [i]The Public Health Disaster Canada Chooses to Ignore[/i] examines the devastating impact Canadian asbestos production has had at home and the unscrupulous methods used by stakeholders to promote Canadian asbestos sales:

“The Canadian federal government has blocked efforts through the United Nations to have chrysotile asbestos included in the Rotterdam Convention… (Canadian) embassies throughout the world are busy promoting asbestos in individual countries. The Canadian Embassy persuaded South Korea in 1977, for example, to withdraw labelling legislation that would have warned about the possible dangers of chrysotile. In the late 1980s, the Canadian government intervened along with the asbestos industry to block the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) from enacting a phase-out of asbestos use.”

At the conference held in Bangkok this Summer (2006), Canadian MP Pat Martin criticized his country’s asbestos policy: “Canada is acting like an ‘international pariah’ by exporting asbestos to Third World countries despite the well-known health hazards.” In the paper [i]Asbestos is Not Banned in North America[/i], Dr. Barry Castleman elaborates on this point:

“Canada, like the U.S., uses very little asbestos in domestic manufacturing. Canada’s asbestos mines export virtually all of their output to poorer countries. Many of the perennial defenders of chrysotile asbestos on the global scene today are Canadian scientists, they carry on the tradition started in the 1960s by spokesmen for multinational asbestos corporations. But they would be less effective as globe-trotting asbestos industry propagandists, featured in news reports with titles like Asbestos cement products are absolutely safe, if Canada banned asbestos.”

[url=]Source[/url] (.pdf)[p.9]


The feds had a deal with certain companies to push asbestos shingles on to veterans of WWII who built starter homes in Canada in the 1940's and 50's. There are still a number of the pill box-style homes across the country which still have asbestos slate shingles on them. The house my father built in 1946 was covered with asbestos shingles. They didn't hold paint very well, and the asbestos fibers would surface after a few years of weathering.

Lots of Canadians working in old steel and paper mills have been exposed to asbestos wrappings around pipes and structural steel over the years.


One wonders, too, what we gave up in order to get the support to keep the chrysotile asbestos off the list.

M. Spector M. Spector's picture

We didn't need any support, Tommy.

There has to be consensus before an item can be added to the banned list. That gives Canada (or any other country) a veto.

The countries that supported Canada were countries that buy the deadly chrysotile from us. They will be rewarded by being allowed to continue buying it from us.


Ah, I thought it was a diplomacy, quid pro quo thing.

You know, either this stuff is dangerous or it's not. Pat Martin was on CBC radio being interviewed about it this afternoon. The list doesn't even ban this substance, just labels it as dangerous. There's little scientific debate that it is, even if it is less dangerous than other forms of asbestos.

I would suggest that a Gabon Viper is more dangerous than a Diamond Back Rattler, but it does't make the Diamond Back "safe".


[url= pilloried over asbestos exports at Delhi summit[/url]


For the second time in a week, unions and other groups called on Mr. Charest to put a halt to the export of the cancer-linked material, which is used in construction.

In front of the hotel where the conference was being held, Anup Srivastava of the Building and Wood Workers International union said asbestos is far from being a product that contributes to sustainable development. [...]

Earlier this week, Mr. Charest was confronted for the first time by members of an Indian workers' union during a news conference in Mumbai.

He is in India on a week-long economic mission.

The Trade Union Centre of India estimates that close to 25 per cent of Indian workers exposed to asbestos dust develop lung diseases such as asbestosis.


Somewhere between a national shame and a national scandal lies Canada's export of asbestos.
The federal government promotes asbestos exports - they have risen sharply in the past year - despite the fact that the use of asbestos has all but disappeared in this country. Why? Because scientists, governments, industries and unions have concluded that the product can lead to a variety of health-related problems and, in some cases, to death.
Indeed, while the federal government promotes exports, a multiyear construction project is refitting the Parliament Buildings, among other reasons to remove asbestos. What our parliamentarians won't have in their buildings apparently will be in buildings in the developing world.
The reason the federal government will not stop defending asbestos is politics - Quebec politics, in fact. The asbestos produced in Canada comes from Quebec, from the Jeffrey and LAB Chrysotile mines that employ about 700 people. A large town in Quebec is even called Asbestos.



But Mr. Charest said it was up to India to act if it felt asbestos led to health problems. He was accompanied by a representative of an asbestos lobby group that receives money from both the federal and provincial governments; his group, he said, gives information to asbestos users about its possible risks. In other words, caveat emptor! Meantime, it's business as usual for Quebec's asbestos exports


As one G+M poster sums up: The cocaine cartels use the same export philosophy as M. Charest.


[url= Lancet slams Canadian "hypocrisy" on asbestos[/url]


"Canada is actively removing asbestos from its buildings," The Lancet said, but it is one of the world's biggest exporters of the fibrous mineral, shipping about 150,000 tonnes per year to India, Indonesia and the Philippines, where "little or no protection exist for workers or exposed populations.

"Asbestos-laden products . . . are widely dispersed in developing countries and are cut, sawed and hammered, with many workers not knowing that they contain asbestos or even what asbestos is."

Protests against the Jeffrey Mine project are to be held Thursday in Quebec City, London and a number of Asian cities.

An Asian delegation representing asbestos victims in India, Indonesia, Japan and South Korea is in Quebec this week to pressure the government to back down.

Apparently Jean Charest has refused their request for a meeting.

M. Spector M. Spector's picture

The Harpocons have done it again:

Chrysotile asbestos will remain off a watch list of dangerous UN chemicals for at least another two years, say observers attending the Rotterdam Convention talks in Rome.

On Tuesday, India, Pakistan, Vietnam and the Philippines made their opposition to chrysotile's inclusion on the list known at the talks.

"Canada got others to do their dirty work for them," said New Democratic MP Pat Martin, who was in Rome as an observer. "The first speakers were our biggest customers."

Martin said several other countries, like Zimbabwe, Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan, also were opposed, but the "overwhelming majority" of delegations were in favour.

"If it's 126 countries here, it's probably 115 or 120 who support inclusion and seven or eight who oppose"

"After the four initial speeches, they said, 'There is clearly no consensus, so it was taken off the agenda to be revisited next time,'" he said from Rome.

Martin said the Canadian delegation did not make a speech, but Monday vetoed a Swiss proposal to change the ratification process so that it would only require a three-quarter majority for listing a chemical. To be added to the list, consensus has to be achieved.

Substances on the Prior Informed Consent list are deemed dangerous, and importing countries have to be informed about their hazards.

An independent committee of scientists from around the world had recommended that chrysotile asbestos, endosulfan and tributyltin be added to the list this year. - [url=