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article imageThe ethics of selling asbestos

By KJ Mullins     Dec 6, 2010 in World
In Canada asbestos has been banned for use but that doesn't stop the mining and exportation of the leading cause of a rare cancer known as mesothelioma from the remaining two mines located in Quebec.
In international circles Canada is looked down upon for the continued mining of asbestos mineral chrysotile to be sold to other nations, most of which are in the developing world.
Asbestos is known to cause lung cancers and diseases, so much so that many legal systems in industrialized countries have asbestos law and mesothelioma law in their mainstream policies.
Those most at danger are the workers who inhale the small asbestos fibres in the air. The mere act of breathing starts a cancer time bomb that can take decades to act.
Most asbestos exported from Canada are loose fibres shipped in large reinforced paper bags. In Canada workers that deal with asbestos must limit their exposure to fibres and consumer products that release fibres into the air are banned.
"What's the difference between land mines and asbestos?" asks Dr. Barry Castleman, author of a respected book on the danger of asbestos. "A key difference, of course, is that Canada doesn't export land mines."
Countries like India, Indonesia and Brazil are still receiving the fibres that are known to cause disease.
Why would a nation that touts itself as a peacekeeper continue to export a product so dangerous that it does not use it to other poorer nations?
In December 2008 "Canada, Chrysotile and Cancer: Health Canada's Asbestos International Expert Panel Report" was published in the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine. In an editorial for the journal Dr. Leslie Stayner, one of the scientific experts appointed in early 2008 to the Health Canada panel on chrysotile asbestos, said, "What should be truly embarrassing to the Canadian government and people is their position that exposure to chrysotile asbestos is safe and that there is no need to warn the developing countries that it exports to, about the hazards associated with its use."
Health Canada allegedly sat for over a year on a report that concluded that a "strong relationship" between lung cancer and chrysotile asbestos that is mined within the nation. The report by an international panel of experts was received in March 2008 with the panel chairman requesting that the report be released. After a 10 month wait the Canwest News Service was able to obtain the report.
The report's findings had New Democrat MP, Pat Martin announcing that the conclusions should have the government taking action.
"It makes our case. The reality is we're at a tipping point. The jig is up for the asbestos industry," said Martin, who worked in a Yukon asbestos mine as a young man without being warned of the health risks.
Researchers have gone to Parliament to stress the importance of a ban for the exportation of asbestos only to have it fall on deaf ears. On March 23, 2010 Martin submitted a motion to remove an amount of money equal to the subsidy to the Asbestos Institute. He cited an editorial from the April 2009 issue of Canadian Medical Association Journal during his talk;
"In a practice that reeks of hypocrisy, Canada has limited the use of asbestos to prevent the exposure of Canadians to the danger, but it continues to be the world’s second largest exporter of asbestos. Canada’s government must put an end to this death dealing charade. Canada must immediately drop its opposition to placing chrysotile under the Rotterdam Convention’s notification and consent processes and stop funding the Chrysotile Institute. More importantly, Canada should do its part in alleviating the global epidemic of asbestos-related disease by ending the mining and export of chrysotile, as the WHO recommends."
After his presentation vote 10 took place that the amount of $1,877,636,000, be reduced by $250,000. It was negatived with 9 nays and 1 yea.
Martin also discussed an open letter to Prime Minister Harper that said: It is time to stop this wasteful use of public funds which is harming Canada's scientific and moral reputation around the world and exposes innocent people to harm from asbestos.
The government's stance is that the product is exported to companies that have safe use policies in place. That is questionable. The notes of a mining expert who visited the Saibaba Asbestos mine site in Cuddapah, India in 2009 found that the site was unrestricted with no fences or warning signs.
"There has been absolutely no attempt to remove, or even safeguard, any of the toxic dumps although the nearest human settlement is but half a kilometre away; an ineffectual bund, with absolutely no tree cover, separates the two. Any concept of 'care and maintainance' is totally absent. Overall, it would be hard to imagine a more parlous situation for local villagers or livestock."
Those practices would be criminal in Canada and yet Canada looks the other way when it comes to the exportation of asbestos.
MiningWatch Canada found that Canadian mining companies are implicated in four times as many violations of Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) as mining companies from other countries. That information came from a report by the Prospectors and Developers Association of Canada (PDAC) in 2009 but never released for the public.
Catherine Coumans, Research Coordinator for MiningWatch Canada said that, “This report - done for the biggest industry lobby group - confirms what we have been saying for years: that violations of good corporate behaviour by Canadian mining companies in developing countries are numerous and widespread. Cleary this is not just a case of a few bad apples, as the industry's boosters would like us to believe.”
Those who work in the depressed area of Quebec where mining takes place may argue about their jobs being at risk but is that risk enough to risk so many more world wide?
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