Friday, September 01, 2006

O Canada, native home of asbestos


O Canada, I'm not too impressed. I've been reading up on asbestos lately and while I knew that we were one of the countries that still mined asbestos, I didn't quite realize that Canada is the second-largest producer of asbestos in the world (behind Russia). Also that we export 95% of it.

That's nice of us: we don't want to get asbestosis or mesothelioma or various cancers - all of which are horrible diseases that can be caused by exposure to asbestos - but we're willing to let people in some poor third-world nation take the risk. Because that's where most of it goes: 60 countries, including Britain, France, Australia and the European Union (i.e., all the rich ones) have banned its use in whole or in part. So we're offering places like India the chance to have a preventable health disaster.

Because it is preventable: the link between exposure and disease is pretty clear. In fact, there has been tonnes of litigious activity in the developed countries, and rightly so in many cases. After all, the first cases were won in 1929 - but we've sure had lots of people working, unprotected, with asbestos since then. There's the Holmes foundry, in Sarnia, where levels of airborne asbestos thousands of times the current allowed level were measured before the place shut down. Now there's a cluster of asbestos-related diseases there.

Now that I've made my bias clear, I should briefly present to you the industry argument: the form of asbestos mined here is called chrysotile, and is thought to be less dangerous than some of the other forms. It is much harder and less dusty and likely to break into potentially dangerous fibres than the older forms (called crocidolite and amosite). Apparently, " representatives of the world's major chrysotile exporting mines signed an agreement whereby they committed to supply chrysotile fibre only to those companies that demonstrate compliance with national health and safety regulations. "

Well... whatever.

1 comment:

Caroline said...

Yes, I had also learned about our exports of asbestos recently and was shocked. It's really sad and pathetic.