Public opinion be damned, Quebec funds restart of controversial asbestos mine

by Andrew Schneider on July 2, 2012

 

Ignoring years of fervent pleas by physicians, scientists and international public health experts, the provincial government in Quebec last week approved  money to reopen one of the last  asbestos mines in Canada – the Jeffrey Mine, in the aptly named town of Asbestos.

The U.S. may be outsourcing hundreds of thousands of its jobs to India, but with the $58 million (CD) loan, our Canadian neighbors have provided the funds to reactivate the mine and launch much-criticized plans to send millions of pounds of cancer-causing asbestos to building materials factories being built in small, poor, villages across India.

Many international health experts believed that Canada – which has banned the use of asbestos throughout most of its country – would heed the calls for outlawing of the mining, sale and use of the often lethal agent as more than 50 other countries have done.

In the late 1950s and 1960s, thousands of miners ripped the silky, fibrous mineral out of more than a dozen mines and Canada’s thriving asbestos industry produced and shipped almost half of the world’s asbestos, including much of what the U.S. used.

But as the link between asbestos and cancer and other debilitating and often fatal lung diseases became well documented, the use of the killer fiber dropped.

Nevertheless, Montreal-based Balcorp Ltd., a consortium of mostly Indian entrepreneurs, lobbied hard to rejuvenate the asbestos mines in Quebec. They said they had already signed contracts with buyers in India and other developing countries to buy the Canadian mineral for use as a low-cost infrastructure-building material.”

The investors had promised to kick in $25 million if the provincial government came across with the loan of $58 million.

Asbestos fibers

Many opponents from the public health and medical communities urged Ottawa to stand strong against political pressure from politicians and labor unions in Quebec.

Many would like to blame the promotion and protection of Canadian asbestos on the political flag-waving of the Quebec government.  But it shouldn’t be forgotten that a year ago, at a meeting of United Nation’s Rotterdam Convention, representatives of Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s national government shocked most other attendees when it blocked efforts to add Chrysotile asbestos to a blacklist of toxic materials. Had the listing passed, it would have required would-be exporters of asbestos to warn governments of developing nations on what was being brought to their countries.

The international asbestos lobby has significant power in other countries.  For example, in Brazil, the Constitutional Supreme Court is holding hearings in Brasilia next month to debate whether asbestos – of which Brazil is a major supplier – should be banned in that country. Health and union officials have documented thousands of asbestos-related deaths in Brazil’s construction and mining industry over the years.

If the asbestos industry gets its way, the high court will not permits testimony on the latest scientific and health findings from leading international medical experts, including those from the World Health Organization.

 

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