Canadian Asbestos: The Fallacy of Controlled Use  

by Laurie Kazan-Allen



Data on Canadian asbestos production and sales from the Minerals and Mining Statistics Division of Natural Resources Canada show that over the 122 year period commencing 1880, the sale of 61 million tons of Canadian chrysotile generated C$12,762 billion. As was witnessed at a WHO workshop1 at the headquarters of the International Agency for Research into Cancer in Lyons, France from November 8-12, 2005, Canadian asbestos propagandists and the scientists they employ, continue to maintain that chrysotile can be used safely under “controlled conditions.” They have $12,762 billion reasons for doing so.

The concept of “controlled use” is a fallacy. It was rejected by the World Trade Organization when it upheld the French Government's right to ban asbestos. It has been exposed as a myth by public health professionals around the globe including experts working in Brazil, Argentina, Chile, Peru, India and Pakistan. A former asbestos industry executive from South Africa has recently admitted that the concept of “controlled use” is nonsense. Brian Gibson, an adviser to Everite Building Products for 20 years, says:

“In the early 1980s Everite tried to eliminate the risk of asbestos by introducing arguably one of the most advanced occupational health and safety programmes in South African history… Regardless of the company's state-of-the-art occupational health and safety measures, pre-employment medicals and exclusion of employees with previous exposure to asbestos, nine Everite employees who joined the company in the early 1990s were recently diagnosed with asbestos-related diseases.”2

In addition, Gibson admits, 42 Everite employees who joined the company in the 1980s have been diagnosed with asbestos-related conditions having been exposed to very low levels of asbestos, mainly chrysotile.

Anecdotal evidence suggests that the Canadian asbestos line is under increasing pressure. On May 31, 2005, the Canadian Association for Research on Work and Health (CARWH), which works “to improve health, safety and wellness among Canadians,” adopted an Asbestos Resolution which recognized asbestos as an occupational carcinogen and acknowledged Canada's role as a major producer and exporter. It stated:

“the Canadian federal government continues to support the asbestos mining industry and block measures to stop the use of asbestos and its export to developing countries...

CARWH call upon the federal and provincial Québec government to provide the necessary financial and logistic support for an economically just transition and environmental remediation for the asbestos mining communities.”3

On October 21, 2005, Canadian MP Pat Martin asked the House of Commons to declare April 1 Asbestos Diseases Awareness Day. He said:

“There are compelling reasons why Canada should do more to formally recognize asbestos related diseases. For over a century, Canada has been a leading producer and exporter of asbestos… Canada needs to be more aware that our widespread use of asbestos has exposed millions to a deadly hazard and contaminated untold thousands of homes and public buildings.”

On November 1, 2005, new regulations came into effect in Ontario which replace twenty-year old standards for handling asbestos. The new regulations apply to the use of asbestos in construction and repair work. Regulation 278 is intended to minimize hazardous asbestos exposure through compulsory asbestos building audits, appropriate removal and sealing of asbestos-containing products, stricter monitoring procedures and increased worker training. Within 2 years, it will become mandatory for all asbestos to be re-inspected frequently and for records to be updated annually.4 There is no doubt that the panic generated by the asbestos contamination of federal buildings on Capital Hill in Ottawa has contributed to the Provincial Government's implementation of these much-needed safeguards. If, as the politicians in Ontario have decided, exposure to Canadian asbestos is too hazardous for building workers in Ontario, how does it become harmless when transported to Thailand, India and the Philippines?

November 28, 2005


1 WHO: World Health Organization. The full title of the workshop was: WHO Workshop on mechanisms of Fibre Carcinogenesis and Assessment of Chrysotile.

2 Morris R. No Worker is Safe, says Asbestos Expert. November 22, 2005.


4 Changes to Ontario Asbestos Regulations Take Effect Nov. 1. October 26, 2005.



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