Quebec Asbestos Record Further Reason Not to Export to Developing Nations 

by Margaret Keith PhD



The word asbestos is chillingly familiar to Sarnia-Lambton residents where record numbers of workers and bystanders have suffered and died from asbestos-related diseases.

This week LAB Chrysotile, the company which produces the majority of Canadian chrysotile asbestos, announced that it has filed a notice of intention to submit a proposal to its creditors under the Bankruptcy and Insolvency Act. It is unknown at this point whether this means the company will actually be closed, whether the notice relates to a plan to restructure, or whether the announcement is an economic scare tactic meant to deflect some of the criticism the industry has been experiencing of late. Over the past year or so, the international community has spoken out harshly against the Canadian government's defence of the country's asbestos industry. This includes such national organizations as the Canadian Cancer Society and such international organizations as the World Health organization. Canada continues to export 95% of the asbestos it produces to developing countries, despite the fact that almost all developed nations have banned its use due to its dire health implications.

The industry's own Chrysotile Institute maintains that chrysotile asbestos can be used safely. However, there are two recent documents produced in Quebec that, when considered together, provide evidence that Canadian asbestos is being used without proper care and is causing death right here in our own country.

The National Institute for Public Health in Quebec produced a report in 2004 on the Epidemiology of Asbestos-Related Diseases in Quebec. It concluded that, from 1982 to 1996, 832 Quebec residents, 655 men and 177 women, were newly diagnosed with mesothelioma, a nearly always fatal cancer of the lining of the lungs. The rate for men was calculated to be 9.5 times greater than for the rest of the country and the rate for women was 2 times greater.

As asbestos is mined in Quebec, it might be assumed that it is the miners who face the highest exposures and thus the highest risks. However, according to an analysis of compensation claims, the miners may actually have a lower risk for asbestos-related disease (asbestosis, mesothelioma, or lung cancer) than asbestos processors and construction workers. As the report states:

…if the workers from construction industries (17%) of cases) are pooled with the workers involved with maintenance and repair of asbestos-containing products and structures (25% of cases), these two groups together account for 42% of the total 691 cases and 53% of the mesothelioma cases, thus surpassing the mining sector.

This information is intriguing when coupled with findings presented in a report that has just been released entitled, Results of the chemical analyses produced at the IRRST for 2001-2005. Concentrations of a variety of substances were measured in a range of industrial settings throughout Quebec. Out of 65 air measurements for fibres taken in the asbestos products industry, 70.77% exceeded the maximum allowable time weighted average. 46.15% were found to be more than twice the allowable level. While the fibre type is not defined in the report, presumably in this setting, the fibres are primarily asbestos.

If a socially and industrially advanced country like Canada cannot provide safe working conditions for workers in the asbestos industry, how can we reasonably expect that workers in developing countries will fair any better?

July 29, 2007



Asbestos Corporation Limited Press Release.

Epidemiology of Asbestos-Related Diseases in Quebec.

Results of the Chemical Analyses Produced at the IRRST for 2001-2005.



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