Hypocritical Canada and the asbestos trade, a brief review of a world problem

The ravages of asbestos induced lung disease are well known to the Australian community, but the problem continues throughout the world particularly in developing countries. This is a brief review of asbestos as a world problem. together with three key references.

Many influential medical organisations have called for a global ban on asbestos. In 2007 the International Society of Doctors for the Environment called for a ban.

Iceland was the first country to ban most forms of asbestos in 1983, when global use was 4.3–4.7 million metric tons per year. Twenty-five years later, there is still a usage of 2.1 million metric tons. This demand is no longer in developed countries but in those developing countries which are rapidly industrialising.

WHO estimates that about 125 million people worldwide remain exposed to asbestos in the workplace. More than 107 000 people die each year from asbestos-related lung cancer, mesothelioma, and asbestosis resulting from occupational exposures.

Canada a rich developed country is to open underground asbestos mining in Quebec at a site of previous surface mining. This week The Lancet condemned the Canadian government in an article “Canada accused of hypocrisy over asbestos exports”.

Canada is removing asbestos from its buildings, and bans its use except in exceptional circumstances. Unlike other rich nations, Canada is the worlds fourth biggest exporter of white asbestos (Chrisotile), behind Russia, Kazakhstan, and Brazil) with about 150 000 tonnes per year to developing countries such as India, Indonesia, and the Philippines, where little or no protection exists for workers or exposed populations. It is used as a cheap construction material for piping and roofing, which is cut, sawn, and hammered, with many workers not knowing that they contain asbestos or even what asbestos is.

Canada vetoed attempts by WHO and the international community to include chrysotile in the Rotterdam Convention—a UN-sponsored list of controlled substances—which officially alerts importing nations to risks associated with that substance. Countries such as India are willing markets for Canada’s export and the asbestos industry maintains very close contact with both governments.

The President of the Canadian Medical Association questioned why the federal government still allowed asbestos to be exported. “If the government of Canada recognizes that it is essential to regulate the use of asbestos for Canadians, why does it allow the export of this product to countries that lack the resources to protect their own citizens?”

The action in Canada reflects their right wing government’s attitude to international environmental regulation and parallels its dismissal of the need for action on climate change. It is an viewpoint fostered by engineered science and support from vested interests so familiar to us in the smoking and in the climate change debates.

The Collegium Ramazzini reviews these subterfuges which have been happening since the 1950’s “In efforts to sustain markets in the face of a steadily growing body of scientific evidence that irrefutably links asbestos to asbestosis and human cancer, the asbestos industry has attempted to obfuscate the links between asbestos and disease by provoking spurious scientific debate over the roles of, viruses, fibre types, and genetics in the development of lung cancer and malignant mesothelioma”.

The asbestos industry commissions publication of articles, primarily in toxicology journals, called ‘product defence’ articles. They are distinguished from other science papers in that they are written by scientific consultants and consulting firms who are paid substantial sums for their work. The articles are used in court cases. where non-scientific judges have difficulty differentiating them from true science.

It is all too familiar to those advocating action on climate change

For further reading “A Worn-Out Welcome: Renewed Call for a Global Ban on Asbestos” Click here

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