Journal of Ban Asbestos Network of India (BANI) that works for Asbestos Free India inspired by trade union leader Purnendu Majumadar. Occupational Health India and ToxicsWatch Alliance are its members that includes doctors, researchers and activists. BANI demands criminal liability for companies and medico-legal remedy for victims. It works with trade unions, human rights, environmental, consumer and public health groups. For Details: firstname.lastname@example.org
Thursday, December 29, 2011
QUEBEC — After the oilsands and the seal hunt, asbestos has become Canada's new sin, tarred as an evil at home and abroad.
In just three years, asbestos went from being one of the country's great exports. supported by all political parties at the House of Commons, to being vilified by politicians of all stripes, including some Conservatives.
"We've reached a tipping point in our attitude toward asbestos and so has the world. Canada's boy-scout image is being tarnished," said New Democrat MP Pat Martin, who has been fighting to ban asbestos mining since he was first elected in 1997.
"In many circles, we've become an international pariah. Clubbing baby seals, dumping asbestos in the Third World and tarsands are probably the three biggest embarrassments for Canada on the international stage," Martin said.
Canada's reputation took a hit earlier this year, when the government blocked international efforts to label the chrysotile asbestos — the kind mined in Canada — as a hazardous material under the UN Rotterdam Convention.
The European parliament also took shots at Canada earlier this year over the oilsands industry's environmental record, ongoing asbestos exports and the sealing industry.
In a news release, the members of parliament expressed concerns about the "serious harm to the health of workers mining asbestos, the processing and use of which is already banned in the EU."
In November, Australia's Upper House passed a motion urging the government to pressure Canada to stop producing and exporting asbestos — a insulating mineral used in construction that is linked to deadly lung diseases, including cancer.
Activists in Asian countries, notably in India, are increasingly holding demonstrations to protest against asbestos exports, which they say are causing harm to workers.
Mohit Gupta, co-ordinator of the Occupational and Environmental Health Network of India, called Canada's plan to eliminate tariffs on asbestos exports to India "an appalling travesty of all ethical codes of human behaviour."
"All of this is giving Canada an enormous black eye around the world. People can't believe that Canada is acting as a rogue country and that Canada is the biggest public health obstacle internationally to making any progress on the asbestos issue," said Kathleen Ruff, a prominent anti-asbestos campaigner.
But for the president of the Jeffrey Mine in Asbestos, Que., activists are "unrelentingly and unfairly" attacking chrysotile asbestos.
"I've been working at the mine, first as an engineer, for 42 years. My son worked here for 15 years. Do you really think we'd be stupid enough to stay on if it were as dangerous as they are claiming?" asks Bernard Coulombe.
He doesn't deny asbestos is a carcinogen, but he stressed it can be harmful only if people are highly exposed and for a long period of time.
"Just like the sun, or alcohol. If you drink too much or lay naked in the sun for hours, it can be dangerous," he said.
The industry and the federal government maintain chrysotile asbestos is safe to handle as long as proper guidelines are followed.
The mineral is banned in Canada and the government is spending millions to remove it from buildings across the country, including the Parliament buildings and the prime minister's residence.
Critics in Canada and overseas have been particularly concerned about exports to developing countries, such as India, that they say lack the safeguards to ensure asbestos is used safely.
A recent documentary of the Australian Broadcasting Corp. showed that, according to the World Health Organization, asbestos kills an estimated 8,000 people each year in India — a situation described as an "epidemic" in the documentary.
The WHO estimates that globally, more than 100,000 people die from asbestos-related illnesses, including cancer, every year.
Coulombe disputes that figure and said he has asked the WHO several times to explain how they came up with the number.
"The controversy is constantly fuelled by false information," Coulombe said, pointing to reports showing workers in India and other countries handling asbestos with their bare hands.
"We make sure it is used safely everywhere we export it. There might be some small mom-and-pops shops who buy asbestos from China and do a bad job, but that represents less than one tenth of a percentage of the industry in India," Coulombe said.
Leslie Stayner, an asbestos expert at the University of Illinois school of public health, says he fears that, in the future, there will be an epidemic of cancer and other diseases as a result of exposure to asbestos in developing countries.
"I'm afraid that the end results of Canada and other countries exporting asbestos will be that the developing world will be experiencing an epidemic of asbestos-related diseases some years from now as we are experiencing in Canada and the U.S.," he said.
Stayner was a key member of a federal government expert panel on asbestos who delivered a report that noted the "strong relationship" between lung cancer and chrysotile asbestos. That report was held back by Ottawa for 13 months before it was released in 2011.
Stayner has called for Canada to ban exports of asbestos and stressed the country could show a leadership role in taking a stand against the mineral.
"The science is very clear, and a number of international bodies have reviewed the issue and have all come to the same conclusion that all forms of asbestos, including chrysotile, are hazardous and cause cancers in humans. That's not going to change," he said.
Canada is facing a renewed push to ban exports of asbestos for good now that the country's two remaining asbestos mines, located in Quebec, have stopped producing the controversial mineral for the first time in 130 years.
In November, the Lac d'amiante du Canada operation in Thetford Mines suspended its operations because it was having operational obstacles accessing the mineral. In the town of Asbestos, about two hours east of Montreal, the Jeffrey Mine needs a bank-loan guarantee from the Quebec government before it can start digging a new underground mine.
Coulombe said he hopes to resume work next summer if he gets the green light from provincial officials. In the meantime, a small amount continues to be exported, but Coulombe noted that he will be out of stock in five or six months.
Asbestos is a hot-button issue in Quebec and the government is taking its time before deciding whether it will hand out the $58-million loan guarantee.
"We are still analyzing the project and the financial structure," said Quebec Economic Development Minister Sam Hamad.
He noted the government is committed to keep the mine open for economic reasons, but stressed the managers will not get a penny unless they can assure Quebec that asbestos will be used safely where it is exported.
NDP's Pat Martin called on Quebec to seize the opportunity to let the province's struggling asbestos mines die their natural death.
"Let it go. Stop writing the cheques and they'll be out of business. And then we can hold out head up high again," he said. "I think we're within striking distance of victory in terms of banning asbestos."
Read more: http://www.canada.com/business/Critics+brand+asbestos+Canada+latest+global/5918574/story.html#ixzz1hvyo9YUP
Asbestos Trade Data (2010)
Top Five Producers(tonnes):
Top Five Consumers(tonnes):
Thursday, December 15, 2011
This post was originally published on the CSRHUB blog
By Carol Pierson Holding
When a friend sent me this photo of a giant inflatable rat wearing a sign “Asbestos Kills,” the first thing I thought of was Bahar Gidwani’s March 2011 post on CSRHUB blog. Gidwani’s piece was inspired and also illustrated by a rat photo he’d taken near the Citicorp building in midtown New York, which in turn was inspired by the rat’s presence several years ago at a building next to his that employed non-union staff. Why had it reappeared?
Gidwani connected the return of inflatable union rats to the resurgence of union activism following the Wisconsin government union protests. Apparently, unions sense a change in public perception, a new acceptance of their role in maintaining worker’s rights. As union support grows, the huge inflatable rats, some up to 20 feet tall, have become somewhat beloved. According to the New York Observer, they even have a nickname, “Scabbies.”
Now the Scabbies have been adapted to bring awareness to a more pernicious issue, asbestos poisoning. By adding the sign “Asbestos Kills” around Scabbies’ necks, the Asbestos, Lead and Hazardous Waste (ALHW) Laborer’s Union 78 of NYC, Long Island and New Jersey is able to bring support for the Scabbies to their cause: only union labor is safe for asbestos removal.
Formed in 1996, ALHW has 4,000 members and 200 signatory environmental contractors, who remove about 90 percent of asbestos in the region. What they promise is safe removal of asbestos, in accordance with the maze of federal, state and local regulations.
But is the work the Asbestos Rats are protesting really sub-standard or just non-union? Or, as the Upper West Side blog asks, is this about a pissed-off union or a legitimate safety issue? The union arguments are the same at every protest location, that the landlord hired “a sub-standard company to perform deadly asbestos removal.”The fact is, removing asbestos safely is incredibly complicated. New York State’s 221 pages of requirements include special training for workers, an engineering survey, assessments of worker exposure, plans for dust suppression, decontamination of all equipment used, a water tight dumpster for disposing asbestos materials, decontamination of workers (a three-stage procedure) — the list seems endless and the rules difficult to understand and follow.
And there have been scandals around asbestos removal, with some companies having a record of violations and fines. So yes, there are substandard contractors that will cut the enormous expense involved in asbestos removal, which can run more than the cost of demolition. But crooked contractors are only one problem. In 2010, a federal EPA investigation uncovered a New York City safety inspector who had falsified results for 10 years, giving a clean report to over 200 buildings that were never inspected. So focusing a spotlight on the issue is warranted.
Despite all the precautions, 10,000 people in the US are killed by the toxin every year – most but not all workers who are exposed daily. In 1964, the American Medical Association published Dr. Irving Selikoff’s group’s study showing that over twenty years, most insulation workers would develop asbestosis.
Government union workers raised issues that are important to maintaining a just society, such as the right to collective bargaining. Now, the ALHW union is raising an issue that is even more serious, the removal of asbestos in a way that doesn’t release its lethal fibers. Asbestos poisons not only the ALHM’s workers, but also the apartments, workplaces and schools of American families. There’s still a lot of it that has to be removed. Regardless of their motivation, ALHM is right to bring attention to the issue of its safe removal.
Carol Pierson Holding writes on environmental issues and social responsibility for policy and news publications, including the Carnegie Council’s Policy Innovations, Harvard Business Review, San Francisco Chronicle, India Time, The Huffington Post and many other web sites. Her articles on corporate social responsibility can be found on CSRHUB.com, a website that provides sustainability ratings data on 5,000 companies worldwide. Carol holds degrees from Smith College and Harvard University.
CSRHUB is a corporate social responsibility (CSR) ratings tool that allows managers, consultants, academics and activists to track the sustainability performance of major companies. We aggregate data from more than 125 sources including seven leading socially responsible investing (SRI) analysts, Carbon Disclosure Project, indexes, NGOs, crowd sources, and government agencies to provide our users with a comprehensive source of employee, environmental, community, and governance information on nearly 5,000 publicly traded companies in 65 countries. CSRHUB is a B Corporation.
Chadha is an executive for Seja Trade Ltd, a shipping company that exports raw asbestos from Quebec. Seja Trade also is a subsidiary of Balcorp., which is awaiting a controversial, $58 million government loan guarantee to re-open an asbestos mine in Jeffrey. The president of Balcorp is Baljit Chadha, the husband of Roshi.
“It’s really hypocritical of her to be on the board of the Red Cross, which is a wonderful organization. If she doesn’t resign, they should remove her,” anti-asbestos advocate Stacy Cattran told The Mesothelioma Center on Tuesday. “I think the Red Cross will do the right thing.”
The Red Cross is considered the world’s leading humanitarian organization, providing much-needed disaster relief both at home and abroad, often to developing countries where the asbestos is being shipped.
The Red Cross also has been assisting victims of mesothelioma in Canada, including the father of Cattran, who died in 2008, just three months after being diagnosed. Her father died at age 72 after working much of his career as an electrician, where he was exposed to asbestos for many years.
“Having someone on the board who supports the export of asbestos just flys in the face of their mission,” Cattran said. “They support saving lives, not ending them with asbestos.”
Although the use of asbestos has been restricted dramatically in both the United States and Canada, Balcorp is hoping to capitalize on the growing demand for it in India and Asia. The last two asbestos mines in Canada were temporarily closed in November, although Balcorp is making plans to reopen at least one of them again.
Much of the asbestos production in the world now comes from Russia, Kazakhstan, China and Brazil. Canadian asbestos often has been viewed as a higher quality than that coming from other countries.
The mining of asbestos stopped in the United States in 2002, but 820 metric tons were imported in the first half of 2010, according to the U.S. Geological Survey, and much of it came from Canada.
Cattran is a co-founder of Canadian Voices of Asbestos Victims, which joined with the U.S.-based Asbestos-Disease Awareness Group to present an official Declaration to both President Barack Obama and Prime Minister Stephen Harper to support a North America ban on asbestos.
Christopher Hilton, a spokesman for the Canadian Red Cross, told the Vancouver Sun that his organization will consider the concerns raised by anti-asbestos activists at a board meeting in January.
“It’s a matter for the board,” Hilton said. “I’m not going to presuppose what the board is going to do.”
According to the Sun, Chadha was elected to the Red Cross Board of Directors in 2008. She is one of four at-large members on the 16-person board. She also is on the board of directors for St. Mary’s Hospital Foundation and at McGill University Health Centre.
The asbestos issue in Canada generates considerable more debate than it does in the United States, at least partially because the Conservative Party has supported it with subsidies. The Canadian government also blocked the listing of chrysotile asbestos on the Hazardous Materials list of the Rotterdam Convention this summer in Geneva, Switzerland.
Putting asbestos on that list would have made it more difficult to export, allowing importing counties to refuse acceptance of it if they thought the asbestos could not be handled safely.
(Banjit and Roshi Chada both have jobs that link them to the asbestos industry. The Canadian Red Cross is likley to ask for Roshi Chada's resignation from its board of directors.)
About this Author:An award winning reporter and writer, Tim Povtak is a senior content writer for the Mesothelioma Center. He previously worked at the Orlando Sentinel and then at AOL. You can contact him directly email@example.com with any story ideas or comments.
Visakha Industries, in its complaint before a civil court in Secunderabad, has alleged that the network service provider had hosted some defamatory articles aimed at it on its website.
Visakha had sent a legal notice to Google India in December 2008 alleging that articles authored by Delhi-based Gopal Krishna (coordinator of Ban Asbestos India) and hosted by the website violated its rights and were defamatory as they were aimed at a single manufacturer.
Subsequently, Visakha filed a case in the civil court, which summoned the Google India officials. However, on appeal, the high court stayed the order.
An apex court bench headed by Justice P Sathasivam, while seeking a reply from Visakha, also stayed the proceedings pending before the additional chief metropolitan magistrate at Secunderabad.
Senior counsel KK Venugopal argued that the service was not provided by Google India but by its parent company Google Inc and the entire complaint was bereft of any averment of its involvement in the defamation case.
Challenging the Andhra Pradesh High Court’s judgement that dismissed its plea, Google India said the high court grossly erred in concluding that the service provider did not initiate any action to expeditiously remove or disable access to the alleged defamatory material after the asbestos firm brought it to its notice.
Claiming that Google India doesn’t have any control over the website www.groups.google.com , counsel Mahesh Agarwal argued that the petitioner cannot be termed as ‘intermediary’ as per the Information Technology Act, 2000. Besides, the Indian arm has no control over the activities of its parent company and is not even providing hosting services on its website or any other platform.
“The high court failed to appreciate that to constitute an offence of defamation under the IPC only in the event of a publication, would the publisher be liable… The service provider merely provides a platform for third parties to post their contents and does not undertake the activity of publishing such content,” the search engine giant's petition stated.
According to the largest search engine, it is trite law that actions of intermediaries such as Google Inc in providing a platform to end users to upload content does not amount to publication in law and consequently, the question of holding such intermediaries or their employees liable for defamation would not arise.
Alleging that such complaint was malafide, it further added that it is the third party user who creates and disseminates information/content by posting such content.
“Consequently, the service provider is not the author and publisher of the allegedly defamatory content and neither Google Inc nor Google India can be termed as publishers of such content,” Agarwal stated.
The LAB Chrysotile asbestos mining operation in Black Lake Que. (Dec. 13, 2010) Jacques Boissinot/THE CANADIAN PRESS
This issue might seem academic, since asbestos mining has ceased in Canada. The Jeffrey mine at Asbestos, Que., (the biggest open pit asbestos mine in the world) closed two years ago and Canada’s last operating asbestos mine — LAB Chrysotile’s mine at Thetford Mines, Que. — closed in November this year.
These last two asbestos mines were facing financial and environmental disasters. Both were forced to seek bankruptcy protection several years ago, slashing wages and pensions. From being the world’s biggest exporter of asbestos, the asbestos industry represented only 0.1 per cent of Quebec exports in 2010. By 2011, after 130 years, Quebec asbestos mining finally stopped altogether. Other asbestos mines in British Columbia, Newfoundland and Ontario closed years ago.
One would think this was the end of a sorry chapter of Canadian history. But one would be wrong.
Undeterred, both Jeffrey Mine Inc. and LAB Chrysotile Ltd. are aggressively seeking financial and political assistance from the Quebec and Canadian governments to restart the asbestos disaster all over again.
When it comes to promoting the interests of the asbestos industry, Prime Minister Stephen Harper is no sluggard. In the weeks prior to the May 2 general election, the 14,000 citizens of Asbestos were treated to not just one, but two visits by the Prime Minister, who proclaimed his commitment to fight “discrimination” against the asbestos industry.
Harper’s courting of the citizens of Asbestos did not produce the desired result. The Bloc held the seat by a hair’s breadth over the NDP, with the Conservative candidate coming a humiliating third.
Harper’s dedication to the asbestos trade continued unabated, however, as evidenced by his sabotage of the UN Rotterdam Convention Conference in Geneva earlier this year to prevent chrysotile asbestos (100 per cent of the global asbestos trade) from being put on the convention’s list of hazardous substances, thus ensuring continued uncontrolled sale of asbestos.
Asbestos can only be sold if there are no safety controls. Safety measures are complex and costly, as Canadians well know, and are required for the whole life cycle of asbestos, thus pricing it out of the market. Even its biggest fan, Industry Minister Christian Paradis, admits this.
Chrysotile asbestos is listed under Canada’s Hazardous Substances Act but, according to our government, is not hazardous for people overseas. Around the world, Canada’s conduct was bitterly condemned as a despicable double standard.
When it comes to the Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement (CEPA) with India, Harper is likewise employing a double standard. He will not tolerate “discrimination” against the asbestos industry, but is undisturbed by discrimination favouring the asbestos industry.
While working to eliminate tariffs on asbestos, Harper is conspicuously silent over the $58 million subsidy that the Quebec government has offered to the consortium of “free enterprise” investors to cover 70 per cent of the cost of the underground Jeffrey asbestos mine they want to open in Asbestos.
Under free trade rules, such subsidies are prohibited and the Canadian government has responsibility for ensuring their elimination.
LAB Chrysotile will also receive a $58 million subsidy from the Quebec government, according to Thetford Mines Mayor Luc Berthold, who states that Quebec Minister of Municipal Affairs Laurent Lessard has agreed to offer LAB the same subsidy as offered to the Jeffrey mine investors.
Paradis, Harper’s Quebec lieutenant, is the MP for Thetford Mines and a powerful political ally of LAB Chrysotile. He has pledged the Harper government’s full support for the plan to restart mining asbestos. Since taking power, the Harper government has given $1.5 million to the asbestos industry’s lobby group, the Chrysotile Institute. Conservative MPs say the Harper government has cut the funding, but the institute’s president, Clément Godbout, says that federal government funding continues.
The Canadian Cancer Society has criticized this financing as promoting deceptive industry propaganda that will cause loss of life. The financing also clashes with CEPA.
In Quebec, Minister of Economic Development Sam Hamad is in charge of the $58 million loan guarantee to the asbestos investors. In 2003, Hamad gave the global asbestos industry a priceless PR gift. He recommended replacing “asbestos” with the word “chrysotile” in order “to give the industry nobility and growth.”
Harper and Quebec Premier Jean Charest refuse appeals to respect science and protect health. Perhaps, ironically, the free trade deal with India will succeed where scientific evidence and human compassion have failed: an end to taxpayer subsidies to the deadly asbestos industry.
Toronto Star, Dec. 15, 2011
Tuesday, December 13, 2011
Turner Freeman Lawyers said in a statement. The Australian High Court today rejected James Hardie’s appeal, the law firm said.
Sunday, December 11, 2011
PRIME MINISTER STEPHEN HARPER’S CHRISTMAS GIFT TO POOR INDIANS: MORE CRUEL DEATHS BY ASBESTOS EXPORTS
(Photo: Grim Reaper Stephen Harper making it easier to kill Indians with asbestos!)
Asian Journal, Dec. 9, 2011 http://www.asianjournal.ca/
“HARPER Government Plans to Increase Asbestos Exports to India,” was the heading of a press release by the federal NDP on Monday with the sub-heading: “CEPA Trade Negotiators Reveal Deliberate Strategy to Eliminate Tariffs on Dangerous Exports.”
Ironically enough, this was the heading of a Vancouver story this week: “Asbestos contractor faces jail” with the sub-heading: “Workplace Safety.”
I really don’t know whether I should LAUGH or whether I should CRY! But my blood sure BOILS at Canadian blatant criminality and sheer hypocrisy!
Readers of this newspaper have already seen the tons of scientific evidence that I have been presenting here about the deadly effects of asbestos from the world’s most respectable experts and organizations for such a long time.
Just go to our website at www.asianjournal.ca and type in the word “asbestos” in the search engine and you will see all the evidence there.
THE Vancouver story said that asbestos-removal contractor Arthur Moore of AM Environmental will be sentenced on January 23 for contempt of court for ignoring orders from both WorkSafeBC and the B.C. Supreme Court to stop exposing “vulnerable” workers – as young as 14 years of age - to asbestos.
Boy, if this is what is happening right here in Canada, can you imagine how those unscrupulous businessmen in India who can bribe judges, politicians and cops exploit poor, defenceless Indian workers in their asbestos workplace!
And while in Canada it is about REMOVING deadly asbestos, in India, it is about USING Canadian asbestos!
Even the Devil and his demons must be laughing and toasting Harper and his Conservative caucus perverts! As a Christian, I am mortified.
And guess what Workers’ Compensation Board lawyer Scott Nielsen told the judge?
Noting that WCB statistics on the effects of asbestos were unequivocal, he added: “ASBESTOS KILLS. It was the LEADING KILLER of workers in B.C. in 2009, responsible for 44 PER CENT OF ALL DEATHS arising from employment.” [Capitalizations mine for emphasis.]
SOUTH Asians should laud the NDP for having the MORAL COURAGE to oppose the export of death to India.
The federal NDP said that they have learned that the Harper government is trying to eliminate trade tariffs on exports of lethal Canadian asbestos to India.
“It is a disgrace that the Harper government has opposed the global effort to ban this substance,” said Official Opposition International Trade Critic Brian Masse , who is from Ontario. “Now we find out Conservatives are actually attempting to expand Canadian asbestos sales to the developing world. This represents another sad chapter for the Harper government.”
In response to questions from Masse, the Chief Negotiator for the Canada-India Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement admitted Canada is currently working to eliminate tariffs on asbestos exports to India. Currently there is a 10 per cent duty on asbestos exports to India, the world’s second largest consumer of asbestos.
“We already dump hundreds of thousands of tons of asbestos each year into developing nations – and now we want to make it easier for asbestos magnates to do so?” said MP Pat Martin, who’s from Manitoba. “This is deplorable and Canadians need to let their government know they will not put up with this any longer.”
Despite being asked repeatedly in recent weeks about asbestos in the House of Commons, the government never mentioned their plan to increase asbestos trade to the developing world through axing tariffs.
To actively pursue exporting this deadly product to countries that have little to no protection for workers is reprehensible,” said Masse. “It’s time for our government to acknowledge reality and develop a plan to help transition asbestos workers into new, sustainable industries.”
Saturday, December 10, 2011
An asbestos-removal contractor who ignored orders from both WorkSafeBC and the B.C. Supreme Court to stop exposing "vulnerable" workers to asbestos will be sentenced Jan. 23 for contempt of court.
WorkSafeBC inspectors found that Arthur Moore of AM Environmental used employees as young as 14 years of age to remove asbestos-contaminated drywall from homes being demolished without providing them any protection.
He continued to do this despite restraining orders from the B.C. Supreme Court.
Workers' Compensation Board lawyer Scott Nielsen told Justice Richard Goepel that Moore "contrary to the court's order exposed workers as young as 14 to a life threatening substance."
He said WCB statistics on the effects of asbestos were unequivocal.
"Asbestos kills. It was the leading killer of workers in B.C. in 2009, responsible for 44 per cent of all deaths arising from employment," said Nielsen.
Neilson asked for a jail sentence of between six to 12 months.
By Gerry Bellett, Vancouver Sun December 5, 2011 http://www.vancouversun.com/health/Asbestos+contractor+faces+jail/5811651/story.html
Thursday, December 8, 2011
The Canadian Environmental Law Association is calling for broad support for banning asbestos across the US and Canada. The CELA endorsed a statement, The North American Declaration -- issued in Washington DC by the Asbestos Disease Awareness Organization and the Canadian Voices of Asbestos Victims -- which calls on Canadian Prime Minister Harper and US President Obama to take immediate steps to prevent further production or export of asbestos.
"My father was exposed to asbestos while working as a labourer and electrician at the petro-chemical plants in Sarnia, Ontario. In 2008, he died from mesothelioma, just two months after his diagnosis, thirty to forty years after he was exposed," said Stacy Cattran, Canadian Voices of Asbestos Victims Co-Founder. "Sarnia, like so many industrial towns, has suffered the loss of too many of her citizens to asbestos-related disease. After 130 years of mining asbestos, it is time for Canada to close the mines and transition the affected workers to other forms of industry. . . "
"It is unconscionable that while Canadians are spending billions of dollars on health care costs for asbestos victims in Canada and on removing asbestos from our schools, homes, hospitals and public buildings -- including Prime Minister Harper's workplace and residence -- the Canadian government is providing political and financial support to the asbestos lobby and supports a plan to relaunch Canada's bankrupt and deadly asbestos industry,” asbestos campaigner Kathleen Ruff told the Tyee.
"The asbestos issue is a shocking example of denial of science and environmental racism by our government."
As reported earlier in the Tyee, many health, trade union and human rights groups across Canada, including the Canadian Labour Congress and the Canadian Medical Association, have called for an end of Canada’s national asbestos policy, which has allowed the known carcinogen (now rarely used in Canada itself) to be exported to 3rd World countries. There is no safe level of asbestos exposure, critics argue, and Canada should cease exports altogether.
"For the first time in decades, Canada's asbestos mines have stopped production. However, a decision to finance, reopen and expand the Jeffrey Mine in Quebec is expected by the end of the year", said Fe de Leon, Researcher at CELA in a press statement. "If the Quebec government supports a decision to restart these mining operations, it will entrench the Canadian export of this cancer causing substance for decades to come. For developing countries where there are markets for Canadian asbestos, workers and their communities will bear the burden of asbestos exposure since exporters are not required to provide information on the toxicity or safe handling of these hazardous substances. This year, Canada was one of several countries that opposed listing asbestos under the Rotterdam Convention for exchanging information on hazardous substances. Consequently, health and safety labeling need not accompany these exports to unsuspecting workers."
Tom Sandborn covers health policy and labour news for the Tyee.
By Tom Sandborn December 8, 2011
Tuesday, December 6, 2011
Promotion of Asbestos Trade with Canada by Commerce Ministry & CCEA Condemnable
WHO and ILO call for elimination of asbestos of all forms including chrysotile asbestos
Decontaminate asbestos laden buildings of Parliament, Supreme Court, houses of legislators, personnel from armed forces, airports, railway platforms etc
New Delhi: Public health and environmental groups demand that Cabinet Committee on Economic Affairs (CCEA) should ensure that India desists from signing the "Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement" (CEPA) with Canada that allows the export of cancer causing Canadian asbestos to India.
CCEA cannot defend its promotion of asbestos trade given the fact that the WHO, the ILO, all medical health professionals, overwhelming scientific evidence is opposed to it. Support for asbestos trade is indefensible. There is not a single reliable study in the world that shows that asbestos can be used safely in a controlled manner. Had that been the case some 60 countries would not have banned it.
ToxicsWatch Alliance (TWA) appreciates the role of New Democratic Party (NDP) of Canada, the Official Opposition party for resisting the efforts Stephen Harper government of Conservative party of Canada to eliminate trade tariffs on exports of lethal Canadian asbestos to India. “It is a disgrace that the Harper government has opposed the global effort to ban this substance,” NDP said in a release dated December 5, 2011.
Every day, work is underway in the Canadian House of Commons to decontaminate offices and houses of Members of Parliament that contain asbestos. The offices are being decontaminated because asbestos is carcinogenic and harmful to human health. In India, will members of Indian National Congress led United Progressive Government, CCEA and Commerce Minister, Anand Sharma reveal whether they want the asbestos roofs in their own houses and offices to be made of carcinogenic chrysotile asbestos?
Don Stephenson, the chief negotiator of Canada for CEPA revealed to Canadian Parliamentary committee, "The potential impact of trade negotiations of asbestos is that the tariff applicable to imports of asbestos in India would be reduced. The current rate is 10% and there is a possibility that negotiations could lead to a reduction or elimination of this rate "on December 1, 2011.
In India, this amounts to disregarding the notice dated July 6, 2011 issued by National Human Rights Commission that seeks report on victims of asbestos and need for ban on chrysotile asbestos (white) asbestos. The proposed free trade agreement between India and Canada will boost asbestos trade and lead massive increase in deaths and diseases to the killer fibers of Canadian asbestos.
TWA demands that instead of reducing or eliminating tariffs on asbestos from Canada as is proposed in the CEPA negotiations, CCEA and Commerce Ministry should safeguard present and future generation of Indian citizens, consumers, workers and their families by banning trade in asbestos in every form.
TWA has been writing to Commerce Ministry since the inception of these free trade agreement negotiations that commenced in November 2010, warning it against continued asbestos trade with Canada. The CEPA is to be finalized by 2013. Unmindful of incurable asbestos related diseases, Canada exported 70 000 tonnes of asbestos to India in 2010 alone.
India rightly disassociated itself from Canada in June, 2011 who derailed the international consensus that categorizes chrysotile asbestos as a hazardous substance under the UN’s Rotterdam Convention on the Prior Informed Consent Procedure for Certain Hazardous Chemicals and Pesticides in International Trade. Thus, India has taken a position that it considers chrysotile asbestos as a hazardous substance. Now it should take the next logical step and phase out asbestos use. In an explicit case of hypocrisy and double standard, Canada categorizes chrysotile asbestos as a hazardous substance in Canada but promotes it as a harmless substance to India.
In a related development, on December 5, 2011 members of the public in Ottawa, Canada heard why Ms Michaela Keyserlingk thinks that the production and use of asbestos should be banned in Canada. Michaela's husband Robert died 2 years ago from asbestos cancer; since then, Michaela has been campaigning to raise awareness of the asbestos hazard. The event was organized by the Reverend Michel Dubord at St. John's Anglican Church in Ottawa. Six weeks ago, the Anglican Diocese of Ottawa passed a motion denouncing the Canadian Government's policy of exporting asbestos. TWA appreciates the efforts of Michaela and the Church.
According to WHO estimates, more than 107 000 people die each year from asbestos-related lung cancer, mesothelioma and asbestosis resulting from occupational exposure. About 125 million people in the world are exposed to asbestos at the workplace.
The World Health Assembly Resolution 58.22 on cancer prevention urges Member States to pay special attention to cancers for which avoidable exposure is a factor, including exposure to chemicals at the workplace. With Resolution 60.26, the World Health Assembly requested WHO to carry out a global campaign for the elimination of asbestos-related diseases "…bearing in mind a differentiated approach to regulating its various forms - in line with the relevant international legal instruments and the latest evidence for effective interventions…".
Eliminating asbestos-related diseases is particularly targeted at countries still using chrysotile asbestos, in addition to assistance in relation to exposures arising from historical use of all forms of asbestos.
WHO, in collaboration with the International Labour Organization (ILO) and with other intergovernmental organizations and civil society, -works with countries towards elimination of asbestos-related diseases in the following strategic directions:
• by recognizing that the most efficient way to eliminate asbestos-related diseases is to stop the use of all types of asbestos;
• by providing information about solutions for replacing asbestos with safer substitutes and developing economic and technological mechanisms to stimulate its replacement;
• by taking measures to prevent exposure to asbestos in place and during asbestos removal (abatement); and
• by improving early diagnosis, treatment, social and medical rehabilitation of asbestos-related diseases and to establish registries of people with past and/or current exposures to asbestos.
The resolution of the 95th Session of the International Labour Conference of ILO reads:
• Considering that all forms of asbestos, including chrysotile, are classified as known human carcinogens by the International Agency for Research on Cancer, a classification restated by the International Programme on Chemical Safety (a joint Programme of the International Labour Organization, the World Health Organization and the United Nations Environment Programme),
• Alarmed that an estimated 100,000 workers die every year from diseases caused by exposure to asbestos,
• Deeply concerned that workers continue to face serious risks from asbestos exposure, particularly in asbestos removal, demolition, building maintenance, ship-breaking and waste handling activities,
• Noting that it has taken three decades of efforts and the emergence of suitable alternatives for a comprehensive ban on the manufacturing and use of asbestos and asbestos-containing products to be adopted in a number of countries,
• Further noting that the objective of the Promotional Framework for Occupational Safety and Health Convention 2006 is to prevent occupational injuries, diseases and deaths,
1. Resolves that: (a) the elimination of the future use of asbestos and the identification and proper management of asbestos currently in place are the most effective means to protect workers from asbestos exposure and to prevent future asbestos-related diseases and deaths; and (b) the Asbestos Convention, 1986 (No. 162), should not be used to provide a justification for, or endorsement of, the continued use of asbestos.
2. Requests the Governing Body to direct the International Labour Office to: (a) continue to encourage member States to ratify and give effect to the provisions of the Asbestos Convention, 1986 (No. 162), and the Occupational Cancer Convention, 1974 (No. 139); (b) promote the elimination of future use of all forms of asbestos and asbestos containing materials in all member States; (c) promote the identification and proper management of all forms of asbestos currently in place; (d) encourage and assist member States to include measures in their national programmes on occupational safety and health to protect workers from exposure to asbestos; and (e) transmit this resolution to all member States.
Taking cognizance of the above mentioned facts and resolutions, TWA demands that the Commerce Ministry and CCEA should: (a) stop asbestos trade in CEPA in particular and ban manufacturing, use and import of asbestos and trade in asbestos products in general; (b) assist workers affected by diseases caused by asbestos fibers by developing a Just Transition Plan; (c) introduce measures dedicated to affected workers and their families to assure them of a decent standard of living; (e) support and compensate citizens and consumers who are victims of asbestos exposure through legal remedy, (f) decontaminate asbestos laden buildings of Parliament, Supreme Court and the houses of legislators, officials, personnel from armed forces, airports, railway platforms etc and (g) float global tender inviting companies who have competence, skill and capacity to remove asbestos from existing buildings.
India should act urgently to stop import of human misery on a monumental scale. Asbestos trade is morally and ethically reprehensible.
Monday, December 5, 2011
Since 1981, she has been an executive of Seja Trade Ltd., a Montreal company that has for years been exporting asbestos from the open-pit Jeffrey asbestos mine in Quebec to India. Her husband, Baljit Singh Chadha, who is seeking to revive the dying Quebec asbestos industry, is not publicly identified with Seja Trade Ltd.
The Jeffrey open-pit mine has closed down, but Baljit Chadha is lobbying the Quebec government for a $58 million loan guarantee in order to open a new underground Jeffrey mine, which would export of millions of tonnes of asbestos to Asia for the next 25 to 50 years. He states that his project will be financially profitable.
The mandate of the Canadian Red Cross, however, is to promote human health, not financial profits. On its website, the Red Cross states that “All Red Cross programs and activities are guided by the fundamental principles of humanity, impartiality, neutrality, independence, voluntary service, unity and universality. These principles allow us to provide help immediately to whoever needs it, wherever they are, whatever their race, political beliefs, religion, social status or culture. We are a leading humanitarian organization through which people voluntarily demonstrate their caring for others in need.”
As an asbestos exporter, Roshi Chadha is violating the values and standards of the Red Cross. She is contributing to harming people overseas and contributing to a double standard under which asbestos is being removed from schools in Canada to protect Canadian children, while being placed in schools in India, where there are no safety protections and children will be exposed to asbestos harm.
When the Red Cross is involved in relief efforts after a natural disaster, such as the earthquake in Indonesia, asbestos-contaminated rubble is an additional health risk threatening survivors and Red Cross relief workers. For this reason, the World Bank has stated that no asbestos should be used in regions prone to earthquakes and other natural disasters.
Roshi Chadha is also a member of the Board of Directors of the St. Mary’s Hospital Foundation and a member of the Board of Directors of the McGill University Health Centre in Montreal.
At St Mary’s Hospital, she has championed the Chrysalis program, which links “women who share a belief that Knowledge is Power and pivotal to the decision-making process regarding health-related issues through regular seminars with leading medical practitioners.”
But when it comes to the asbestos she exports, Roshi Chadha has a different standard and refuses to heed reputable medical information. The Canadian Medical Association, the Canadian Cancer Society, the Canadian Public Health Association, the Quebec government’s own sixteen Directors of Public Health, as well as numerous other medical authorities, have strongly and unanimously called for the export of asbestos to end and have opposed the re-opening of the Jeffrey mine, saying that asbestos from the mine would lead to loss of life.
Roshi Chadha’s role in exporting asbestos as an executive of Seja Trade Ltd is in direct conflict with her role as a board member of the Canadian Red Cross, St Mary’s Hospital Foundation and the McGill University Health Centre.
Asbestos victims have written to Roshi Chadha and to the Canadian Red Cross, St Mary’s Hospital Foundation and the McGill University Health Centre, asking that she support health and stop exporting asbestos harm or that otherwise she be asked to resign. To date, they have received no reply.
Friday, December 2, 2011
Part Two of The Current
Marine Atlantic and the ship breaking yards of India - Gopal Krishna
The ship breaking yards of Alang, India are emblematic of a post industrial world. A blackened beach strewn with the rusting steel of ships that once proudly sailed from the world's harbours. Tearing the ships apart for scrap has made the beach look like a war zone, but the real bomb may yet detonate: the environmental damage from all the stuff that's spilled from those ships. And in this toxic graveyard are the remains of two Canadian ferries - The Joseph and Clara Smallwood and The Caribou. Both were once owned by Marine Atlantic, a crown corporation that operates ferries between Newfoundland and Cape Breton.
Canada is a signatory to the Basel Convention, an international agreement preventing the transport of hazardous waste from developed to less developed countries. And yet here sit the Canadian ferries. Part of the explanation is that the ships were sold first to a company in the Caribbean and another in the Marshall Islands. Then, they were sold to a company in Alang.
Gopal Krishna is the founder of Toxic Watch Alliance in New Delhi, India.
Marine Atlantic and the voyage to the breaking yards of India - Wayne Elliott
The president and CEO of Marine Atlantic, Wayne Follett, was unavailable for an interview today. So was the Federal Transport Minister. However a few days ago there was a naming celebration in Sydney Nova Scotia for one of the new Marine Atlantic ferries. It replaces one of the ferries now at Alang. Reporters in Sydney caught up with Steven Fletcher, Minister of State for Transport. We aired a clip.
Steven Fletcher, Minister of State for Transport is answering No to the question of whether the government bears any responsibility for the ships ending up in Alang. Megan Leslie disagrees. She's a Halifax MP and NDP's Opposition Environment Critic. We heard from her.
Wayne Elliott is the founder and director of business development for Marine Recycling Corporation of Port Colborne, Ontario. His company is the first ship-breaking yard to achieve the international standard for environmental management.
Marine Atlantic and the ship breaking yards of India - Tony Puthucerril
Tony Puthucerril is a Vanier Canada Graduate Scholar from India working on his doctorate in environmental law at Dalhousie University. He is author of the book: From Shipbreaking to Sustainable Ship Recycling. He was in Halifax.
- MP slams fate of decommissioned N.S. ferries By: Davene Jeffrey - The Chronicle Herald
- Ship recycler bemoans ferries' fate By: Davene Jeffrey - The Chronicle Herald
Most of the world, including the medical community, agrees that asbestos is desperately dangerous. The World Health Organization reports that more than 100,000 people die every year from lung cancer and other respiratory diseases due to asbestos exposure. And many more will die, because 125 million people are exposed to asbestos in their workplaces today and every day.
No surprise, then, that the stuff is effectively banned in Canada. And a surprise, to observers, that Canada exports it to other countries, most notoriously India, where public-health regimes are less vigorous than in Canada.
But that fact is no more mysterious than two forces that are as well known in India as they are in Canada. One is the power of supply and demand. The other is the vacuum of political indifference.
The industry has seen better days. There are just two mines remaining in Quebec’s asbestos belt. The Jeffrey Mine in Asbestos is in semi-operational stasis while it awaits refinancing. According to some reports, the LAB Chrysotile mine in Thetford Mines will, by the time you read this, have stopped churning out the piles of tailings that define the town’s appearance. (“Chrysotile” is the recent rebranding of the white asbestos that the region produces.)
By any measure, it is weird geography. The huge open-pit mines were once the largest pits in the Western hemisphere. The massive rounded hills of tailings seem to have been dropped onto the landscape from above. Except for the trucks spiralling ever downward in the pits, you might figure you’re on the moon.
Over the years, the overburden of rock waste has acquired a rough patina of vegetation. But on the tailings, which is the fine gravel left after the rock has been crushed and the asbestos extracted, there is little sign of life. Some of the piles date from the first mines, more than a century ago.
Luc Berthold, the cheerful mayor of Thetford Mines, seems oblivious to the moonscape. In response to a recent report on local health risks posed by asbestos, the mayor said that no, the municipality would not fence off the tailings to stop young people from using them as an ATV playground. The mayor did concede, however, that the town would cease using the mine residue as a substitute for salt and sand on winter roads.
Defensive about his town’s reputation, Berthold told a Montreal reporter that the effect of asbestos dust on health pales compared to that of smog in Montreal. In the anteroom to Berthold’s office, piles of glossy flyers promote asbestos’s “safe and irreplaceable fibres,” with charts proving that tobacco and highway accidents are thousands of times more dangerous than asbestos in schools.
It’s hard to blame the place for this attitude. After all, it wouldn’t exist without the strange fibre that a farmer named Joseph Fecteau stumbled upon in 1876. He’d hit a rich vein of asbestos, long known in Europe as a miraculous substance that could not be burned or damaged by fire. Within a few years, the Thetford area was the asbestos capital of the world, and Quebeckers called the fibres white gold.
Asbestos was soon everywhere, in houses, in factories, in cars, in thousands upon thousands of industrial and household products—all kinds of insulation as well as everything from brake pads to paint, cement, siding, shingles, pipes, ceiling and floor tiles, clutch facings, even crayons.
For people in Thetford Mines, asbestos dust has been around forever and it’s hard to get excited about a disease that can take up to 40 years to have an effect. For those who live here, asbestos is just a fact of life.
Typical is Sylvain Gagné, who simply shrugs at the mention of asbestosis or cancer or mesothelioma. He is sitting on his veranda, facing a hillside of tailings across the street, contentedly eating a plateful of mashed potatoes. If there is any illness in Thetford Mines, it’s because of people drinking too much, he says, particularly young people who can’t get jobs.
Gagné hasn’t worked at the mine, but his father and grandfather, who is 87, both did, without apparent ill effect.
Gagné’s neighbour across the street, Sylvain Menard, has worked all over the country, much of the time on roofing jobs that called for handling asbestos shingles. Is he concerned? Not remotely. He moved to Thetford Mines only a few months ago and discovered, to his delight, that housing prices are low and the pace of life easy. He says that he could not care less about asbestos; rather, he should be more worried about cigarettes. With that, he lights another smoke with a defiant smile.
Menard’s arrival may be a sign of things to come. For a long time, there was a constant dark cloud over Thetford Mines. Like all one-industry towns, it’s vulnerable to fluctuations in resource markets. But the curse of asbestosis and other lung diseases made things worse. It was not surprising that people, especially youngsters, drifted away in search of work.
One person who stayed, Ritchie Harnish, has done every job there was to do in his more than 40 years in the mine, from bagging asbestos to the delicate task of grading the stuff by the length of the fibres. He worked in the open pit in the baking summer, underground in the bitter winter. For a time he was president of the United Steelworkers local.
Now 60, Harnish is a bridge between the old ways and the new. He remembers his grandfather coming back from the mine, sending off huge clouds of asbestos dust as he patted his jacket and pants. But nowadays they’re filtering the air six times an hour at the mine. The place is spotless.
Harnish, who retired a few months ago, is happy to see changes that might signal the survival of the town where he’s spent his entire life. In the schools, they are asking the kids what would persuade them to stay in Thetford Mines. And on the streets of town, he is meeting old friends he has not seen for 40 or 50 years: “They’re coming back. It’s really not a bad place to live!”
It may be that Harnish is on the sunny side of a generational divide when it comes to safety standards at the mine. Over in Asbestos, Donald Nicholls, who is 80, went to work at the Jeffrey Mine a few weeks after he finished high school in the summer of 1950, not long after the Asbestos Strike came to its bitter end. The momentous events weren’t particularly relevant to him. If you grew up in Asbestos, there really wasn’t anywhere else to work. It was a steady job for 2,500 people.
Nicholls will tell you he’s had a pretty good life. At least up to this point, he says, and a rueful smile flickers across his gaunt face. He and two friends who graduated from high school at the same time all went to work in the mill. One died of a heart attack, and one died from asbestosis, which leaves just Nicholls, and he too is suffering from asbestosis.
He moves slowly and breathes with difficulty because his lungs are scarred with asbestos fibre. There is no cure for asbestosis, so at the age of 80 the prognosis seems clear enough. Mine and mill operations may be much cleaner these days, but for more than a century asbestos dust in the air was as omnipresent as the air itself. If you left your shoes on the floor near an open window, they’d be outlined in dust when you picked them up in the morning.
There was nothing about asbestos that was seen as threatening for children. In fact, teachers and parents gave the kids asbestos to play with, as if it were Plasticine. Donald Nicholls smiles: “We used to make models all the time.” And outside, asbestos fibres were a handy ingredient if you wanted to throw a snowball at a scab during a strike.
While Nicholls was at the mine, across the country young Chuck Strahl was working as a logger in the forests of British Columbia, running a machine known as a yarder. He had to sit two feet from masses of asbestos dust, breathing it in and out, nine or 10 hours a day.
Many years later, in 2005, Strahl was diagnosed with mesothelioma. This meant that the successful career he’d made for himself in federal politics would not go as far as it might have. And it meant that he was at loggerheads with his boss, Stephen Harper, on the issue of asbestos.
The problem was not the use of asbestos in Canada, which has practically been outlawed. Indeed, Harper’s government is paying millions of dollars to remove asbestos from the Parliament Buildings. Rather, the problem is what Canadian asbestos is doing in other countries.
Canada’s isolation was thrown into sharp contrast this year during debate at the United Nations over a proposal to include asbestos on the Rotterdam Convention watch list that warns trading countries of products’ potential toxicity. Importing countries have the option to refuse potentially hazardous materials. Canada, standing alone, blocked the measure.
Strahl’s appeal is simple and polite but unmistakably defiant. As he put it in The Globe and Mail earlier this year, “By listing chrysotile in the Rotterdam Convention as a product that deserves to be handled carefully and with proper warnings, safe use is more likely to occur. Workers from all countries will be grateful for that notification—if not today, then a generation from now.”
Having travelled alongside Harper from the early days of the Reform Party all the way to cabinet, Strahl must have had his doubts that the headstrong leader would change his mind. On the other hand, it cannot have been comfortable for Harper to be at odds with a respected veteran of his caucus. Strahl has not changed his mind about Canada approving the Rotterdam Convention: “I think it will. It’s just a matter of when.”
The former MP (whose cancer is in remission) discreetly says nothing about his dialogue with Harper about asbestos except that “people know my views....And obviously my views didn’t prevail.”
For root causes, Strahl points directly at the Quebec government and Ottawa’s reluctance to interfere in areas of provincial jurisdiction. But Harper’s calculus on the issue surely includes not just his reluctance to tread on Quebec’s turf but also his regional base in the province. One of his few stops in Quebec during this year’s election campaign was Asbestos, where he declared, “This government will not put Canadian industry in a position where it is discriminated against in a market where sale is permitted.”
In the end, of the five Conservatives elected in Quebec, four were in a belt of ridings beginning with that of Christian Paradis, whose home town is Thetford Mines. He is now the senior minister for Quebec in the Harper cabinet.
But Harper’s devotion to the asbestos industry is nothing new. A succession of Canadian governments have been nothing if not loyal to the industry. While other jurisdictions sounded warnings about asbestos, the Canadian and Quebec governments did their best to persuade the world that asbestos was just fine—not all kinds of asbestos, of course, but the asbestos that came from Canada.
The issue came to a head in the late ’90s, when France decided to ban asbestos. An unhappy Canada took the case to the World Trade Organization. It was embarrassing enough to be brawling with a G7 ally; more painful, it was a losing cause. The WTO rejected Canada’s appeal because, simply, “there is in fact a serious carcinogenic risk associated with the inhalation of chrysotile fibres.”
There is, however, a basis to Canada’s contention that chrysotile is less harmful than the blue and brown asbestos that came from other countries. But less harmful does not mean harmless. The World Health Organization says unequivocally that there is no safe level of exposure to asbestos. Yet a Natural Resources Canada fact sheet that appeared on the departmental website as recently as 2008 insisted that asbestos is not as dangerous as originally believed—“current knowledge and modern technology can successfully control the potential for health and environmental harm posed by chrysotile.” In another tack, the fact sheet pointed to alternatives that might compete against chrysotile, and warned that “there is no scientific proof that new alternatives are any safer.”
For both levels of government and the industry, the chosen instrument of pro-asbestos lobbying is the Chrysotile Institute, formerly the Asbestos Institute. Ottawa has contributed $250,000 every year to the institute since its foundation in 1984, with a similar amount coming from Quebec City. There was speculation last spring that Ottawa was backing away from its commitment to the institute. But its president, Clement Godbout, says he has heard nothing beyond an assurance that funding will continue until at least next spring—which is much the same kind of reassurance he has had every year. Godbout says there are no plans to give up on the institute’s intense lobbying activities at home and abroad.
What all the asbestos stakeholders—the towns, the industry, the provincial and federal governments, the Chrysotile Institute—share is a denial, reminiscent of the history of the tobacco industry, of some facts that have been around for almost a century. It was reported in a 1918 U.S. government study that “in the practice of American and Canadian life insurance companies, asbestos workers are generally declined on account of the assumed health-injurious conditions of the industry.” In the late 1970s, documents made public in American courts proved that asbestos industry officials had known of the dangers of asbestos since the 1930s but had concealed that knowledge.
Critics of the indulgent Canadian government policy toward the industry have amassed a list of what seems like every medical organization in the country—the Canadian Medical Association, the Canadian Cancer Society, the Canadian Lung Association, the Quebec Medical Association. Not even the World Health Organization tempers its judgment. As an official put it, “WHO’s position is extremely clear: that all forms of asbestos are carcinogenic to humans. WHO would be very happy to see as many countries as possible phase out asbestos. It has been clearly identified as a public health risk.” The respected British medical journal The Lancet said last year that “until recently, asbestos exportation was the elephant in the room in Canadian politics that no party was brave enough to take on, due to industry opposition.” This year, the Liberals got on board with an NDP motion to ban asbestos exports. It was defeated by the Conservatives, with the help of the Bloc Québécois, in November.
For all the damage it has done to Canada’s reputation, asbestos is a small industry. In fact, by the time Ottawa gets around to banning the export of asbestos, there may be no asbestos industry left to argue about. There is still lots of asbestos fibre to be found in the 60-kilometre swath from Thetford Mines to Asbestos. But it’s expensive to mine when measured against the lower-cost and comparatively unconflicted industries in Russia, Brazil, Kazakhstan, China and Zimbabwe.
Thetford Mines was shaken last summer by a newspaper story that its LAB Chrysotile mine could run out of asbestos within the next year. Mine officials denied the forecast, but production at the mine has been declining sharply in recent years. Then came reports that the mine will be shut down indefinitely in November. (The company did not return calls.)
The Jeffrey Mine in Asbestos has been barely operational for the past eight years. The mine’s uncertain future is staked on the considerable talents and persuasion of a Montreal businessman who came to Canada in 1973 from his native India to study business. Three years later, Baljit Singh Chadha started his own company and teamed up with a Canadian asbestos firm that needed an agent in India or at least a Canadian who knew the Indian market. These days, his trading company annually ships about $100-million worth of nuts, dried fruit, wood and asbestos between India and Canada.
Chadha’s accomplishments, including his philanthropy, were recognized by former prime minister Jean Chrétien in 2003, when he appointed Chadha to both the Security Intelligence Review Committee and the Queen’s Privy Council for Canada. Chadha has had intimate ties to a succession of federal and provincial Liberal governments, most evident recently when he hosted fundraisers for former Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff and Premier Jean Charest and accompanied Charest on a trade mission to India.
For all that, Chadha was a low-profile figure until he made a bid to buy the Jeffrey Mine last year and started to champion the export of asbestos this year. The Quebec government is keeping the mine afloat with a $58-million loan guarantee, on the condition that Chadha find outside investors who will put $25 million into the project.
Both Chadha and provincial Economic Development Minister Clément Gignac have insisted that exporting asbestos to India is beneficial for the country’s impoverished millions. Chadha also told The Globe and Mail that WHO has set a safe threshold for chrysotile exposure. That statement was contradicted in a rare public rebuke from WHO.
“There is very little scientific evidence against us,” Chadha said subsequently. “In fact, there is none.”
For 24 years, Durai Swami loaded and unloaded sacks of asbestos and piles of asbestos cement sheeting in Ahmedabad, the fast-growing hub of Gujarat state and India’s industrial capital.
Swami worked eight hours a day, six days a week. In return, the Shree Digvijay Cement Co. Ltd. each day dispensed 230 rupees ($5) and a 150-gram lump of dark, sticky cane sugar, called jaggery. His managers instructed him to suck on it through the day. “They told us if we ate it, all the dust that we breathed in would stick to it and move through our system and not hurt us,” he says.
That’s the sort of thing that passed for safety equipment at the factory, where Swami worked until recently. After 10 years of the sugar fix, the workers were given gloves, and cotton handkerchiefs to tie over their mouths. But for more than a decade, there has been nothing at all, Swami says.
India has a voracious market for asbestos, which is used to make a cement composite used in low-cost building products. Canada sent 69,575 tonnes of asbestos to India in 2010, according to the United Nations Commodity Trade Statistics Database, with a value of $39.1 million (U.S.). The leading supplier to the country, by far, is Russia. In 2010, Canada ranked third after that country and Brazil.
A small network of activists and aggrieved workers across India argue that there is no such thing as safe use in a country where there is no tradition or practice of occupational safety, no enforcement of regulations, no monitoring of workers’ health—and such severe poverty that Swami went on showing up for work for years, long after he was winded by a half-block walk and had been diagnosed with asbestosis. He knew full well his job was killing him. “In Canada you have all these safety measures,” he says. “In my country they’ve left us to carry it and die.”
Near-identical working conditions are described by current and former employees of the cement factory (now called the Gujarat Composite Co.) and Gujarat Electric Co., operator of a giant power plant whose asbestos-sheathed towers loom over the city. The industries are two of the most common sources of exposure to asbestos here, but there are plenty of others, ranging from chemical production to auto parts manufacturing to ship breaking.
At the factory and power plant, the men have worked with sacks of asbestos displaying a maple leaf (although the workers recognized the Canadian symbol, they could not read the English words, including those that list the “safe” conditions for use of the product inside). None of the men has an education past the third-grade level. Their safety equipment consisted of, at most, cloth tied over their faces; often, they say, they shaped asbestos rope or smeared asbestos slurry on to boiler parts as insulation, with bare hands, their faces uncovered, the dust so thick in the air it was difficult to see.
Many of them began to have trouble breathing more than a decade ago, but they had no information that asbestos presented any risk to their health. “We used to make it into balls and throw them at each other when we were fooling around,” Ragunath Manwar says with bitter amusement.
Manwar worked at the electric company for 37 years, until he was fired in 2002 after asking the company why so many of his colleagues were dying. He says he only learned that he was working with asbestos in 1998 when a lawyer helping his union with a workers’ compensation case asked him to bring her a small chunk of this white powder he worked with. “That was the first I ever heard it was dangerous.”
Today Manwar, jovial, white-haired and apparently tireless—so far unaffected by the breathing troubles that afflict many of his former colleagues—runs a one-man accountability effort from a battered desk on the veranda of his small home, fighting the companies for compensation. But as he sees it, he has another opponent as well: his own government, which, he says, knows full well that asbestos is causing a massive incipient epidemic in India, but is so in the sway of industry that it dismisses the legitimacy of a tower of medical evidence and obstructs all efforts, domestic and international, to put a ban on its use.
When the connection between asbestos and lung disease became irrefutable and the First World market for asbestos began to collapse in the late 1970s, the industry went looking for greener fields. None has proved greener than India, where economic growth has averaged 9% a year of late and the construction industry is growing at breathtaking speed. And as the Canadian industry made clear as it began to target the developing world, a country such as India would pose no messy problems with occupational health: Daniel Perlstein, then president of the asbestos company Société Nationale de l’Amiante, was quoted in The Globe in 1982 explaining that the question of health did not appear to be a concern “in some countries where life expectancy is only 35...most people die by age 35 of other causes than old age or of a cancer that takes 35 to 40 years to grow.”
Companies such as Gujarat Composite combine cement with fly ash and asbestos (at about 9% of the mixture) to create a durable sheet; the asbestos acts as a binder that prevents brittleness. “Canadian fibres are among the best in the world—that is why most companies prefer Canadian fibres first,” says John Nicodemus, an executive director of the Asbestos Cement Products Manufacturers Association of India. He says that the asbestos cement industry produced 4.4 million tonnes of product last year (mostly roof sheets, but also some pipes); the industry has grown by about 14% year on year for the past decade and is currently worth about $1 billion annually. It uses about 90% of the asbestos imports to India.
Asbestos cement sheets are not just durable, they’re cheap—as little as $7 a sheet, and less than half the price of roofing made with galvanized steel or tin, with at least twice the lifespan. So, increasingly, asbestos is the material of choice for low-cost construction, and it has become a cornerstone of the numerous building upgrades in rural areas. “Asbestos is in every school and every train station and every hospital in this country,” says Gopal Krishna, India co-ordinator of the international Ban Asbestos Network.
But Nicodemus says there is no risk: “Governments do their own studies, and they are satisfied that there is no problem—there is no problem under pollution controls,” he says. He adds cheerfully, “I am living proof to this: I worked for 40 years with factories. I am an educated person—if I had sensed any problem, I would have left the industry a long time back and gone somewhere else.”
The industry has a showpiece asbestos factory in the south, Hyderabad Industries Ltd.; this is where the industry association likes to take journalists. There, automatic bag-opening equipment keeps sacks of asbestos in a pressure-controlled area away from workers, and an automated process mixes dry asbestos into slurry, so that the fibres do not become airborne. Contaminant levels in the air are monitored routinely and are well below the Indian government limits (although these are 10 times higher than those in the U.S.).
But the Ahmedabad workers tell a different story—that a “dry process” is still used routinely in their factory, that bags split open all the time, that the men leave the factory coated in white dust. The manager of the factory, D.K. Dutta, and the director of personnel, S.G. Shekawat, refused to allow a visit to the facility to investigate the workers’ allegations, or to answer any questions, in person, by phone or e-mail. In 2010 and 2011, the company was repeatedly cited, and nearly shut down by the pollution control authorities, for using the dry process.
Nicodemus insists in one breath that the dry process is not used anywhere in India any more and then admits in another that his association has no way to prove that. “As far as the Asbestos Cement Products Manufacturers Association is concerned, we have tried our best to identify even small-scale producers so that we can educate them. Governmental regulations are there…and if people are not following, if enforcement is not there, what can we do? We tried our best to bring them [to follow the standards]. I do not know—they are not interested.”
Yet while the cement industry gets—and dodges—the scrutiny, its workers are only part of India’s asbestos exposure story. “The primary exposure is not factory workers; it’s the construction workers, the masons, the plumbers, the electricians, who cut through pipes and sheets and tiles all day—this is where maximum exposure happens,” says Tushar Kant Joshi, a doctor who is director of the independent Centre for Occupational and Environmental Health in New Delhi. The World Health Organization says that the greatest exposure to asbestos fibre happens when sheets and roofing are cut with abrasive tools; the only way to reduce the risk is to do the cutting under water.
Joshi says that rarely ever happens. India has four different laws covering occupational safety—but they apply only to organized, “formal-sector” workers, who are, at most, 10% of the workforce. The great bulk of work in the country’s roaring construction industry is done by day labourers, picked up from vast labour markets in the early morning and paid a dollar or two for a day of work on the high-rise towers of Mumbai and the new shopping malls of Delhi. The occupational safety laws lay out minimum requirements for ventilation, safety equipment, air quality and medical monitoring of workers. But, in practice, none of this ever happens, Joshi says, both because of lack of will and because the Ministry of Labour department tasked with the job has scant resources. Asbestos-related lung cancer is not a reportable illness here; neither, outside mining, is mesothelioma. So there are no statistics on whether they are increasing; and there are no independent epidemiological studies on affected populations in India. Asbestos products are sold without hazard warnings; there is no monitoring of what happens to asbestos sheets or pipes once they leave the point of sale. “They don’t even monitor the organized sector, forget unorganized,” says Joshi. The worker in a factory gets a mask, and ventilation—the person drilling a hole gets nothing.”
The worker drilling holes in asbestos cement sheets goes home at the end of the day in dusty clothes, and his wife or children wash them. “When I would wash the clothes, the smell and the dust would make me gag,” says Savita Mehra, whose husband, Narrayanprasad, made asbestos into fibre ropes at Gujarat Electric Co. for 22 years. “I would say to him, “Look at this, at this dust—you must leave that job.’ But he would say, ‘How can I? How else will I get a permanent job?’” Today Savita, 67, is breathless; when the family can afford steroids, she can move slowly around their two-room house; when they can’t, she stays in bed. Her husband has been diagnosed with occupational asthma. No one has ever investigated Savita’s asbestos exposure. Her husband says he developed breathing trouble after about 10 years at the factory; he went to the factory doctor and was told he had tuberculosis. He took TB treatment for seven years. Today he receives a pension of 300 rupees, or $6, a month—about a fifth of what the family spends on medical care for their breathing problems.
Immediately outside the gates of the sprawling Gujarat Composite factory is a clump of about 300 small houses called Kali Gaon—Black Village—although the houses are mostly painted blue. Every roof is made of corrugated asbestos cement sheets, which are sold from vast stacks at the gate of the factory. “It is the most ideal roof for the Indian people,” enthuses Nicodemus.
But many of the sheets are broken; breakage releases fibres. Heat causes the sheets to break down—and every family cooks on wood or charcoal inside their low-slung houses. Broken pieces are taken home from the factory by workers who use them to make jerry-rigged fences.
Until recently, the factory also supplied water to workers from a well inside its walls. “You could see dust in the water, floating in it,” says C.R. Singh, who grew up in Kali Gaon and whose father still works in the factory. “I had no idea there was a risk—it’s just what people have done their whole life. Now I wonder what I drank for my first 25 years.”
His father, who has repeatedly been diagnosed with asbestosis, inventories bags of chrysotile in a storeroom. The elder Singh says the bags, which occasionally split on their own, are disgorged in the open instead of inside a sealed container, and that there has never been a way to vacuum the dust from his uniform before he leaves for home. All of these circumstances have been identified by the Canadian industry as unsafe. And if anyone has ever checked the particulate level in the factory, they’ve never shared the results with him. Nor the results of his infrequent health exams.
He was, however, given jaggery for years.
“The company was making a fool of these people,” says Ragunath Manwar. He hardly expects better of the employers. Canada is another story. “Doesn’t your government feel a moral responsibility that what they are doing is killing us?”
Whatever Canada’s government may feel, the Indian one apparently has no qualms: It has approved 10 new sites for asbestos cement factories to open next year. That’s no surprise, says Joshi, who—shades of Canada—describes a “close nexus of interests between the business and politicians.” There is, for example, an asbestos cement factory in the constituency of Sonia Gandhi, leader of the ruling All India National Congress. Another huge factory in Hyderabad is headed by Gaddam Vivekanand, a member of the Lok Sabha, the lower house of parliament. He continues to sit as vice-chairman on the company’s board of directors. The industry assiduously courts political favour, reminding politicians that it employs 100,000 people directly, and another 300,000 indirectly. A bill to ban asbestos pushed by activists has sat in the upper house of parliament for years. “The political will is not there. To ban it, to reduce consumption, to restrict use is a political decision,” says Joshi.
Manwar goes further than that. “It’s corruption: The industry buys out the labour department,” he says. No such complaint has been brought against the asbestos cement industry formally, but such practices, while common in India, are rarely investigated. The aging activist sits in the shadow of the cement factory, holding a tattered file of medical records from the men he once worked with, each one ending with a doctor’s scrawl of “asbestosis.”
“We have no power,” he says. “We have nothing.”
John Gray and Stephanie Nolen - The Globe and Mail
21 Nov 2011
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