Make India Asbestos Free

Make India Asbestos Free
For Asbestos Free India

Journal of Ban Asbestos Network of India (BANI). Asbestos Free India campaign of BANI is inspired by trade union movement and right to health campaign. BANI has been working since 2000. It works with peoples movements, doctors, researchers and activists besides trade unions, human rights, environmental, consumer and public health groups. BANI demands criminal liability for companies and medico-legal remedy for victims.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Medical journal blasts Ottawa for promoting asbestos abroad

Editorial calls Canada's stance ‘shameful and wrong'

The Canadian Medical Association Journal is denouncing the federal government for what it expects will be Canada's continued efforts to block international controls on asbestos at UN-sponsored negotiations next week.

A strongly worded editorial, appearing in Tuesday's issue of the journal, says the government “knows what it is doing is shameful and wrong” and compared Ottawa's moral stature in continuing to promote the use of the cancer-causing material to that of arms traders.

The negotiations, known as the Rotterdam Convention, are to start Oct. 27 in Rome. The focus of the talks will be on whether to add the chrysotile variety of asbestos to the world's list of most dangerous substances. Once a substance is listed, countries must give prior informed consent that they know they are buying a highly dangerous material before being allowed to accept any imports.

In 2006, at the last round of the talks, Canada successfully led a group of countries including Iran, Zimbabwe and Kyrgyzstan in stopping the action. Canada was the only advanced Western country to take such a position.

The federal government is refusing to comment on whether its approach has changed. “I can't say anything at this time,” Vincenza Galatone, executive director of Environment Canada's chemicals management section and a senior official involved in drafting the position, said yesterday.

Quebec is a major asbestos miner, and the industry provides about 700 jobs in the province. Because of litigation risk and health concerns, Canada no longer uses much asbestos. About 95 per cent of domestic output is exported, mainly to developing countries, where it is added to cement building materials. Ottawa has spent about $20-million since the mid-1980s to promote asbestos use. It has contended that the chrysotile type mined in Quebec is less harmful than other varieties and that with proper safeguards, cancer risk can be minimized.

Asbestos dust causes lung cancer; mesothelioma, a painful and deadly malignancy in the lining of the chest wall; and asbestosis, a serious, chronic respiratory disease. The World Health Organization says all types of asbestos cause cancer and estimates the mineral leads to 100,000 preventable deaths annually around the world.

Chrysotile is the only type of asbestos remaining on the world market. The other forms have already been listed under the United Nations convention. The editorial marks the first time the medical association journal has spoken out forcefully about the federal government's asbestos position. The journal said in 2001 that an impartial, expert panel was needed to investigate public-health implications of using the mineral.

Health Canada has convened such a panel, which completed a study in March. But the panel's work has not been made public, and the CMAJ editorial says the journal's sources indicate “the blockage is in the prime minister's office.”

The editorial says Canada's view that its asbestos is a less potent carcinogen is scientifically dubious and is “redolent of the tobacco industry's playbook on light cigarettes.”

David Boyd, an adjunct professor at Simon Fraser University in Burnaby, B.C., and one of the editorial's authors, said a consensus has emerged among public-health officials that asbestos needs to be eliminated and that the government's actions are damaging Canada's international reputation. “Canada really sticks out like a sore thumb when it comes to not only exporting it, but promoting it as well.”


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