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.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Unreleased report shows high levels of asbestos in many public buildings

Unreleased report shows high levels of asbestos in many public buildings

In late 2007, Health Canada hired a group of researchers affiliated with the University of Ottawa to assess a health hazard it had never attempted to quantify before: how at risk were Canadians from everyday and occupational exposures to cancer-causing asbestos?

The federal government has long played down the dangers of asbestos, whose only remaining Canadian source is mined in Quebec, but has never actually assessed the amounts in the air of schools, public buildings, transit vehicles and workplaces.
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Inhaling even small amounts of asbestos can cause cancer of the lungs and other illnesses.

The researchers scoured the country for exposure data, assembled 126 pages of it, and presented the information to Health Canada in April, 2009.

Then nothing happened.

Health Canada sat on the report until April, when it released a copy after a request by The Globe and Mail.

Among its findings: dozens of reports of elevated asbestos readings, including some that were 10 to 1,000 times those reported in similar U.S. buildings, along with high readings in some schools.

“Excedent measurements were obtained in public locales and non-residential buildings (such as libraries and schools). Excedent measures were also found in occupations typically unrelated to asbestos exposure, although these likely imply exposure during abatement work,” the report said, referring to cases where asbestos is removed from buildings.

The report noted that exposure levels have been trending down since the mid-1980s, and that those exposed could have reduced their cancer risk by wearing protective equipment, although the report could not specify whether this was the case. But it concluded that its “findings do nevertheless suggest the persistence of excessive exposure among Canadian workers.” The asbestos survey was based on data from the 1980s onward.

Through e-mailed questions, Health Canada declined to comment on why it hadn’t previously released the report, titled “Chrysotile Asbestos Exposure in Canada,” although it called the data “of limited quality.”

It said some of the highest readings came from “a few damaged buildings,” and some levels were “possibly overestimated by 10-fold” due to limitations in the scientific instruments used to measure asbestos fibres, which resemble household dust.

The existence of the report came to light after Ken Rubin, an Ottawa-based Access to Information Act researcher, received internal Health Canada evaluations of it, and a listing of 110 entities, such as labour ministries and companies, from which asbestos exposure data was sought. Those who agreed to submit their readings were promised anonymity.

A Health Canada document obtained under Mr. Rubin’s access request described the report as “the first overview of asbestos exposures in Canada, encompassing asbestos measurement data from hundreds of settings and circumstances.” It said the data, which were obtained in a short time, represented “very imperfectly, general Canadian population exposures” to the mineral.

Asbestos is a sensitive topic in Ottawa. Dozens of countries have banned it and its use is opposed by groups ranging from the Canadian Cancer Society to the World Health Organization. Asbestos is mined in the Gaspé region around the riding of Natural Resources minister Christian Paradis, who has led the Harper government in defending continued sales, almost all of which are made to developing countries.

The research was conducted by Risk Sciences International, an Ottawa company associated with the University of Ottawa, under a $24,075 contract. Had the cost been more than $25,000, it would likely have required that the health ministry publish a detailed public tender. Under federal contract disclosure requirements, Health Canada posted on its website that it hired RSI for “management consulting.”

The head of the team conducting the research said he did not think the results of his work would be difficult to find. “I was led to believe that it would eventually become somewhat available,” said Franco Momoli, who is now an epidemiologist at the Ottawa Hospital Research Institute.

Health Canada said it has not taken further steps to study whether Canadians are at risk from exposure to asbestos. But it concedes information is available.

In its e-mail, the department said “more data exists than were provided to Health Canada for this study. The data are either held by industries responsible for monitoring, or by various government departments. Much of the data is confidential and was not, or could not, be shared with us.

Globe and Mail, May. 13, 2011

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