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, July 27, 2012

Saying no to Canada's asbestos

Last month, the Quebec government revealed it would lend $58-million to the Jeffrey Mine, the country's last operating asbestos mine. At the time, mine officials said the money would be enough to keep it operating for 20 years, and we condemned Quebec premier Jean Charest's decision to essentially provide mouth-to-mouth resuscitation for a "carcinogenic corporate cadaver." (The Jeffrey Mine already had closed when the province stepped in with the funds, and was unlikely to have reopened without the government's intervention.)

Our objection, which is echoed by critics as varied as the New Democratic Party and the Canadian Cancer Society, was based on the fact that nearly all the mine's clients are developing countries where the prospects of asbestos being used safely are remote. Thailand, India and China represent the core of the mine's business and funding. Selling them a substance that we Canadians find too dangerous for our own use isn't illegal, but it is ethically problematic, and thereby harms Canada's reputation on the world stage.

But now it appears that Thai authorities are actively trying to ban chrysotile asbestos imports within the next few months. In January 2011, Thailand's National Economic and Social Advisory Council recommended banning imports and sales of asbestos in Thailand due to its link to health problems, including cancer. A month later, Thai authorities adopted a resolution in furtherance of that goal. The package of measures proposed therein will be presented to Thai lawmakers this September.

Oran Vanich, a major roof-tile manufacturer based in Thailand, which invested $14-million in the Jeffrey mine, has publicly questioned the danger of asbestos in the past. In August 2011, Oran Vanich's CEO, Kriewsakul Uran, declared that the roof tiles being manufactured with asbestos in Thailand "pose no health risk." During a public forum on the subject two weeks ago, he added: "Only 55 of 194 member states of the World Health Organization have stopped the use and so far it has not been proved that asbestos causes death. If Thailand ends it, that will be tantamount to executing the innocent."

Despite the hysterical rhetoric, Thai authorities seem adamant about pursuing the ban. Key international health associations, including the World Federation of Public Health Associations, the International Commission on Occupational Health and the World Bank, have gone on record about the risks posed by asbestos. The World Health Organization says all types of asbestos "cause asbestosis, mesothelioma and lung cancer," and that there is no safe threshold of exposure.

The question for Canadians becomes this: With even developing nations speaking out about the health risks of asbestos, how can the Charest government defend its decision to artificially prop up an industry that has reached - and surpassed - its natural demand-driven commercial lifespan?

Quebec taxpayers might be particularly interested in asking that question. Between 2006 and 2009, Canadian asbestos accounted for nearly 11% of Thailand's annual consumption, or almost 11,000 tons a year. Once that market dries up, it will be even more difficult for the Jeffrey Mine to repay its government loan.

Chantal Corbeil, spokesperson for Investments Quebec, the institution that manages the government's $58-million loan to the Jeffrey Mine, has acknowledged that the provincial agency wasn't aware of the Thai efforts to ban asbestos until very recently. She said the association isn't worried about Thailand's actions because the mine "has many clients concentrated in many different countries."

If that were true, the company wouldn't have needed the public loan. And the fact the government was apparently in the dark about such a key development in the industry to which they contributed so much raises significant questions about what kind of blinkers they are willing to wear in exchange for votes.

The Quebec government is responsible for temporarily reviving an industry that endangers lives in faraway places. The Thai government's actions suggest that the developing countries in question may be starting to look out for their own. When other nations follow suit, the asbestos industry will eventually fall apart. It's only a matter of time.

When that happens, the Quebec Liberals will have to answer one simple question: Was it worth it?

National Post · Jul. 27, 2012

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