Understanding, Managing, and Living with the

Health Effects of Asbestos

Will Politics Trump Asbestos Ban?

June 8, 2011

Victoria, BC "I think it's disgusting that Canada exports asbestos to India," says Ms. Roberts, a Canadian. She is particularly opposed to Canada's policy on asbestos because her father passed away from asbestos mesothelioma in 1979. "These days everyone knows that asbestos is a carcinogen and it's bad enough that we have used it at home, but for Canada to still export asbestos is reprehensible.

"When my father was in university he worked on tug boats during the summer. He hauled asbestos onto barges that shipped the carcinogenic cargo worldwide. Within two months of his diagnosis of lung cancer, my dad passed away—he was only 50 years old. He coughed up blood and the doctor told him to 'Go home and write your will.' Back in those days it was called oat-cell cancer because under the microscope the cells looked like oats…

"We went to a clinic in the Bahamas that specialized in fractioning blood; it claimed to have some success with these types of cancers, but it was too late. I remember asking my dad what oat cell cancer was and he said you get it from asbestos. In those days nobody thought about lawsuits, and that was way before the days of class-action suits here in Canada."

(The Ban Asbestos Network of India (BANI) is calling on Canadian politicians to "re-examine" and "seriously look at the export of asbestos.")

In Canada the "Ban Asbestos" issue has turned into a political platform; Mr. Harper's focus during the recent federal election was the economy and job creation—and during his campaign for re-election, he strategically visited the town of Asbestos, Quebec. Twice. In his speech at Asbestos, Harper didn't use the "A" word. Instead, he referred to asbestos as "chrysotile" and went on to say that "We believe the [asbestos] industry has a right to continue operating."

Mr. Harper's belief is in direct opposition to that of The Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE), Canada's largest union. CUPE says there is no such thing as a safe form of asbestos, including chrysotile, and it calls for a complete worldwide ban. South of the border, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) shared the same belief as CUPE back in 1989. Despite world experts and researchers, asbestos victims and health-care providers, politicians trumped:

"On July 12, 1989, the EPA issued a final rule banning most asbestos-containing products. In 1991, this regulation was overturned by the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans."

(Read more information here.)

Fast forward to May 2011 when the "National Ban Asbestos Campaign" rally took place at Parliament Hill in Ottawa. "More Canadians die from asbestos than all other industrial causes combined, yet Canada continues to be one of the world's leading producers and exporters of asbestos," said Pat Martin, NDP MP. The day before the rally, Dr. Tushar Kant Joshi, the world-renowned activist, urged CUPE leaders to support the ban of asbestos to India. (43 percent of asbestos mined in Canada is exported to India, making Canada the second-largest exporter in the world after Russia.)

"Asbestos should be kept in the ground, and definitely not exported to developing countries," says Roberts. "I discovered that it only takes one speck, one fiber of asbestos in your lungs to cause mesothelioma."