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British medical journal lashes out at Canada over asbestos

The Canadian Medical Association (CMA) and British medical journal The Lancet have decided to join the campaign against Canadian government plans that would potentially expand one of its asbestos mines, the Vancouver Sun reports.

In a recently published article, The Lancet says that the Canadian and Quebec governments are hypocrites because they support the widespread export of asbestos to developing countries while still limiting its domestic use, according to the news source.

Dr. Jeff Turnbull, president of the CMA, has reportedly urged Quebec Premier Jean Charest to cancel a $58 million loan guarantee to a consortium that is seeking to expand the Jeffrey Mine, which is in the town of Asbestos.

“In a wealthy country like ours, we have the appropriate safeguards in place for asbestos,” Turnbull said in a recent interview. “However, in developing countries where we send this hazardous substance, they don’t have the same safeguards or restrictions.”

Turnbull added, “I think that it’s inconceivable for us as Canadians, as global partners, to set up standards for our own citizens that we don’t think will be put in place for other citizens across this world.”

In the recent Lancet article, the publication noted that deaths from lung cancer and malignant mesothelioma, a rare form of cancer, have continued to increase in both Canada and Britain, making it clear once again that symptoms of the diseases may not appear until a number of years after initial asbestos exposure. In addition to lung cancer and mesothelioma, exposure to asbestos has also been proven to cause asbestosis, a scarring of the lung tissues.

“Canada is actively removing asbestos from its buildings,” The Lancet added, yet it is one of the world’s biggest exporters of the dangerous mineral, shipping approximately 150,000 tons per year to India, Indonesia and the Philippines, where “little or no protection exist for workers or exposed populations.”

According to the Canadian Medical Association Journal, the number of asbestos-related deaths in the country increased from 153 in 1984 to 286 in 2007, a number that may even be an under-estimation due to the difficulty in diagnosing mesothelioma, the news source said.

The World Health Organization estimates that approximately 107,000 people worldwide die from asbestos-related diseases each year.

According to the Sun, a number of protests against Canada’s Jeffrey Mine are scheduled to take place this week in London, Quebec City and even some cities in Asia. A delegation from Asia that represents asbestos victims in a number of countries recently traveled to Quebec in order to put pressure on the government to halt the mine’s expansion, the news provider said.

While the Jeffrey Mine is nearly exhausted, a consortium led by Baljit Chadha is looking to invest in an underground operation that would result in the production of enough asbestos for two decades. Approximately 500 jobs would be created with the expansion, the news source said.

Jolyane Pronovost, a staff member for Quebec Economic Development Minister Clement Gignac, told the news source that the government had not decided on the loan guarantee.

“We’re in discussions with the consortium,” she said. “The minister has put in place a certain number of conditions, including the profitability of the enterprise, obviously, but also the conditions of use [of the product].”

Either way, Sugio Furuya, the coordinator of the Asian Ban Asbestos Network, stressed the need to consider the human price of the mine’s potential expansion.

“Every human being has the right to work and live in a healthy environment,” he said. “Are the tragic repercussions of asbestos exposures in Asia and elsewhere of less significance than a few hundred jobs in Quebec?”

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