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International Groups Join Forces Against Quebec Asbestos Mine Reopening

Quebec government buildingThough investors in the Jeffrey asbestos mine in Asbestos, Quebec, may be celebrating the Quebec government’s recent decision to offer a $58 million loan to revitalize the mine, their cheers have been somewhat muted as a result of international criticism.

While supporters and asbestos industry lobbyists have hailed the decision, saying it will provide a significant economic boost, scientists and health groups have pointed to the significant dangers the mining of asbestos will bring to the forefront. Quebec has also been blasted for exporting the carcinogenic substance to developing countries while restricting its use at home.

According to Laurie Kazan-Allen, Coordinator for International Ban Asbestos Secretariat (IBAS), one troubling aspect of the revitalization of the mine is that one key financier, Ulan Marketing Co. Ltd, is an asbestos conglomerate from Thailand. Despite the fact that the Thai government opted to ban asbestos last year, this commitment by Ulan demonstrates the effort of industry groups to reverse the restriction on asbestos.

The Montreal Gazette reports Ulan has provided $14 million to assist the project, while businessman Baljit Chadha and Jeffrey Mine president Bernard Coulombe have put down another $11 million total. That $25 million was required in order for the government to provide a guarantee on the $58 million loan, according to the news provider.

Overseas criticism grows louder

Opposition to the reopening of the Jeffrey mine can be seen across the globe. The British Parliament has denounced the decision by the Quebec government, while publications in Britain, Australia and India have also railed against the actions, according to Kazan-Allen.

In countries like Japan, India and Indonesia, protests have been held in front of Canadian embassies, while officials from other countries – including Korea and the Philippines – have sent letters to Canadian authorities asking them to cease the mining and exportation of asbestos.

Developing countries like these often bear the brunt of such actions by the Canadian government, as they import the asbestos despite the known risks. According to the World Health Organization, asbestos-related diseases such as lung cancer, asbestosis and malignant mesothelioma – a rare cancer that attacks the tissues surrounding many of the body’s inner organs – kill approximately 107,000 people around the world each year.

Canadian Prime Minister Attacked for Asbestos Promotion

stephen harperPrime Minister Stephen Harper is holding his second rally in Asbestos, Quebec today, seeking votes by promoting himself as the political leader most dedicated to the asbestos industry. Over twenty health, union and environmental organizations have responded in an open letter urging Harper to end his support for the asbestos trade.

April 26, 2011

Dear Prime Minister Harper:

We urge you to put people’s lives ahead of politics. Please end your support for the deadly asbestos trade.

Canada’s leading medical authorities have all told you that Canada’s export of asbestos is medically and morally indefensible and will lead to an epidemic of asbestos-related disease and death overseas.

We are shocked and dismayed that you are denying the clear scientific evidence and instead are supporting a plan to revive Canada’s bankrupt, dying and deadly asbestos industry.

Public policy should be based on science, not politics. The science is indisputable that all asbestos is deadly. Not a single reputable authority supports your claim that chrysotile asbestos (which represents 100% of the global asbestos trade) can be safely used.

Canada is becoming known as an immoral asbestos pusher and as an enemy of global public health. This is not the role Canadians want to play in the world. This does not reflect Canadian values.

We are appalled that, in order to protect the asbestos industry, you have publicly promised to block the upcoming Conference of the U.N. Environmental Convention (Rotterdam Convention) so as to prevent chrysotile asbestos being listed as a hazardous substance. Chrysotile asbestos is a hazardous substance under Canadian law. It is, in our opinion, hypocritical and contemptuous of the lives of people in the developing world to prevent them from being provided with this critical information, as if their lives were less worthy of protection.

It is with sorrow and shame that we note that Canada is becoming a pariah on the international stage for its obstruction of global efforts to protect health, human rights and the environment.

Prime Minister Harper, you are the only national leader in Canada and in the Western world to promote asbestos. At the same time, Canadian taxpayers are paying millions of dollars to remove asbestos from your official residence and your place of work, the Parliament Buildings, in order to protect you and other Canadian politicians from being harmed by exposure to asbestos.

This election is about trust and integrity. We urgently call on you to show integrity. We ask you to:

Respect the science
Put human life ahead of partisan political interests
Support a ban on asbestos and the provision of transition assistance to the last remaining asbestos miners and their community
Support the listing of chrysotile asbestos under the Rotterdam Convention
Adopt a comprehensive strategy to address Canada’s asbestos disease crisis

We request a response from you. Please do not, as usually happens, forward our letter to Christian Paradis, the Minister of Natural Resources, who is an avid supporter of the asbestos industry and simply puts forward its discredited position.

We urgently await your response on this critical ethical issue.

Sincerely,

Kathleen Ruff
Senior human rights adviser, Rideau Institute

 

ON BEHALF OF:

Canadian Association of Physicians for the Environment
Nature Québec
International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers, Canada
Sierra Club Canada
International Longshore & Warehouse Union Canada
Maîtres chez nous-21e siècle, Québec
Syndicat des débardeurs de Montréal, SCFP Section locale 375
British Columbia & Yukon Territory Building & Construction Trades Council
Prevent Cancer Now
Atlantic Coast District, International Longshoremen’s Association
Canadian Society for Asbestos Victims
MiningWatch Canada
Asbestos-related Research, Education and Advocacy Fund
Boilermakers Lodge 359
Sheet Metal Local 280
International Union of Bricklayers and Allied Craftworkers Union Local #2 BC
BC Ferry & Marine Worker’s Union
IBEW Local 993, Northern B.C. & Yukon
I L A, Local 1657,  Montréal
International Union of Operating Engineers, Local 115

ADDENDUM

1) Reputable Scientific Organisations that Oppose your position on chrysotile asbestos:

The Canadian Medical Association
The Canadian Cancer Society
The Lung Association of Canada
The Quebec Medical Association
The Canadian Public Health Association
The Quebec Association for Public Health
The Quebec Association of Physicians Specializing in Community Health
The Lung Association of Quebec
The National Specialty Society for Community Medicine
The National Public Health Institute of Quebec
The Quebec Association for Occupational Hygiene, Health & Safety
All the Quebec government’s sixteen regional Directors of Public Health
The Quebec College of Physicians
The College of Family Physicians of Canada
The Quebec College of Family Physicians
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency
The International Social Security Association
The International Labour Organization
The International Commission on Occupational Health
The World Health Organization

2) Reputable Scientific Organisations that Support your position on chrysotile asbestos:

ZERO

 

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