Canada blocks UN asbestos ban
Oh the shame. Canada last week emerged as the only developed country to oppose the listing of chrysotile asbestos to the Rotterdam Convention, prompting a litany of criticism from around the world. If approved, the known carcinogen would have been listed on Annex III of the hazardous chemicals convention, which would require exporters to warn recipient countries of any health hazards. Putting us in fine company, Canada is one of only a handful of countries – including Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Ukraine, and Vietnam – that continue to export asbestos.
The World Health Organization has warned that “at least 90,000 people die each year from asbestos-related lung cancer, mesothelioma and asbestosis resulting from occupational exposures.” Doctors from Canada (including Quebec) and abroad have signed petitions, sent letters, organized delegations – all to no avail. It would seem Stephen Harper’s Conservative government is more concerned with protecting the asbestos industry in Canada (particularly Quebec) than with those pesky health hazards of chrysotile asbestos.
As Jeffrey Simpson points out in this recent article, the government “vigorously defends mining asbestos because of one little corner of Quebec, near Thetford Mines, where the asbestos is mined and shipped to developing countries, mostly in Asia. Stephen Harper’s top Quebec minister, Christian Paradis, used to head the Thetford Mines chamber of commerce. Mr. Harper campaigned in the area and supported the mining. He spent part of Friday, St. Jean Baptiste Day, in Thetford Mines, thereby reinforcing his government’s political marriage to asbestos.”
Bizarrely, the Montreal Gazette is reporting that the Canadian delegation to the summit agreed with the work of a United Nations scientific panel that wants to limit the export of chrysotile asbestos, but Canada still wouldn’t back the proposal. Billions of dollars will be spent to upgrade the Parliament Buildings in Ottawa in the coming years and one of the reasons for the repairs is the fact that they are full of asbestos, a cancer-causing substance that is no longer used in Canada. But for export to other countries? It seems we have no problem with that.