Publication Date: 2012-03-11
Story Location: http://www.tandemnews.com/viewstory.php?storyid=11997
More than 107,000 people die each year from illnesses related to the highly carcinogenic fibrous substance
By Concita Minutola
“The government’s commitment to transparency on (the issue of) asbestos is disappointing.”
Dan Demers, Director of Public Issues of the Canadian Cancer Society, explains to Corriere Canadese/Tandem that despite the awareness of the risks related to this substance, Canada still has much to do to protect its citizens and those of other countries.
According to one study, taken into consideration by the Canadian Cancer Society, about 152,000 Canadians are exposed to asbestos through work. The data was collected by Carex Canada, a team of researchers from the School of Environmental Health, at University of British Columbia.
According to the World Health Organization, about 125 million people are exposed to asbestos fibres throughout the world. Over 107,000 people die each year from illnesses such as lung cancer, mesothelioma, and asbestosis, caused by this highly carcinogenic fibrous substance. Exposure to asbestos can also cause tumour of the larynx and ovaries. Asbestos was a truly valuable resource for Canada. It was used as insulating material in the construction industry, although when the science community learned of the dangers, Canadian industry continued to export it abroad. Today, the sector is in crisis, but asbestos dust continues to be a threat from inside walls and roofs of houses and offices, ready to be released, or into the lungs of many Canadians who discover the consequences only years later.
“The Canadian Cancer Society urges the government to divulge all the information on buildings containing asbestos, homes, public offices, and schools,” Demers says. “So far, we’re disappointed because the government has not yet provided Canadians with this information to determine if they, their families, or work colleagues, have been exposed.”
The Canadian Cancer Society continues to ask government to make information on contaminated buildings public.
“We also asked for the creation of a national registry of cases of illnesses related to asbestos. Individuals who may have been in contact must be informed and undergo regular clinical exams. The registry would also help health personnel evaluate the impact on public health of the number of people becoming ill due to asbestos. Therefore, we want the government to tell us where the asbestos is, and who is affected by it.”
But there are also those who deny the hazardous effects of asbestos dust. Last week the president of an asbestos mine in Quebec questioned data from the World Health Organization and requested the intervention of the federal government against this “bad publicity”.
“That’s nothing new,” comments the Canadian Cancer Society’s public affairs director. “Some time ago when the battle against smoking began, the tobacco industry used similar strategies, questioning scientific facts. Now the asbestos industry is trying to adopt the same strategy, fuelling doubt and criticizing the scientific value of the statistics. We have full trust in the work of the World Health Organization. It’s a credible organization, and the facts are gathered through independent studies. That tactic hasn’t worked in the past, and it won’t work now either.”
Canadian mines are under critical watch for having exported the substance to countries with inadequate worker health safety standards. And along with the mines, so is Ottawa.
“We’re disappointed,” Demers again explains, “because the government continues to oppose the inclusion of asbestos in the international Rotterdam Convention, which states that countries importing asbestos first be informed of the dangers. Seeing that in our territory, restrictions on the use of asbestos are in vigour to protect individuals and workers, it seems surprising to us that the government opposes adopting the same restrictions on the international level.” Last June, the organization – committed to the fight against cancer for almost a century – addressed a letter to the federal government declaring itself “upset and embarrassed by the Canadian delegation’s opposition to the inclusion of chrysotile asbestos to the Rotterdam Convention list of hazardous substances.”
Demers also cites positive results during these past few years of campaigning. In 2009, the Canadian Cancer Society criticized Ottawa for funding the Chrysotile Institute, “an institute in Quebec that promotes the use and exportation of asbestos,” says Demers. “We don’t find it appropriate that a government financially supports an industry that exports asbestos,” he emphasizes, “though the government has cut funding and from what we know, (the industry) won’t receive any this year either. We’re very pleased. We’ll continue to be on the lookout so that this institute does not receive public funding.”
In yet another positive note, “Canadians,” he says, “are becoming more aware of the fact that asbestos can be found in homes and public offices, and governments are reluctant to provide the same support they once did to this sector. We’re pleased about that.”
But there’s still much more to do, and the biggest step, the Canadian Cancer Society expert confirms, is to make the list of sites containing asbestos public domain.
“That’s information that citizens should have when they go to work and before doing renovation work. It’s about their safety.”
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