News that Quebec’s new government has, this month, rejected continuing the controversial export of asbestos was good news indeed for all those concerned groups, such as the Canadian Medical Association and the international community who have been lobbying hard over many years to stop the deadly trade.
A further significant development was the announcement that Ottawa will no longer veto the decision for white asbestos (chrysotile) to be officially included as a hazardous material on the “Prior Informed Consent” list. As a result of this move, export of the mined mineral is now made extremely difficult and only permitted for those countries that explicitly consent to its import.
From around the mid 1980s onwards, the UK along with US, EU, and other countries in the developed world have, one by one, completely banned the use of asbestos. Yet despite sustained asbestos awareness campaigns to reinforce the deadly health risks with certain governments, asbestos industries in countries such as Canada, Russia, China, India and Mexico have continued to grow at an alarming rate. In 2011, Russia exported 748,000 tonnes of asbestos and is currently, the world’s largest exporter of the substance.
The sudden announcement by the federal Minister of Industry, Christian Paradis, was made less than four days after the Parti Quebecois (PQ) was elected in early September. A loan of $58million (£36m), which would have reopened The Jeffrey Mine – Canada’s last asbestos mine – in 2013, was immediately cancelled, halting the estimated annual export of 250,000 tonnes of asbestos over the next 20 years.
The International Agency for Research on Cancer have consistently stated that white asbestos chrysotile, as well as other forms of asbestos, is a human carcinogen but the call to place the mineral on the Prior Informed Consent list at the Rotterdam Convention was each year vetoed by Canada.
As with many people in the UK, the Canadian government argued that asbestos is “low risk” if handled and managed properly. However, the reality is very different for many of the workers in asbestos industries found in developing countries who still use the fibres as an inexpensive source for making building insulation material.
In 2011, a New Delhi report claimed that working with asbestos was currently causing 30 deaths per day in India and suggest deaths from asbestosis disease and fatal malignant mesothelioma cancers could reach one million in developing nations by 2020.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) have previously estimated that data provided by countries around the world points to more than 92,252 deaths caused by mesothelioma between 1994 and 2008 – or 6,000 each year, worldwide.