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National Public Radio, US. September 17, 2012

A former Asbestos plant is seen February in Thetford Mines, Quebec. Canada has ended its refusal to allow chrysotile asbestos to be added to the U.N.'s Rotterdam Convention on hazardous materials.

Canada's leaders have ended their country's longstanding resistance to asbestos being called a dangerous material under United Nations guidelines, a decision that reflects a shift in the leadership of Quebec province, home of Canada's asbestos industry.

Quebec's incoming premier, Pauline Marois, promised late in her campaign that she would shut down the region's asbestos mines for good. She says that she will use money that would have gone to restart the mines to diversify the local economy.

As Dan Karpenchuk reports for NPR's Newscast unit:

"Canadian industry minister Christian Paradis made the announcement in the town of Thetford Mines, in the heart of Quebec's asbestos belt. He blamed the incoming separatist government in Quebec for promising to cancel a $58 million loan that would have reopened Canada's last major asbestos mine."

"Paradis says it means hundreds of workers will remain without jobs. But he says it would no longer make sense for Ottawa to support the asbestos industry when Quebec, the only province that produces it, will prohibit its exploitation."

The CBC reports that in 2010, "Canada was producing 150,000 tonnes of asbestos annually, all of it in Quebec, and exporting 90 percent — worth about $90 million — to developing countries."

Canada has long been criticized for its stance on asbestos. Prime Minister Stephen Harper and others have been steadfast in their support of the industry, resisting efforts to include asbestos in the U.N. Rotterdam Convention, a treaty that lists chrysotile and other forms of the material as hazardous.

Writing in The Toronto Star, columnist David Olive says, "Canada's hypocrisy on asbestos has long been malodorous. Like almost all advanced countries, Canada has banned most domestic uses of asbestos, whose fire-retardant properties are greatly outweighed by its carcinogenic ones. Harper has been spending millions of dollars to remove the last traces of asbestos in the Parliament Buildings and his official residence at 24 Sussex Drive."

Back in 2010, NPR's Brenda Wilson summed up the broader dispute over asbestos:

"On one side is the World Health Organization contending that all types cause cancer and that its continued use, primarily in countries like China, India, Brazil, Mexico, and other places will only prolong the epidemic of cancers related to its use. The cancers can take up to 30 to 40 years to develop."

"On the other side is the proud little town of Asbestos, two hours outside Montreal, Canada, where BBC producer Steve Bradshaw says, 'There's a mine in the center of town that is as deep as the Eiffel Tower is high.'"

Canada's asbestos industry has been in a recent decline — earlier this year, the Chrysotile Institute, a powerful industry lobbying group, closed after it stopped receiving government support.

News of Canada's shift came out late Friday — evidence, perhaps, that Canadian politicians, like their counterparts to the south, prefer to save problematic news for the end of the week, when they can "dump" them into the mix of weekend plans and movie reviews that many people concern themselves with on Fridays.

Many Yukoners worked at mine just south of B.C. border

CBC News, Sep 7, 2012

Former workers at the now defunct Cassiar asbestos mine just south of the Yukon/B.C. border are being urged to watch for signs of cancer.

The mine operated for about 40 years and an estimated 50,000 people worked there, including many Yukoners. It closed in the 1990s.

Mineworkers at Cassiar handled raw asbestos without any protective gear. Asbestos fibres can lodge in the lungs and cause respiratory ailments and cancer decades later.

Lee Loftus with the asbestos workers union in B.C. said former Cassiar workers are in a high risk group.

"You could see the asbestos fibres in the trees in the general neighbourhood, so there was no protection,” he said. “They weren't provided with any education on the hazards of asbestos exposure, or how to contain asbestos or how to protect themselves against the exposures that they were receiving."

Loftus said traditional X-rays aren't effective in detecting asbestos-related cancer. He said all former Cassiar workers should tell their doctors about their exposure, and get a CT scan immediately if respiratory problems crop up.

Loftus also advises all former workers to start a claim with the B.C. Workers Compensation Board.

Related Stories

Some former B.C. asbestos workers living in fear

B.C. groups push for better asbestos disease detection

External Links

Cassiar community memories website

(Note:CBC does not endorse and is not responsible for the content of external links.)

National Post Editorial Board | Sep 10, 2012


Dario Ayala / Postmedia

Dario Ayala / Postmedia The 2.5 kilometre-wide asbestos mining pit at Mine Jeffrey Inc. located in the town of Asbestos, Que.


If political strategists have any capacity for introspection, they should be asking themselves some serious questions about the Parti Québécois’ late-innings promise to cancel a $58-million government loan to the Jeffrey Mine in the Estrie, and to end all exports of chrysotile asbestos from Quebec.

Objectively, this is a no-brainer. The industry is paltry; exports in 2011 amounted to just $41-million, or 0.07% of Quebec’s total. Even in the town of Asbestos, it employs an insignificant fraction of the population.

For that meagre payoff, Canada gets a black eye on the world stage by joining Kazakhstan, Vietnam and Kyrgyzstan in opposing even the addition of warning labels to exports: In June, Postmedia news obtained a briefing memo to Environment Minister Peter Kent indicating that the government had in the past “acknowledged all criteria for the addition of chrysotile asbestos to the [Rotterdam] Convention [on hazardous substances] have been met,” but it nevertheless continues to oppose its addition.

Some continue to insist that chrysotile can be used safely. But the conclusively and disturbingly documented fact is that in the developing nations that buy the bulk of Quebec’s asbestos — notably India — it is not used safely. This isn’t akin to the seal hunt, opposition to which is mostly based on a hypocritical affinity for cuddly animals; or the oil sands, without which Canada would instantaneously become a much poorer nation. The only reason for politicians to prop up the asbestos industry, or even allow it to continue, is that the Big Book of Conventional Wisdom says they have to, or else suffer the wrath of Quebecers.

If the asbestos industry was centred in northern Alberta, every federal party would long ago have thrown it under the bus. And yet the federal Tories and (at least until recently) Bloc Québécois remain staunchly in its favour. The Liberals under Michael Ignatieff finally took against it — presumably that position still holds — but only after Mr. Ignatieff twisted and squirmed and equivocated, no doubt fearing further humiliations in the party’s former Quebec stronghold.

If anyone had bothered to look, they would have discovered a January 2011 Léger Marketing poll that found 76% of Quebecers opposed to the $58-million loan guarantee (which outgoing premier Jean Charest later sweetened to an outright loan), and 65% opposed to the industry in general. Then the New Democrats went out and swept Quebec with a platform that was totally anti-asbestos. And then Ms. Marois, who exemplifies the sort of reactionary, “maîtres chez nous” mentality that strategists seem to fear, promised to kill the industry as an explicit, last-minute election promise. And now she is premier-elect.

The conventional wisdom on asbestos, which hasn’t made any sense for many years, has been shattered. And we are forced to wonder how many other traditional third-rail issues might now safely be touched. Supply management in the dairy industry — the further enrichment of a few wealthy dairy farmers in a few ridings, at the expense of every non-vegan Canadian and the nation’s free-trading reputation — comes immediately to mind.

WorkSafeBC hopes to reduce mortality rates 

By Tara Carman, Vancouver Sun September 8, 2012


Workers suffering from illnesses caused by on-the-job asbestos exposure will soon be eligible to receive diagnostic CT scans funded by WorkSafeBC in an effort to diagnose lung cancer sooner and reduce mortality from the disease.

Recent research conducted by Dr. Stephen Lam and his team at the BC Cancer Agency found CT scans were more effective than chest X-rays in the early detection of lung cancer, reducing mortality by 20 per cent in heavy smokers between the ages of 55 and 74.

Very little research has been done on lung cancer screening for asbestos-exposed workers, Lam said in an interview Friday.

WorkSafeBC became aware of the results of Lam's work with heavy smokers last year and approached the agency about the possibility of using the scans as a way to screen high-risk claimants, said Kevin Molnar, director of long-term disability at WorkSafeBC.

Those claimants already receive a medical exam, including a chest X-ray, every two years, said Lloyd Hikida, senior manager of occupational disease services at WorkSafeBC.

"For us, (the CT is) just a new medical tool that we would of course jump on and we're very excited to have as something we can use for early detection."

About half of the 142 work-place fatalities in B.C. last year were due to occupational disease and the majority of those were the result of asbestos-related illness, said Work-SafeBC spokeswoman Megan Johnston.

To be eligible to receive the diagnostic CT scans, a worker must first file a WorkSafeBC claim. If the worker is found to have been exposed to asbestos on the job in B.C. and suffers from the scarring of the lungs known as asbestosis, WorkSafeBC would presume they contracted the disease as a result of their employment, Hikida said.

Once the claim is approved, the worker would be eligible to receive an initial diagnostic CT scan and a subsequent one in two years if the initial scan did not detect cancer, said Craig Martin, senior medical adviser at WorkSafeBC.

Workers with asbestosis who are smokers are 59 times more likely to get lung cancer than a non-smoker who hasn't been exposed, Martin said. Work-SafeBC has already identified 200 claimants who meet the criteria, the majority of whom are smokers, he said.

Hikida said he hopes more eligible workers will make claims in the coming months.

B.C. workers exposed to asbestos who have not been diagnosed with a related disease will not be eligible for the CT scans, Martin said.

"If you're thinking of screening the tens, if not hundreds of thousands of people who have been exposed to asbestos at some point in their life, you're going to run into an awful lot of problems. That's why you define it to the various high-risk groups."

CT scans are not generally used as a lung cancer diagnosis tool in the public health care system because the research concerning their efficacy is very new, the cancer agency's Lam said.

WorkSafeBC is in the final stages of negotiating the con-tract to do the scans with the BC Cancer Agency, and expect to roll out the program some-time this fall.

The cost of the CT scans will be a maximum of $100,000, but that figure depends on how many eligible claimants choose to have the scans, Martin said.

Herb Daum, who worked at the asbestos mine in the now-abandoned northern B.C. town of Cassiar between 1977 and 1983, said it would be good for exposed workers to be offered diagnostic CT scans, but he would likely choose not to get one, even if he were eligible.

"What would I possibly gain other than 'Well, I'm going to die of this stupid, damn disease,'" he said. "A CT scan may be providing me some early detection ... (it) may extend the quantity of your life, but I want quality over quantity."

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Ottawa Citizen September 6, 2012

There isn’t much reason to celebrate the victory of Pauline Marois this week, but there is one very thin silver lining: She has promised that under her leadership, the Quebec government will stop propping up the province’s asbestos industry.

It’s one thing to allow the continued export of asbestos from Canada to countries such as India. It’s another for governments to actively work to keep that industry alive, as the federal government has done with its rogue international stance on the question of whether it should be listed as a dangerous substance. The Quebec government, under now-defeated premier Jean Charest, actually helped to revive the industry by providing a $58-million government loan to reopen the Jeffrey Mine.

All for the sake of a few hundred jobs.

The Marois government might find it difficult to extricate itself from its predecessor’s commitment to the mine. But its public stand against the subsidy is laudable.

Whenever governments decide to support particular businesses in defiance of the market, they distort that market and dampen the competitive forces that spur on productivity and innovation. Governments should, in all but a few extraordinary cases and circumstances, resist the temptation to use public money to prop up any industry — never mind a moribund one that’s an ethical minefield and a national embarrassment. The Canadian government may well be right in its insistence that chrysotile asbestos can be safe if properly handed. But it’s possible — indeed, likely — that workers in countries that import asbestos won’t always handle it safely. And even if it were possible to control conditions in other countries so we could make sure our exports were ethically sound, the decline of the industry in Canada suggests there isn’t much reason to bother.

If the asbestos industry can’t survive without government help, then it shouldn’t survive at all.

The decision to oppose the mine loan might have cost the PQ at least one seat: Richmond, which contains the town of Asbestos. The PQ candidate there lost on Sept. 4 by a mere 269 votes. The Liberal who won is the daughter of the MNA who made the announcement about the loan to the mine, back in the spring, before he retired. It’s possible that the PQ could have won the seat had it pandered to the asbestos lobby. But it’s also possible that there are many Quebecers, in the Richmond riding and elsewhere, who were sick of the pandering, and annoyed to see their government spend their money on a dying industry.

Ottawa Citizen

Montreal Gazette, By Michelle Lalonde, GAZETTE Environment Reporter July 30, 2012


The Charest government's decision-making has come under fire after announcing they would provide a loan to help reopen Mine Jeffrey Inc. located in the town of Asbestos, Quebec, 170 kilometres east of Montreal.

QUEBEC - If the Charest government was hoping to avoid criticism by quietly announcing the relaunch of Quebec’s controversial asbestos industry on the Friday before a holiday weekend, it might have miscalculated.

In the month following the June 29 announcement that Quebec would loan $58 million to help reopen and expand the Jeffrey Mine in the town of Asbestos, newspapers across Quebec and Canada have run editorials and columns condemning the decision. The wisdom of staking public money on this project has come under question, and last week an international scientific organization of epidemiologists joined the call for a global ban on asbestos.

In April 2011, the Liberal government had promised to provide a guarantee on a $58-million loan to the project’s proponents — Westmount businessman Baljit Chadha and Jeffrey Mine president Bernard Coulombe — if and when they could come up with $25 million in private investments to enable the reopening of the mine.

The government is now providing a direct loan rather than a guarantee, and critics charge that’s because no financial institution would loan the money, even with a government guarantee. Asked why the government decided to provide a direct loan, an aide to Economic Development Minister Sam Hamad said only that it was done to speed up the relaunch.

“The Quebec government has done this in order to accelerate the process of the relaunching the Jeffrey Mine,” Economic Development Ministry spokesperson Jean-Pierre D’Auteuil wrote in an email, days after the question was posed in an interview.

Finding investors proved to be no easy task. Although, Chadha and Coulombe had earlier indicated they had an international consortium of interested investors behind them, in the end they seem to have found only one: Ulan Marketing Co. Ltd. of Thailand.

That company has put down $14 million, and the remaining $11 million in private investment has been scraped together by Chadha and Coulombe themselves, Guy Versailles, a spokesperson for the Jeffrey Mine, confirmed in an interview with The Gazette.

Chadha and Coulombe are now co-owners of a new company called Mineral Fibre Inc. which owns the Jeffrey Mine.

“Mr. Coulombe and Mr. Chadha have already put their money into an account at the mine, and Ulan of Thailand has put in $14 million. The $25 million is there. That money is there. It is in the bank account of the mine,” Versailles said.

Asked about reports that Chadha and Coulombe have had to remortgage their assets to get the money together, Versailles warned against reading this as a sign of desperation.

“You have to be careful when you start talking about remortgaging and such. What we know is that businessmen like Mr. Chadha, who have all kinds of different investments, they mortgage their homes and leverage their assets left and right. It’s normal.”

The provincial land registry indicates that Chadha took out a new $1.7-million mortgage on his Westmount home on April 2 of this year.

Proponents of Quebec’s exportation of chrysotile asbestos to developing countries say the substance is a low-cost construction material that can be used safely to fulfill a growing demand in the developing world.

The Thailand investor, Ulan Marketing, is part of a chain of companies that make roofing tiles out of asbestos-reinforced cement, and the company is predicting brisk sales next year, according to news reports from Thailand.

The trouble is, the government of Thailand seems to be seriously considering a ban on asbestos imports, following in the footsteps of more than 50 countries worldwide.

A resolution calling for a ban from Thailand’s National Health Assembly was submitted to Thailand’s National Health Commission, which is chaired by the Prime Minister, in February of 2011. Some reports indicate the government will be voting on a ban as early as September.

But Versailles is optimistic.

“The ban-asbestos movement exists in every country where there is a market, and there is talk in Thailand about banning it, but so far it hasn’t happened. Even if they succeed and asbestos is banned in Thailand, then we will sell it elsewhere.”

He stressed that the reopening of the mine, which he said will begin production by summer of 2013, will benefit the region and the province in a number of ways. The loan bears a 10 per cent interest rate. Over its expected 20-year lifetime, the mine will pay $124 million in mining duties, $176 million in corporate income taxes, and $25 million in municipal taxes. The mine will also support 425 direct jobs and 1,000 indirect jobs.

The company will also pay the province $1.5 million every year; the first $7.5 million to be used to create a fund dedicated to economic diversification of the mining region. The mine is expected to produce 250,000 tons of chrysotile asbestos over the next 20 years. (NOTE: Jeffrey mine plans to produce 250,000 tons a year for a total of 5 million tons over the next 20 year. KR)

While creating jobs in one region may help the Liberal government’s chances in the expected September election — at least in that region — the asbestos file continues to bruise Quebec’s international reputation.

A damning position statement released last week by the Joint Policy Committee of the Societies of Epidemiology called for a global ban on mining, use, and export of all forms of asbestos.

The committee, which includes epidemiologists from around the world, completed a thorough review of epidemiologic evidence and concluded that all types of asbestos cause diseases and premature death and that continued use of asbestos in developing countries will lead to “a public health disaster of asbestos-related illness and premature death for decades to come in those countries.”


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