Campaigners are protesting against plans to re-open the world’s largest asbestos mine, the Jeffrey Mine in Quebec with the help of $58 million from the provincial government. The mine would export upwards of 6 million tonnes of chrysotile asbestos to less industrialised countries over the next 25 years.
While Canada has actively been removing all traces of asbestos from its buildings it has remained one of the world’s largest chrysotile asbestos exporters. Officials argue chrysotile can be handled safely and effectively. However, the World Health Organisation (WHO) estimate more than 107,000 people die each year from asbestos-related lung cancer and mesothelioma, and that all forms of asbestos are strongly carcinogenic to humans.
Earlier this month a delegation of asbestos victims from Asia visited Quebec to hold workshops urging a ban on exports to India, Indonesia and the Phillipines, where asbestos is still heavily used to reinforce cement, buildings and roads. Protests have also been staged in Quebec and London with campaigners calling the continued exports an ‘abomination’ and a breach of human rights.
When inhaled, asbestos causes lung cancer and mesothelioma and it has been banned in many countries but is still heavily used in less industrialised countries where little protection is provided for workers. Medical experts told the Ecologist exporting chrysotile overseas was ‘unacceptable’ and an abdication of Canada’s social responsibility.
‘We know from clear scientific evidence that exposure to asbestos through mining, processing and use is harmful to health,’ said Dr. Jeff Turnbull, President of the Canadian Medical Association (CMA). ‘We have a social responsibility to protect not only the health of Canadians, but that of citizens elsewhere who are being harmed by a Canadian export. Canada should not be abdicating this responsibility.’
Anti-asbestos campaigner Kathleen Ruff, author of Exporting Harm: How Canada Exports to the Developing World, told the Ecologist health officials around the world were ‘aghast’ at the Quebec government’s plans to revive the mine. She said the export of millions of tonnes would create a ‘new generation of victims amongst the most vulnerable people on the planet’.
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