Scientists from 28 countries have called on Quebec Premier Jean Charest, currently in India on a trade mission, to ban asbestos exports. India is Canada's largest importer of asbestos. (Emmanuel Dunand/AFP/Getty Images)
The controversy surrounding
Quebec’s asbestos industry has moved up a notch with Premier Jean Charest’s trade mission to , one of the biggest importers of Canadian asbestos. India
In a letter to Charest, over 100 scientists from 28 countries called for a ban on
's export of asbestos to the developing world. Charest arrived in Quebec on Sunday. India
The scientists say
uses virtually none of the asbestos it mines, spends millions of dollars removing asbestos from its schools and buildings, and that its own health experts have shown that it is impossible to use any form of asbestos safely. Quebec
Yet the province continues to promote and export the product to developing countries “where protections are few and awareness of the hazards of asbestos almost non-existent.”
“This seems to represent a high level of hypocrisy,” the letter states. The scientists note that the asbestos industry in
has notified a number of scientists that legal action will be taken against them if they do not retract their published articles concerning the threat to health posed by chrysotile asbestos. India
The campaign is being promoted by the Pennsylvania-based Environmental Health Trust and the Cancer Association of South Africa.
used to export asbestos, but has now banned it. If a country facing enormous economic hardships like South Africa South Africa can ban asbestos, then why can't ?” said Dr. Devra Davis of the Environmental Health Trust, in a statement. Quebec
Asbestos was widely used around the world between the 1950s and the 1970s. Because of its status as a deadly carcinogen, the European Union banned the mineral over a decade ago.
Thetford Mines in Quebec, a town of 26,000, is home to ’s only remaining asbestos mining operation. Canada
Despite its links to cancer and other health problems, several countries, mostly in the developing world, still import asbestos from
. The less dusty chrysotile, or white, asbestos is said to be a safer form of the product. Canada
The position taken by the governments of
and Québec is that chrysotile asbestos can be used safely as long as strict precautions are followed. The Indian asbestos industry also claims that the country’s factories have safety protocols in place to protect workers. Canada
The Chrysotile Institute, an asbestos lobby group, dismissed the concerns raised in the scientists’ letter.
“Instead of giving new scientific research or data, they are just launching accusations,” the institute’s president, Clément Godbout, told the Canadian Press.
“If they have new data and studies showing that the way chrysotile is used today in
Canada and is an unacceptable risk for people, please send them to us because I've never seen such a study.” Quebec
The scientists also want
to stop funding the pro-asbestos lobby. New Democrat MP Pat Martin, who has long opposed Canada’s asbestos policy, said no other commodity enjoys the protection of the Canadian government the way the $100-million-a-year asbestos industry does. Quebec
“More than 160 trade junkets in 60 different countries is what the asbestos industry brags it has done through our Canadian embassies, our trade commissioners, etc. Not even Canadian wheat is so aggressively promoted as much as the asbestos industry,” he told India Abroad newspaper.
He explained that “there’s an “emotional affinity for asbestos in
Quebec” that stems from the great asbestos strike of 1949, traditionally portrayed as a turning point in history that eventually led to the so-called Quiet Revolution. It also helped launch the political career of former Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau. Quebec
After Rene Levesque was elected premier in the 1976, one of the first things he did was to nationalize the asbestos industry—the first national act of the new nation of
, as Levesque put it. Quebec
“Now, the people of
talk of asbestos with pride because of its history. It is too emotional a question for Quebecers. It is almost anti-Quebec to be anti-asbestos,” Martin said. Quebec
Martin, who once worked in an asbestos mine in the
, has been lobbying to have asbestos put on the international list of hazardous substances. He told India Abroad that both Yukon Territory Canada and should “join hands” in seeking a ban on asbestos in all its forms. India
“Asbestos and tobacco are the two industries where the industry knows well it is killing people, but it survives by junk science and aggressive lobbying of politicians,” he said.