Stop Exporting Asbestos! A Plea to Canadians

by April 10, 2008

While the Canadian Government takes great care to ensure its own safety against the dangers of asbestos, you'll probably never hear them make too big a fuss about it--what with Canada being a leading exporter of the patient killer --it just wouldn't any sense, economically, to draw attention to it.

So instead they're using tax-payers dollars and their own embassies to actively promote the sale and distribution of asbestos to countries like India and Pakistan. On top of that, the government is actively trying to sabotage the U.N. Rotterdam Convention, which aims to protect life and the environment by controlling the hazardous chemical and pesticide trade industry.

To mark World Health Day, April 7, 2008, a handful of organizations from India wrote a letter (pdf) asking Canadians to help stop the government from exporting asbestos to India and the global south.

The letter reads,

We urgently request your solidarity with workers in India and the Global South. We appeal to you to please ask your government to stop exporting asbestos.

95% of Canada's asbestos is exported to India and other countries where it is handled by desperately poor workers under dangerous conditions and is creating a public health tragedy of disease and death. Over 100,000 workers are exposed to asbestos daily in India and are falling sick and dying from Canadian Chrysotile asbestos. And it is not just the workers who suffer; their families bear the burden of the disease too by losing their sole bread winner and are left destitute.

We appeal to you to listen to our plea and support the health and lives of workers in India and the Global South. We have few protections and we need your help.

On 5th February 2008, all the major trade unions of India and labour support groups including the All India Trade Union Congress, Centre for Indian Trade Union, New Trade Union Initiative representing workers in India called for a ban on asbestos. Please listen to the voices of workers in India.

The government of South Africa, which was a major supplier of chrysotile asbestos, [has] banned it. If the government of South Africa can put the lives of people ahead of the interests of the asbestos industry, why cannot the Canadian government do the same?

Perhaps it's because Canadians think there isn't any real danger with asbestos---a bizarre insight that Daily Show 'reporter' Aasif Mandvi encountered, when we interviewed Bernard Coulombe, president of Jeffrey Mine Inc..

Coulombe told Aasif that Indians could handle the toxic pollution because of their "natural antibodies."

On the subject of asbestos, there's another issue you should be aware about: That being the presence of asbestos in government-funded houses on reserves across Canada.

It was a "hot issue" a good four years ago, thanks to the tireless efforts of Raven Thundersky, who grew up in one of those government "free" houses. Thundersky has lost a total of SIX family members to asbestos-related diseases, both her parents and four sisters.

She rightfully tried to sue the US company that made the insulation, W.R. Grace company. But she failed time and again, because Canadian government stopped her.

In 2008, W.R. Grace had a total of 112,000 lawsuits layed against them, on behalf of American citizens who were negatively impacted by their own exposure to asbestos.

To avoid a ruling, W.R. Grace ultimately agreed to a settlement, a a $2.9 billion settlement for the 112,000 victims. If Canada hadn't interfered, Thundersky probably would've been among them; but she wasn't.

If she had her way, Raven would take her case to the Hauge, where Canada could be embarrassed "in front of the whole world."

  • Canadian
    April 12, 2008 at 4:57 pm

    You can take my asbestos from my cold dead hands!  I will of course die of lung cancer.


  • April 12, 2008 at 9:43 pm

    hahaha, that's funny.

    Well, anyways, I thought I'd give some kudos to the users of reddit (once again) for being socially-mindful and taking the time to read this. Now if only the digg community would follow your lead...


  • Denis Zikovic
    August 9, 2009 at 7:12 pm

    For the most Politically correct country in the world, I couldn't believe that we would be able to do such a thing. I've seen first hand what asbestos can do to someone and it's horrific. Please smarten up and get rid of this garbage that has the potential to kill so many and cause so much suffering!


  • Answer A Day
    January 23, 2010 at 12:52 pm

    Great article and very true! It's scary that manufacturers still choose to use a material that they know is harmful, just because it is cheaper. It makes you wonder what other dangerous materials are in the products we purchase.


  • Bahumat
    March 29, 2010 at 8:58 am

    As a canadian, I'm frankly stunned that any country is still voluntarily using asbestos. With the exception of a very, very few (and tightly controlled) industries that need asbestos to function, there's really no good reason to use the stuff at all.

    However, it's frustrating to lay the blame upon Canada; even if the export of asbestos were banned tomorrow, it's not as if the industries in India that are using asbestos would just disappear; they'd simply source it from another point.

    Is it not possible or feasible for the Indian government to prohibit/control asbestos within their borders, the same way Canada does? Why or why not?


    • April 1, 2010 at 6:11 am

      Hey Bahumat. It's certainly possible, but the government of India isn't exactly known for doing the right thing when it comes to, well, pretty much every industry. But even so, there are a few regional and nation-wide efforts there to restrict/prohibit the use of asbestos.

      When it comes to asbestos in Canada though--like with the Federal government's scheme to turn pristine lakes into mine waste dumps and their use of CPP monies to invest in tobacco, nuclear weapons manufacturers and several notorious mining companies (notorious for murdering people and poisoning the environment)--we have to hold the government accountable. Really, it's our job as Canadians.

      And, if India then turns to another country, you can be sure that people will come forward and do what they can to demand better of their government. And hopefully, they will get our support.

  • Peter G
    September 26, 2011 at 9:57 am

    This is disgraceful, no-one deserves to deal with asbestos related illness, and it shows exactly what lengths some will go to for a buck. There should be a minimum standard of respect for human life put in place for any kind of future


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