The Olympics will generate an estimated $4 billion CAD for Canada. So with that kind of income perhaps it is time Canada reexamines its practice of exporting mesothelioma causing asbestos to the rest of the world. After all, the income from asbestos is estimated to be only $100 million CAD – a drop in the bucket compared to the Olympics payday. Unfortunately, this reexamination will not happen in the near future. The parliament of Quebec has officially refused to reexamine the dangers of exporting asbestos to developing countries, including Mexico. According to the Canadian Press, the motion would have created a parliamentary committee aimed at examining the practice, which has come under fire lately and flies in the face of WHO warnings about the health risks posed by the mineral. The proposal was supported by the Parti Quebecois, but was shot down by the Liberal party majority. Asbestos causes asbestosis and various cancers including mesothelioma.
The parliamentary decision comes despite a recent study showing a rise in asbestos-related deaths in Mexico, which gets about a third of its asbestos from Canada. The study, published in the peer-reviewed American Journal of Industrial Medicine puts the death toll from mesothelioma at around 500 deaths annually. Mesothelioma causes cancer in the lining around the heart, lungs or abdomen and is caused by asbestos exposure. But the same study goes on to say that there are likely almost twice as many deaths from other asbestos-related lung cancers, putting the total death toll in Mexico closer to 1500.
Countries like Mexico use Canada’s chrysotile asbestos in industrial applications and as an additive to strengthen cement. The Liberal party-controlled government, led by Premier Jean Charest, takes the official position that asbestos is safe and will not cause mesothelioma when correctly handled. However, as a recent editorial in Canada’s Globe and Mail points out, not only is safe handling unlikely to happen in poorer countries, but chrysotile fibers are so tiny that they can even penetrate some filtration masks, causing lung damage despite precautions.
But asbestos remains big business in Canada. Although only one chrysotile mine still exists, the industry still employs some 700 people and accounts for nearly $100 million CAD in exports annually. A town in Quebec is even named for the mineral. Even so, Canada itself tightly regulates the use of the mineral inside its borders and exports about 95 percent of what is mined. Canada exported 175,000 tons of asbestos in 2008, nearly all of it to developing countries.
LaLonde, Michelle. “On Hot Seat Over Asbestos.” February 12, 2010, The Montreal Gazette. “Quebec Liberals Rebut Effort to Probe Asbestos Exports.” February 17, 2010, The Globe and Mail. Simpson, Jeffrey. “Playing a Dirty Game: Exporting Asbestos.” February 9, 2010, The Globe and Mail.