Hypocrisy abounds in Canada’s dealing with its asbestos industry. The material is banned in Canada and the government has spent—and continued to spend—millions of dollars to remove asbestos from buildings though out the country. On the side, however, the government not only allows asbestos mining and export to less-developed countries to continue, but actually takes steps to encourage that export. While the government acts to protect its own citizens on the basis of overwhelming scientific evidence of the health risks of asbestos, it allows the industry to export this toxic substance into countries that are less-equipped to protect their own citizens.
A recent article in the Montreal Gazette classifies Canada’s behavior as the country’s most recent sin as a big polluter of the third world. The asbestos industry casts a dark shadow over Canada’s environmental and human rights record internationally as it promotes industry in the third world that it deems unsafe for its own citizenry.
In the developing world, asbestos and asbestos-related illnesses continue to be major health and safety issues. According to the Gazette report, the World Health Organization found that in India alone—one of the countries to which Canada exports its carcinogenic asbestos fibers—nearly 8,000 people die because of asbestos each year. Globally, the WHO estimates the annual number of asbestos-related deaths to be more than 100,000. By allowing and even encouraging asbestos exports to these countries, Canada is simply feeding into this problem.
But fortunately, criticism against Canada is growing—both from within the country and internationally. Pressure is starting to mount to force Canada to close its last remaining asbestos mines and eliminate the export of the toxic mineral. Now, for the first time in 130 years, the country’s two remaining asbestos mines have stopped producing the mineral. The Thetford Mines closed as a result of operational difficulties, while the Jeffry Mine is in financial difficulty; it desperately needs a $58 million loan guarantee from the government to reopen.
Both mines are hoping to resume operations, but in the meantime some advocates see this temporary halt as an important opportunity to close the door on asbestos mining once and for all.