Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Canada blocks asbestos ban

Asbestos--a carcinogenic mineral mined in Quebec--has long been a source of injury to Canadian workers. Not just miners but construction workers, office workers and even their families. Over time, the deceit practiced by the asbestos industry and the blind eye turned by government has been revealed and its domestic use dramatically curtailed.

To maintain this industry, Canada has focused on exporting asbestos to the developing world. This ensures that workers there will face the epidemic of asbestos-related diseases we're seeing today. This policy choice is designed to keep about 500 people employed in (very hazardous) mining work in Quebec.

The Calgary Herald has picked up an interesting story out of Geneva. Countries are considering whether to add asbestos to Annex III of the United Nations' Rotterdam Convention. This would make it effectively impossible to continue major exports of asbestos.

Canada has been coy about whether it opposes this move or not. A small number of other countries (powerhouses like Vietnam, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Ukraine) have opposed the inclusion of asbestos in Annex III, thereby keeping it off the list. This opposition melted over the past few days and, after staying silent (i.e., hiding behind Kyrgyzstan's skirts), Canada is suddenly voicing its opposition to including asbestos in Annex III.

Or, more accurately, the government is saying that Canadians think its cool to export a known carcinogen to the developing world where it will cause untold death and suffering. Another proud moment in the history of asbestos in Canada.

-- Bob Barnetson

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