Friday, March 11, 2011

Canada’s Dark Secret

Canada continues to mine asbestos and export the fibers to this day, in spite of many health concerns.

by

Eric Stevenson

Asbestos was a highly used and valuable mineral; now most countries consider it to be anything but that. It first mined in the great white north in the 1870’s and continued on to help cities thrive off the resource into the next century. Miners started to contract terminal illnesses such as lung cancer, mesothelioma, and asbestosis in the 1900’s after developing an initial shortness of breath on the mining sites.

The exposure to asbestos has since been revealed as the main cause for some of these diseases. The asbestos exposure affects a thin lining of the lungs, chest, abdomen, and heart. Perhaps the worst part about this type of exposure is the fact that mesothelioma symptoms lay dormant in a latency period that can sometimes last up to 50 years.

Diagnosis often comes late in life, with such a long latency period. The mesothelioma life expectancy is an average of between eight to 14 months following diagnosis.

Canada continues to mine asbestos and export the fibers to this day, in spite of many health concerns. The country tried to mend its image in the 1980’s and save the industry when many customers began removing the mineral from their products. America announced its intention to ban the mineral due to health risks. The possibility of legal action on businesses made using the mineral a massive economic liability, even though the US couldn’t ban asbestos right away.

The world health organization has also banned asbestos, citing it as a carcinogenic. The mineral is also banned in all 27 European Union member countries. While other countries have taken this stance, Canada continues to promote the controlled use of asbestos. They even continue the fight to keep the mineral off a U.N. list of dangerous substances.

Asbestos is only used in Canada in particularly exceptional circumstances today. Much of Canada’s own medical associations don’t support the difference and hypocrisy in Canada’s own standards of asbestos use with the countries they’re exporting it to. Right now it’s considered a hazardous substance within the country and only used under precaution.

Perhaps the worst thing about the situation is the types of countries to which the asbestos are dumped onto are third world countries with little or no health and safety regulations. These countries are exposed to a high number of hazardous exposures and have very little resources in helping those affected.

The Canadian government has a certain interest in keeping this trade alive as 95 percent of the 240 tons mined per year is exported out. The country is the fourth largest exporter of asbestos in the world, putting itself at the forefront of western support for the mineral.

Just recently, a high amount of criticism has been brought on towards Canada’s prominent role in the global asbestos industry. Through different media outlets, documentaries, and reports, the country is continuing to come under fire for its exporting practices.

While many Canadians are against the mining of this mineral and speak up to have it stopped, it’s clear that there is still a faction completely behind asbestos exporting due to its monetary value. With the spread of related illnesses and the controversy surrounding the mineral, hopefully this type of exporting comes to end in the near future. There’s certainly an opportunity to impact a rather hypocritical policy where Canada exports asbestos to other countries but actively tries to remove it from its own.


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