Asbestos lobby attacks Canada’s decision to ban asbestos

Sun, Oct 15, 2017


Kathleen Ruff,

The International Chrysotile Association (ICA) has launched an attack on the Canadian government’s decision to ban asbestos.

In a 30 page brochure entitled Asbestos: Amphiboles Must Be Banned, Chrysotile Must Be Controlled, the ICA expresses its opposition to the decision by the Canadian government to ban the use, sale, import and export of asbestos by 2018.

The decision by the Canadian government to ban asbestos “is an excessive, radical, inequitable measure, which carries many risks,” states the ICA. “The Government of Canada must not yield to doctrinary (sic) and highly harmful demands emanating from lobbies which can’t and will never be satisfied.” The ICA notes that “no more than 20 years ago the province of Quebec was the world’s second largest producer of chrysotile and its #1 exporter, with more than 50% of worldwide exports.”

“For Canada to ban chrysotile without any restriction would amount to denying the widely recognized and accepted principle of its controlled and safe use, a principle which the country has traditionally promoted, defended and applied,” states the ICA.

The ICA recalls the past when it enjoyed government and union support: “Since the beginning of the 80s, successive Canadian governments have defended and wholeheartedly supported the safe use of all minerals and metals, including of course the use and production of the mineral fibre called chrysotile. Through the Chrysotile Institute, a tripartite organization (governments, unions, industry), the federal and Quebec governments invested more than C$55 millions to ensure the promotion and defense of the program for the safe, controlled and responsible use of chrysotile, with remarkable success.”

According to the ICA, those who support banning asbestos, such as the Canadian Medical Association and the Canadian Cancer Society, are putting forward “a radical and irrational position”.

The ICA attacks the Canadian government’s consultation process as biased, calling it “A bogus consultative process, expeditiously conducted.” Because it is “deeply concerned by the muddled and biased nature of the consultation process that has been unfolding over the past few months”, the ICA states that it therefore “decided to intervene, with the hope of prompting the responsible competent authorities to conduct a rigorous, science-based analysis of this file before making any decision.”

False information

The ICA brochure puts forward the same discredited misinformation that the asbestos industry has put forward for decades. Some of the falsehoods presented are:

1) Only amphibole asbestos is harmful

The ICA says that chrysotile asbestos fibres are quickly expelled from the lungs and that this proves that chrysotile asbestos does not cause harm. It is only amphibole asbestos that is harmful, according to the asbestos industry. This argument is utter nonsense and has been rejected by every reputable scientific organisation in the world. This false theory was created by David Bernstein back in 2003 and has been the foundation of the asbestos lobby ever since. It is called the “biopersistence” myth. Bernstein was paid one million dollars by the Chrysotile Institute for developing this false argument and has since been paid millions of dollars more by the asbestos lobby to repeat the false theory and promote the industry’s interests. Previously Bernstein’s work was funded by the tobacco industry.

As the World Health Organization (WHO), the International Agency for Research on Cancer, the International Social Security Association, the World Federation of Public Health Associations, and countless more scientific organisations have concluded, chrysotile asbestos causes deadly diseases, such as mesothelioma, lung cancer and asbestosis. The fact the chrysotile asbestos fibres are expelled from the lungs does not mean it is harmless. Cigarette smoke is quickly expelled from the lungs. This fact does not constitute proof that cigarette smoke is harmless. Chrysotile asbestos fibres are found in large numbers in the pleura outside the lung. As the world scientific community has concluded from overwhelming evidence, exposure to chrysotile asbestos fibres causes deadly harm.

2) Chrysotile asbestos fibres do not escape into the air

The ICA argues that because chrysotile asbestos is mostly used in asbestos-cement products, the fibres are bonded and cannot escape to cause harm.

Even a schoolchild could see that this is a false argument. Chrysotile asbestos is loose when it is mixed with cement and the workers and nearby communities can be exposed to harm. Countries that are widely using chrysotile asbestos, such as India, are littered with broken and deteriorated asbestos cement roofing and pipes in schools, homes and buildings. The fibres are released into the air to be breathed in by children and everyone around. When there is an earthquake or typhoon or other natural disaster, asbestos-cement products are shattered and the fibres released into the air. All asbestos-containing products are subject to deterioration, which is why countries in the West are spending billions of dollars to try to deal with the devastating problems of deteriorated asbestos in their buildings and infrastructure.

3) Rigorous safety measures are followed

The ICA argues that asbestos and asbestos products are handled with rigorous safety protections in India, Indonesia, Vietnam, etc. where the asbestos industry continues to export them. This is nonsense. In wealthy, privileged countries with advanced regulatory régimes, who used asbestos in the past, it has proven impossible to use asbestos safely. As medical experts in Quebec have stated, the so-called “safe use of chrysotile asbestos” has proven impossible to achieve in Quebec itself.

Jean-Marc Leblond, President of the ICA, is well aware of this. In an interview with USA Today in 1999, The asbestos epidemic – a global crisis, Leblond (who was then Vice President of Sales for the Quebec company LAB Chrysotile) talked about how he had traveled the world since 1971, selling asbestos. Leblond stated that he had 700 customers in 60 countries. “In Algeria, I went to a cement plant that had the most modern equipment available, yet the floor was covered with 6 inches of asbestos,” said Leblond. “The bag-opening equipment is broken eight months out of the year, and they just slice open these bags. It’s suicidal.”

4) Exposure to high levels of chrysotile asbestos fibres is harmless

The ICA claims that exposure to 1 fibre of chrysotile asbestos per cubic centimetre of air (1 f/cc) causes no harm to health. This is a dangerous falsehood. As the WHO and the world scientific community state, there is no safe level of exposure to any form of asbestos, including chrysotile asbestos – the only form of asbestos traded today and which represents 95% of all asbestos ever sold. The exposure standard across Canada, in Europe and the USA (0.1 f/cc) is ten times more strict than the level put forward by the asbestos industry and in some European countries the standard it one hundred times more strict (0.01 f/cc).

Improper interference by Russian and Kazakhstan asbestos companies

The ICA is funded by asbestos mines in Russia, Kazakhstan and Brazil. It is offensive and improper that these foreign interests are attempting to intervene to influence and change Canadian policy.

The President of the ICA, Jean-Marc Leblond, already made a submission in January 2017 to the Canadian government’s consultation process,  opposing the banning of chrysotile asbestos and putting forward the same misinformation as is now being put forward by the ICA. Mr. Leblond made his submission as an individual Canadian citizen. In an interview with La Presse Leblond stated that he had been asked by some of its members whether the ICA would intervene to oppose the intention of the Canadian government to ban asbestos. “I told them that I thought it would be inappropriate that an organisation, that is entirely financed by foreign interests, would intervene in this matter. And that is what I will again tell them if the Board of Directors raises the question again,” said Leblond (translation).

Apparently, Mr. Leblond has changed his mind about the impropriety of such conduct or he has been overruled by the Russian and Kazakhstan members of his Board of Directors, since he is now committing the conduct that he said was inappropriate.

This is not the only example of wrongdoing and violation of democracy by the ICA. One of ICA’s directors, Nurlan Omarov, commissioned the payment of more than a million dollars to hire a spy, Robert Moore, to infiltrate and spy on the activities of persons in Canada  and other countries  involved in working to ban asbestos. This illegitimate and corrupt conduct is apparently approved by Mr. Leblond and the ICA, since they have refused to dismiss Mr. Omarov for immoral conduct and refuse to answer questions from the media as to why they are complicit with such wrongdoing.

What is the ICA hoping to achieve?

The ICA has no possibility of stopping the Canadian government from legislating its announced ban on asbestos by 2018.

The fact that the Canadian government, that was for so long a supporter and promoter of the asbestos industry, has now rejected its lies is a serious blow to the asbestos industry. By spending money on a glossy brochure with photos of beautiful trees and lakes and by repeating all its false information, the ICA hopes to keep its lies on life support.

A second aim of the ICA and particularly of its Quebec President, Mr. Leblond, concerns the huge piles of waste tailings left behind from the asbestos mines in the towns of Thetford Mines and Asbestos, containing up to 40% asbestos. Projects have been commenced, supported by government funding, to extract magnesium from the tailings. These projects will likely result in stirring up asbestos fibres in the air and might not be viable under a stricter exposure standard of 0.1 f/cc. Lobbying is underway to exempt these projects from any new federal regulations and to stop Quebec from following the lead of the Canadian government and changing Quebec’s exposure regulations from 1 f/cc to 0.1 f/cc. In its brochure, the ICA states that any new asbestos regulations must not “prevent the valorization and certain forms of exploitation of mining residues and therefore Quebec region revitalization. The proposed regulations should never be a springboard for activists wanting to block the future of any economic activities related to mining residues.”

Everyone wishes for new economic developments to take place in Thetford Mines and Asbestos, but not at the cost of human and environmental health. The Quebec Federation of Labour  and leading Quebec medical and health organisations  are calling on the Quebec government to take speedy action to change Quebec’s exposure standards to 0.1 f/cc, pointing out that there is no safe exposure level to asbestos and that asbestos kills more than a hundred Quebec workers every year, particularly in the construction industry.

“Our elected representatives must stop closing their eyes on this issue and assume their responsibilities,” stated Dr. Louise Soulière, Vice President of the Quebec Public Health Association and former Director of Public Health for the asbestos mining area of Estrie. It is imperative to change Quebec’s exposure standard to 0.1 f/cc, said Dr. Soulière. “The feasibility of the projects to develop the tailings from the former asbestos mines must be questioned, since it will be necessary to take the required measures to assure that the workers and nearby communities are sufficiently protected.” (translation)

A desperate endeavour

The endeavour by the ICA to prevent Canada from banning asbestos simply exposes how the asbestos lobby, having long ago lost the scientific battle, is now losing the political battle.

The asbestos industry now has political support in only a tiny number of countries, such as India, Indonesia and Mexico. The governments of these countries are betraying science and subjecting their citizens to harm and suffering, as well as huge economic costs. These governments are internationally isolated and subjects of international condemnation.

Like Canada, they too will soon find it impossible to continue supporting the asbestos industry’s lies.

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One Response to “Asbestos lobby attacks Canada’s decision to ban asbestos”

  1. Amanda Richards Says:

    The propaganda that the ICA continues to put out is untrue. In Australia there is sufficient rigorous research that shows that chrysotile asbestos can cause asbestos related diseases and in particular Mesothelioma. The World Health Organisation states that it does. I applaud the decision of the Canadaian government and the many other countries that have banned asbestos. The cost to people and the community in general is too high!

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