Quebec Public Health Director threatened with dismissal for raising asbestos concerns

Sun, Mar 25, 2018


Kathleen Ruff,

The mayor of Thetford Mines, Marc-Alexandre Rousseau, has called for the region’s Director of Public Health, Dr. Philippe Lessard, to be fired. In a letter to Quebec’s Minister of Health, Rousseau accuses Dr. Lessard and Quebec’s public health professionals of having a crazy, biased attitude towards asbestos and towards the 500 million tons of asbestos mining wastes in the region. The wastes contain 10 to 40% asbestos.

The mayor, regional politicians and asbestos interests have lobbied the Canadian government to exempt projects to use the asbestos mining wastes from upcoming federal regulations intended to stop asbestos use and protect all Canadians from asbestos harm. The projects, it appears, are based on allowing workers involved in the projects to be exposed to dangerously high levels of asbestos (1 fibre per cubic centimetre of air), which would be illegal under federal regulations and is ten times higher exposure than permitted by federal regulations and other provincial regulations across Canada.

According to Mayor Rousseau, the Canadian government is supportive of the projects, even though they would be illegal under federal regulations. “An army of federal government scientists are opening the door to the exploitation of the asbestos wastes,” claims Mayor Rousseau (translation).

If what Mayor Rousseau says is true, then the Canadian government is betraying its proclaimed commitment to protect Canadians from asbestos harm.

The asbestos wastes projects are hazardous and non-viable

In an Open Letter to Mayor Rousseau sent on March 24, Dr. Yv Bonnier-Viger challenges the mayor to work collaboratively to bring back safe jobs and quality of life to the people of Thetford, instead of calling for the firing of health professionals who are carrying out their responsibilities with dedication and intelligence.

Dr. Bonnier-Viger is Public Health Director for the region of Gaspésie et les Îles and specializes in public health and preventive medicine. He has personally experienced the human tragedy of asbestos, having lost his wife to mesothelioma.

Dr. Bonnier-Viger points out that:

  • Quebec’s seventeen Regional Directors of Public Health recently informed the federal government that they oppose the exemption of asbestos mining wastes from the federal government’s proposed asbestos regulations.
  • Just in Quebec alone, there are 800 million tons of mining wastes that contain 10 to 40% asbestos fibres that could be released into circulation in the air if the wastes are moved around.
  • The companies and speculators who have made fortunes on the backs of the region’s workers from mining asbestos and who are now promoting these projects are certainly not the solution.
  • Their claim that they can make money from the asbestos residues is another attempt to trick the population.
  • The legacy of millions of tons of asbestos wastes is a burden that must not be put on the shoulders of the local communities but be shared by the entire Canadian population.
  • Producing magnesium from the wastes is a good idea. It destroys asbestos fibres. But for the process not to create worse environmental damage with dioxins and to safely dispose of the silica that will remain as a by-product of the process and to make sure that the people working in this industrial process do so safely, it will be necessary to invest in research and equipment that would cause the costs to explode and render the projects economically non-viable.
  • To make believe that entrepreneurs and other local speculators could make a profit from such a project is utter nonsense.
  • The federal and the Quebec governments need to invest heavily in planned, safe decontamination of the region.

Does the Canadian government intend to protect Canadians from asbestos harm?

It is showdown time for the Canadian government.

For decades the Canadian government put out false information claiming that chrysotile asbestos is virtually harmless. It is not surprising that having been deluged with this government-guaranteed misinformation all their lives, the population of Thetford Mines and the asbestos mining region believe the lies they were told.

The Canadian government has thus a special responsibility to undo the asbestos harm and misinformation it created.

The Canadian government should not exempt the asbestos mining residues from its asbestos regulations. It should not continue its silence and complicity with the asbestos wastes projects that will expose workers and the communities to ongoing harm.

Quebec’s Directors of Public Health deserve respect for their integrity, courage and dedication to protect the well-being of the people of Quebec.

The Canadian government should respect and support their appeal that Canada’s asbestos regulations must not exempt asbestos mining wastes.

Quebec’s National Public Health Institute, the Quebec Medical Association, the Quebec Public Health Association, the Quebec Cancer Society, the Quebec Federation of Labour – Construction, the Quebec Asbestos Victims Association, Quebec’s Directors of Public Health have all expressed serious concern about the asbestos wastes projects and the absence of necessary health protections. They have said the projects should not go ahead until and unless  proper health protections have been established.

Is anyone in the Canadian and Quebec governments listening?

, , ,

Leave a Reply