Just about everyone in Canada is aware of the health dangers posed by asbestos. So why are we still producing the stuff and exporting it around the world?

For most people, asbestos is the stuff we desperately try to remove from
old buildings because of its cancer-causing properties. But in much of
the developing world, asbestos continues to be used, causing an
estimated 100,000 deaths per year.

Canada plays a role in this
situation by continuing to mine asbestos and export it around the world.
Even though 52 countries ban the use of asbestos, Canada exports it to
India, China, Mexico and other countries, where controls on its use have
been shown to be lacking.

The International Consortium of
Investigative Journalists, working with the BBC and journalists around
the world, recently released an expose on the problem called Dangers in the Dust: Inside the Global Asbestos Trade.

Among
other things, the series looks at a global network of lobby groups that
has spent nearly $100 million since the mid-1980s to preserve the
market for asbestos. It exposes relationships between governments,
industry and scientists to promote the continued production and export
of asbestos.

One of those lobby groups is Canada’s Chrysotile
Institute, based in Montreal. Asbestos mining has been a traditional
industry in Quebec, one which governments continue to support.

The
ICIJ report says Canada exported 153,000 tonnes of chrysotile, or white
asbestos, to India, Indonesia, Thailand, Mexico, Sri Lanka, Pakistan
and the UAR. Only a small fraction of that amount is used back home.

There
is currently a debate over enhanced funding for the expansion of an
asebstos mine in Quebec. The Canadian and Quebec governments support the
production and export of asbestos, while arguing that end users need to
ensure the product is handled safely. The Canadian Cancer Society is
urging government not to extend loan guarantees to the Jeffrey Asbestos
Mine. The town of Asbestos in Quebec retaliated by cancelling support
for the society’s Relay for Life fundraising effort next year.

The
ICIJ works collaboratively with reporters in many countries to produce
investigative reports. This expose involved reporters in eight
countries, though Canada was conspicuously absent.

A year ago, the CBC broadcast a powerful documentary on the asbestos issue called Canada’s Ugly Secret.
Reporter Mellissa Fung showed how workers in India handled Canadian
asbestos with virtually no protection, exposing them to long-term health
hazards.