Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Deadly Trade

Canadians have a reputation for being self-effacing and apologetic. Our attitude is so globally well-known that recently Monty Python alumnus Eric Idle quipped, "The first draft of your national anthem, 'O Canada', was actually called, 'Oh, Sorry!'"

Funny, but not necessarily true. O Canada, our home and native land, continues to promote, mine and export asbestos. According to Ban Asbestos Canada (BAC), "The Canadian asbestos trade has taken a deadly toll at home and abroad and will continue to do so for many years to come. This unnecessary loss of human life is unacceptable."

The problem is that all forms of asbestos are carcinogenic. According to BAC, this includes chrysotile, a white asbestos that is mined and exported in Canada. What is so troubling is that this isn't news. We've known about the dangers of asbestos since the early 1920s.

But asbestos means jobs, particularly in Quebec where the banning of asbestos would mean eliminating he jobs of the 4,000 workers who are directly or indirectly employed by the industry. Ironically, many of those workers will be among the front line victims of the deadly cancer, mesothelioma, caused by asbestos exposure. The trade off doesn't seem reasonable, fair or humane. And yet we continue to be one of the world’s largest exporters of this deadly substance. A whopping 95 percent of Canada's asbestos production is exported to the developing world where health and safely regulations are almost non-existent.

According to an article entitled The Asbestos Cancer Epidemic, by Joseph LaDou, (Environmental Health Perspectives, 2004),

"The asbestos cancer epidemic may take as many as 10 million lives before asbestos is banned worldwide and exposures are brought to an end. In many developed countries, in the most affected age groups, mesothelioma may account for 1 percent of all deaths. In addition to mesotheliomas, 5-7 percent of all lung cancers can be attributed to occupational exposures to asbestos."

Enough is enough. On June 22, The Canadian Cancer Society (CCS) will meet to consider the call to ban asbestos. The CCS is arguably the most powerful anti-cancer lobby in Canada. It is the profound and desperate hope that the condemnation of the CCS may finally get the government's attention and stop the deadly production and export of asbestos.

As a result, activists, labor unions and health coalitions are calling upon the Canadian public to put aside their quiet apologies and let their voices to be heard. Write, email, phone the CCS as soon as possible and encourage them to call for a ban on this deadly substance.

"Why should you care?" asks activist Janet McNeill, "Because asbestos is nasty, and it affects people from all walks of life: factory workers, teachers, students, the families of workers, families with asbestos insulation in their houses, First Nations communities - in other words, asbestos is a scourge that affects us all. And Canada exports it to developing countries where health and environmental protections are even less developed than our own. Many countries have banned asbestos. Canada is long overdue."

Enough said. Apologies, this time, are not accepted. It is no longer okay to be uniquely Canadian and wonderfully non-committal. We are spreading death at a painfully slow and horrible rate.

Unlike other cancers, where mortality rates are falling, a diagnosis of mesothelioma is generally considered a death sentence. According to Cancer UK, "By the time someone has symptoms and goes to their doctor, the disease is very often advanced. Because few people are diagnosed early, there are no reliable statistics for 5-year survival rates for the early stages of mesothelioma. Generally, of all those people diagnosed with mesothelioma only about 1 in 10 (10 percent) will be alive 3 years later and 1 in 20 (5 percent) will be alive 5 years later."

What is so tragic is that this disease is almost completely preventable.

Enough talk. It's time for action. Pick up your pen and save a life. Write:

Dr. Barbara Whylie, MD
Chief Executive Officer
National Office
Canadian Cancer Society
Suite 200
10 Alcorn Avenue
Toronto, ON M4V 3B1

and support the ban on asbestos production and export. You can also send an email to the attention of Dr. Whylie at ccs@cancer.ca. Fax your letters to 416-961-4189.


Ban Asbestos Canada

International Ban Asbestos Secretariat

U.S. Environmental Protection Agency

Federal NDP MP Pat Martin has started a petition to ban the production and export of asbestos. For more information, email Mr. Martin at martin.pat@parl.gc.ca.


Blogger Gibran said...

Excellent post. It's sad to know that while there are alternatives, asbestos continues to be used because it is cheaper. The dilemma is a difficult one; if you ban asbestos you impact your own citizens (by eliminating that job market) but if you don't then you are creating a health hazard for other citizens of the world, so what do you do? Maybe an option is to require the companies that have profited from asbestos to invest their profits in alternative products rather than paying out millions or billions of dollars in legal expenses and settlements. Asbestos is found in many common places and if it is not slowly removed then we will continue to be at risk. Please read more about where asbestos is found.

July 05, 2007 4:07 PM  

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