Canadian Medical Association Blasts Government Over Mining, Exporting of Asbestos

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The Canadian Medical Association (CMA) this week joined the growing list of organizations to condemn its own ruling Conservative Party for allowing the continued mining and exporting of asbestos, the mineral that causes mesothelioma cancer.

Because of strict laws prohibiting its use nationally, Canada exports an estimated 98 percent of the asbestos that it mines, mostly to India, Africa and Southeast Asia.

Earlier this summer in Geneva, Switzerland, the Canadian Government blocked a United Nations Summit resolution that would have placed chrysotile asbestos on a Hazardous Substances List under the Rotterdam Convention.

Putting asbestos on that list would have required exporters to warn importers of the potential health hazards, likely reducing the amount sold worldwide.

Although the mining of asbestos in Canada has been reduced in recent years, there still are two remaining mining operations in Quebec. One is awaiting a government loan guarantee to continue operation.

“Canada should not be in the business of exporting such a dangerous product,” Jeff Turnbull, outgoing president of the CMA, told reporters this week.

“Canada’s physicians must . . . express outright opposition to the government’s stance,” said Barry Turchen, M.D., during his speech at the annual CMA gathering. “I think this sends a strong message to the federal government that its unethical and shameful behavior (toward the exportation) will not be tolerated  by the physicians of Canada.”

Asbestos, which still is found in myriad of products everywhere, was once lauded as a miracle mineral for its heat resistance, adaptability and affordability. Since the late 1970s, though, many industrial nations either have banned it in new manufacturing, or restricted its use because it can cause a variety of health problems.

Importers in less developed countries still are using it extensively in low-income housing and commercial development.

Mesothelioma is caused almost exclusively from the inhalation of asbestos fibers, although symptoms of the cancer often don’t appear for decades after exposure. There are an estimated 2,500-3,000 new cases of mesothelioma in the United States each year and 70,000 asbestos-related illnesses world-wide.

“The time for the CMA is now to go beyond calling on the federal government and begging it to take action, as it clearly has no intention of doing so,” Turchen said.


Tim Povtak is an award-winning writer with more than 30 years of reporting national and international news. His most recent experience is in researching and writing about asbestos litigation issues and asbestos-related conditions like mesothelioma. If you have a story idea for Tim, please email him at tpovtak@asbestos.com

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