Obama, Harper Urged to Stop Asbestos Import, Export and Production

Former Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper

President Barack Obama and Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper should be helping more to stop the continued import, export and production of asbestos in North America, according to a joint Declaration by the leading advocacy groups in both countries.

The Asbestos Disease Awareness Group and the Canadian Voices of Asbestos Victims called Thursday for both leaders to endorse a plan that includes an immediate ban on asbestos use in the two countries.

The inhalation of asbestos is a well-known health hazard that causes an estimated 3,000 cases of mesothelioma cancer annually in the United States and an estimated 100,000 cases worldwide, according to the World Health Organization.

Although asbestos already is banned in 50 countries in the world, including most of Europe, neither the United States nor Canada has followed that path, preferring only to restrict its use.

“Every day, Americans die from a preventable asbestos-caused disease,” Linda Reinstein, ADAO co-founder, told Asbestos.com. “We urge President Obama and Prime Minister Harper to support (the Declaration). We ask . . . Obama to immediately ban the importation and use of asbestos in the United States.”

Medical experts say that someone dies from mesothelioma cancer or another asbestos related illness every 3.4 hours. Survival rates from the disease is extremely low.

Asbestos has not been mined in the United States since 2002, but businesses continue to import and use it in a variety of products that expose millions of Americans to the dangers. According to the latest figures available from the U.S. Geological Survey, the United States imported and consumed 820 metric tons of asbestos in the first seven months of 2010, increasing the use from the year before.

Much of the importation had been coming from Canadian mines. Until last month, Canada still had two active asbestos mines under operation, although the majority of the product was going to India, Africa and Southeast Asian countries. One of the two mines that closed is expected to reopen soon, pending a $58 million government loan guarantee.

“It is truly unbelievable that the United States continues to defy decades of science confirming that asbestos is a human carcinogen,” Reinstein said. “As a mesothelioma widow, I find that unacceptable because numerous safer alternatives exist.”

Asbestos, a naturally-occurring mineral, once was used extensively throughout the world, valued for its heat resistance, durability and low cost. It was highly valued by the United States military, which virtually mandated its use to help fireproof ships, planes and most hardware. It was used extensively in most residential and commercial construction done before the 1980’s.

According to the U.S. Geological Survey, roofing products account for 72 percent of the asbestos use today in the United States.

“No one else should be exposed to this carcinogen,” said Stacy Cattran, co-founder of Canadian Voices of Asbestos Victims. “We must take steps now which will prohibit Canada from ongoing export to the developing world, where it is exposing millions of workers to the same life-threatening hazards as my father experienced.”

Cattran’s father, who worked for years around asbestos at a petro-chemical plant, died in 2008 from mesothelioma.
The public fight against asbestos in Canada is considerably more vocal than it is in the United States because of the recent mining and the economics involved.

Baljit Chadha, president of Mineral Fibre Inc. in Montreal, is moving forward in his quest for the loan guarantee that would enable him to re-open the Jeffrey Asbestos Mine in Quebec. Chadha has insisted that the chrysotile asbestos produced in the mine can be used safely, which infuriates his detractors.

“For him to make those kind of comments, it’s very disingenuous,” Cattran said.

The two advocacy groups hope to deliver their North American Declaration with a list of supporters to Obama and Harper in February, urging them to take action. In addition to a ban on asbestos, they also will push for:

  • A North American registry of exposure locations and people with past exposures;
  • More support for early detection and treatment of asbestos-related diseases;
  • Stronger measures to prevent exposure to asbestos still in place and speed up abatement measures;
  • Support for asbestos-producing communities and workers in transition to alternative industries;
  • Stopping any North American production and export of asbestos.

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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