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This article was originally featured in Health and Safety Update, a CUPE National publication. For more articles and information on health and safety topics, check out past issues or subscribe to the email edition.
Support for the export and use of asbestos appears to be weakening, following the federal government’s recent cuts to funding for the industrial asbestos lobby group, the Chrysotile Institute.
The cuts were revealed in the government’s 2011-2012 spending estimates, recently tabled in the House of Commons.
The Chrysotile Institute is a registered lobby group that promotes the mining, use and exportation of the chrysotile form of asbestos, claiming that with proper regulations it can be safe to use. However, most domestic and international health agencies and experts agree that chrysotile asbestos is a confirmed cancer-causing substance that is too deadly to mine and use.
Meanwhile, in Quebec, the Confédération des Syndicats Nationaux (CSN), which represents 300,000 workers, announced it is withdrawing support for the asbestos industry.
In a statement reported in Montreal newspaper The Gazette, CSN president Claudette Carbonneau said that the organization was changing its position, and that no worker’s life should be sacrificed for a job.
Support for Canadian asbestos industry weakens CSN recently passed a resolution calling on the Quebec Liberal government to cancel a $58 million loan to investors planning to open a new mine, which would provide an additional 25 year supply of asbestos.
The governments of Quebec and Canada have continued to actively support the only remaining asbestos mine in Canada.
While little asbestos is used in Canada, tonnes are sent to developing countries. It is estimated that asbestos kills approximately 110,000 people a year worldwide. Asbestos-related diseases continue to be the biggest industrial killer in Canada. All of the major political parties in Quebec still support the industry.
While many unions across Canada have called for a total ban on the mining, use and export of asbestos, several unions in Quebec have been more resistant in making this call, either by directly supporting the mining operations, or making no statement at all.
CUPE and Ban Asbestos Canada (a non-profit, volunteer-run, coalition of labour, public health, environmental and human rights groups, academic and scientific experts, and above all concerned citizens, victims, and their families), have called for the complete shutdown of asbestos mining operations in Canada and just transition measures for the approximately 400 affected workers and their communities.
Anthony Pizzino, director of Health and Safety and Research of CUPE and BAC member, spoke on the issue: “This is great news, and a major step forward. We hope this will be the first in a series of union voices that will end their tacit support for this toxic industry. At the same time, we should remain diligent, to make sure federal funding for the Chysotile Institute is not re-instated once the lobbying heats up.”
Pizzino continued, “But while these events show we are slowly moving the issue, there is more that can be done. CUPE and BAC continue to call for the Canadian and Quebec government to stop all funding of the mining industry in Quebec, and find appropriate transitional measures for the people affected by the closing.”
We’ll continue to monitor this story as it develops. Check out cupe.ca/asbestos for the latest news on the asbestos industry in Canada. You can also check out Ban Asbestos Canada’s website at www.bacanada.org.