Quebec still favours relaunch of asbestos industry – by Michelle Lalonde (Montreal Gazette – February 16, 2012)

MONTREAL – The Quebec government continues to favour a relaunch of the asbestos industry – despite a storm of recent controversy, including groundbreaking criminal convictions of two European businessmen for causing thousands of asbestos-related deaths, and far-reaching concerns about the research upon which the province bases its pro-asbestos policy.

Members of the anti-asbestos movement say the Canadian and Quebec governments have long relied on questionable studies produced by researchers at McGill University and elsewhere, funded by the asbestos industry, to promote chrysotile asbestos as relatively harmless if used safely.

McGill is conducting a preliminary review of the research of professor emeritus John Corbett McDonald to determine whether a full investigation should be called into whether some of that research was influenced by the fact it was funded by the Quebec Asbestos Mining Association.

The university called for the review in response to a letter of complaint sent by dozens of scientists and academics from across Canada and abroad, plus two televised documentaries that raised questions about McDonald’s research ethics and the actions of the asbestos industry in general.

McGill has not responded to charges by the complainants that its preliminary review is compromised by the fact that it is being conducted by Rebecca Fuhrer, who chairs McGill’s Department of Epidemiology, Biostatistics and Occupational Health, where many of McDonald’s colleagues continue to work.

On Wednesday, McGill spokesperson Julie Fortier said Fuhrer has no comment and is continuing her review.

On Monday, the former owner and a former director of a bankrupt Italian company that mined asbestos and made asbestos-reinforced cement were each sentenced to 16 years in prison after an Italian court found them criminally responsible for the deaths of more than 3,000 people by failing to comply with safety regulations.

Swiss billionaire Stephan Schmidheiny, the former owner of Eternit, and Jean-Louis de Cartier de Marchienne of Belgium were ordered to pay $39,000 in damages to relatives of people killed by asbestos-related diseases and $46,000 for every sick person, as well as damages to three municipalities where Eternit factories and mines operated.

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