It is time for Quebec to stop investing in asbestos – by Suzanne Dubois (Montreal Gazette – March 6, 2012)

Suzanne Dubois is executive director of the Quebec division of the Canadian Cancer Society.

There has been much discussion in the media lately regarding the status of asbestos in Quebec. The province is at a historic juncture: for the first time in 130 years, it no longer produces this mineral resource. This break in production is an opportunity to put an end to the use of a recognized carcinogen. There is no safe application of asbestos, which has already claimed too many lives, here and elsewhere.
All forms of asbestos cause cancer, including lung cancer, pleural and peritoneal mesothelioma, laryngeal cancer and ovarian cancer. Yet the government of Quebec is set to assist in the reopening of the Jeffrey Mine in Asbestos with loan guarantees of $58 million, quashing public discussion of this critical issue in the process.
The Canadian Cancer Society is firmly opposed to all investment of public funds in asbestos mining. The society believes that greater effort must be made to manage asbestos wherever it is present (producing a registry of buildings that contain it, and removing it when possible). It also believes that workers in Quebec’s asbestos industry must be supported through direct investment designed to transform their regional economy.
Voices in favour of an asbestos ban continue to be heard. Reports by recognized researchers and medical associations in May 2011 (on modifications to the Mines Act), a letter signed by 16 public-health directors in January 2011, campaigns by Coalition pour que le Québec ait meilleure mine, repeated calls by victims, and statements by five MNAs on Feb. 23 all deliver the same message: stop supporting the asbestos industry.
But our governments are playing deaf: they privilege short-term economic considerations and fail to consider the resulting costs and the impact on people’s health and lives. Even worse, Canada is delaying progress at the international level by refusing to allow the addition of chrysotile asbestos to the list of hazardous substances recognized by the Rotterdam Convention, a United Nations treaty that has been in effect since 2004. How can you act with caution when you refuse to face reality and admit a particular product’s toxicity?

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