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National law organization joins call to ban asbestos

A national environmental law organization has issued a statement today calling for a total ban on asbestos.

The Canadian Environmental Law Association is calling for broad support for banning asbestos across the US and Canada. The CELA endorsed a statement, The North American Declaration -- issued in Washington DC by the Asbestos Disease Awareness Organization and the Canadian Voices of Asbestos Victims -- which calls on Canadian Prime Minister Harper and US President Obama to take immediate steps to prevent further production or export of asbestos.

"My father was exposed to asbestos while working as a labourer and electrician at the petro-chemical plants in Sarnia, Ontario. In 2008, he died from mesothelioma, just two months after his diagnosis, thirty to forty years after he was exposed," said Stacy Cattran, Canadian Voices of Asbestos Victims Co-Founder. "Sarnia, like so many industrial towns, has suffered the loss of too many of her citizens to asbestos-related disease. After 130 years of mining asbestos, it is time for Canada to close the mines and transition the affected workers to other forms of industry. . . "

"It is unconscionable that while Canadians are spending billions of dollars on health care costs for asbestos victims in Canada and on removing asbestos from our schools, homes, hospitals and public buildings -- including Prime Minister Harper's workplace and residence -- the Canadian government is providing political and financial support to the asbestos lobby and supports a plan to relaunch Canada's bankrupt and deadly asbestos industry,” asbestos campaigner Kathleen Ruff told the Tyee.

"The asbestos issue is a shocking example of denial of science and environmental racism by our government."

As reported earlier in the Tyee, many health, trade union and human rights groups across Canada, including the Canadian Labour Congress and the Canadian Medical Association, have called for an end of Canada’s national asbestos policy, which has allowed the known carcinogen (now rarely used in Canada itself) to be exported to 3d World countries. There is no safe level of asbestos exposure, critics argue, and Canada should cease exports altogether.

"For the first time in decades, Canada's asbestos mines have stopped production. However, a decision to finance, reopen and expand the Jeffrey Mine in Quebec is expected by the end of the year", said Fe de Leon, Researcher at CELA in a press statement. "If the Quebec government supports a decision to restart these mining operations, it will entrench the Canadian export of this cancer causing substance for decades to come. For developing countries where there are markets for Canadian asbestos, workers and their communities will bear the burden of asbestos exposure since exporters are not required to provide information on the toxicity or safe handling of these hazardous substances. This year, Canada was one of several countries that opposed listing asbestos under the Rotterdam Convention for exchanging information on hazardous substances. Consequently, health and safety labeling need not accompany these exports to unsuspecting workers."

Tom Sandborn covers health policy and labour news for the Tyee. He welcomes your feedback and story tips here.

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