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Canadian Asbestos Industry dealt Death Blow

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Ottawa, ONTPundits are calling it the death rattle of the asbestos industry. Yesterday Canada dropped its opposition to list asbestos as a hazardous material, but the listing itself will not ban the sale of asbestos to developing countries. Instead, this move is intended to curb the use of the fire-resistant substance, which also causes mesothelioma, asbestosis, cancers and other diseases.

Canada produces about 150,000 tonnes of chrysotile asbestos annually, and exports about 90 percent, worth about $90 million, to developing countries. Anti-asbestos activists and the opposition party have referred to the industry as the “export of human misery and death” to developing nations.

For most Canadians, the country’s export of asbestos, which is estimated to kill more than 100,000 people around the world every year, is more than an embarrassment to its citizens. Even though asbestos use was strictly regulated domestically, Canada’s exports from 1900 through 2003 accounted for one-third of all worldwide production of all types of asbestos, according to the U.S. Geological Survey.

Quebec is the only place in Canada that produces asbestos. Under the United Nations' Rotterdam Convention Canada was able to oppose the hazardous materials listing and therefore keep the Quebec asbestos mining industry in business. Over the past several years, the conservative party increased funding and spent millions of dollars promoting asbestos and trying to stop other countries from banning it.

The outgoing Liberal government in Quebec had announced a C$58 million ($60 million) loan to restart the Jeffrey Mine, which would have been the only active asbestos mine in the province, but the incoming Parti Quebecois, elected on September 4, has pledged to cancel that loan, with the resulting end of asbestos output in Canada.

Residents of towns such as Asbestos, Quebec have opposed the shutting down of the asbestos mines because it was their livelihood. Now up to $50 million has been designated to be spent on economic diversification for that region-- Quebec's Eastern Townships.

Quebec's recent election campaign saw three of the four major parties vow to shut down the asbestos industry in its province. The Canadian Cancer Society and the Quebec Medical Association have also denounced the plan to reopen the Jeffrey mine. On Friday, Sept 14 the cancer society said the federal government made the "right decision" in withdrawing its opposition to listing chrysotile asbestos as hazardous the Canadian Medical Association and the Canadian Public Health Association concurred.

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