- Associated Press - Wednesday, December 8, 2010

LONDON (AP) - Despite virtually banning the use of asbestos in Canada, the government regularly exports the lethal substance to poor countries, according to a new report published Thursday.

Experts condemned the Canadian government for what they called its hypocrisy in its handling of the material, in a report published in the medical journal Lancet.

The office for the Canadian Minister of Natural Resources, meanwhile, said its practice has a “sound scientific basis.”

Asbestos is a natural mineral which can be processed for use in roof-tops, piping, or building materials. Inhaling its fibres scars the lungs and can lead to respiratory diseases, including cancers.

The World Health Organization says all types of asbestos cause cancer and more than 50 countries have banned it. About 100,000 people die every year from asbestos-related diseases and 125 million people remain exposed to the deadly substance worldwide.

In the Lancet report, author Tony Kirby points out that unlike other rich nations, Canada remains a major exporter of chrysotile, or white asbestos.

Canada is the world’s fourth biggest exporter of asbestos, after Russia, Kazakhstan and Brazil. Last year, Canada shipped 150,000 tonnes to countries including India, Indonesia and the Philippines, where few laws exist to protect people from asbestos.

In Canada, the government has spent millions of dollars removing asbestos from buildings across the country, including its Parliament.

Numerous Canadian organizations, including the Quebec Medical Association, Canadian Cancer Society and the Canadian Medical Association have labeled Canada’s asbestos exportation as deplorable, shameful and unethical. They describe it as Prime Minister “Stephen Harper’s killer legacy.”

With asbestos deposits dwindling in Quebec, where Canada’s asbestos is mined, the industry appeared doomed. But an international consortium proposed converting a closed mine into a new operation that could produce about 260,000 tonnes of white asbestos a year. Quebec is considering providing a $57 million loan guarantee for the project, according to previous published statements by the provincial government.

The international consortium that wants to reopen the mine claims Canadian asbestos is only sold to manufacturers with responsible use practices in place. Developers said all of the mined asbestos would be sent abroad, with about half of it going to India. The consortium also said they would use pictures to instruct people on the safe and responsible usage of asbestos.

Canada should not be exporting asbestos to developing nations where there are few or no workplace regulations,” said Richard Horton, editor of the Lancet in a statement. He called for an end to “this immoral export of asbestos-related death and disease to some of the most vulnerable people in the world.”

The office of the Canadian Minister of Natural Resources said they believe the risks linked to asbestos can be managed.

Canada’s policy of controlled use has a sound scientific basis and is a responsible approach,” said Paul Duchesne, a spokesman for the minister in an emailed statement.

“Through the enforcement of appropriate regulations to rigorously control exposure to (white asbestos), the health risks associated with processes and products can be reduced to acceptable levels,” Duchesne said.

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