MAC: Mines and Communities

Deadly materials - the urgent need for control

Published by MAC on 2011-03-14
Source: PlanetArk, Montreal Gazette

Combating lead and asbestos around the world

Long-standing readers of this website will be aware of numerous instances of lead and asbestos poisoning which we've covered over the past decade.

In this update, we sadly report that the number of young victims of lead, from  gold extraction in Nigeria last year, has now officially doubled - to 800 children. See: Unprecedented lead poisoning strikes Nigerian villages

Children are also the main sufferers from lead and asbestos contained in old buildings and paint - unless the materials are carefully stripped and disposed.

However, lead  paint is still widely used in India, China, and other developing countries, without restriction.

Meanwhile the Quebec government in Canada still seems  intent on re-opening the mothballed Jeffrey asbestos mine - even as one of the  province's largest unions joins growing opposition to the move. See: From Quebec to India - Merchants of Death

Lead And Asbestos In Homes Need Tighter Control

By Alister Doyle


7 March 2011

The health risks from toxins such as lead in old paint or asbestos in walls are too often overlooked when homes are upgraded, according to a study on Sunday calling on governments to set tougher pollution rules.

The report, by Canadian experts, said that retrofits of old buildings, such as insulation meant to save energy and limit greenhouse gas emissions, often released poisons that can be especially damaging to children.

"Without sufficient care, retrofits ... can increase the health risks," Theresa McClenaghan, executive director of the Canadian Environmental Law Association (CELA), told Reuters as she outlined a CELA project to limit health risks.

"If you do it right, we can make houses healthier, safer and more energy efficient," she said. CELA called for tighter pollution controls, more training of contractors and a greater regard for health in designing energy efficiency programmes.

It said the United States and France were among very few nations with rules for handling old lead paint, whose use was banned decades ago by developed nations. Lead can damage the developing brain of young children.

Lead, making up half the weight of some old paints, was long used to make paint more durable, shiny and water resilient. A Canadian home built in the 1930s might have accumulated more than 200 kg (440.9 lb) of lead, CELA said.

The lead poses little threat if undisturbed but "replacing old windows or drilling into walls to blow in insulation, for example, can contaminate the house with lead dust," CELA said.

Asbestos, used as a flame retardant, can cause cancer. In Canada, it was used in 300,000 to 400,000 homes as loose fill in attics until it was taken off the market in 1990. Disturbing asbestos can release microscopic fibers to the air.

Other toxins include PCBs, used in some building materials.

Health Benefits

A 2009 study by the U.S. Economic Policy Institute estimated that every dollar invested in controlling lead paint hazards brought between $17 and $221 in long-term health benefits.

CELA said that U.S. rules could be a guide. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency obliges contractors to do lead-safe renovations on pre-1978 homes, isolating rooms where work is under way and using special vacuums and masks for dust.

"It's not difficult to persuade parents" of the benefits of tougher rules, said Erica Phipps, of the Canadian Partnership for Children's Health and Environment. "The real hard sell is convincing landlords."

Bruce Lamphear, a professor at Simon Fraser University and expert on environmental health, said that lead paint was still used in China, India and many other developing nations.

"There is no safe level of exposure," he said. Lead has been banned more widely from gasoline -- with only a handful of nations still using leaded fuel.

(Editing by Elizabeth Fullerton)

Lead Poisoning Kills 400 More Nigerian Children

By Nicholas Tattersall and Joe Brock


8 March 2011

Lead poisoning linked with illegal gold mining has killed a further 400 children in northern Nigeria since November, the National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA) said on Monday.

UN experts take water samples for testing
UN experts take water samples for testing, Nigeria.
Source IRIN

The latest figures suggest the death toll from the crisis in the northern state of Zamfara is rising after the United Nations said lead poisoning in the region had killed at least 400 children between March and October last year.

Such is the economic draw of illegal gold mining that impoverished farmers dig up rocks by hand in open mines, but the ore being unearthed around their villages contains high concentrations of lead, contaminating the air, soil and water.

Excessive lead can cause irreparable damage to the nervous and reproductive systems and the kidneys. It is especially harmful to young children and pregnant women who pass the metal on to fetuses or to babies via breastfeeding.

"The immature body system of children exposed to contaminated soils and gold processing tools tends to rapidly absorb associated lead and in the process poisoning then leading to convulsion, paralysis and even death," NEMA Director General, Muhammad Sani-Sidi, said in a statement on Monday.

A U.N. report earlier this year, based on a joint assessment mission, said high levels of lead pollution were found in soil and mercury levels in the air were nearly 500 times the acceptable limit in some villages in Zamfara.

The report said many children under five and adults tested in the affected areas had "extremely high levels of lead in their blood" while lead limits in drinking water tested exceeded U.N. standards, in at least one case by 10 times.

(Editing by Ralph Boulton)

CSN withdraws support for Quebec asbestos industry

By Michelle Lalonde

Montreal Gazette

9 March 2011

Quebec's asbestos industry suffered another major blow Wednesday when one of the province's largest unions said the Quebec government should not support the expansion of the Jeffrey Mine in Asbestos. On Tuesday, news reports revealed the federal government will stop its controversial funding of the asbestos industry lobby group, the Chrysotile Institute.

And Wednesday, the Confédération des syndicats nationaux (CSN), which represents 300,000 unionized workers across the province, announced it no longer supports the industry.

Big Labour in Quebec has been among the staunchest supporters of the asbestos industry for decades.

But Wednesday, CSN president Claudette Carbonneau announced she would be asking delegates to an annual meeting in Montreal to officially withdraw that support.

"Asbestos is hardly used in Quebec today, but is exported to developing countries like India," Carbonneau said. "If the health and safety conditions do not prevent these fatal illnesses in Quebec, it is difficult to claim asbestos can be safely used in these developing countries."

The CSN is recommending the provincial government not provide a loan guarantee that would allow the Jeffrey Mine in Asbestos to expand underground.

"The time has come to renew our position. This would, I think, honour those who have died and who struggled for health and safety, and remind us all that no worker's life, whether Indian or Québécois, should be sacrificed in the name of a job," Carbonneau said.

The Montreal investor who leads a consortium hoping for the government's help to expand the Jeffrey Mine said the CSN is wrong to abandon its longtime support of the industry.

Baljit Chadha released a statement Wednesday saying the CSN's move will not help workers anywhere in the world.

Chadha's business, Balcorp Ltd., has been exporting chrysotile asbestos to India for 15 years and he claims to only sell to "modern industries where workplace norms ... are respected."

"We respect the decision of the CSN, but we believe the political and legal institutions of India, which support the use of chrysotile when adequately regulated, are better placed to know what is good for their people," Chadha said.

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