MAC: Mines and Communities

Canada promotes deadly mineral trade with India

Published by MAC on 2011-12-12
Source: Statement, Globe and Mail (2011-12-05)

Government plans to eliminate asbestos tariffs.

In the face of growing global abhorrence at the trade in asbestos products, Canada's government is now trying to eliminate tariffs on export of the deadly mineral to India.

India hasn't yet ratified the Basel Ban amendment that seeks to ban all hazardous exports including asbestos

But the Indian government withdrew its opposition to such a ban at the conference of parties meeting in Cartagena, last October. See: Basel amendment on hazardous waste moves dramatically closer to implementation

Previous article on MAC: Canadian Opposition Parties Call for Asbestos Sales Ban

Harper Government Plans to Increase Asbestos Exports to India

NDP Press Release

5 December 2011

CEPA Trade Negotiators reveal deliberate strategy to eliminate tariffs on dangerous export

OTTAWA - The Official Opposition has learned that the Harper government is trying to eliminate trade tariffs on exports of lethal Canadian asbestos to India.

"It is a disgrace that the Harper government has opposed the global effort to ban this substance," said Official Opposition International Trade critic Brian Masse (Windsor West). "Now we find out Conservatives are actually attempting to expand Canadian asbestos sales to the developing world. This represents another sad chapter for the Harper government."

In response to questions from Masse, the Chief Negotiator for the Canada-India Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement admitted Canada is currently working to eliminate tariffs on asbestos exports to India. Currently there is a 10 per cent duty on asbestos exports to India, the world's second largest consumer of asbestos.

"We already dump hundreds of thousands of tons of asbestos each year into developing nations - and now we want to make it easier for asbestos magnates to do so?" said MP Pat Martin (Winnipeg Centre). "This is deplorable and Canadians need to let their government know they will not put up with this any longer."

The Canadian government has long been criticized for its support of asbestos exports to countries with few safeguards in place to protect workers. Despite being asked repeatedly in recent weeks about asbestos in the House of Commons, the government never mentioned their plan to increase asbestos trade to the developing world through axing tariffs.

"To actively pursue exporting this deadly product to countries that have little to no protection for workers is reprehensible," said Masse. "It's time for our government to acknowledge reality and develop a plan to help transition asbestos workers into new, sustainable industries."

For more information, please contact:
Jesse Brady, Press Secretary, 613-720-6400


Promotion of Asbestos Trade with Canada by Commerce Ministry & CCEA Condemnable

ToxicsWatch Alliance (India) Press Release

6 December 2011

WHO and ILO call for elimination of asbestos of all forms including chrysotile asbestos

Decontaminate asbestos laden buildings of Parliament, Supreme Court, houses of legislators, personnel from armed forces, airports, railway platforms etc.

New Delhi: Public health and environmental groups demand that Cabinet Committee on Economic Affairs (CCEA) should ensure that India desists from signing the "Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement" (CEPA) with Canada that allows the export of cancer causing Canadian asbestos to India.

CCEA cannot defend its promotion of asbestos trade given the fact that the WHO, the ILO, all medical health professionals, overwhelming scientific evidence is opposed to it. Support for asbestos trade is indefensible. There is not a single reliable study in the world that shows that asbestos can be used safely in a controlled manner. Had that been the case some 60 countries would not have banned it.

ToxicsWatch Alliance (TWA) appreciates the role of New Democratic Party (NDP) of Canada, the Official Opposition party for resisting the efforts Stephen Harper government of Conservative party of Canada to eliminate trade tariffs on exports of lethal Canadian asbestos to India. "It is a disgrace that the Harper government has opposed the global effort to ban this substance," NDP said in a release dated December 5, 2011.

Every day, work is underway in the Canadian House of Commons to decontaminate offices and houses of Members of Parliament that contain asbestos. The offices are being decontaminated because asbestos is carcinogenic and harmful to human health. In India, will members of Indian National Congress led United Progressive Government, CCEA and Commerce Minister, Anand Sharma reveal whether they want the asbestos roofs in their own houses and offices to be made of carcinogenic chrysotile asbestos?

Don Stephenson, the chief negotiator of Canada for CEPA revealed to Canadian Parliamentary committee, "The potential impact of trade negotiations of asbestos is that the tariff applicable to imports of asbestos in India would be reduced. The current rate is 10% and there is a possibility that negotiations could lead to a reduction or elimination of this rate "on December 1, 2011.

In India, this amounts to disregarding the notice dated July 6, 2011 issued by National Human Rights Commission that seeks report on victims of asbestos and need for ban on chrysotile asbestos (white) asbestos. The proposed free trade agreement between India and Canada will boost asbestos trade and lead massive increase in deaths and diseases to the killer fibers of Canadian asbestos.

TWA demands that instead of reducing or eliminating tariffs on asbestos from Canada as is proposed in the CEPA negotiations, CCEA and Commerce Ministry should safeguard present and future generation of Indian citizens, consumers, workers and their families by banning trade in asbestos in every form.

TWA has been writing to Commerce Ministry since the inception of these free trade agreement negotiations that commenced in November 2010, warning it against continued asbestos trade with Canada. The CEPA is to be finalized by 2013. Unmindful of incurable asbestos related diseases, Canada exported 70 000 tonnes of asbestos to India in 2010 alone.

India rightly disassociated itself from Canada in June, 2011 who derailed the international consensus that categorizes chrysotile asbestos as a hazardous substance under the UN's Rotterdam Convention on the Prior Informed Consent Procedure for Certain Hazardous Chemicals and Pesticides in International Trade. Thus, India has taken a position that it considers chrysotile asbestos as a hazardous substance. Now it should take the next logical step and phase out asbestos use. In an explicit case of hypocrisy and double standard, Canada categorizes chrysotile asbestos as a hazardous substance in Canada but promotes it as a harmless substance to India.

In a related development, on December 5, 2011 members of the public in Ottawa, Canada heard why Ms Michaela Keyserlingk thinks that the production and use of asbestos should be banned in Canada. Michaela's husband Robert died 2 years ago from asbestos cancer; since then, Michaela has been campaigning to raise awareness of the asbestos hazard. The event was organized by the Reverend Michel Dubord at St. John's Anglican Church in Ottawa. Six weeks ago, the Anglican Diocese of Ottawa passed a motion denouncing the Canadian Government's policy of exporting asbestos. TWA appreciates the efforts of Michaela and the Church.

According to WHO estimates, more than 107 000 people die each year from asbestos-related lung cancer, mesothelioma and asbestosis resulting from occupational exposure. About 125 million people in the world are exposed to asbestos at the workplace.

The World Health Assembly Resolution 58.22 on cancer prevention urges Member States to pay special attention to cancers for which avoidable exposure is a factor, including exposure to chemicals at the workplace. With Resolution 60.26, the World Health Assembly requested WHO to carry out a global campaign for the elimination of asbestos-related diseases "...bearing in mind a differentiated approach to regulating its various forms - in line with the relevant international legal instruments and the latest evidence for effective interventions...".

Eliminating asbestos-related diseases is particularly targeted at countries still using chrysotile asbestos, in addition to assistance in relation to exposures arising from historical use of all forms of asbestos.

WHO, in collaboration with the International Labour Organization (ILO) and with other intergovernmental organizations and civil society, -works with countries towards elimination of asbestos-related diseases in the following strategic directions:

The resolution of the 95th Session of the International Labour Conference of ILO reads:

1. Resolves that: (a) the elimination of the future use of asbestos and the identification and proper management of asbestos currently in place are the most effective means to protect workers from asbestos exposure and to prevent future asbestos-related diseases and deaths; and (b) the Asbestos Convention, 1986 (No. 162), should not be used to provide a justification for, or endorsement of, the continued use of asbestos.

2. Requests the Governing Body to direct the International Labour Office to: (a) continue to encourage member States to ratify and give effect to the provisions of the Asbestos Convention, 1986 (No. 162), and the Occupational Cancer Convention, 1974 (No. 139); (b) promote the elimination of future use of all forms of asbestos and asbestos containing materials in all member States; (c) promote the identification and proper management of all forms of asbestos currently in place; (d) encourage and assist member States to include measures in their national programmes on occupational safety and health to protect workers from exposure to asbestos; and (e) transmit this resolution to all member States.

Taking cognizance of the above mentioned facts and resolutions, TWA demands that the Commerce Ministry and CCEA should: (a) stop asbestos trade in CEPA in particular and ban manufacturing, use and import of asbestos and trade in asbestos products in general; (b) assist workers affected by diseases caused by asbestos fibers by developing a Just Transition Plan; (c) introduce measures dedicated to affected workers and their families to assure them of a decent standard of living; (e) support and compensate citizens and consumers who are victims of asbestos exposure through legal remedy, (f) decontaminate asbestos laden buildings of Parliament, Supreme Court and the houses of legislators, officials, personnel from armed forces, airports, railway platforms etc and (g) float global tender inviting companies who have competence, skill and capacity to remove asbestos from existing buildings.

India should act urgently to stop import of human misery on a monumental scale. Asbestos trade is morally and ethically reprehensible.

For Details: Gopal Krishna, ToxicsWatch Alliance (TWA), New Delhi, Mb: 9818089660, Web: toxicswatch.blogspot.com


Canadian asbestos production suspended

By Andy Blatchford

The Globe and Mail

24 November 2011 Canada's once-mighty asbestos sector has ground to a halt for the first time in 130 years, as production of the controversial fibre has stalled in both of the country's mines.

A shutdown this month marked a historic milestone for the Canadian asbestos industry, which at one time dominated world production and led to the construction of entire towns in Canada.
Proponents of the industry insist it's way too early write the obituary on Canadian asbestos; they're hoping to start digging again as soon as the spring.

But for now, amid all the noisy political debates and a dramatic anti-asbestos news conference Thursday on Parliament Hill, Canadian production has quietly and suddenly stopped.

Work halted earlier this month at the Lac d'amiante du Canada operation in Thetford Mines, Que., which followed a production stoppage at Jeffrey Mine in Asbestos, about 90 kilometres away.

The future of both mines is unclear.

Jeffrey Mine needs a bank-loan guarantee from the Quebec government before it can start digging a new underground mine. Lac d'amiante du Canada is apparently facing operational obstacles in accessing its mineral.

Canadian asbestos is expected to disappear from the international market altogether in the coming weeks, as the stockpiles at both operations dry up, says Jeffrey Mine president Bernard Coulombe.

Does the production standstill signal the end of Canada's embattled asbestos sector?

Not if you ask Mr. Coulombe.

"It's not closed... fibre is still being sold," said Mr. Coulombe, who explains that both mines are still selling small amounts from their limited inventories.

He predicts production to resume at Jeffrey in the spring - once the loan-guarantee is secured.

The production shutdown is the latest dip for an industry that has long been a shadow of its former self.

Canada gained a reputation as the world's top producer of a once-valuable global commodity that was hailed as the "magic mineral" for its fireproofing and insulating characteristics.

Canadian asbestos represented 85 per cent of world production in the early 1900s and the country's annual production peaked at 1.69 million tonnes in 1973, according to the U.S. Geological Survey.

The resource was so valuable that the U.S. military drew up plans during the 1930s to enter Quebec and defend the mines if Canada ever fell under German control, said a researcher who's studied the history of Quebec asbestos.

Jessica Van Horssen also recalled how Nazi leader Adolf Hitler bought Canadian asbestos up until the Second World War for fireproof building material, and how Winston Churchill's bunker on Downing Street was also made of asbestos cement.

"It was also something that made the world safe and we wanted to be safe, especially during war time. It was a real comfort that things had asbestos in them," said Ms. Van Horssen, a post-doctoral student from McGill University.

But the industry began its steady decline in the 1970s as science started linking asbestos exposure to serious health problems, such as lung disease and cancer.

Canada produced around 5 per cent of the world supply in 2010 and just 100,000 tonnes, the USGS says.

But Mr. Coulombe insists the international market for chrysotile - the type of asbestos mined in Canada - remains strong, which is great for business and the industry's future. The problem is, it also means the Jeffrey reserve will be bought up within a few weeks.

That prospect, he admits, has stirred up concern among his clients, who he says value Canadian chrysotile as the industry standard.

Instead, he says his customers will have to settle on lesser-quality chrysotile from places like Kazakhstan and Russia.

Mr. Coulombe, who says his mine has maintained a close working relationship with Lac d'amiante du Canada since 2008, had hoped its ally was going to pick up the slack until at least 2013.

"When one [mine] didn't have enough fibre, the other supplied it," he said.

“Our clients are a little unhappy with us because they say, ‘We don’t have any more comparable-standard fibre right now... we are in the hands of the Russians.’” LAB Chrysotile, which operates Lac d’amiante du Canada, shuttered its operation indefinitely this month. Last summer, company president Simon Dupere blamed its problem on internal challenges, including labour, production and development issues.

The company is also hoping to get permission from the provincial government to dig into a deposit under a highway in its central Quebec region.

Mr. Dupere did not return calls by The Canadian Press.

But Mr. Coulombe, and a published report, have said LAB Chrysotile’s challenges are due to a massive rock slide that cut off access to the mine’s economically viable chrysotile.

“They tried to remove it, more of it fell,” Mr. Coulombe said of fallen rocks.

“That’s why they had to stop operating because they spent and spent [money] and there’s no mineral to sell.”

But the future is bright for Jeffrey Mine, he says.

Mr. Coulombe is so confident in its potential that 25 workers have been busy preparing the new subterranean section, so it will be ready to open by the summer – as long as it gets support from Quebec.

Mr. Coulombe says he will only have enough money to open the underground mine if he secures a $58-million bank-loan guarantee from the Quebec government.

Once that project gets under way, he predicts Jeffrey can produce asbestos for another 25, or even 50, years.

The sector will have to continue fending off a growing group of international critics – made up of health experts and activists.

They want politicians to permanently close the Canadian industry, which ships the bulk of its asbestos to poorer countries where they argue safety standards are too weak.

Some of those activists held a dramatic news conference Thursday on Parliament Hill. They described the impact that exposure to asbestos has had on Canadians and their families.

Eleven-year-old Cavanagh Matmor tearfully recounted how she watched her grandmother gasping for air on her deathbed.

Her grandfather had worked in a Toronto factory with asbestos from the Jeffrey Mine, and her grandmother had become ill from exposure to the fibres her husband brought into the house.

“I wonder [whether] it doesn't make them feel bad inside, because they don't know how it feels, they don't know how it feels to have a grandmother and a grandfather die of asbestos,” Ms. Matmor said.

“They just don't listen to others.

“They just decide to continue, and it breaks my heart. It breaks my heart knowing that they're going to continue doing that and that people in other countries will have to go through the same thing.”

Ms. Matmor and her family are calling on the Charest government to reject the loan to keep the Jeffrey mine afloat — and to shut down the industry for good.

But Mr. Coulombe, like other industry supporters, insists Canadian asbestos is no longer handled in a careless manner.

He said it's perfectly safe when the mineral's tiny fibres are bonded in products like cement.

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