MAC: Mines and Communities

Canada promotes asbestos, even while acknowledging its dangers

Published by MAC on 2012-07-03
Source: Postmedia News,, Right on Canada

Villagers fight against Indian plant

When will one of the world's deadliest industries be finally declared dead and buried?

Protest for closure of Indian asbestos plant
Indian villagers protest against proposed asbestos plant.
Source: BAN

Only a handful of states now oppose the mining or export of any type of asbestos.

Among these is Canada, whose federal government  was last week accused of promoting trade in the hazardous material over the past decade - even while it knew the dangers of doing so.

Canada's last remaining asbestos operations, at Asbestos and Thetford Mines - both in Quebec - were halted in late 2011.

 For earlier story on MAC, see: Canadian Opposition Parties Call for Asbestos Sales Ban

However, private business interests are trying to re-start extraction. According to one report (below) members of the United Steelworkers union voted by a narrow margin in May 2012 to re-open the Thetford Mines.

In contrast, the Australian mineworkers' union, CFMEU, has criticised BHP Billiton for continuing to extract iron ore at its Jimblebar mine, even though workers reported evidence of asbestos contamination at the site.

Indians on warpath against asbestos plan

Although there's officially no domestic mining of asbestos in India, this doesn't prevent the government allowing processing and widespread use of the toxic material.

For two years, villagers in the state of Bihar have tried to prevent the construction of a new chrysotile (white) asbestos factory.

According to internationally-renowned Indian civil society leader, Medhar Patkar, the company behind the plant has published a seriously-flawed environmental impact assessment, and also framed false charges against local opponents.

Backed by a number of Indian political parties, the villagers' campaign last month received support from Dr Barry Castleman, a world expert on the control of asbestos and other chemical hazards.

Closing down all asbestos plants, says Castleman,"can serve as an example for the rest of India in reducing the impact of a public health disaster in coming decades."

Feds knew of dangers of asbestos, fought restrictions: documents

Postmedia News

26 June 2012

The [Canadian] federal government acknowledged years ago that the dangers of chrysotile asbestos warranted limits on its export - but still fought against international restrictions over the past decade - internal records show.

A memorandum to Environment Minister Peter Kent, obtained by Postmedia News under access to information, says the scientific panel for the UN's Rotterdam Convention was on solid ground in 2002 when it first proposed the listing of chrysotile asbestos, a known carcinogen mined in Quebec, as a hazardous material on Annex III of the convention.

Materials listed on this annex require Prior Informed Consent - meaning that before countries export listed goods, they must inform importers of the risks and precautionary measures for safe handling, to which importers must consent. Because the convention operates by consensus, any one country can block a listing simply by objecting.

"Since 2002, chrysotile has been proposed four times for addition to the PIC Procedure of the Rotterdam Convention. This decision requires the consensus of the Parties. At previous meetings and again last June, Canada acknowledged that all criteria for the addition of chrysotile asbestos to the Convention have been met but opposed its addition," states the briefing note, dated last fall.

The revelation of Canada's sustained effort to block the listing of chrysotile asbestos, despite its acceptance of the scientific evidence behind the proposal, comes as the struggling Quebec industry tries to revive itself with government support.

Operations at the last two mines were suspended last November in the Quebec towns of Thetford Mines and Asbestos. A consortium in Asbestos is in negotiations with the Quebec government for a $58-million loan guarantee to open an underground mine at the Jeffrey Mine and export the mineral to developing countries.

New Democratic MP Pat Martin, a longtime critic of the asbestos industry and a former miner himself, said the briefing note blows open Canada's public positions on asbestos.

The Conservative government has said repeatedly that its opposition to the Rotterdam listing, most recently articulated at the June 2011 convention meeting, is consistent with Canada's 30-year-old policy of promoting the safe and controlled use of chrysotile.

"They've ignored the scientists. They didn't just deny the science. They acknowledged it but yet ignored it. That is unforgivable, in my view," Martin said Monday.

"They've put commercial and political interests ahead of scientific interests, and in doing, compromised and undermined the whole purpose and intent of the convention," he added.

The release of the report, triggered by an access to information request, "states that chrysotile deposits are often contaminated with tremolite." And tremolite, "a more potent carcinogen than chrysotile for mesothelioma and it is possibly a more potent carcinogen for lung cancer," is one of five forms of asbestos listed on Annex III of the Rotterdam Convention.

Asbestos found at Rio Tinto's iron ore mine in Australia (and at a BHP Billiton mine)

By Cecilia Jamasmie

27 June 2012

The West Australian Department of Mines and Petroleum is investigating evidence of an asbestos contamination at Rio Tinto's West Angelas iron ore mine, in the Pilbara region.

According to ABC News, global miner Rio Tinto has confirmed the presence of brown asbestos found last month in landfill materials brought in from the nearby Holcim quarry at Newman.

A Rio Tinto spokeswoman says exposure levels were below the occupational exposure limit and employees were immediately informed.

The Holcim quarry has voluntarily shut down its operations.

BHP Billiton has also reportedly suffered from an asbestos contamination at its Jimblebar iron ore mine.

According to the CFMEU* it has been investigating worker claims of asbestos contamination, stating that workers may be exposed at the site.

"The mine itself has been made aware; their position on the subject was until they receive confirmation from further testing, they were going to continue to use this," CFMEU safety officer Steve McCann told ABC.

In a separate development, Canadian news outlet Postmedia News has discovered that federal government officials acknowledged the dangers of chrysotile asbestos at least a decade ago, but continued to rally to keep the material off the Rotterdam Convention's hazardous material list, striving to maintain a healthy export business for the many asbestos mines in Quebec.

The article quotes a a memo to Environment Minister Peter Kent, obtained via the Access to Information Act, which showed the scientific panel for the UN's Rotterdam Convention was on solid ground in 2002 when it first proposed the listing of chrysotile asbestos, a known carcinogen mined in Quebec, as a hazardous material on Annex III of the convention.

Asbestos is banned in over 50 countries and is strictly controlled in Canada.

* CFMEU - Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union

Plans to re-open 2nd Quebec asbestos mine

By Kathleen Ruff

Right on Canada

23 May 2012

After 130 years in operation, Quebec's asbestos industry finally closed down six months ago.

The last functioning asbestos mine, run by LAB Chrysotile at Thetford Mines, ceased mining operations in October 2011 after a landslide blocked off access to its asbestos deposit. The approximately 300 workers were laid off and in January 2012, the company filed for bankruptcy.

While considerable attention has been paid to the efforts of Montreal businessman, Baljit Singh Chadha, and his consortium of foreign investors to open the underground Jeffrey asbestos mine in the town of Asbestos, less attention has been paid to plans to re-open the mine operated by LAB Chrysotile at Thetford Mines.

Simon Dupéré, the president of LAB Chrysotile, stated, however, when filing for bankruptcy, that the bankruptcy declaration was part of a plan to re-launch the mine. He also stated that an essential element for re-opening the mine was that the United Steelworkers union, which represents the workers, must sign a 5-year collective agreement.

On April 3, the workers met to discuss a collective agreement, put forward by Mr Dupéré, who stated that this was a final, take it or leave it, offer on his part. The proposed collective agreement included cutbacks in pension and health benefits and in wages. The 216 workers at the meeting voted 72% to reject it.

The union stated that a key reason why the workers turned down Dupéré's offer was because the proposal did not include a plan to restart asbestos mining. Instead, the plan referred to contracts with the Quebec government to carry out a road building project to replace the old highway that was destroyed by landslides from the mine's tailings piles.

Mr Dupéré has now put forward a plan to re-start asbestos mining. Laurent Lessard, the deputy who represents the region in the Quebec National Assembly and who is Minister of Municipal Affairs, states that he believes the plan has credibility.

At a meeting of the United Steelworkers, local 7649, held in Thetford Mines on May 20, 52.3% of the 191 members present voted in favour of the proposed collective agreement put forward by Mr Dupéré on behalf of NEWCO Opérations Black Lake (apparently the new name for LAB Chrysotile).

The collective agreement was virtually the same as the one that was previously rejected, except for the fact that it includes a plan to re-launch the mining of asbestos.

Under the new collective agreement, about 130 workers will return to work for a period of 3 months for the construction of the new road. At the same time, development work will be commenced to prepare for the resumption of asbestos mining operations. This work will last about eight months.

Like Baljit Chadha, Mr Dupéré says that he is seeking investors in order to implement his plan to re-open the mine and that he is optimistic.

Instead of supporting the deadly, bankrupt Quebec asbestos industry, that has created such a tragic legacy of human suffering and environmental devastation in Quebec itself, as well as overseas, the Quebec government and the Canadian government should show some intelligent and ethical leadership and provide assistance to the few remaining asbestos workers, many of whom are near retirement age and simply want a decent pension, as well as providing economic transition initiatives to the region.

In addition, the United Steelworkers union in Quebec and the Quebec Federation of Labour are betraying the interests of the workers by continuing to support the dying, deadly asbestos industry, an industry that is based on corruption of science, exploitation of workers and denial of solidarity.

While asbestos investors, such as Baljit Chadha and Simon Dupéré, are seeking to profit from the re-opening of the two mines, the workers, the communities and the people of Quebec will not derive benefit from these projects, but will end up paying the human and environmental costs.

Supporting corrupt information and investing in a deadly, dying industry of the past is not the way to build a sustainable future for Quebec workers or Quebec communities.


- Quebec is witnessing the most turbulent period of social and political upheaval that has been seen in decades. For 100 days, students have been holding protest demonstrations over proposed increases in student fees.

The Quebec government has now passed a law that severely restricts demonstrations of any kind. The law has been condemned by Quebec academics, legal scholars, the Quebec Human Rights Commission and even the Quebec Bar Association as an assault on the right to speak and assemble freely.

- A Commission of Inquiry under Judge France Charbonneau into allegations of bribery and corruption in the awarding of government contracts to the Quebec construction industry is about to start holding hearings. For two years, Premier Charest refused demands for an inquiry but was finally forced by public pressure to set up the Commission, which is expected to reveal explosive information.

Medha Patkar, Dr Barry Castleman demand permanent closure of white asbestos factory

Ban Asbestos Network (BAN) Press Release

20 June 2012

Vaishali/Patna/New Delhi: Medha Patkar of National Alliance of Peoples' Movements (NAPM) and Dr Barry Castleman, a world renowned public health expert from California, USA have written to the Government of Bihar supporting the struggle of villagers of Vaishali's Chaksultan Rampur Rajdhari near Panapur in Kanhauli Dhanraj Panchayat of Goraul block against the proposed white asbestos plant of Kolkata based Utkal Asbestos Limited (UAL) company.

They have demanded permanent closure of asbestos factories in Bihar.

Dr Barry Castleman wrote to Nitish Kumar, Chief Minister, Bihar saying, "As you have learned by now, over 50 countries have banned the use of all forms of asbestos because of unacceptable dangers to public health. Public reaction to the rampant growth of asbestos use in India has taken the form of Mahadharnas [largescale strikes] against the construction of new asbestos product factories.

Opposition to asbestos use has closed down the asbestos mines in Canada and is on the verge of doing the same in Brazil. This will leave as the major asbestos mining countries only Russia, China, and Kazakhstan.

Most of the world has followed the urgings of the World Health Organization (WHO) and the example of the World Bank to stop using asbestos in new construction. Use of asbestos in building homes and workplaces now leaves a legacy of lethal dangers for workers and building occupants for the rest of the century."

Medha Patkar wrote to Navin Kumar, Chief Secretary, "Apart from the grave health impacts of white asbestos, there are a number of serious violations by the Utkal Asbestos Limited plant that must be taken into account.

"It has been falsely shown in its Environment Impact Assessment maps, that barren land has been acquired, when in reality, it is agricultural land that has been used to set up the plant. They have also conveniently left out of their maps, the presence of numerous villages and schools in the area, in order to get clearance!

"There was no public hearing with the villagers of the area, as is mandatory before the environmental clearance is given. The Khet Bachao Jeevan Bachao Jan Sangarsh Committee [KBJBJC] has been organizing locally against the asbestos plant, highlighting the adverse health impacts of the same."

She further wrote, "It is important that the government of Bihar takes note of international as well as national resolutions passed against the use of asbestos and implement it effectively at the state level as well. Having said that, I acknowledge that the DM , Mr Jitendra Srivastav has taken prompt action in stopping work at the factory until further orders and has asked that a 15 member committee from amongst the villagers engage with the administration.

"The fabricated charges against the peaceful protestors must be condemned and dropped immediately and action be taken against the factory owners and the administrative officials who were responsible for framing false charges against the villagers. I hope you will look into this matter at the earliest and take necessary action in order to ensure that the plant does not violate the rights of local villagers any further, and that social justice accrues."

Dr Castleman wrote, "I am writing as a public health worker who has worked as a consultant on asbestos to the WHO and the World Bank, in addition to working with public health advocates in India, in hopes that you will side with the protesting villagers who do not want new factories producing asbestos products built in Bihar.

This is enormously important in protecting public health and can serve as an example for the rest of India in reducing the impact of a public health disaster in coming decades."

ToxicsWatch Alliance (TWA) which works on impact of hazardous industries on human health and environment is supporting the struggle of KBJBJC along with all the left parties in Bihar including Communist Party of India, Communist Party of India (Marxist), Communist Party of India (ML) Liberation, Socialist Unity Centre of India (Communist), Forward Bloc, Jan Abhiyan, Bihar comprising of Janmukti Sangharsh Vahini, Janwadi Mazdoor Kisan Sabha, Communist Party of India (ML)-SR Bhaiji, Jan Pratirodh Manch, Janwadi Lok Manch, Communist Party of India (ML)-New Democracy, Sarwahara Jan Morcha, MCPI (U) and Communist Party of India (ML).

These parties have issued joint statements demanding closure of the asbestos factory and dismissal of fake cases against the villagers. TWA has issued an appeal to national and international leaders and experts requesting them to ask Bihar Govt to take immediate steps to prevent environmental and occupational exposure to asbestos' besides non-occupational exposures to asbestos by banning use and manufacturing of white asbestos based products.

TWA appeals to all the other opposition parties in the State like Rashtriya Janta Dal (RJD), Lok Jansakti Party, Indian National Congress and Bihar Navnirman Manch to support the movement of the villagers of Vaishali and ensure that hazardous asbestos based plants are not allowed in Bihar. It will enhance State's prestige and show their sensitivity towards grave issues of public health.

TWA feels that the continued silence of Dr. Raghuvansh Prasad Singh, Member of Parliament from Vaishali when his villagers protest against a hazardous plant is deafening and puzzling. Dr Singh, a former Union Rural Development Minister was resoundingly silent even during the villagers' struggle against a similar asbestos plant in Muzaffarpur despite the fact that his partyman Abdul Bari Siddiqui, Leader of Opposition had raised the issue in the Bihar Vidhan Sabha.

In the meanwhile, Rio+ 20 has come out with its final outcome document in Brazil.

Its relevant part reads: "We call for the effective implementation and strengthening of the Strategic Approach to International Chemicals Management (SAICM) as part of a robust, coherent, effective and efficient system for the sound management of chemicals throughout their life cycle including to respond to emerging challenges."

For Details: Ajit Kr Singh, Khet Bachao Jeevan Bachao Jan Sangharsh Committee (KBJBJC), Vaishali, Mb: 08002903995
Gopal Krishna, ToxicsWatch Alliance (TWA), New Delhi Mb: 08002263335, 09818089660, Phone: +91-11-26517814, Fax: +91-11-26517814 Web:

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