MAC: Mines and Communities

Canada Update

Published by MAC on 2007-07-12

Canada update

12th July 2007

A soil study has found high levels of residual lead, only a week after Xstrata Zinc seemed to have escaped independent scrutiny on pollution from its Brunswick Smelter

Also on health issues the Canadian Cancer Society is set to endorse a ban on the export of asbestos, and to condemn the Canadian federal government for its egergious attempts to stop blocking international efforts to curb the trade in asbestos.

High lead levels found in Belledune soil

CBC News,

9th July 2007

A soil study has found high lead levels at several homes in Belledune, just a week after the province said its new study into the high incidence of cancer in the area will not look at lead-poisoning as a possible cause.

The mining company Xstrata Zinc paid to test lead levels in the northern village, because it owns the lead smelter that's been operating in Belledune for more than 40 years.

Scientists took soil samples from 150 homes and found five of them to have lead levels over 1,000 parts per million. Any level over 200 parts per million is considered unsafe for children.

But the government won't look at the role of industrial lead pollution from the nearby smelter in its new study into high disease rates in the area, provincial epidemiologist Chris Balram said last week.

The government has said it won't look at lead in this study, because a previous study, in 2005, found that the types of cancers identified in the area are not the result of elevated lead levels. Instead, the new study will look at factors such as lifestyle, diet and family history, among others.

Dr. Ron Brecher says the five homes identified in the Xstrata study as having high lead levels in their soil all have one thing in common.

"All of those elevated levels were found in front yards, and they were in the location where the snowplow would have piled the snow," Brecher said. "Now what we've heard from the residents is that a number of years ago, snowplows from the smelter used to move that snow around and where the snow got piled and then subsequently melted any of the metals that were present in the snow would end up in the soil right below that."

Xstrata says it doesn't know if there is a health risk, but the company is removing the contaminated soil from the homes this week.

The 2005 Belledune Area Health Study found residents who lived near the town smelter between 1989 and 2001 have significantly higher rates of oral, respiratory and prostate cancers than people anywhere else in New Brunswick.

It also found people living near the smelter over the 12 years studied suffered more deaths from circulatory disease, cancer and suicides than expected.

Cancer society calls on Ottawa to change tack and ban asbestos

Martin Mittelstaedt, Environment Reporter, Globe & Mail -

12th July 2007

The Canadian Cancer Society will announce as early as today that it endorses a ban on the export of asbestos and believes the federal government should stop blocking international efforts to curb the trade in the dangerous mineral.

Although asbestos is internationally recognized as one of the worst cancer-causing materials ever to have been in widespread use, the society's decision was controversial because it undermines Ottawa's long-standing contention asbestos can be used safely and should be promoted.

Most industrialized countries, including Canada, no longer use much asbestos because of health concerns and worries over legal liabilities.

But 95 per cent of Canada's production, from several mines in Quebec, is exported, virtually all of it to developing countries, where it is used to make cheap building materials.

Asian countries such as India, Indonesia and Thailand, are the major export markets for Canadian asbestos.

Substitutes for the mineral are readily available in virtually all of its uses.

The cancer society had initially considered an asbestos policy that would have largely backed the federal government's position that it can be safely used provided those importing it are informed of its health risks, according to a draft of the policy viewed by The Globe and Mail.

But the positions in the draft caused an outcry among occupational health groups and anti-cancer advocates, who argued the society would damage its credibility by accepting the government's stand.

In recognition that calling for a ban is politically sensitive, the society is expected to say instead that it believes the use of asbestos should be eliminated, which is tantamount to a call for a ban.

The World Health Organization estimates that 90,000 to 100,000 people around the world die annually from asbestos-related conditions, such as lung cancer, asbestosis, mesothelioma and gastrointestinal cancers.

Health Canada, unlike health authorities in many other Western countries, does not keep national statistics on the domestic toll of asbestos-related diseases, but a paper issued last month in the International Journal of Occupational and Environmental Health estimated there have been thousands of premature deaths in Ontario alone since 1980 from mesothelioma and lung cancer.

Despite the well-known health risks, the federal government has been a strong backer of asbestos.

It has spent about $19.2-million from 1984 to 2007, including regular funding of the Montreal-based Chrysotile Institute, to promote asbestos use.

Although many countries have banned asbestos, Canada continues to allow it in children's toys and building materials, among other products.

The cancer society will also recommend that the federal government stop trying to block efforts by the Rotterdam Convention, a UN-organized body, at its meeting in 2008, to place the variety of asbestos mined in Canada on the list of the world's most dangerous substances.

Last year, Canada, along with countries such as Iran and Russia, were instrumental in blocking the listing, which would have required countries buying asbestos to give their consent to imports before any shipments would be allowed.

The cancer society also wants communities and individuals affected by strategies to cut asbestos use to be given financial resources to help cope with the consequences of reduced use of the material.


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