The End of Canada’s Asbestos Reign of Terror?

by Laurie Kazan-Allen 

Closing in CanadaCanadian asbestos has poisoned American citizens for over one hundred years.[1] According to the United States Geological Survey from 1900: “The United States was the largest market for exported Canadian (asbestos) fiber.” It is therefore not unreasonable to suggest that the majority of asbestos-related disease in the U.S. was caused by exposure to Canadian asbestos.  Members of the Meso Foundation community have a particular interest in the operations of the Canadian asbestos mining industry. They know full well the tragic reality of mesothelioma and remain determined to see an end to the epidemic caused by occupational, domestic and environmental exposures. The news that Quebec’s support for this toxic industry has been withdrawn has been warmly welcomed by Meso Foundation’s executive director, Mary Hesdorffer, Nurse Practitioner, who said: “We are ecstatic to see the Canadian government acknowledge the overwhelming evidence that mesothelioma is caused by exposure to asbestos and put an end to asbestos mining in Quebec. ”  We expect that malignant mesothelioma will continue to increase in the developing world and the pressure is on the Foundation to fund the necessary research for prevention, early detection and more effective treatment strategies for those exposed to asbestos who go on to develop malignant mesothelioma.

Mary is not alone. All over the world ban asbestos campaigners have been watching developments in Canada very closely. For decades Canadian asbestos stakeholders, with financial and political support from the governments in Ottawa and Quebec, have orchestrated the global campaign to whitewash the image of asbestos. “Asbestos,” they said “could be used safely under controlled conditions;” the fact that these “controlled conditions” did not exist in Canada, the U.S., India or Thailand is a fact they omitted from the glossy brochures they produced and the evidence they provided. When the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) tried to implement a ban on asbestos in the U.S. in the mid-1980s, it was largely as a result of political pressure and legal action by Canadian vested interests that the ban was overturned. As a result, the use of asbestos remains legal in the U.S.

A review of recent developments in Canada is encouraging. In 2011, asbestos production in Canada ceased when the sole operational chrysotile (white) asbestos mine was exhausted. Plans to develop new open-pit mining facilities in Quebec had run into a financial snag; the private consortium backing the scheme could not attract investors. The Government of Quebec stepped in with a promise of a $58 million loan guarantee for the project. This support was condemned by citizens, doctors and public health professionals inside Quebec as well as campaigners outside the Province. On June 29, 2012, Quebec Premier Jean Charest announced that the $58 million loan guarantee had become an outright loan and that the agreement had now been signed. Some weeks later, Pauline Marois, who was engaged in a fierce campaign for the Premiership of Quebec, announced that her party would revoke the asbestos loan if they won the election. On September 4, the Parti Québécois won and Charest’s Liberals lost. As the new Premier, Marois confirmed her intention to revoke the loan and use the money to help the asbestos mining regions diversify their economy. Within days, the Canadian federal government also announced it was turning its back on the asbestos industry. Without such powerful allies, the future of the industry appears doomed but considering the years of twists and turns there have been, it would be unwise to be too sure too soon. For the moment, we hold our breath while we wait to see whether finally, after so many deaths and so much heartache, this truly is the end for Canada’s asbestos industry.


[1] Virta R. U.S. Geological Survey: Worldwide Asbestos Supply and Consumption Trends from 1900 to 2000. U.S. Department of the Interior.

About Laurie Kazan-Allen

Ms. Laurie Kazan-Allen has been researching, writing and campaigning on asbestos issues for more than twenty years. The British Asbestos Newsletter, the quarterly publication she founded in 1990, is widely regarded as one of the most authoritative contemporary sources of information by the UK community of asbestos activists. In collaboration with international colleagues, in 1999 she established The International Ban Asbestos Secretariat (IBAS). As the IBAS Coordinator she has organized and/or participated in asbestos events on six continents, amongst the most recent of which was the 2011 meeting in India of the Asian Ban Asbestos Network and the 2011 seminar: “Asbestos-Still a Killer” in the European Parliament. As an adviser to the UK All Party Parliamentary Asbestos Sub-Group, Ms. Kazan-Allen helps organize the annual Parliamentary asbestos seminar. Kazan-Allen has written prolifically about asbestos issues in 80+ issues of the British Asbestos Newsletter and in IBAS publications such as Eternit and the Great Asbestos Trial, Report on the Asian Asbestos Conference 2009India’s Asbestos Time Bomb and Killing the Future – Asbestos Use in Asia. These and other texts can be accessed on the websites: www.britishasbestosnewsletter.org and www.ibasecretariat.org On March 25, 2012, Ms. Kazan-Allen became the first non-Australian to receive the prestigious Emeritus Professor Eric G. Saint Memorial Award at a ceremony held in Perth, Western Australia.