Canadian Government Delays Release Of Asbestos Report

Incredible as it seems—since so many countries today have generally accepted the dangers of asbestos for those exposed to it—Canada’s government is accused of “misusing science” by refusing to release a report on the subject. Written by a panel of scientific experts on behalf of Health Canada the report is a detailed study of the health effects of chrysotile asbestos.

Why would the government delay a report of this nature? The chairman of the panel, editor of the Annals of Occupational Hygiene, accuses the government of “disguising economic and political decisions as scientific ones, using outdated or possibly one-sided evidence,” according to this article from the Canadian Medical Association Journal.

The article states that Canada is one of the world’s largest exporters of chrysotile—exporting about 175 000 tons—worth about $112 million Canadian—to 80 nations, mostly in Asia. Because the Quebec center of mining for asbestos “creates 900 direct and 1000 indirect jobs, according to Natural Resources Canada 2006 figures.”

Financial gain has been the direct or indirect cause of thousands of workers developing asbestosis and malignant mesothelioma as a result of inadequate protection from exposure to asbestos on the job. When a company’s revenues depend heavily on manufacturing a certain product, the focus on profit often stands in the way of decisions to protect workers from occupational hazards.

In the case of mesothelioma in particular, because the damage takes so long to appear—as long as 50 years in some cases—some companies put profits above human welfare. At the time they learned about the danger, they failed to advise their much-needed workers about the danger. They failed to invest in appropriate precautions and protections. Some managers and executives convinced themselves that such far-in-the-future consequences to workers were not their concern–only the bottom line for which they were held accountable. Malignant mesothelioma, though a relatively rare lung cancer, is almost always associated with exposure to asbestos. Today courts in many parts of the world are awarding compensation to workers whose welfare was thus ignored.

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