Canadian Asbestos Deaths on the Rise

A recent story broadcast on CBC News (Canada) announced that Canadian deaths from asbestos exposure are on the rise, with the number of individuals affected by asbestos-related diseases already higher this year than in the last three.

According to the story, Jim Brophy, director of the Occupational Health Clinic for Ontario Workers (OHCOW), said his clinic receives calls nearly every day from workers who are certain they are suffering from some type of asbestos-related health problem. Brophy added that the number of Canadian deaths from asbestos exposure is expected to peak sometime early in the next decade.

Unlike other industrialized countries, however, Canada does not keep track of the number of individuals with asbestos-related diseases.

“We’re probably alone among the industrialized countries in not documenting the extent of the disease and its impact on our society,” he said. “This is the leading cause of occupational disease and occupational mortality in Canada today. Completely under the public health radar in this country.”

Canada is one of the world’s largest producers of asbestos and one of only a handful of industrialized countries that have not banned its use. The government of Canada consistently defends the use of asbestos, noting that the chrysotile form mined in Quebec is “safe” to use.

“There is some propaganda around this subject,” says Clement Godbout, head of the Montreal-based Chrysotile Institute. “There is also commercial interest around this subject. There are lots more dangerous products and substances than chrysotile. For example, in some countries, they are building arms to kill people.”

Many disagree with Godbout. “Because it’s been given up on in so many countries as hopelessly dangerous and unnecessarily so, Canada’s view is very much a minority view,” says American occupational health scientist, Barry Castleman. “It really would be crucial if Canada, instead of pressing for its right to export more asbestos to the local chapters of the asbestos mafia in the Third World, would join the rest of the civilized countries of this world in shutting down the asbestos industry and saying enough’s enough.”

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