India Says Canadian Asbestos Killing its Workers

A statement released this week by a number of medical experts in New Delhi, India stated that “Canada’s export of chrysotile asbestos to developing countries is ‘criminal’ and is killing workers in India.”

An article in the Winnipeg (Canada) Free Press cites a statement by Dr. T.K. Joshi, head of India’s occupational and environmental department, which said that “at least 100,000 factory workers and millions of construction workers across India inhale chrysotile asbestos every day.”

Canadian chrysotile asbestos accounts for one-third of all the asbestos in India and is used to make a variety of household and construction products. The rest is imported from Zimbabwe, Russia and Kazakhstan.

The fact that Indian companies do not uphold labor laws compounds the problem, says Joshi, as employees often work with the hazardous material without benefit of face masks and other protective measures.

Joshi’s statement was made at a three-day healthy-workplace seminar in New Delhi this week, attended by about 75 doctors from across the country, many of whom have seen multiple cases of asbestos-related disease among their patients. Joshi said the idea is to educate more physicians about the serious health threat from asbestos and pressure the governments of India and Canada to ban the material.

Joshi fails to understand why Canada persists in mining and exporting the hazardous mineral. “The most baffling thing is there’s really very little economic (benefit) associated with asbestos production in Canada, so why should it induce misery in other parts of the world?” Joshi asked.
“It would be far better if the Canadian government not only stops the export of asbestos, but joins hands with us to stop the use of asbestos everywhere.”
The Canadian chrysotile industry, of course, disagrees. A spokesman for Natural Resources Canada said that “Canada believes that a general ban on chrysotile would drive countries from a useful product whose risks are well known and can be managed through controlled use, to substitutes that can be poorly regulated. Chrysotile can provide cost-effective products to developing countries.”

However, some Canadians also recognize the ill effects of asbestos and are rallying for a ban, including MP Pat Martin of Winnipeg.

“[Asbestos] is perhaps our greatest shame internationally,” Martin said. “Most developed nations have banned asbestos in all its forms, yet we continue to seek out new markets in developing nations and Third World countries where health and safety rules are non-existent or not enforced.”

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