Anti-Tobacco Activist Takes On Asbestos Industry

Fernand Turcotte is an occupational health expert and a retired professor of at Universit Laval in Quebec, he is also a veteran of the tobacco wars. Now he at the front of most of the country’s medical and scientific community against the asbestos industry and the politicians who support them.

The asbestos industry is awaiting the offer of a crucial loan to expand an asbestos mine in Asbestos, Quebec. The mine expansion could create nearly 500 jobs and secure the industry’s place in Canada for at least 30 years.

Turcotte has forwarded a petition signed by 50 of Canada’s top medical and scientific experts, demanding the government outlaw the mining, use or export of chrysotile asbestos. The World Health Organisation released a document last week calling for a halt to all asbestos use since, “all types of asbestos cause lung cancer, Mesothelioma, cancer of the larynx and asbestosis.

The WHO estimates over 125 million people are exposed to asbestos in the workplace on a daily basis and over 100,000 people died last year alone from exposure to the fibre. Shocking death statistics, multi-million dollar lawsuits, spiralling costs to the health industry raise many questions, is it moral, political or even economic sense for the country to continue participating in the asbestos business.

Before its use was outlawed in Canada it was used in the construction until the 1970s but now local production is largely exported to developing nations where experts fear there are limited regulations on its use. When inhaled the fibres can scar lungs and cause disease, including cancer.

In Ottawa, over 100 health professionals and a handful of politicians led an anti-asbestos rally on Parliament hill. But Turcotte is frustrated that the mounting number of public declarations and petitions of scientific and medical institutions are not having an effect on the politicians.

“People in third world countries will curse the name of Canada if this (mining) continues,” said Mike Bradley, mayor of Sarnia, Ontario. Sarnia is an industrial town on the edge of Lake Huron has suffered an astonishing number of asbestos-related cancers and deaths.


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