17

Asbestos: still possibly the most fascinating political issue of our time


 

As previously discussed here and here, asbestos, and Canada’s exporting thereof, is possibly the single greatest test of political leadership this country currently has to offer. And despite having struggled mightily with it at first, Michael Ignatieff is still attempting to find an answer.

From the Montreal GazetteIn response to a question from the audience regarding the asbestos industry, which has employed hundreds in the region for generations, Ignatieff said science has shown it is a harmful product and Canada should not be exporting it, but other work will have to be found for local workers if production is halted.

And from the Sherbrooke RecordIgnatieff reiterated his opposition to Canada’s asbestos industry, fully aware of its importance in the region. “I know how important asbestos is to the region around Thetford Mines and I’m aware of the hardship involved,” he said, “but the science is telling us that its is dangerous and we have to follow the science. I don’t think we should be exporting dangerous substances.”


 

Asbestos: still possibly the most fascinating political issue of our time

  1. While the details of Ignatieff's statements vary somewhat it seems a fairly consistent position he has adopted. In the end, I would imagine this should lead to a highly regulated industry much smaller than the one today. There is a world of dangerous materials out there (uranium, lead, arsenic, benzene, the blue colouring for energy drinks) and there is a market for each of them. Arsenic is different because the applications in India, China etc are low tech, and there is inadequate safety considerations for both workers and customers. I don't know what our requirements are for supplying uranium to other countries but it might prove a decent model for asbestos.

    • Asbestos is harmless unless small particles become airborne and are inhaled, in which case it becomes a toxic agent that can cause serious lung diseases. It's not comparable to uranium in any way.

      I don't really care about the Canadian asbestos industry, because it's too tiny to matter, but if we're going to start tracking asbestos like we track uranium then we may as well just shut down the industry.

    • Asbestos is harmless unless small particles become airborne and are inhaled, in which case it becomes a toxic agent that can cause serious lung diseases. It's not comparable to uranium in any way.

      I don't really care about the Canadian asbestos industry, because it's too tiny to matter, but if we're going to start tracking asbestos like we track uranium, then we may as well just shut down the industry.

      • But isn't the issue that Canada is exporting asbestos to other countries who then turn it into small particles that are inhaled, which leads to mesothelioma? If it's handled carefully it's not toxic, but pretty much anyone using it these days does so because it is cheaper than any alternatives and so are likely to not have their employees handle it carefully. I suspect that uranium is different, since anyone importing it is probably sophisticated enough to handle it properly.

        • Once the asbestos leaves Canada, we have no real way of ensuring that it is properly used. I can't think of any way to control this, unless we only sell it to qualified buyers who promise not to resell it and who meet Canadian standards for operational safety procedures.

          • I agree and that was my point although I didn't quite follow through to make it. We only sell uranium to people who we trust to use it responsibly (I hope!). Perhaps it's time to do the same for asbestos, realizing that it will effectively kill the industry. Lots of substances are handled in this way – I can have radioactive reagents or aflatoxin or minute quantities of cocaine shipped to my lab, but the supplier sure wouldn't ship to a home address.

            Although, I wonder what's the overall greater risk – lung cancer or an increased incidence of building fires.

          • Although, I wonder what's the overall greater risk – lung cancer or an increased incidence of building fires.

            That's an interesting question. Asbestos-related mesothelioma deaths are rare; building fire-related deaths in developing nations (the only nations who still use asbestos as cheap fireproofing) are relatively common.

          • So you would think (and I did too until I checked).

            Fire-related deaths (est., 2002):
            US: ~3500
            World: ~300,000
            Source: WHO

            Deaths from Asbestos-related disease (est., 2005):
            US: 10,000
            World: 100,000-200,000
            Source: (Lung Cancer: doi:10.1016/j.lungcan.2005.03.002)

            About even. Considering that asbestos isn't going to stop every fire and that lung cancer deaths aren't going to peak for another 20 years, I'm all for leaving it in the ground.

          • Good find. If those world stats are correct, then I completely agree. Leave it in the ground. It's just not worth selling.

  2. I think the real story here is how Ignatieff has managed to claim roots in yet another part of the country ;)

    "Michael Ignatieff spoke lovingly of his Townships roots at a Bishop's University lecture Friday.
    Ignatieff's Townships roots go back to the 1920s, when his White Russian immigrant family moved to Melbourne Township."

    • You mean Michael is both truthie and rootie.

  3. Aaron – what has come over you? Twice in one day I have had to correct you. Is the publisher leaning over your shoulder?
    There is nothing at all wishy washy or weasel worded about Mr. Ignatieff's statements here. I can fault him on many things – but I think he went into the Lion's Den here – and told the true – as he understands it.
    Proposing a specific solution to the situation when he actually has no power at this point in time might constitute hanging his tush out for the PMO to kick…but he is right – when an industry shuts down in an industry town – the people who work there need alternative emplyment options…I've been there – I know what it feels like!

    • What can I say, the Wabbit is wight.

    • You forgot the Fuddian… heh heh heh heh heh heh heh

  4. There are alternative materials for most applications of asbestos. Just build some plants that make those materials in The Thetford Mines PQ. and make Asbestos Corp. an offer they can't refuse to implement it.
    How else can one defend against the inevitable liability claims from countries we still export asbestos to.

  5. There are alternative materials for most applications of asbestos. Just build some plants that make those materials in The Thetford Mines PQ. and make Asbestos Corp. an offer they can't refuse to implement it.

  6. Thanks for writing this, I agree. Asbestos problems will continue to amount to billions of dollars in future clean-up costs and uncountable asbestos related health issues. For the US, Public companies speak of environmental and financial sustainability, but do not account for all their environmental liabilities under SEC regulations Fin 47 and Statement of Position 96-1, which enforce compliance with the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA). CERCLA requires treatment that permanently and significantly reduces: Mobility of Hazardous Substances, Waste Volume Reduction, and that Toxicity be eliminated.
    Who ultimately becomes responsible for clean-up of toxic waste sites and Superfund sites – the Taxpayer! There are locations in the U.S that are killing people, because they are asbestos contaminated.
    The U.S. Government has spent well over $9 million dollars to support improvements of a process that destroys asbestos, called ABCOV® .
    I am an expert in asbestos destruction. The ABCOV® process fosters recycling and stops asbestos land filling.
    The effects asbestos has had on our citizens, the cost to corporations and its employees and stockholders, and the role it has played in the economy are astounding.

Sign in to comment.