Whether you’re at work, in class, at home or outside enjoying the summer weather, chances are that if you’re reading this, you’re doing a special something. Everybody does it. I’m doing it right now and even though I can’t see you, I bet you’re doing just the same. What could be such a popular hobby you ask?
Breathing. I told you you’re doing it!
Now, imagine that the very air you were breathing was slowly killing you. Even worse, imagine that such contaminated air was completely avoidable yet still responsible for hundreds of thousands of deaths per year. Unfortunately, this hypothetical is all too real for many countries still using the deadly mineral known as asbestos.
As reported by the World Health Organization (WHO) http://www.who.int/en/, asbestos is one of the most important occupational carcinogens and responsible for half of the deaths from occupational cancer. WHO estimates that 900,000 people die each year from asbestos-related lung cancer, mesothelioma and asbestosis resulting from occupational exposures. Primarily used for cement building materials, asbestos contributes to a deadly working environment for all those in its paths and between its walls. Simply put, the most efficient way of eradicating asbestos-related diseases is to stop the use of all forms of asbestos.
The latest development concerning the toxic mineral is that of the Québec government setting aside a $58 million subsidy to keep one of Canada’s last remaining asbestos mines stay in business. Jeffrey Mine, Inc., located in Asbestos, Québec (yes, that’s the city’s actual name), is currently under bankruptcy protection as it awaits the loan that would allow a new underground asbestos mine to be built and in turn, enable the exportation of nearly 200,000 tons of asbestos a year to developing countries for the next 25 years. The loan is expected to be approved by July 1.
The possibility of such governmental spending has sparked up fury among various organizations dedicated to banning asbestos as well as civilians worldwide. Protesters gathered outside of Québec’s Trade Office in Washington, DC on Thursday, June 24, 2010 in opposition of the pending subsidy. Representatives from the Asian Ban Asbestos Network (A-BAN) handed out copies of the letter posted below that they had written to Québec’s Premier Jean Charest and Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper earlier in the day urging that Premier Charest give the $58 million subsidy to aide asbestos victims and their families, making it a point that “a fundamental principle of public health and human rights is that the greatest protection must be given to the most vulnerable.”
Other organizations have expressed similar disapproval of the province’s loan guarantee and lack of foresight into the health hazards that come with it. Richard Lemen, PhD, MSPH, Assistant Surgeon General, USPHS (Ret.) & Rear Admiral (Ret.) and Co-Chair of the Science Advisory Board for the Asbestos Disease Awareness Organization (ADAO) stated, “After a century of knowledge concerning the health effects of asbestos and its devastating trail of disease and death around the world, such an initiative by Canada is a giant misstep backwards. By offering this subsidy, Quebec is endangering thousands of lives, both in Canada and worldwide.” (Read ADAO’s full article here)
Public Citizen also put out this press release highlighting the hypocrisy of the Canadian government in its efforts to restart the country’s asbestos mining. Although opening a new underground mine would bring forth massive amounts of asbestos, very little of the harmful mineral would enter into Canadian commerce and rather, be exported into developing countries, many of whom are WTO member nations to whom Canada has trade obligations that forbid export subsidization. With such trade strategies, it’s no wonder that Canada is encountering such adverse responses from the public.
One of the most important rights a worker has is their right to a safe and sustainable work environment. Employers have the obligation of not only providing safe working conditions for their employees, but also being socially conscious of how their product will effect countless others. It is imperative that laws protecting worker’s health and safety become more strictly enforced and that prevention be taken as the ultimate resolution to decreasing the number of avoidable occupational deaths and illnesses.