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Human health versus political health

Written By krishna on Tuesday, June 14, 2011 | 5:44 AM

Cape Breton has its share of place names that reflect the island’s industrial history.

There’s Sydney Mines, Reserve Mines, Victoria Mines, Gardiner Mines, Whitney Pier, Dominion and Donkin.

No local place name, though, seems to celebrate the pugnacious pride a people have in the industry that sustains their community, no matter how dangerous, than Asbestos, Que.

The people of Asbestos have to be self-assertive indeed to withstand the swelling tide of attacks originating around the world against the community’s chrysotile asbestos industry.

The product is banned from use Canada, but it’s exported to developing countries such as India and Mexico.

Asbestos was once celebrated as a “miracle mineral” because of its fireproof properties, strength and sound absorption.

It was used in building materials and household appliances in Canada and abroad. But eventually researchers determined that asbestos exposure could lead to the respiratory disease asbestosis, lung cancer, and an aggressive cancer of the protective lining of some internal organs called mesothelioma.

The kind of debate witnessed locally over whether or not fluoride in drinking water is harmful to human health doesn’t exist with respect to asbestos. There are no ifs, ands or buts about it. Asbestos is bad for you.

That’s why it’s such an easy target.

In July 2010, the Canadian Cancer Society wrote a letter to Quebec Premier Jean Charest urging his government to allow the mine in Asbestos to die, prompting the town to cancel its Relay for Life fundraiser for cancer research.

Also that month, the British Broadcasting Corporation aired a series on the asbestos trade, highlighting the fact that Canada has spent millions of dollars promoting asbestos abroad.

And in May, “The Daily Show with Jon Stewart” mocked the mine and its management.

The most recent admonition comes from the United Nations-affiliated International Labour Organization, which argues that because Canada is a signatory to the 1986 Asbestos Convention, it’s obligated to “keep abreast of technical progress and scientific knowledge” on asbestos.

Canadian politicians know asbestos is dangerous. That’s why it’s banned in Canada. That’s why it’s being removed from homes, businesses, Parliament and the prime minister’s official residence. But that doesn’t stop politicians from backing the industry.

“The only party that defends the chrysotile industry is our party, the Conservative Party,” Prime Minister Stephen Harper said during a recent election campaign stop in Asbestos.

And the Charest government recently announced a $58-million loan guarantee to the Jeffrey asbestos mine.

The federal and provincial governments aren’t going to allow concerns over human health to compromise their political health.

Topics: Canadian Cancer Society, British Broadcasting Corporation, United Nations, Canada, Asbestos, Cape Breton

Published on June 14, 2011 Staff ~ The Cape Breton Post http://www.capebretonpost.com/Opinion/Editorial/2011-06-14/article-2581418/Human-health-versus-political-health/1
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