CSN Reviews its Stance on Asbestos

MONTREAL, March 11 /CNW Telbec/ - The CSN confederal council has affirmed the confederal workplace health and safety committee's recommendation that no new expansion projects in Quebec asbestos mines should be supported. The delegates also agreed at the time to begin discussions with union partners, in order to draw up a proposed schedule and transition and restructuring program for workers in this industry, from a standpoint of triggering the necessary debate on banning asbestos with both levels of governments.

The CSN's intent is that the government of Canada be required to add asbestos to the list of hazardous materials set out in the Rotterdam Convention. It will also continue to put pressure on the Quebec government and the CSST, to ensure reinforcement and promotion of the health and safety standards applicable to asbestos in order to maximize prevention in the construction industry and for those working at maintenance and repair jobs.

This new stance, which represents a change in the CSN's position on the safe use of chrysotile - dating back to 1997 - stems from a review of the most recent epidemiological research and the positions adopted by a number of international organizations. The CSN pointed to the World Health Organization's (WHO) ruling that no asbestos concentration threshold - below which any form of asbestos dust does not represent a cancer risk - is known. According to estimates, a minimum of 90,000 people worldwide die each year from an occupational disease caused by asbestos exposure. The WHO is particularly concerned over the continued use of asbestos cement in construction, given the labour-intensive nature of this industry, the difficulty in monitoring exposure to the substance and the possibility of materials deteriorating on site and presenting a risk for workers who carry out repairs, maintenance or demolition.

The International Labour Organization (ILO) has developed positions that are in line with those adopted by the WHO. In 2006, the ILO adopted a resolution stating that "the elimination of the future use of asbestos and the identification and proper management of asbestos currently in place are the most effective means to protect workers from asbestos exposure and to prevent future asbestos-related diseases and deaths".

The WHO and the ILO call for the inclusion of chrysotile on the list of recognized hazardous materials pursuant to the Rotterdam Convention, which requires exporting countries to inform importer countries of the dangers of asbestos.

Union-adopted Positions
The 2004 world congress of the International Confederation of Free Trade Unions (ICFTU), which later became the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC), asked its affiliate organizations to campaign for a complete worldwide ban on the marketing and use of asbestos. This position was affirmed by the International Metalworkers' Federation (IMF) and was followed in 2008 by a Canadian Labour Congress (CLC) resolution calling for the gradual elimination of the use of chrysotile, along with a transition period and measures to be taken for workers affected. Other major Canadian labour organizations - including CUPE, the Public Service Alliance of Canada and the CAW - have adopted similar positions. Visit the Ban Asbestos Canada website.

Public Health
In a study completed in 2009, the Institut national de santé publique du Québec noted that scientific data demonstrated obvious exposure to asbestos fibres during various steps in the manufacture and use of asbestos cement. The highest levels of exposure were seen in sawing and cutting operations, primarily in the construction industry, with no supervisory machinery on site. Although the data seemingly demonstrate the effectiveness of supervisory machinery in reducing exposure levels, specific international occurrences call into question the safe, monitored use of any material containing asbestos, since full protection of workers in the presence of a carcinogenic substance such as asbestos is virtually impossible.

In light of all the studies conducted and almost ten years' worth of accumulated data, a collective comprising physicians, toxicologists, industrial hygienists and epidemiologists in Quebec's public health network launched a heartfelt appeal in a letter headed Cessons le mensonge [Stop the lies], published in La Presse on September 16, 2009, which asserted that the scientific proof establishing chrysotile as a cause of asbestosis and deadly cancers is irrefutable. This was confirmed by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC). In eleven research reports completed in Quebec since 2003, the Institut national de santé publique du Québec (INSPQ) has proven that the safe use of asbestos, as advocated since 2002 in a policy issued by the Quebec government, is a creation of the mind. They add that deadly asbestos-linked cancers are increasing at a rate of 4% yearly, while the cost of removing chrysotile from school and hospital buildings amounts to millions de dollars.

In light of all of the above-cited data confirming that this is a public health problem causing death, and with the Quebec government being called upon at this time to legislate - and even provide financial support - for the re-opening of the Jeffrey mine in Asbestos for purposes of export to developing countries, the CSN felt obliged to review its stance.


For further information:

Source: CSN

Michelle Filteau, director - Communications department, cell phone: (514) 894-1326

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