Declaration by public health experts against chrysotile - A policy of double standards

    MONTREAL, Oct. 23 /CNW Telbec/ - Twenty-five Québec physicians and public
health experts presented a petition today denouncing the use of chrysotile
asbestos. This radical statement, which makes no mention of alternative
products or trade in other toxic products, comes on the eve of a United
Nations meeting in Rome to discuss the Rotterdam Convention on hazardous
materials. "These experts certainly know how to proclaim fine feelings at the
right time. Under the guise of protecting public health, these experts are
exacerbating a campaign that lumps chrysotile together with other asbestos
fibres that have very different biopersistence properties. They also omit to
mention the dangers associated with alternative products, which we know very
little about. Finally, they disregard all the knowledge and expertise that
workers in the mines have developed for extracting chrysotile and using it
safely. This is clearly a policy of double standards if ever there was one,"
declared Daniel Roy, Québec Director of the United Steelworkers (FTQ).
    "Why should they relentlessly find fault with a fibre that we know how to
handle, even though the public is regularly exposed to over 2,800 potentially
hazardous substances, of which 835 are carcinogenic? The registry of the
Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease in the United States classifies
chrysotile asbestos in 119th place in terms of toxicity, behind lead,
beryllium, cobalt, methane and nickel. And where were these experts in
December 2007 when we denounced imports of toxic toys contaminated with lead,
a substance which is far more dangerous? The physicians talk about patients
suffering from asbestosis. We are familiar with that dreadful reality, as we
fought long ago for prevention and safety measures. We defended those who were
afflicted with the disease. The patients who are dying today are people who
worked in the mines, where sanitary conditions were absolutely deplorable, or
who were exposed to the substance during unsafe operations to remove it from
buildings. In the mines where chrysotile is extracted, the most advanced
prevention techniques in the world are practised and there are no more deaths
linked to asbestosis. Why don't the experts talk about that?" Daniel Roy
pointed out.

    Tightening safety standards in international trade

    "These public health experts seem to be concerned about international
trade issues. We are very pleased to hear it. We would have liked to hear from
them during the debates about globalization and international trade. Where
were they during the Québec Summit, when the trade union movement and the
alterglobalists called for regulated international trade? We are concerned
about environmental issues. Québec and Canada have adopted the strictest
standards in the world and have adopted a mission to teach those practices in
other parts of the world. Many producing countries such as Russia, the
Ukraine, Brazil, etc. have set up chrysotile institutes like that which exists
in Québec. The situation is paradoxical for those who promote banning the
substance. If the extraction and use of chrysotile disappeared from Québec,
other countries would take over. Would they be as diligent as we are about
tracking the product around the world to ensure that standards for its safe
use are followed?" Mr. Roy mused.

    What about alternative products?

    Daniel Roy also spoke about alternative products, about which the experts
said not a word. "Like the scientific community," he said, "we recognize that
chrysotile is one of a huge range of natural or synthetic products that
present dangers for human beings. However, we believe that we need to learn to
handle these products safely. The position adopted by the workers of Thetford
Mines is based on experience. Instead of taking risks with products that we
are unfamiliar with, why not keep using a product that we know and are able to
control? Many fibres used as alternatives to chrysotile, such as artificial
fibres, refractory ceramic fibres, insulating wool fibres and rock wool
fibres, are not well known and are suspected of being carcinogenic. There has
been no long-term epidemiological study that would enable us to determine just
how toxic they are."


    Finally, the Québec director pointed out that some serious studies have
advanced our knowledge of this substance which is being held up to public
censure by a crowd of experts who are de facto supporters of alternative
products. For example, according to Dr. David M. Bernstein, a toxicology
specialist whose research is supported by many studies carried out over the
past ten years on the respective biopersistence of both chrysotile asbestos
and amphibole asbestos in the lungs, there are significant differences between
these two fibres. "After it is inhaled," he explains, "the chrysotile fibre is
evacuated from the lungs faster than other asbestos fibres that are now
prohibited. One toxicology study reported an experiment in which animals were
exposed for a period of 90 days to chrysotile fibres at a concentration
500 times higher than what is commonly accepted, i.e. one fibre per cubic
centimetre. At the same time, other animals were exposed to amphiboles for
five days. They developed severe pathologies, whereas those that had been
exposed to chrysotile fibres had a state of health similar to that of animals
that had not been exposed to either fibre."

For further information:

For further information: Daniel Roy, United Steelworkers (FTQ), (514)

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