MONTREAL, March 29, 2012 /CNW Telbec/ - The Chrysotile Institute was created in 1984 by the governments of Canada and Quebec, together with mining companies and workers and their unions, to promote the protection of workers' health and the safe and controlled use of chrysotile asbestos fibres.
At the time, the chrysotile industry was experiencing serious declines in the United States, which was then the main market for the Quebec fibre. The world was discovering the terrible consequences of very high levels of exposure to dust and fibres. Numerous research projects were undertaken to identify the precise nature of the problem, but enough was already known to launch a slew of legal actions against the companies involved. A movement was taking shape to ban asbestos, supported by a coalition of lawyers, activists and some manufacturers of substitute products (often, ironically, the same manufacturers who had previously offered asbestos products), and the ramifications were being felt around the world. The result a few years later was a ban on all forms of asbestos in Western Europe, followed by a number of other developed countries (Australia, Japan, Chile, etc.).
The mission of the Asbestos Institute, later renamed the Chrysotile Institute, was intended to be international in scope. The Institute has always sought to encourage as many countries as possible to adopt rules providing for the responsible and safe use of chrysotile by focusing on responsible governance and good practices. These principles are, moreover, recognized by Convention 162 of the International Labour Organization (ILO) on the safe use of asbestos.
Since 1984, a number of information and training activities have taken place, as well as constructive dialogue, in more than 60 countries. Working in collaboration with the appropriate authorities in countries that produce or use chrysotile, workers and their unions and industry representatives, sometimes under the aegis of international organizations such as the ILO and the World Health Organization (WHO), have established regulations and taken concrete action to protect workplace health. This includes industrial ventilation programs, controlling dust at the source, and training and information programs in medical monitoring.
Throughout its existence, the Institute has proven to be an important clearinghouse, allowing for the collection and distribution of essential scientific knowledge regarding the safe and responsible use of chrysotile. Today, while there is still work to be done in certain countries and in some plants, particularly small ones, it is possible in Quebec, as in the countries that import our fibre, to work safely in the mines and mills that produce chrysotile, as well as in the large industries that integrate it into different high-density products.
It should be noted that global public opinion is divided on the issue of chrysotile. On the one side are the industrialized countries in which majority public opinion leans toward a global ban on all types of asbestos, including chrysotile; if they want, these countries have the means to pay for costlier substitute products that consume more energy, and that create jobs in industrialized countries rather than the countries in which they are sold. On the other side are the rapidly developing countries where demand for chrysotile is growing. In these countries, there is an urgent need for infrastructure and affordable housing; financial resources are limited, and products containing chrysotile in many ways represent a preferable solution in terms of local job creation, energy savings, durability and cost. We should be careful not to impose our choices on them in the name of a morality geared to our reality rather than theirs.
Given the scientific knowledge that has been accumulated over the years, for these countries, a ban would be as costly and poorly adapted to their reality as it would be questionable. Because if one thing is clear today, it is that although classified as carcinogenic—just like many other commonly used substances—chrysotile may be used in a controlled and responsible fashion if it is encased in another substance such as cement, asphalt or certain resins. There are many studies to support this reality, several of which have been around for some time.
It is remarkable to note the extent to which pro-ban groups are increasingly refusing to address the science in this matter, relying instead on moralistic rhetoric. Also deplorable is the increasing tendency of some spokespersons for health organizations, whether Canadian, Quebecois or international, to refute any science that doesn't agree with them, not based on the validity of the studies, but on their source.
Chrysotile is essentially the precursor for societal debates on the use of the natural riches of Quebec and Canada. Today, extracting shale gas in the St. Lawrence Valley, uranium on the North Shore, gold and copper in Abitibi, oil in Gaspésie and Anticosti, the opening of Quebec's vast northern region to harvest its mining potential in response to global demand for these resources; all these are leading to debate and are arousing passions. And that's a good thing, because as the union movement from which I come has always believed, people should be able to earn a living without sacrificing their health, the environment, or the strong social solidarity that has always made Quebec a great place in which to live.
We must understand that in Quebec, as in any developed country with an abundance of natural resources, social acceptance has become essential. A controlled, safe and responsible approach is required for any development project, including mining. Our compatriots expect to be informed, consulted, reassured about the social effects of major projects, and convinced that their environment will be protected. To address these legitimate expectations, there is a pressing need for a clearinghouse for scientific knowledge and best management practices that will also be a place for the kind of debate that can lead to advantageous solutions for the responsible and sustainable harvesting of our natural resources.
In the fall of 2010, Quebec's Minister of Natural Resources and Wildlife informed the Chrysotile Institute of his interest in creating a centre of expertise that could address these questions for the entire mining industry, including chrysotile. The project appears to have garnered the support of the Canadian Minister of Natural Resources. We should welcome this project, which could emulate the approach developed by the Chrysotile Institute and extend it to the entire mining industry. At the end of the day, future generations will benefit and will be able to meet their future with confidence.
For further information:
For The Chrysotile Institute
Clément Godbout 514 877-9797