Asbestos kills by stealth, often claiming its victims decades after they unwittingly inhale the tiny fibres. Once found in everything from kids’ modelling clay to insulation to floor tiles, asbestos has been banned by most developed nations. Readers, print and digital, ask: Why does our government continue to countenance something that is killing us?
No safe use: The Canadian asbestos epidemic that Ottawa is ignoring
Canada’s embrace of the “miracle mineral” has seeded an epidemic of cancers. Yet many Canadians are still exposed to asbestos every day. Don’t look to Ottawa for help — it’s still defending an industry that, like its victims, is wasting away. Read the full story, then share your thoughts in the comments.
Dr. Kellie Leitch, the federal Labour Minister, is staying silent on the government’s decision to continue to allow the import/export of asbestos (Government Mum On Asbestos Policy – June 18). I note that she was the founder in 2009 of the Sandbox Project, whose “vision is to help make Canada the healthiest place on Earth for children and youth to grow up.” I’m relatively sure government-sponsored dissemination of a known carcinogen isn’t included in that vision.
The opposing values of her foundation and her party’s asbestos policy must have cancelled each other out, leaving Dr. Leitch in a vacuum inside which a backbone can’t exist. Perhaps, later on, she can get funding to study that.
Chris Clark, Uxbridge, Ont.
My dad died of mesothelioma in 2008. At the time, no one was talking about it and he seemed ashamed to have this disease.
He died a painful death, missed out on seeing his grandchildren grow up, missed out on the retirement that he and my mom worked so hard for. We all lose loved ones and have to deal with grief, but when your loved one dies from an asbestos-related disease, you first have to somehow get past the anger of knowing that the greed of industry and government caused their death and that of countless others.
Thank you for Tavia Grant’s comprehensive, thoughtful piece (No Safe Use – Focus, June 14). It’s heartening to see more and more people taking up the cause.
Tracy Ford, Powell River, B.C.
In my former job at a leading music retailer in the 1980s, the decision was made to remove the old oil-burning furnace and asbestos-wrapped piping. This was done by workmen with sledgehammers, who broke up the cast-iron furnace, scattering asbestos plaster everywhere. The debris was thrown into a dumpster and hauled away.
Years later, the store expanded into the building to the north. Same thing happened. Then, in the early ’90s, the store bought the bank to the south of it and wanted to remove the old furnaces and air conditioning plant. This time, the work area was sealed off with thick plastic, workers wore Hazmat suits, and any debris was put into sealed containers and sent to a hazardous-waste facility.
Regulations have changed, but I’ll bet there are still rogue contractors who’ll renovate without taking the necessary precautions.
Frederick W. Harrison, Toronto
I lived in a town in England where an asbestos factory operated for years. Many members of my family worked in the plant and the office. At age 18, my mother worked there briefly; she died of asbestosis 35 years later. Her brother, sister, two nieces and cousins also died from the deadly association with this material.
Asbestos is an insidious killer: Shame on those in government who still insist on supporting the poison inflicted on humankind.
If some of them had had half their family decimated, I wonder what their attitude might be. Doreen Hinksman, Oakville, Ont.
So many Canadians are inadvertently exposed to this hazardous, carcinogenic material. It is present in many of our schools, hospitals, homes and office buildings. We are still importing brake pads containing asbestos when alternative and safe products are available in Canada.
People are unknowingly being exposed to asbestos without appropriate precautions always being taken when it is disturbed through renovation or other removal. Its impact, especially the development of the often deadly cancer mesothelioma, is devastating. Canada has to change its policies, and awareness has to be raised among Canadians about asbestos and mesothelioma.
Eudice Goldberg, MD, Canadian Mesothelioma Foundation
Today there is hardly a working-class family in Sarnia, Ont., that was not affected by the scourge of asbestos. Given this history, it is ironic that the Missing Worker Memorial in Sarnia, which was erected by women whose husbands, fathers and neighbours had contracted asbestos-related disease, is not accessible to the public. The whole area, which is located along the St. Clair River and overlooks the Chemical Valley, is fenced off because the soil is contaminated by asbestos and poses a potential health hazard. It is truly an eerie sight to witness.
So much suffering that was easily preventable if there had only been the political and ethical will to do so. I hope that Tavia Grant’s investigation will finally trigger an honest re-evaluation of our federal government’s policy and end the use of asbestos.
Jim Brophy, Windsor, Ont.
The government’s stance is ironic because as a federal worker, I had to take mandatory asbestos awareness training where the message was that it was a hazard.
Michael Eisen, Ottawa
While it’s convenient to pin it all on everyone’s favourite scapegoat, Stephen Harper, successive Liberal governments also protected the asbestos industry – and let us not forget the Quebec government’s role, too. I don’t think the NDP would have been much better, since they would not kill an industry full of unionized jobs.
Everyone wears this shame, all the politicians and the bureaucrats who wrote policy on the subject.
Bill Smith, Oakville, Ont.
Sarnians have marched, yelled, written, wept, rallied, all in an attempt to remove this scourge, all the while nursing, comforting, and burying victims young and old.
It is deplorable that the government refuses to ban this product in all forms. What do we have to do when we’re facing more unbearable suffering and the government, woefully out of step with most of the world, refuses to listen? Tell us! Please!
J.L. Korpan, Sarnia, Ont.
ON REFLECTION Letters to the editor
First Nations judges
Re MPs Pounce On MacKay As 50’s Relic (June 20): Lack of First Nations representation in the judiciary is distressing. Even with 11 per cent of Ontario’s provincial court judges being visible minorities, how many are aboriginal? Isn’t it time an effort was made to ensure First Nations law grads are groomed to do more in-depth legal research and to develop the decision-writing skills required to become judges? Frank Iacobucci’s excellent report acknowledges some of the problems. Now there’s some summer reading for Peter MacKay.
Margaret van Dijk, Toronto
Same players, same script
Re NATO Accuses Moscow Of Resuming Buildup Along Ukraine Border (June 20): With the chorus of moral indignation coming from the West about the Russian incursion into Ukraine, one has to ask: Who do they think they are kidding?
You just have to read a few books like Margaret MacMillan’s Paris 1919 to realize these same players were horse-trading countries, ethnicities and regions like they were baseball cards. You can bet that the U.S. would be doing the exact same thing in any territory that was 60 per cent Americans.
Chris Parsons, Victoria
Take cover from debt?
Seeing that the Argentine government is in financial trouble again should be a signal to Falkland Islanders to start renovating their air raid shelters (Argentina To Negotiate With Creditors – Report on Business, June 19).
There’s nothing like a bit of fiscal mismanagement to stimulate patriotism among the masses.
Charles Morton, Manotick, Ont.
Don’t erase history
Re Adjudicator Fights To Keep Abuse Stories From Public Ar-chives (June 19): The personal histories of those who suffered and died in residential schools under the control of various governments and churches must never be forgotten. We need records for the edification of future generations. Imagine someone proposing records of abuses suffered by victims of the Holocaust be destroyed.
The identities of those who suffered should be glorified and remembered, just as the identities of those who perpetrated horrors should be scorned.
Danny Steinberg, Vancouver