Stop exporting asbestos, doctors tell government - Canada

By Sharon Kirkey, Postmedia News August 25, 2011

Canada's doctors are condemning the Harper government for its "shameful" decision to block listing asbestos as a hazardous product.

Delegates to the Canadian Medical Association's general assembly voted nearly unanimously - 99 per cent - in support of a motion Wednesday opposing the federal government for contesting the international designation of chrysotile asbestos as a hazardous substance.

"This is an important health care issue and a product that causes significant illness - even death," said Dr. Jeff Turnbull, outgoing president of the CMA. "Canada should not be in the business of exporting such a dangerous product."

In June Canada told the world it opposes placing limits on the export of asbestos. The head of the Canadian delegation at a United Nations summit in Geneva made the statement after a consensus was emerging to label the known carcinogen mined in Quebec as hazardous.

Consensus among countries is needed to list the substance as a hazardous material under the United Nations' Rotterdam Convention.

"The time for the CMA is now to go beyond calling on the federal government and begging it to take action, as it clearly has no intention of doing so," said Dr. Barry Turchen of Abbotsford.

The motion "sends a strong message to the federal government that their unethical and shameful behaviour will not be tolerated by the physicians of Canada," Turchen said, to applause.

Sarnia, Ont.'s asbestos legacy is still being felt, one doctor told the assembled delegates.

"Sarnia, Ont., is considered the mesothelioma capital of Canada - we are still seeing the effects of asbestos," said Dr. Deborah Hillier, an occupational physician.

Mesothelioma is a rare cancer of the lining of the chest or abdominal cavity.

"We are sending our asbestos to Third World countries where it is not used appropriately," exposing workers in those countries to risks, Hillier said. Meanwhile, products made with asbestos are coming back into Canada, she said.