Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Safe practices with asbestos fill a need in the developing world

The Montreal Gazette
By BALJIT S. CHADHA, FreelanceJanuary 19, 2011 4:02 AM
Your Jan. 8 Opinion article "The continued sale of Quebec's asbestos is indefensible" condemned the export of chrysotile (asbestos) from Quebec to developing countries.

The article raised two questions: Can chrysotile be used safely anywhere in the world? And if so, can it be used safely in developing countries? The article answered no to both, but provided no evidence, basically saying, "This is wrong because everyone says it's wrong."

The World Health Organization says otherwise. Its position, adopted as recently as 2007, quite clearly calls for regulating the various forms of asbestos, and nowhere talks of banning it:

"WHO will work with member states to strengthen the capacities of the ministries of health to provide leadership for activities to workers' health, to formulate and implement policies and action plans, and to stimulate intersectoral collaboration. Its activities will include global campaigns for elimination of asbestos-related diseases; bearing in mind a differentiated approach to regulating its various forms; in line with relevant international legal instruments and the latest evidence for effective interventions."

As to the latest evidence for effective intervention, a November 2010 open letter from six experts with very strong credentials (John Hoskins, independent toxicologist, Britain; Allen Gibbs, Department of Histopathology, University College of Medicine, Cardiff; Robert P. Nolan, International Environmental Research Foundation, New York; Professor Jacques Dunnigan, Faculty of Science, Universite de Sherbrooke; David M. Bernstein, consultant in toxicology, Geneva; Fred Pooley, Cardiff University) who have reviewed many scientific studies published in peer-reviewed journals concluded that:
"Based upon current science ... the use of chrysotile at current Quebec permissible exposure limits in the workplace carries no epidemiologically and clinically detectable increase in risk. Indeed, a number of recent scientific studies published in peer-reviewed journals have come to this conclusion ... From these published studies, it can be seen that safety in the use of chrysotile is not a simple wish, but a reality ...
"The latest scientific evidence published strongly supports the following views:
"Chrysotile is significantly less hazardous than the amphibole forms of asbestos (e. g. crocidolite and amosite);

"When properly controlled and used, chrysotile asbestos in its modern-day high-density applications does not present risks of any significance to public and/or worker health."

I take pride in being a responsible, socially conscious businessman who has been selling chrysotile to a developing country for the past 15 years. I have pursued this business because I am convinced
that chrysotile can be used in an entirely safe manner and because this fibre is of great value to answer the pressing needs of poor people in developing countries. I am convinced that chrysotile can be used safely, anywhere in the world.

I question whether the other authors have direct personal knowledge of the safe use of chrysotile in developing countries. I travel to those countries regularly and I know who my clients are; I visit their factories. I have systematically encouraged the implementation of safe-use practices and I have met with considerable success. My associates and I have banned unsafe practices and we have refused to sell to customers who cannot demonstrate that they use the product in a safe manner.

Developing countries such as India, where I come from and where I conduct business, have modern, state-of-the-art plants with safety standards equivalent to, if not more stringent than, ours. There are unsafe plants in those countries, but refusing to do business with businesses that are mindful of the health of their employees will do nothing to eliminate the unsafe use of chrysotile.

Should the Canadian suppliers go out of business, those from Russia, Kazakhstan, Brazil and Zimbabwe, who already produce much more than we do, will simply fill the void. The idea that these producers are somehow being nice to us because we give the product a good name is quite simply false. We hold our own on the world market because the quality and dependability of our product allows us to sell at a profitable price. We add value, among other ways by exporting our knowledge of safe use along with the product.
By exporting our knowledge and by rigorously inspecting the plants we export to, we will contribute to solving the problem of unsafe use. I have also committed, once the inspection program in the factories is in place, to extend the information effort to end-users, in co-operation with local authorities.

It should also be pointed out that to my knowledge, there are no studies comparing the health effects of substitute products such as the kuralon synthetic fibre being promoted by Japanese interests, or the cellulosic products being promoted by the European Union countries that have banned asbestos. Why do the opponents of chrysotile never mention this? The people who would ban chrysotile leave users with no practical alternative.

In India alone, there are 600 million people living on less than $2 a day. These people have very basic needs, such as putting a roof over their heads and gaining access to clean drinking water. Chrysotile cement is an ideal material for answering those needs, in the form of cement sheets and pipes identical to those being sold and used in Quebec today.

Developing countries are as concerned as Canada is about the health of their people. As a person who was born and raised in India, let me assure you that the Indian people, institutions and government are quite capable of sharing modern knowledge and determining what is preferable for them. To suggest that the use of chrysotile is allowed only because of incompetence, corruption or some secretive lobbies is the result of either ignorance or prejudice.

Baljit S. Chadha leads the consortium of investors intending to purchase the Jeffrey Mine in Asbestos.

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