60 years ago in the town of Asbestos, Quebec, a new manufacturing plant was unveiled. To pay reverence, the Premier of La Belle Province dropped by to bolster
the production of asbestos. Little did the Premier know, the world’s largest
asbestos mine would become the epicentre of one of the most tremulous
controversies to this day.
The health consequences of asbestos were soon evident. When Quebecasbestos workers began to die abruptly in the 1950s, their lungs were often removed and stored
away for further study. The lungs showed clear evidence of asbestos related
diseases such as asbestosis and lung cancer. However, some doctors would
intentionally hide the truth – even going to the extent of driving to an
asbestos industrial location and concealing the appendages from the public. It
wasn’t until recently that, following court order, these medical reports were
exposed. They showed out of 708 men tested, all but four showed various levels
of suspected lung disease. When the results were published in a 1950s study,
however, the numbers were radically falsified. According to a secretly obtained
document, the doctor who released the report claimed that, “As long as a man
feels well and his physical condition remains good, nothing should be
Wolfgang von Paelleske worked in a Scarborough, Ontarioplant in 1955.
He opened up bales of asbestos and loaded it into receptacles. Unaware of the
health risks, Wolfgang believed the “white gold” was a cheap, efficient and
scientifically approved product. Each day, when he came home blanketed with
asbestos, he would embrace his daughter, who would subsequently breathe in the
asbestos. His mother would manually scrub his overalls and shake off the grime,
dispersing the harmful fibres into the air. After years of ill health, Wolfgang
and his mother were diagnosed with mesothelioma (a form of cancer caused by
exposure to the fibrous asbestos material) and shortly died. Their daughter,
only middle-aged, is now showing signs of the same ailment.
The alleged purpose of hiding the health effects of asbestos
was so the owners of the mines could make more money. Beyond hiding vital
medical information, they would even sponsor scientific studies at McGill University
(which has had a longstanding partnership with the asbestos industry) to
suppress the evidence. The Quebec Asbestos mining industry provided the McGill
clinic with grants of over $1 million in the late 60s – a pattern that
continued for years. The measures these doctors and scientists took to hide the
truth were unprecedented. Not only did they undermine the credibility of
research, they demonstrated a fraudulent approach to science. This deception,
manipulated by the influence of corporations, misinformed thousands of innocent
sufferers about the hazards of asbestos. And despite mounting testimony, McGill
has yet to admit its involvement in this process.
Despite the well documented health effects, the Canadian government has continued to support the exports of asbestos to Third World countries. Sadly, Prime Minister Stephen
Harper went to the asbestos region in Quebec and bragged about the industry, proclaiming, “Canada is one of a number of exporters of Chrysotile and there are a number of countries in which it is legal.”
There is nothing to brag about when ten million people
worldwide are dying of this preventable illness each year. Countless
Canadian workers have died from exposure, and to see our own leader speaking
out in favour of this poison is infuriating. The government needs to stop
calling it Chrysotile and call it by its real name – asbestos.
We must push the Canadian government to stop the selling of
asbestos to Third World countries, as it harms uninformed workers there who are handling this toxin without any protection. It is time for Mr. Harper to put aside economics and focus on terminating this unethical business. The welfare of both Canadian and Third World people should not be compromised by the
business mindsets of government, industry and researchers conducting unethical
practices for their own interests.