For several years, the town of Asbestos, Quebec, like many other towns across Canada and the US, had held a “Relay for Life” event to raise money for cancer research. This year, city officials cancelled the walk due to the opposition of several cancer charities to a loan package for the town’s asbestos mines. The city called a halt to the walk to protest efforts of the Canadian Cancer Society to block a government loan program that would support the town’s namesake and largest employer.
The Society, in cooperation with the national and provincial Public Health Associations, sent letters to federal lawmakers in Ottawa and to Quebec provincial premier Jean Charest urging them not to prop up the mine, which had filed for bankruptcy. The city of Asbestos, home to one of the two remaining asbestos mines in the country, retaliated by refusing to support the Society’s fundraising efforts.
Hugues Grimard, mayor of Asbestos, told reporters that the townspeople would not take part in the event. He said that the “we want to work with our partners, not our detractors”. He also said that several residents had come to him and expressed their opinions regarding the Cancer Society’s stance. He said that they told him, “We don’t want to participate” in the efforts of a group that is threatening to shut down the town’s major industry.
The town, about ninety miles northeast of Montreal, has taken a huge hit since the economic downturn of the last few years. The owners of the Jeffrey asbestos mine filed for bankruptcy due to reduced demand for chrysotile asbestos, an ingredient previously used in concrete binding and home insulation. Premier Charest, a long-time supporter of the asbestos industry, is contemplating whether his government can guarantee the C$58 million (US$56 million) loan package.
Andre Beaulieu, a spokesman for the Canadian Cancer Society in Quebec, said that the group’s office received several messages from corporate sponsors voicing their disagreement with the letter and withdrawing their support for the event. He told the national television network that Asbetsos might not hold the Relay for Life event next year. Mr. Beaulieu also said that he understands that the town is looking at the situation “from an economic point of view”, but that the Society’s mission is to improve public health.
According to reports, last year’s Relay for Life in Asbestos had three hundred and fifty volunteers. Over the last four years, the Asbestos event has raised C$350,000 (US$338,000). Despite the town’s opposition to this year’s event, Mr. Beaulieu said that the group would still go ahead with its plans to offer support to patients dealing with asbestos-related respiratory ailments. He also said that his group would continue to appeal to both provincial and federal political leaders to stop supporting the asbestos mine.
One of the Society’s concerns is that Canadian asbestos mines export most of their product to developing countries. These countries often do not have the worker safety protocols in place to handle asbestos, which is known to cause several forms of cancer.
Source: Canadian Broadcasting Company