The Chrysotile Institute is a trade group for the asbestos industry in Canada.. In 2004, the group changed their name from the Asbestos Institute, but their mission has not changed. The non-profit organization, established in 1984, promotes the mining, application and use of a variety of asbestos called “chrysotile”. The last two chrysotile asbestos mines are in Quebec, where the founding members gathered recently to refute many scientific findings linking asbestos exposure to pleural mesothelioma and other lung diseases.
Clément Godbout, the current chairman of the Institute, has been a member of its Board of Directors since 1984. During the early 1990s, he led the Quebec Federation of Labor, a powerful worker’s union in the province. He defends his stance in favor of the asbestos industry as one that protects workers from government regulation, unproven science and concentrated efforts by activists to close the asbestos mines that employ hundreds of residents in small-town Quebec.
Mr. Godbout continues to defend the industry even in the face of opposition from a former asbestos miner. Pat Martin, a Member of Parliament from Winnipeg, Manitoba, worked in asbestos mines in his youth. Mr. Martin has been an outspoken critic of the asbestos industry and has called for both the United States and Canada to ban it mining, manufacture and application. When Mr. Martin spoke at an anti-asbestos rally, Mr. Godbout organized a press conference to rebut the claims.
Mr. Godbout is not the sole proponent of the asbestos industry in Canada. During his press conference, the mayors of the towns of Thetford Mines and Asbestos voiced their support, since asbestos mines employ many of the towns’ workers. Other industry participants from both labor and management joined in announcing their own group, the Coalition of Partners in Favor of Chrysotile Fiber.
The new group maintains the position that the anti-industry groups use the term “asbestos” as a scare tactic. According to Mr. Godbout, these groups mistakenly lump in chrysotile fibers with other, more hazardous varieties of the mineral. The Coalition, like the Chrysotile Institute, discourages the use of the word “asbestos” to describe their product. In their opinion, chrysotile is safe to handle if workers take the proper precautions. Also, since chrysotile is the only asbestos variety native to Canada, any potential asbestos bans would only hurt workers and not serve to protect them or the general public.
The problem with Canadian asbestos, or “chrysotile”, stretches far beyond the country’s borders. Canada is also one of the leading exporters of asbestos, which goes to developing countries as insulation and fireproofing materials. According to Dr. Tushar Joshi, director of the Center for Occupational & Environmental Health at Maulana Azad Medical College in Delhi, many companies in nations like India, Bangladesh and Indonesia, do not employ the proper precautions to protect their workers.
Mr. Godbout maintained that, if Parliament were to enact a wholesale ban on asbestos, the problems in developing countries would not go away. Companies in those countries would buy the material from other sources, such as Russia, that would not be as concerned with educating workers on safe handling procedures. A recent study of Quebec business that handle asbestos showed that none were employing the procedures Mr. Godbout and his Institute recommended.
Sources: Montreal Gazette, Quebec government website