Dr. Fernand Turcotte was one of the leaders in Canada’s fight against Big Tobacco in the 1980s and early 1990s. He founded the Department of Occupational Health and Safety as Quebec’s Université Laval, the oldest university in Quebec. He recently told a Montreal newspaper that the same tactics he and his colleagues employed to educate the Canadian public about the dangers of tobacco would be as effective against another dangerous carcinogen: asbestos.
Dr. Turcotte exhibited his belief in the old saying “the truth shall set you free” when he and other campaigned against Canada’s lax tobacco regulations. He said in a recent interview that exposing the truth behind asbestos would “eventually” lead to a comprehensive ban on the mining and exporting of the hazardous mineral. Despite his optimism, the movement to ban asbestos in Canada has many powerful opponents, including politicians and labor leaders from his native province.
Representatives from Quebec’s asbestos industry have approached the federal government in Ottawa for a loan to expand the Jeffrey mine in the town of Asbestos. The planned expansion is expected to create between four hundred and five hundred new jobs. In a town of less than seven thousand residents, and during one of the worst economic declines in decades, the demand for jobs has not been this high since the Great Depression of the 1930s.
The mine expansion would provide Canada with enough asbestos to keep their thriving exports of the mineral flowing until at least 2040. Provincial government officials, led by Premier Jean Charest, have voiced their support for the planned expansion. Last month, Premier Charest went on a trade mission to India in an effort to support the asbestos industry, which continues to export its products for use in construction and shipbuilding to developing nations.
Meanwhile, Dr. Turcotte recently wrote a position paper blasting the asbestos industry for the dangers it creates for workers who mine, manufacture and handle the fibrous mineral. He called for Quebec to outlaw asbestos mining in an effort to protect workers and their families from the health hazards posed by inhaling the airborne fibers. He submitted the paper to Parliament during an anti-asbestos rally last week in Ottawa. More than fifty of his colleagues also signed the paper, voicing their support for the asbestos ban.
In the paper, Dr. Turcotte also cited a recent report from the United Nations World Health Organization that stated that asbestos exposure could lead to cancers of the lungs, larynx and ovaries. The UN report also stated that more than one hundred thousand people died from complications due to asbestos exposure in 2009. Several Canadian cities that have participated in the asbestos trade, including Sarnia, Ontario, and Thetford Mines, Quebec, have shown increased cancer rates over the last twenty years.
The leading health hazard associated with asbestos exposure is called “pleural malignant mesothelioma”. This disease strikes at the pleural mesothelium, a band of soft tissue that surrounds the lungs. When workers inhale asbestos dust, the microscopic fibers penetrate the lung tissue and embed themselves into the pleural mesothelium. Over the course of several years, the fibers change the cell structure and cause aggressive malignancies. The average life expectancy of mesothelioma patients is twelve to eighteen months.
Sources: ArticleDiscovery.com, Time Colonist