Photo: A green economy cannot include trading in asbestos.

Asbestos is a mineral that is used in construction, but because inhalation of its fine fibers can cause cancer, it is rarely used in Canada anymore. (Credit: Axel Drainville via Flickr)

By Lisa Gue, Environmental Health Analyst

Twenty years ago, the world gathered in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil for the historic "Earth Summit". Quebec Premier Jean Charest was Canada's Environment Minister in 1992 and headed the Canadian delegation at the Rio Earth Summit where the principles of sustainable development were proclaimed.

That's why we wrote a letter to Mr. Charest calling on him to concretely demonstrate his continued commitment to sustainable development by ending his government's support for the deadly asbestos trade.

We weren't alone. Forty other organizations from Quebec, Canada, and around the world co-signed our letter to Jean Charest — including the Association pour la santé publique du Québec (Quebec Public Health Association), the Association des médecins spécialistes en santé communautaire du Québec (the Quebec Association of Community Health Specialists), the Quebec College of Family Physicians and the Canadian Cancer Society.

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The last two asbestos mines in Canada — both located in Quebec — are currently not operational. However, the provincial government is considering a request for a $58 million loan guarantee to allow one of them — the Jeffrey Mine — to reopen and expand, extracting 200,000 tonnes of asbestos per year. Asbestos is a mineral that is used in construction, but because inhalation of its fine fibers can cause cancer, it is rarely used in Canada anymore. Asbestos from the Jeffrey Mine would be exported to countries like Indonesia, Thailand, Mexico and Sri Lanka. Read more on how our government has been propping up international trade in asbestos.

Other groups are also letting government officials know they're not ok with an asbestos revival. The Canadian Association of Physicians for the Environment and other health organizations are calling on Quebec Health Minister Dr Yves Bolduc to oppose the loan guarantee that would get Jeffrey Mine up and running again.

From June 20-22, the nations of the world will once again gather in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, to mark the 20th anniversary of the first summit. The Rio +20 conference will focus on the development of a global green economy. The United Nations Environment Program defines a "green economy" as one that results in improved human well-being and social equity, while significantly reducing environmental risks and ecological scarcities. Promoting the mining and export of asbestos is inconsistent with a green economy and sustainable development goals.

The signatories to our letter show that Canadians and members of the global community want us to stop selling asbestos. If Premier Charest is serious about a green economy and sustainable development, he will put an end to Quebec's asbestos trade at last and refuse the Jeffrey Mine loan guarantee. This would be a fitting way to mark the 20th anniversary of the 1992 Earth Summit.

Take our action alert and send your own letter to Premier Jean Charest and Prime Minister Stephen Harper telling them to stop propping up the asbestos industry.

June 12, 2012

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1 Comment

Jun 12, 2012
2:19 PM

It is more than a tad ironic and hypocritical that the Quebec government is suing the tobacco industry for the fact that people were willing victims to their carcinogenic product — yet at the same time supports the export of this health hazard to developing countries. Oh dear Government of Quebec, your karma is sure to run over your dogma.

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