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Below is an article from La Presse. It has been translated in to English.
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La Presse (October 8, 2010)
Embarrassing photos for a Quebec Asbestos mine
By Isabelle Hachey

This photo was taken by Indonesian activist Muchamad Darisman. It shows people, including children, walking in a dump full of asbestos. The dump contains waste from the Djabesmen factory, the biggest manufacturer of chrysotile asbestos roofs in Indonesia. One can see bags with the logo of Lab Chrysotile, an asbestos mine situated at Thetford Mines, Quebec.


Bent over in the middle of a dump, a child rummages in waste with bare hands. Behind the child, adults are using large bags to recycle plastic, wood and pieces of cement. Their bags carry the logo of Lab Chrysotile, an asbestos mine situated at Thetford Mines, Quebec.

These photos were taken on August 6 in a waste site of the factory Djabesmen, the biggest manufacturer of chrysotile asbestos roofs in Indonesia. They “clearly establish that our national policy of exporting asbestos is so negligent as to be criminal,” states indignantly Dr Fernand Turcotte, professor emeritus in preventative medicine at Laval University.

Dr Turcotte says he was shocked on seeing these photos, which prove according to him “the impossibility of putting into practice the rules thought to make asbestos safe for human health. When we hear our politicians speak all the time about safe use of asbestos in order to justify its export to countries in the third world, it is completely outrageous!”

Chrysotile asbestos is a cancerous product that is forbidden in most western countries. Canada does not use this material in its own construction work, but encourages its export to developing countries, a policy that is judged immoral by numerous health professionals in Quebec and around the world.

According to Dr Turcotte, if the waste site was situated in Quebec, “access would be forbidden unless one was wearing a special outfit”. But, about ten people wearing simple sandals were collecting waste from the factory when Muchamad Darisman, an Indonesian activist who took these photos, was in the area. The factory is situated to the east of the capital, Jakarta.

“These people are very poor and depend on the what the factory throws out. They collect plastic, wood and asbestos from the waste and then offer it to re-sellers. One of them told me that he earned a dollar a day when he was lucky. His house is situated 300 metres away, right close to the dump site. He did not know that asbestos was dangerous,” explained Mr Darisman.

There are warnings in several languages written on the Lab Chrysotile bags that are littering the ground outside the factory. But according to Mr Darisman, none of these languages is understood by the majority of Indonesians.

“Asbestos-cement is collected by poor families to build houses. “That can be seen everywhere in Asia,” said Kathleen Ruff, anadian activists who is fighting to get asbestos banned. “ Families construct houses and cut asbestos-cement with small mechanical saws. That creates a large quantity of fibres that they breath. It’s fatal.”

“Out of context”

The president of Lab Chrysotile, Simon Dupéré, says that he assures himself that his clients use asbestos in a safe manner. He has several times visited the factories in Indonesia that import asbestos from Thetford Mines without ever having noted any serious failings. “When we send chrysotile, it’s done according to the rules of the art. Otherwise, we don’t send it.”

The bags of chrysotile “are usually torn up in the factory and integrated directly into the finished product,” explains Mr Dupéré. He promises to assure himself that the Djabesmen factory is operating “according to the rules of responsible use”. But the photos leave him doubtful. “This would not be the first time that we see something staged. Our detractors specialize in sensationalism out of context.”

Indonesia imports 78,000 tonnes of chrysotile a year, most of it from Russia, Brazil and Canada. Contrary to other Asian countries, such as India, the campaign to ban asbestos is still timid there. The “Ban Asbestos Network in Indonesia”, or INA-BAN, will be officially launched on October 17.

The task for the activists will not be easy, according to Mr Darisman. “One Indonesian asbestos factory belongs to the president of one of the biggest political parties in the country, he says. We lack experts interested in the subject and there is a control of information by the government and businesses regarding the dangers of asbestos.”

The 26 asbestos factories, which employ 7,000 Indonesian workers, can also count on the support of Canada. In March 2006, an “International Scientific Symposium” was organized in Jakarta. According to the group BAN-Asbestos, this symposium, financed by the asbestos industry, only presented scientists won over to the industry.

Clément Godbout, president of the Chrysotile Institute, was among the invited speakers. The Jakarta Post cited a study ordered by this Institute based in Montreal – which is, in fact, the lobby for the world asbestos industry – according to which chrysotile has no negative effect on human health.

The symposium concluded with a cocktail at the Canadian embassy.

Click here to read the French version of this article online