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Email from Asbestos expert Kathleen Ruff in response to a letter by Serge Boislard of Mouvement Pro-Chrysotile

From: Kathleen Ruff
To: Serge Boislard
Sent: August 06, 2009
Subject: Thank you for your letter

Dear Mr Boislard,

Thank you for your letter of July 24. I appreciate your taking the time to communicate your comments.

As you likely know, the only form of asbestos that has been sold commercially in the world for a number of years is chrysotile asbestos and 95% of all the asbestos that has ever been used commercially is chrysotile asbestos.

The overwhelming consensus from independent scientific and health organizations and experts is that chrysotile asbestos, like other forms of asbestos, is hazardous to health and that it cannot be safely used. For this reason, the following organizations, who are highly respected and have no conflict of interest, have all called for an end to the use of chrysotile asbestos: the World Health Organization, the Canadian Cancer Society, the Canadian Labour Congress, the International Labour Organization, the International Trade Union Confederation which represents 168 million trade union members in 155 countries, the Canadian Medical Association Journal, the prestigious medical journal The Lancet, the Canadian Association of Physicians for the Environment, The Canadian Association of University Teachers, the Canadian Teachers’ Federation, Prevent Cancer Now, the Sierra Club of Canada, the Council of Canadians, Ecojustice, the Canadian Environmental Law Association.

I could continue with more names. What is clear is that it simply is not accurate to state, as I believe you have done to the Quebec media, that just a miniscule group is calling for a ban on asbestos.

The organization that promotes continued use of chrysotile asbestos, the Chrysotile Institute, is a lobby group for the asbestos industry. As you know, a number of Canadian academics recently wrote to the government stating “It is our view as Canadian experts in epidemiology and occupational medicine and as public health advocates that the Chrysotile Institute is endangering public health by disseminating misleading and untruthful information about chrysotile asbestos, especially in the world’s emerging economies.”

It is noticeable that the Chrysotile Institute, based in Montreal, completely ignores all of the research on asbestos published by Quebec government health institutions, such as the INSPQ. Studies by the INSPQ have repeatedly documented health concerns related to use of all forms of asbestos, including chrysotile asbestos, and have stated that “safe controlled use” may not be possible, even in an advanced, privileged society like Quebec.

A recent two-year Quebec government study showed that only a tiny number of industrial plants in Quebec were using chrysotile asbestos and that there was a 100% failure rate to practise “safe use” standards. The same report noted that, with regard to equipment containing chrysotile asbestos, it was necessary, in order to protect the health of workers, to “informer les enterprises sur la nécessité de substituer par des équipements sans amiante”.

Scientists who support continued use of chrysotile asbestos, such as Prof. C. MacDonald, Dr David Bernstein and Dr J. Dunnigan, are well know to have been connected to and funded by the asbestos industry. In my opinion, this represents a conflict of interest.

With regard to how the asbestos industry, including the chrysotile asbestos industry, has employed scientists to support continued use of asbestos, a book recently published by Oxford University Press, Defending the Indefensible: the Global Asbestos Industry and its Fight for Survival, by Prof. J. McCulloch and Prof. G. Tweedale, is an important book that deserves to be read, as is Asbestos, Medical and Legal Aspects by Barry Castleman..

CBC The National recently aired a documentary, Canada’s Ugly Secret. I don’t know if you saw it, but in case you didn’t, here is the link.

As you know, the Chrysotile Institute maintains that Canada’s chrysotile asbestos is being safely used under strict controlled conditions in developing countries, something that the Quebec government report above showed has not been achieved in Quebec itself. The CBC documentary showed that this claim is untrue.

With regard to your comment that there are other issues that need to be addressed, such as the tobacco issue, I completely agree and have, in fact, been involved in the tobacco issue. What makes the asbestos issue of particular concern is that the Canadian government promotes misleading and inaccurate information about chrysotile asbestos and undermines a U.N.Convention on the right to be informed about the hazards of chrysotile asbestos. With regard to tobacco, the Canadian government is not funding or supporting a tobacco lobby group, is not promoting misleading and inaccurate information about tobacco and is not undermining the WHO Convention on Tobacco Control.

It is fully understandable that your organization wishes to support a local industry and the local economy. The mayor and council and the community deserve much praise for their vision in accomplishing a significant amount of successful economic diversification away from asbestos, as reported recently in the article, La Vie après l’amiante.

As your organisation has stated to the media, there is, in effect, a virtual ban on chrysotile asbestos being practised within Quebec itself.The federal government is giving huge sums of money to revitalize the economies of communities across Canada, particularly single industry towns. It would seem that there is an excellent opportunity to call on the government, as we have done, to allocate more funds to your region to assist in the economic diversification that has already successfully begun.

Yours sincerely,

Kathleen Ruff

Kathleen Ruff is a Prevent Cancer Now Consultant and Asbestos Expert