Canada’s ban on asbestos to take effect but mining residues are exempt
OTTAWA — Canada’s new asbestos ban will not prevent companies in Quebec from sifting through the waste left over from decades of mining asbestos to look for magnesium.
Environment Minister Catherine McKenna is set to announce the new regulations on Thursday in Ottawa after cabinet gave the nod of approval to them at the end of September.
The regulations, which will take effect at the end of the year, bar the import, sale or use of processed asbestos fibres and products containing them, as well as consumer products that have more than trace amounts of asbestos.
They also forbid the manufacture of products using processed asbestos fibres.
The regulations however do not apply to residues left from mining asbestos, which in Canada include about 800 million tonnes of residue near mines in the Quebec towns of Thetford Mines and Asbestos. Asbestos mines were the main economic driver in both regions for decades until concerns about health impacts of asbestos collapsed the market. The last mine in Canada, in Thetford Mines, stopped operating in 2011.
As much as 40 per cent of the leftover rock still contains asbestos.
Earlier this year the Quebec government helped finance Alliance Magnesium with a $17.5-million loan and a $13.4-million equity interest. The company has developed a technology to extract magnesium from asbestos tailings and hopes to sell the magnesium to auto parts makers and aerospace manufacturers who can use it in place of aluminum to make cars and planes lighter.
Joel Fournier, president of Alliance Magnesium, said the process his company uses destroys the asbestos fibre left in the rock by dousing it in acid. The processing then leaves behind magnesium and amorphous silica. He said the workers wear appropriate protection to keep them from inhaling asbestos fibres, but added the firm’s research has shown very few fibres end up airborne.
“I’m always saying we are not part of the problem, we didn’t create the problem, we are part of the solution,” he said. “Essentially we are doing remediation.”
Fournier says magnesium helps reduce emissions from cars by making them lighter — therefore requiring less energy to power them — and amorphous silica helps reduce emissions in the use of cement.
However, Kathleen Ruff, an expert on asbestos, says it is disappointing Ottawa is allowing an exemption from the ban for mining residues.
“Everyone is in favour of jobs and helping communities, everyone is glad for new enterprises but it shouldn’t be at the cost of human health,” she said. “It shouldn’t be unsafe.”
Gilles Mercier, whose father died of asbestos-related lung cancer in 2017 after a career installing asbestos-laden heating systems and roofing tiles, said Wednesday the federal regulations are a “good start” but that they don’t go far enough to protect potential workers who could be exposed to asbestos fibres from the tailings.
The regulations do bar use of asbestos tailings to manufacture products that contain asbestos or for use in construction or landscaping unless authorized by the province where it would occur.
Mercier says that is just not good enough because workers will risk being exposed to asbestos, and stirring up the tailings also poses a risk to the people whose homes, schools and businesses are nearby.
“It’s a good start but for Quebec, I’m not confident the province will take its responsibility seriously,” said Mercier.
In particular, Mercier is livid that Quebec’s standard for workplace exposure to asbestos fibres is 10 times higher than the rest of Canada. Quebec allows workers to be exposed to up to one fibre of asbestos per millilitre of air. Elsewhere in Canada it is one-tenth of one fibre per millilitre, and in some countries including France and the Netherlands it is 0.01 of a fibre.
“It’s unbelievable,” he said. “How can I live in a place like this?”
A spokeswoman for McKenna said these regulations are the final step in banning asbestos and products containing it, and emphasizes the tailings can’t be used to make anything that has asbestos in it.
“All other activities, such as mine site closure, mine site reclamation, and use of asbestos mining residues to extract metals, would be outside the scope of the regulations,” said Caroline Theriault. “Provincial regulations for these activities would continue to apply.”
Canada agreed to ban asbestos in 2016, after years of pressure from health experts and former workers and their families, but Canada continued to argue it was safe if used with proper precautions.
Statistics Canada data shows that in 2016 at least 510 Canadians died of mesothelioma, an asbestos-linked lung cancer. The number of new mesothelioma cases has gone up more than 60 per cent in the last 20 years but that number does not reflect any data from Quebec since 2010. That province stopped reporting new cases eight years ago.
Asbestos disease can take 20 to 50 years after exposure to take hold and has in the last quarter-century become the leading cause of occupational death in Canada.
Mia Rabson, The Canadian Press
The Plan: Lock You Down for 130 Days
From the Brownstone Institute
What if the coronavirus pandemic was not a once-in-a-century event but the beginning of a new era of regular deadly respiratory viral pandemics? The Biden administration is already planning for this future. Last year, it unveiled a national strategy to develop pharmaceutical firms’ capacity to create vaccines within 130 days of a pandemic emergency declaration.
The Biden plan enshrines former president Donald Trump‘s Operation Warp Speed as the model response for the next century of pandemics. Left unsaid is that, for the new pandemic plan to work as envisioned, it will require us to conduct dangerous gain-of-function research. It will also require cutting corners in the evaluation of the safety and efficacy of novel vaccines. And while the studies are underway, politicians will face tremendous pressure to impose draconian lockdowns to keep the population “safe.”
In the case of COVID-19 vaccines, it took about a year for governments to deploy the jab at scale after scientists sequenced the virus. Scientists identified a vaccine target—fragments of the spike protein that the virus uses to access cells—by early January 2020, even before the WHO declared a worldwide pandemic.
This rapid response was only possible because some scientists already knew much about the novel virus. Despite heavy regulations limiting the work, the US National Institutes of Health had funded collaborations between the EcoHealth Alliance and the Wuhan Institute of Virology. They collected bat viruses from the wild, enhanced their function to study their potential, and designed vaccines before the viruses infected humans.
While there is controversy over whether this gain-of-function work is responsible for the COVID pandemic, there is no question this research is potentially dangerous. Even cautious scientists sometimes accidentally leak hazardous, highly infectious viruses into the surrounding community. In December 2021, for instance, the virus that causes COVID-19 accidentally leaked out of a laboratory in Taiwan, where scientists were researching the virus.
A promising vaccine target would be needed immediately after a disease outbreak for the Biden pandemic plan to work. For that to be possible, there will need to be permanent support for research enhancing the capacity of viruses to infect and kill humans. The possibility of a deadly laboratory leak will hang over humanity into perpetuity.
Furthermore, before any mass vaccination campaign, pharmaceutical firms must test the vaccines for safety. High-quality randomized, controlled studies are needed to make sure the vaccine works.
In 1954, Jonas Salk’s group tested the vaccine in a million children before the polio mass vaccination campaign that effectively defanged the threat of polio to American children. Physicians need the results of these studies to provide accurate information to patients.
Operation Warp Speed cut red tape so that vaccine manufacturers could conduct these studies rapidly. The randomized trials cut some corners. For instance, the Pfizer and Moderna trials did not enroll enough people to determine whether the COVID vaccines reduce all-cause mortality.
Nor did they determine whether the vaccines stop disease transmission; a few months after the government deployed the vaccines, researchers found protection against infection was partial and short-lived. Each of these cut corners has since created policy controversies and uncertainty that better trials would have avoided. Because of the pressure to produce a vaccine within 130 days, President Biden’s pandemic plan will likely force randomized trials on future vaccines to cut the same corners.
This policy effectively guarantees that lockdowns will return to the US in the event of a new pandemic. Though the lockdowns did not work to protect populations from getting or spreading COVID—after 2.5 years, nearly everyone in the US has had COVID—public health bureaucracies like the CDC have not repudiated the strategy.
Imagine the early days of the next pandemic, with public health and the media fomenting fear of a new pathogen. The impetus to close schools, businesses, churches, beaches, and parks will be irresistible, though the pitch will be “130 days until the vax” rather than “two weeks to flatten the curve.”
When the vaccine finally arrives, the push to mass vaccinate for herd immunity will be enormous, even without evidence from the rushed trials that the vaccine provides long-lasting protection against disease transmission. This happened in 2021 with the COVID vaccine and would happen again amidst the pandemic panic. The government would push the vaccine even on populations at low risk from the novel pathogen. Mandates and discrimination against the unvaccinated would return, along with a fierce movement to resist them. The public’s remaining trust in public health would shatter.
Rather than pursue this foolish policy, the Biden administration should adopt the traditional strategy for managing new respiratory-virus pandemics. This strategy involves quickly identifying high-risk groups and adopting creative strategies to protect them while not throwing the rest of society into panic.
The development of vaccines and treatments should be encouraged, but without imposing an artificial timeline that guarantees corners will be cut in evaluation. And most of all, lockdowns—a disaster for children, the poor, and the working class—should be excised from the public health toolkit forever.
A version of this piece appeared in Newsweek
Premiers need to keep talking about the health-care crisis: medical associations
Ontario Premier Doug Ford, left to right, Manitoba Premier Heather Stefanson, Quebec Premier Francois Legault, New Brunswick Premier Blaine Higgs, Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe, Newfoundland Premier Andrew Furey, Yukon Premier Ranj Pillai and Nunavut Premier P.J. Akeaagok, leave following a press conference of Canada’s premiers discussing health care, in Ottawa on Tuesday, Feb. 7, 2023. The Canadian Medical Association and 14 other organizations representing health-workers are urging provincial and territorial premiers to make sure health-care remains at the top of their agenda at their next meeting in July. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
The Canadian Medical Association and 14 other organizations representing health workers are urging premiers to keep health care at the top of the agenda at their next meeting in July.
The provincial and territorial leaders met several times last year to compare notes on the health-care crisis and call on the federal government to give them more money to fix it.
In February, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced a deal that will see Ottawa give $196 billion for the Canada Health Transfer over the next 10 years.
All provinces except Quebec have agreed to the deal in principle.
In a press release on behalf of several doctors’ and nurses’ associations, the Canadian Medical Association says the deals are a positive step but the health-care crisis has not ended.
They say excessive wait times, a lack of primary care, a shortage of workers and overcapacity in emergency rooms should all be on the premiers’ agenda.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 5, 2022.
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