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Update 4: October, 2012 (finis)
            This final update on a topic of considerable interest is prompted by recent news stories indicating that Canada will no longer oppose the international listing of asbestos as a hazardous substance. References to three stories are provided and more will be found by those who search the news in mid-September, 2012.
            Johnston Library staff originally developed this research guide as a “Timely Topic” back in the early part of this century and it has been updated over the years. Apart from the useful references provided, readers will find a list of companies that went bankrupt over the issue and a historical profile of the Canadian company – Asbestos Corporation.  As well, links to two older bibliographies are found along with the full text of Overview of Asbestos Issues and Trends.

Articles relating to the decision by Canada to stop defending the asbestos industry: (Sep. 2012)

1. “Ottawa Does U-turn on Asbestos Mining, Steven Chase & Les Perreaux

The Globe and Mail,Sep. 14, 2012.

 “Canada is ending its much-maligned practice of defending asbestos mining on the world stage, a reversal of a stand that made it a pariah in some international circles.”

2. “Canada Won’t Oppose Asbestos Limits: Federal Tories Reverse Course and Won’t Veto Substance’s Listing in Rotterdam Convention,” CBC News, Sep. 14, 2012.
 “Canada's dying asbestos industry was dealt another blow Friday from one of its former friends, with Industry Minister Christian Paradis announcing that the federal government will no longer oppose global rules that restrict use and shipment of the substance.”

3. “Conservative Government Ends Oppositions to Listing Asbestos as Hazardous Substance,” Joanna Smith, Toronto Star, Sep. 14, 2012.
 “Federal Industry Minister Christian Paradis announced Friday afternoon that the Conservative government would no longer oppose adding chrysotile asbestos to an international list of hazardous substances. The Conservative government has stuck by the troubled industry despite strong criticism at home and abroad for downplaying the cancer-causing effects of chrysotile asbestos, but on Friday it was clear that Ottawa had seen the writing on the wall of the new political context in Quebec. The Parti Québécois promised during the recent provincial election campaign to cancel the $58-million government loan the former Liberal government had given to the Jeffrey Mine in Asbestos, Que. this summer.  Marois instead promised to invest that money in diversifying the economy in the region that produces asbestos and on Friday the Conservative government announced that it would commit up to $50 million to the same cause.”


 Update 3: November, 2008. This update is prompted by the meeting of the Rotterdam Convention which will debate whether chrysotile asbestos should be categorized as a hazardous substance requiring "prior informed consent" before it can be exported. At one extreme, some argue that Canada supports and promotes the asbestos industry (which is Quebec-based) and that such promotion is essentially "corprate welfare for corporate serial killers". At the other, it is charged that, once again, "junk science" is being promoted by fuzzy-haired scientists and those in NGOs with an anti-corporate agenda. (We are just the messenger). To learn more about the current debate, here is a brief bibliography followed by historical coverage of the issue. 

Apart from the Convention, the following article against asbestos served as a major catalyst for the current flurry of activity: see "Asbestos Mortality: A Canadian Export," by Amir Attaran in the Canadian Medical Association Journal, Vol. 179, No.9, Oct. 21, 2008. Newspaper accounts followed: "Medical Journal Blasts Ottawa Over Asbestos: Calls Canada's Stand Shameful," by Martin Mittelstaedt, Canadian Press, Oct.20. 2008 and "Tories Blasted for Asbestos Exports: Ottawa Suppressing Report on the Health Risks, CMA Says." In a fairly balanced article there is the suggestion that another interest group is involved in this "international mercantile battle" - those who wish to replace chrysotile asbestos with petroleum-based synthetic fibres. See: "Industry, Not Scathing Editorial Must Guide Canada's Stance on Asbestos," the Canadian Press,Oct. 22, 2008. For an editorial that questions Canada's position see: "Canada's Double Standard,"  the G&M, Oct.21, 2008. For an article and an editorial that suggest the entire controversy is without merit see: "The New Asbestos Science Scare," by Terence Corcoran, the Financial Post, Oct.22, 2008 and "The Case for Selling Asbestos," the National Post, Oct.22, 2008. The issue also attracted considerable international attention. See, for example: "Hazardous Hypocrisy, the Economist, Oct. 23, 2008.

Update 2:
This "Timely Topic" was done originally in 2004 and looked at the general subject of asbestos in a business-related context. The issue continues to be topical. Below is an excerpt from a CBC report done in late May 2008. Canada is a major producer of asbestos.

Scientists Call on Federal Government to Release Asbestos Study

"Two internationally recognized experts who contributed to a Health Canada study on the cancer risks of asbestos are appealing to the federal health minister to make their report public.The federal agency hired seven scientific and medical experts from around the world last November to examine the risks. After submitting their report in March, the experts said they were told it would be made public within weeks, but it still hasn't been released. Health Minister Tony Clement's office told the CBC the report will be made public once his officials have reviewed it. Leslie Stayner, head of the School of Public Health at the University of Illinois, as well as Trevor Ogden, the chair of the panel of experts, have each written letters to Clement decrying the delay. "It is simply unacceptable for this report to continue to be withheld from the public, while individuals who have seen the report and our comments make erroneous allegations about what it contains to suit their political objectives," Stayner wrote in his letter. Last week, Bloc Québécois MP André Bellavance rose in the House of Commons to argue against growing calls to ban chrysotile, a form of asbestos, implying Health Canada's new study supports his view.Both Stayner and Ogden, however, said the panel was never asked its opinion on whether a ban on any form of asbestos was appropriate, and that it was only charged with examining the relative potency of exposure to chrysotile versus other forms of asbestos, and how best to estimate the risk of cancer from exposure."I want to make the record clear that nothing in the report would argue against the sensibility of an asbestos ban in Canada or for that matter anywhere else in the world," Stayner told CBC.Canada is the only developed nation still producing asbestos, called a deadly threat by the International Labour Organization, the World Health Organization, the International Association for Cancer Research and many more health agencies. The Canadian government believes asbestos is safe if handled properly and has spent nearly $20 million in the past two decades to promote exports of the mineral, almost all of it going to developing nations such as India, Indonesia and Pakistan for use in construction material." (CBC - May 26, 2008)


Update 1: For an interesting article relating to the lingering impact of asbestos in Canada see the long piece by Martin Mittelstaedt in the Globe and Mail: " Dying for a Living; In Sarnia, Ont., Former Workers with Chemicals and Asbestos are Enduring a slow-motion Bhopal. People are Afflicted with Rare Cancers at a Rate Nearly 35 per cent Higher than the Provincial Average. It may be the Worst Outbreak of Industrial Disease in Recent Canadian History," Saturday, March 13, 2004, p.F!.


The subject of asbestos has been a "timely topic" for over a quarter of a century, but in recent years other egregious business-related subjects have relegated the legal and health issues associated with asbestos to the back pages. Still, the issue is a major and costly one. It is estimated that in the U.S. alone, the costs associated with asbestos exposure could range from $200 to $275 Billion. A recent Rand study reported that 600,000 people in the U.S. have filed claims for compensation for asbestos-related problems costing U.S. businesses $54 Billion by 2000. Many companies have declared bankruptcy because of the issue and a list of over 50 of them is provided below. As well, approximately 2,000 people per year die in the U.S. from mesothelioma, the signature disease associated with asbestos. The purpose of this brief report is to direct you quickly to studies that will clarify the issues and arguments that surround this mineral of which Canada is a major producer.

There were many stories in the news during 2003 since Senator Orrin Hatch introduced legislation that was intended to reduce the burden asbestos litigation is imposing on the U.S. court system. The proposed legislation calls for a $108 Billion trust fund that would compensate victims. Rand has produced studies that are very useful for background: Asbestos Litigation Costs and Compensation: An Interim Report (2002) ; The Debate Over Jury Performance: Observations from a Recent Asbestos Case (1987); Asbestos in the Courts: The Challenge of Mass Toxic Torts (1985);Variation in Asbestos Litigation Compensation and Expenses (1984). See also the very helpful report produced by the American Academy of Actuaries: Overview of Asbestos Issues and Trends (Public Policy Monograph, Dec. 2001). An early, but influential book on the subject was provided by the New Yorker writer Paul Brodeur: Outrageous Misconduct: The Asbestos Industry on Trial (1985). For two reviews of that book see: "Asbestos Hazards and Laws," by Jock Ferguson in The Globe and Mail (Jan. 25, 1986) and "17,000 Plaintiffs" by Erik Eckholm in The New York Times (Nov. 24, 1985 - both these articles are available electronically to members of the UWO community). Current articles are easy to find using a variety of electronic databases. Two older bibliographies that are useful: Asbestos Litigation in the United States: A Brief Overview and Asbestos: A Selected Bibliography of Journal Articles. For your convenience, provided below are: 1) Selected Canadian articles; 2) an older profile of Asbestos Corporation Ltd. and a list of 3) asbestos-related bankruptcies. This list was taken from the American Academy of Acturaries monograph noted above.


Selected Canadian Articles

Sean Van Zyl, "Danger: Asbestos Exposures", Canadian Underwriter, 69 (9), Sep 2002: (4 pp.).

Katherine Macklem, "Asbestos Fallout". Maclean's, 115 (28), Jul 15, 2002: (3 pp.).

Anonymous. "Asbesto Miners want Benefit of the Doubt" . Oh & S Canada, 18 (5), Jul/Aug 2002: (1 pp.).

William M Glenn. "What's Killing Canadian Workers?". Oh & S Canada, 18 (5), Jul/Aug 2002: (1 pp.).

William Glenn. "The White Plague". Oh & S Canada, 17 (1), Jan/Feb 2001: (7 pp.).

Geoff Winestock. "WTO approval of France's Asbestos Ban Hits Canada, Mollifies Environmentalists". Wall Street Journal (Eastern Edition). Jul 28, 2000.

Jennifer McLaughlin. "Compensating for the Past". Oh & S Canada, 15 (8), Dec 1999: (6 pp.)

"Letters to the editor: your Asbestos Jokes are Lacking in Mirth", Wall Street Journal (Eastern Edition) Nov 19, 1999.
By Mark Heinzl. "Comeback: an old mine's Rubbish revives a town called Asbestos". Wall Street Journal (Eastern Edition), Jul 22, 1999.

William Glenn. "Is Chrysotile safe?". Oh & S Canada, 15 (2), Mar 1999: (3 pp.).

Goad, G Pierre. "Quebec Seeks exit from involvement with Asbestos". Wall Street Journal (Eastern Edition): Jan 27, 1992.

Anonymous. "Canadian Asbestos: Export and Die?". The Economist, 304 (7517), Sep 26, 1987.

Barber, John. "A Battle to Rehabilitate Asbestos". Maclean's, 99 (29), Jul 21, 1986.

Johnson, Brian. "Tarnished 'white gold'". Maclean's, 99 (23), Jun 9, 1986.

Stoffman, Daniel. "Fear and Loathing: the SadTtale of How the Asbestos Industry Went Very, Very Wrong". Canadian Business, 57 (12), Dec 1984,: (3 pp.).

Ownership. -Thisis primarily a Canadian owned company; that is to say that of the stock issued (1,800,000 shares) approximately 85 per cent is registered in Canada, and the remaining 15 per cent is split amongst other countries. Some 92 per cent of its shareholders are Canadians. It is the world's largest independent producer of raw asbestos crudes and fibres and owns and operates four asbestos mines -the King, Beaver, British Canadian and Normandie mines, in the vicinity of Thetford Mines in the Eastern Townships of Quebec.

History. -Asbestos Corporation Limited was formed in 1925, but its antecedents date back some eighty years to 1878, at which time asbestos mining operations were commenced at what is now the King mine -one of this company's major producing properties today.
At least seventy-eight different incorporated companies have at one time or another operated the various mines now owned by the present company. The King mine was opened by the King Brothers of Quebec, originally lumber merchants who, by procuring large tracts of timberland, had the good fortune to obtain at the same time some of the finest asbestos bearing property in Canada. The King mine was sold in 1909 to a newly organized company, the Amalgamated Asbestos Corporation, which at the same time acquired the Beaver Mine -also at Thetford Mines -the Standard, Dominion, and British Canadian Mines at Black Lake, and the Fraser Mine at East Broughton. All these properties had a long, colourful history in themselves.
The Amalgamated became the Asbestos Corporation of Canada in 1912 and finally, in 1925,. -the present company, Asbestos Corporation Limited, was formed, which, in addition to acquiring the properties of Asbestos Corporation of Canada, took over the following concerns; Thetford-Vimy Ltd., Consolidated Asbestos Ltd., Asbestos Mines Ltd., Pennington Asbestos Co., Maple Leaf Asbestos Corporation, Black Lake Consolidated Asbestos Co. Ltd., and the Asbestos Fibre Co Fany, most of which were a result of earlier mergers themselves.

Employees. -Asbestos Corporation has approximately 2,000 employees, 1,600 of whom are paid on a time, or hour, basis. Of the 1,600, 1,264, or almost 65 per cent, have completed ten or more years' service, and more than 400 of them have worked for the company or its predecessors for twenty-five or more years. The overall average number of years' service is ten.

Operation. -Asbestos is ordinarily an open pit operation and at three of the company's mines, the Beaver, the British Canadian and Normandie, this method is used. At the King mine, however, an underground system of mining known as block caving was pioneered some twenty-four years ago and proved so successful that other producers employ it today.

Canadian Asbestos. -The name "asbestos" is applied indiscriminately to several classes of fibrous minerals, by far the most important of which is Chrysotile, the fine white, silky fibre produced from the Canadian mines.
Ninety per cent of the world's asbestos used in industry is of the Chrysotile variety and of this approximately 65 per cent is produced in Canada.
Chrysotile asbestos normally occurs in Serpentine rock and is usually seen in the form of irregular veins in the rock varying in thickness from as much as two or three inches down to microscopic threads. The fibre runs across the vein at right angles to it from wall to wall and generally, therefore, the length of the fibre is governed by the width of the vein and, the longer the fibre, the greater its value.

Applications. -The characteristics of Chrysotile asbestos -its fibrous structure, its resistance to fire, its strength, its imperviousness to weather and its virtual chemical inertness -lend themselves to a great variety of commercial applications in peace and war.
In the automotive industry, it is used in brake lining, clutch facings and gaskets; in construction, in combination with cement and other materials to form a great variety of fireproof and heat insulating products ranging from fire-proof shingles and sidings
for roofs and walls to such commonplace articles as pipe and boiler coverings
The importance of asbestos fibre in a defence economy can hardly be overemphasized. It is used directly in the manufacture of many war materials and indirectly in products which replace vital iron and steel. For example asbestos fibre spun into yarn and woven into cloth is widely used by navies for lagging on high temperature steam pipes; asbestos roving provides the insulation for navy cable; asbestos cement ship partitions, light in weight and fireproof, replace steel in the construction of compartments in warships.
Asbestos is sold by the short ton and is shipped in jute or paper bags. Moreover, there is scarcely an industrial country to which Asbestos Corporation has not shipped asbestos at one time or another. The company is first and foremost an exporter and proud of the part it plays in helping Canada maintain a favourable balance of trade with the other nations of the world.

Administration -Many prominent figures in the industry have been connected with the Asbestos Corporation Limited since its organization in 1925; among these is Lt. Col. J.G. Ross, a former general manager and now a director of the company, who is the recognized authority on asbestos in Canada today. Previous presidents of the corporation include such well-known men as the late W.G. Ross of Montreal, the late Lt. Col. R.F. Massie of Toronto and the late R.W. Steele of Montreal.
The directors of the company are: W.A. Arbuckle, Paul Bienvenu, Kenneth, T. Dawes, J.E.L. Duquet, Q.C., G.F. Jenkins, F.E. Notebaert, J.A. Marcotte. A.L. Pen hale, Lt. Col. J.G. Ross and U.P. Thornhill.
The officers are: A.L. Penhale, president and managing director; K.T. Dawes, vice-president; G.F. Jenkins, general manager, I.C. Campbell, secretary and assistant treasurer; P. Payeur, treasurer.

Address -Room 522, Canada Cement Building, 610 Cathcart Street, Montreal. Quebec Mines and general office: Thetford Mines, Quebec.
[ this is an older profile that was scanned from a source we are attempting to identify]

Asbestos Defendants Declaring Bankruptcy

Eastco Industrial Safety Corporation 2001
Federal Mogul 2001
G-I Holdings 2001
Skinner Engine Company 2001
U.S. Gypsum 2001
U.S. Mineral 2001
Washington Group International 2001
W.R. Grace 2001
Armstrong World Industries 2000
Babcock & Wilcox 2000
Burns & Roe Enterprises 2000
E.J.Bartells 2000
Owens Corning Fiberglas 2000
Pittsburgh Corning 2000
Joy Technologies 1999
Rutland Fire & Clay 1999
Atlas Corporation 1998
Brunswick Fabrications 1998
Fuller-Austin Insulation 1998
M.H. Detrick 1998
SGL Carbon 1998
Rock Wool Manufacturing 1996
Lykes Brothers Steamship 1995
American Shipbuilding 1993
Baldwin Ehret Hill 1993
Cassiar Mines 1992
Keene Corp. 1992
Kentile Floors 1992
Eagle Picher Industries 1991
H.K. Porter Co. 1991
Celotex 1990
National Gypsum 1990
Standard Asbestos Manuf. & Insulation 1990
Delaware Insulations 1989
Hillsborough Holdings 1989
Raytech Corporation 1989
Gatke Corp. 1987
Nicolet 1987
Todd Shipyards 1987
Pacor 1986
Prudential Lines 1986
Standard Insulations Inc. 1986
United States Lines 1986
Forty-Eight Insulations 1985
Wallace & Gale 1984
Waterman Steamship Corp. 1983
Amatex Corporation 1982
Johns-Manville 1982
UNR Industries 1982
North American Asbestos Corporation 1976
Continental Producers Corporation  
Powhatan Mining Company  

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