Saskatoon StarPhoenix

Report links asbestos, lung cancer

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OTTAWA — Health Canada sat for more than a year on a report by a panel of internatio­nal experts that concludes there is a “strong relationsh­ip” between lung cancer and chrysotile asbestos mined in Canada.

Health Canada received the report in March 2008, resisting calls from the panel chair to release the findings despite his plea last fall that the delay was “an annoying piece of needless government secrecy.”

Canwest News Service obtained the report under Access to Informatio­n legislatio­n, but the request took more than 10 months to process.

While the panel found the relationsh­ip between chrysotile asbestos and the rare of form of cancer mesothelio­ma “much less certain,” there is a “strong relationsh­ip of exposure with lung cancer,” panel chair Trevor Ogden wrote in the newly released introducto­ry letter to the report.

Ogden, editor-in-chief of The Annals of Occupation­al Hygiene and based in Britain, also noted the panel was comprised of members “who in the past have expressed strongly opposed views on this subject.” They included industry consultant David Bernstein, previously retained by asbestos producer Union Carbide Corp. and Canadian and California asbestos mining companies.

All panellists signed the consensus statement, but two experts attached reservatio­ns highlighti­ng a few concerns, including the “likelihood that risk may not be detectable at modern Canadian exposure levels.”

The release of the report has reignited the debate about the future of the asbestos industry in Canada, a particular­ly divisive issue in Quebec, where the industry is concentrat­ed.

Pat Martin, the New Democrat MP who has long championed a ban of asbestos exports, said the conclusion­s of the expert panel should propel government to take action.

“It makes our case. The reality is we’re at a tipping point. The jig is up for the asbestos industry,” said Martin, who worked in a Yukon asbestos mine as a young man without being warned of the health risks.

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