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Epidemiologists denounce asbestos trade

Ban all asbestos mining, export and use.

That's the demand made in a statement issued today and endorsed by over 150 organizations around the world. Organized by the Joint Policy Committee of the Societies of Epidemiology, with an initial draft dated June 4, the statement has garnered endorsements from scientific organizations and individual researchers in 20 countries around the world by July 24.

The statement calls on asbestos producing countries like Canada, Russia, Kazakhstan and Brazil to stop mining the lethal material altogether, and on countries that still allow wide spread use of asbestos, mainly in the Third World, to ban it.

The government of Quebec announced in June that it would provide a long sought and long controversial loan of $58 million to re-open the Jeffrey asbestos mine in the province, a move that will allow the mine to open and operate for another two decades.

John Aylen, a spokesman for the company re-opening the Jeffrey Mines, recently argued the economic case for the government loan in the Montreal Gazette.

He said that world demand for the chrysotile asbestos mined at his operation was steadily increasing, and that the mine re-opening would represent a substantial economic benefit for the surrounding region. Aylen did not, in his opinion piece, address the health concerns regarding asbestos that are advanced by critics such as the Canadian Medical Association, the World Health Organization, the World Federation of Public Health Associations, the International Commission on Occupational Health, the International Social Security Association, the International Trade Union Confederation and the World Bank.

"Continued use of asbestos will lead to a public health disaster of asbestos-related illness and premature death for decades to come, repeating the epidemic we are witnessing today in industrialized countries that used asbestos in the past," said Dr. Stanley Weiss, chair of the Joint Policy Committee.

"The body of evidence is now so overwhelming and it was time to step up and come together as a group," Professor Colin Soskolne, past-president of the Canadian Society of Epidemiology and Biostatistics, told CBC News.

Tom Sandborn covers health policy and labour news for the Tyee. He welcomes your feedback and story tips at tos@infinet.net.

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