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November 27, 2011

Health Canada unhealthy for Canadians

Scott Stockdale

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While most of the developed world has banned the export of asbestos and put restrictions on the use of wireless devices due to health concerns, the Canadian government has done nothing to protect people's health.

Despite years of warnings from doctors, environmentalists, unions, even Health Canada, about the deadly impact of asbestos, Ottawa recently opposed listing chrysotile asbestos on the United Nations’ list of dangerous materials.

This year, at a summit in Switzerland to discuss the Rotterdam Convention - a UN treaty on the international trading of hazardous substances — Canadian officials quietly blocked the inclusion of asbestos on the list of dangerous materials, joining such countries as Vietnam, Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan.

Because the World Health Organization calls it “one of the most serious occupational carcinogens” and notes that it’s a factor in 90,000 deaths each year, it is no surprise that Canadian companies, schools and homeowners have removed asbestos from their structures. However, we keep selling more than $100 million of it each year to countries such as India and Indonesia, where it is used in the manufacture of cement and auto parts.

Moreover, the Canadian government's complicity in the export of a known carcinogen is more extensive than it at first appears.  According to federal government documents obtained through access to information requests, asbestos prices are kept artificially high in order to keep Canada in business. The documents, quoted in the Globe & Mail, claim that other asbestos exporting countries could undercut Canada, but allow the Canadian industry to survive for its "leadership and credibility in promoting the safe use of chrysotile."

The federal government gives the Chrysotile Institute, the industry's lobby group, $250,000 in public funds every year to promote the sale of asbestos and its "controlled use." More than $20 million has been handed to the institute since 1984.

Simultaneously, the Canadian government has been using Canada's credibility to protect and promote the asbestos trade. In 1999 it lost a challenge of France's ban on asbestos and asbestos-containing products at the World Trade Organization and then lost again on appeal.

But seven years later, the Canadian government continued to fight for the right to export a known carcinogen, standing alone in the developed world. At the international Strategic Approach to Integrated Chemicals Management negotiations, Canada made the protection of asbestos exportation its main priority. Adopted in 2006, the agreement called for the phasing out of harmful chemicals by the year 2020. The Canadian delegation didn't think this should apply to asbestos. The Natural Resources Canada lawyer appointed to the delegation had a mission to protect Canada's chrysotile exports. Even American delegates shook their heads at Canada's stubborn defence of asbestos.

In 2008, Canada also blocked the listing of chrysotile asbestos under the Rotterdam Convention, which only requires exporting countries to notify importing countries when a potentially dangerous substance is being sold to them. Canadian officials teamed up with other exporting and importing countries to prevent even that toothless measure.

Meanwhile, despite a World Health Organization (WHO) panel having concluded that cell phones are “possibly carcinogenic,” putting them in the same category as the pesticide DDT, gasoline engine exhaust, coffee, and certain dry-cleaning chemicals, Canada has no restrictions on their use, even for children.

The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) - an arm of the World Health Organization – after reviewing dozens of published studies that focused on the health effects of radio frequency magnetic fields emitted by cell phones – said there is a 40% increased risk for glioma – a type of brain tumour - for those using a cell phone for 30 minutes a day, over a 10 year period.

Health Canada, the government health ministry, maintains that there has been no conclusive study on radio frequency energy from cell phones affecting the human body’s genetic material. As a result, it has steered clear of issuing any public warnings against the use of cell phones.

The UK government and the country’s private sector have been proactive in limiting the use of mobile phones. In January 2005, after five years of first warnings against use of mobile phones by children, National Radiological Protection Board (NRPB) — the UK statutory body providing research and advice on protecting people from radiation hazards — reiterated that children should not use mobile phones.

Yet Health Canada says there is no possibility of danger from radio frequency microwave radiation.

Currently, Health Canada maintains that 1000 mw/cm2 (microwatts per centimetre squared) is a safe exposure level for public places. So why has Russia set its safety level at 10 mw/cm2 and many European countries have set their microwave radiation safety levels at .10 mw/cm2?

Regarding wireless computers, when you take a look at what’s happening in other countries, you have to wonder why Health Canada is doing nothing.

• Germany warns citizens to avoid Wi-Fi due to health risks – September 2007

• Russian Radiation Protection Agency gives urgent warning to defend children’s health from RF/MW – April 2008

• Five public libraries in Paris shut down Wi-Fi due to health concerns – May 2008

• European Parliament votes to bring in stricter radiation limits – September 2008

• City of Herouville St. Clair, France removes Wi-Fi from primary schools due to health risks – April 2009

• Teachers in UK call for immediate dismantling of Wi-Fi in schools due to health risks – April 2009

• Sorbonne University, Paris passes moratorium on Wi-Fi – May 2009

• Los Angeles School District votes unanimously to protect children from ELF and RF/MW – May 2009

• Israeli Minister of Environment gives public warning on radiation emitting devices including Wi-Fi – July 2009

If the Health Canada standards are so accurate and reliable, then why so many other countries banned or warned against Wi-Fi after recognizing that it is indeed a serious health hazard?

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