Monday, January 23, 2012

Waking up from an asbestos nightmare

read full article at The Montreal Gazette
Asbestos was an economic dream for Quebec for more than a century; the towns of Thetford and Asbestos grew around the mines rather than vice versa. Quebec companies also produced brake pads, textiles, paper and concrete pipes made with asbestos, employing thousands of workers.

But the dream began to morph into a nightmare in the 1960s when medical science revealed much higher cancer rates among mine workers in Thetford Mines than in the general population. The world learned that when asbestos dust is breathed in, the tiny fibres become lodged in lung tissues and other internal organs, where they remain. Then, decades later, came news that those fibres can cause fatal diseases, like asbestosis, mesothelioma, lung cancer and other forms of cancer.

Today, exposure to asbestos is the single biggest cause of work-related deaths in Quebec. In 2009, more than half of the deaths compensated by the Quebec Workers Compensation Board - 102 of 185 - were a result of asbestos exposure. Higher death tolls are expected in the future because it can take decades (after exposure) for fatal asbestos-related diseases such as asbestosis and mesothelioma to develop.

While rules for protection of asbestos miners are much more stringent now, workers here and abroad continue to be exposed to asbestos dust when buildings are demolished or renovated, or when work is done on roads, water pipes and other infrastructure that has been reinforced with asbestos, or when natural disasters or terrorist attacks cause buildings to collapse.

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