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"Ored to Death" - The Daily Show Takes on the Canadian Asbestos Industry

Marilyn BertrandIn a recent blog we addressed efforts on the part of mining interests, with support from the Canadian government, to re-open the world’s largest asbestos mine in the city of Asbestos, Quebec. Although the sale of asbestos is prohibited in Canada, the consortium plans to sell the deadly fiber to India and other developing countries.

This story also caught the attention of Comedy Central Network’s “ Daily Show”, hosted by Jon Stewart. In this segment which aired on May 12, correspondent Asif Mandvi visits the town of Asbestos and interviews mine and city officials who ridiculously adhere to the position that the chrysotile fiber removed from the mine is “relatively” safe despite the weight of scientific evidence to the contrary.

Mandvi manages to maintain his comedic shtick during an interview with mine owner Bernard Coulumbe up to the point where Mr. Coulumbe states that it’s ok to sell asbestos to India because “they are used to pollution.” At which point Mandvi, who is Indian, breaks character and exclaims: “that’s really f***ed up…selling them things that are going to kill them…that’s my family over there!”

The callous statements from the Canadian mine and city officials interviewed by Mandvi remind us of a 1998 exchange between Roger Worthington and University of Quebec Occupational Hygienist, Dr. Bruce Case. The exchange was precipitated by an article The Serpent in the Rock” authored by Mr. Worthington about a woman named Marilyn Bertrand who was diagnosed with mesothelioma at the age of 42. Marilyn recalled sleeping with a “furry” asbestos rock that she would snuggle with in her bed at night as a child. The asbestos rock was given to her by her brother who worked at a Quebec asbestos mine.

In response to the article, Dr. Chase felt compelled to send Mr. Worthington a letter defending the Quebec asbestos mines from what he termed “false allegations” concerning the link between mesothelioma and the chrysotile fiber mined from the Quebec asbestos mines. Dr. Chase went so far as to warn Mr. Worthington: “I strongly suggest, for your own protection, that you remove this page from your site.” Click here to see the full dialogue, which includes Mr. Worthington’s recounting of the history of U.S. and Canadian asbestos companies’ efforts to cover up and suppress medical data on the health dangers of asbestos.

We applaud Assif Mandvi and the Daily Show for bringing public attention to the latest chapter in the Canadian asbestos industry’s deadly charade.

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