Most countries ban asbestos after the external costs of mining and manufacture begin to affect the profitability of the industry. Health-related costs, if borne by the asbestos industry, are far higher than the return on sales. Such costs include proper warnings, stringent hygiene measures to prevent occupational and environmental exposures, and full treatment and compensation to those who develop asbestos-related diseases. Migration of the industry to developing countries allows companies to continue to make a profit in the manufacture and sale of asbestos products. The low cost of mining and manufacture in developing countries gives the asbestos industry an unfair advantage in the marketplace when competing against safer substitute materials. Developing countries increasingly bear the externalized costs of an epidemic of disease and pollution from asbestos, costs that should be borne by the asbestos industry and reflected in the prices of asbestos products.

One country has made a particularly shameful contribution to future generations of asbestos disease. Canada has used its full influence in international organizations to protect its export market for asbestos, and Canada has aggressively promoted the use of asbestos in developing countries. Leading scientists such as Irving Selikoff have called on Canada since the 1970s to close the asbestos mines and pension off the workers (now estimated at around 1,500 in all of Canada) rather than continue exporting virtually all the asbestos mined to poor countries. With the asbestos multinational corporations gone, the government of Canada stands out as the most powerful opponent of national and international efforts to ban asbestos around the world. The sacrifice of honor and principle is harmful to the international reputation of Canada, and the people of Canada should demand a higher standard of their government on the world stage.

The export of asbestos mining and manufacture to developing countries provides an opportunity to continue the use of asbestos products and propagates asbestos exposures in areas that do not recognize and report health effects. The asbestos cancer epidemic will have no end until this shameful practice stops. The WHO and the ILO, along with many other public health agencies, need to step forward with a clear demand for an international ban on asbestos and plans to accomplish the goal.

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