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A Canadian asbestos legacy in London?

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In contrast to the apparent immunity of Canadian asbestos producers, exporters, and financiers, in 2012 an Italian court sentenced two asbestos industrialists to 16 years in prison for criminal complicity in covering up the hazards of asbestos. As a result of the cover-up, thousands of workers and nearby residents of an asbestos-cement factory died from asbestos-related diseases, with deaths continuing up to the present. Perhaps a criminal conviction awaits an erstwhile Canadian asbestos magnate?

Ignoring deadly environmental toxins – a Canadian habit?

While my and my family’s brush with ancient chrysotile asbestos tiles was mercifully brief, the incident raises the issue of what other products and processes harmful to human health continue to be ignored by our government.

In British Columbia, the continued push for increased hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) in the northeast of the province, with little to no regard for water and soil contamination or human health impacts echoes the federal government’s erstwhile approach to asbestos. Just last week, The Guardian reported recent academic research on fracking in the United States that concludes:

People who live near fracking operations should be monitored for chemical contaminants and health problems, according to researchers who surveyed the risks posed by substances used in the process… many of the 750 or so chemicals that are pumped into the ground at high pressure to fracture shale rock were associated with fertility and developmental problems.

Peer reviewed science suggests that fracking chemicals can lead to acute human health problems, including damaged semen, endocrine problems, miscarriages and low birth weight, among others.

Yet in BC, almost nothing is publicly known about the type and levels of chemicals that people are exposed to as a result of fracking operations. Instead, the BC Oil and Gas Commission, alongside the federal government have resisted publishing lists of fracking chemicals, and protect those companies found to be violating provincial environmental laws from public scrutiny.

Following intense public pressure, since 2012, the BC Oil and Gas Commission has required companies to provide the Commission (not members of the public) with lists of chemicals used in the fracking process, and provides broad exemptions for substances deemed to be “trade secrets,” and does not require the publishing of any chemicals used prior to 2012.

Given the provincial government’s negligence in not taking steps to protect citizens’ health, what are we to do? David Suzuki and others suggest that one form of protection could come via a constitutional right to a healthy environment.

This would enable citizens to challenge environmental health and contamination issues on constitutional grounds, and would be a powerful tool in helping citizens to keep their environment and their bodies free of toxic substances.

Like all constitutional law-making, their project could take a while, so in the meantime, get on the phone to your MLA and the Oil and Gas Commission and demand that the government investigate the health and environmental impacts of fracking chemicals in British Columbia.

Or, if you could take inspiration from Jessica Ernst in Alberta, and sue the government regulator or not doing its job and endangering public health.

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