Friday, May 01, 2009

Ignatieff on Asbestos Still a Health Hazard

The Tyee points out Michael Ignatieff's latest attempt to weasel his way out of his earlier reversal on asbestos. But all indications are that Ignatieff is still looking for excuses to change the subject from Canada's continued production and export of a hazardous product:
What does he think now?

“The complication in the issue is simply chrysotile asbestos in the Eastern Townships of Quebec,” he said. “I've had strong representations since I said what I said, which has been my basic position, that there is a form of chrysotile asbestos that is not as harmful as other forms.”

Whether that's true is a matter of science, not opinion, he said. “The issue is whether that is factually correct or not. The government has a study on chrysotile asbestos they have not released. They should release that and then we can resolve this once and for all.”

He added, “It doesn't substantially alter what I said in Victoria. It simply says on that issue we need further scientific clarification.”

If it is harmful, he said, it should not be exported or produced. “No country, certainly not Canada should export materials that are known to be harmful. Nor should we produce them.”
Of course, there are a couple of major problems with that position. First, Ignatieff didn't seem to have much interest at all in the study - or the subject generally - until he first got himself in trouble. Which gives him little credibility in now trying to put the focus on whether and how this particular study is released.

But more importantly, even if the full study hasn't been released publicly, its main findings have been reported. And they couldn't be much more clear in reaching a conclusion on exactly the question which Ignatieff is looking to paint as unresolved:
For more than a year, Health Canada held onto a report by a panel of international experts that concludes there is a "strong relationship" between lung cancer and chrysotile asbestos mined in Canada.

While the panel found the relationship between chrysotile asbestos and the rare of form of cancer mesothelioma "much less certain," there is a "strong relationship of exposure with lung cancer," panel chairman Trevor Ogden wrote in the newly released introductory letter to the report...

In an interview, panelist Leslie Stayner, director of epidemiology and biostatistics at the University of Illinois School of Public Health, said while the panel agreed the link between exposure to amphibole asbestos -- another form of the mineral -- and mesothelioma was stronger than chrysotile asbestos, the experts couldn't agree about the actual degree of that difference.

"The most important thing is what it doesn't say, which is some people have alleged it would say. What it doesn't say is that exposure to chrysotile asbestos is safe," said Stayner.

"I think the bottom line here is that all forms of asbestos cause both mesothelioma and lung cancer. We will probably for many years still be debating this question of relative hazard of chrysotile. The fundamental question of whether it's hazardous or not is clear. I think the answer to that is, yes, chrysotile is a hazardous substance.
In other words, even while professing to believe that Canada shouldn't be exporting hazardous substances, Ignatieff is going out of his way to ignore the findings of exactly the study which he says should be the final word as to whether or not chrysotile asbestos falls into that category.

Mind you, it's hard to see how that position helps the Libs in the long run. At most, it deflects a small amount of current attention toward the Cons on an issue where the Libs haven't historically done anything differently. And Ignatieff will have to address exactly the same findings once the full report is made public.

But the fact that Ignatieff's latest attempt to tap-dance around the issue looks to be a political failure doesn't make it any less wrong as a matter of substance. And Ignatieff's attempt to keep one foot in the denialist camp should give a strong indication of how he'll handle the issue later on.

Update: Dr. Dawg has more.

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