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The asbestos industry: cleaning up its act

The needle-like fibres seemed like nature's perfect gift. Fireproof, indestructible and cheap, from the 1940s to the 1970s, asbestos was everywhere. It was woven into clothes, used to insulate buildings and even mixed with water as children's play dough. That was before studies linked asbestos dust with cancer and lung disease. Authorities now say asbestos, when handled properly, poses little risk. But nagging concerns, highlighted by the plight of the asbestos miners, have resulted in a shrivelling industry.

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"Asbestos is a patsy," Bob Hutcheson, president of Johns-Manville Canada tells CBC Television. "It has already a manufactured bad name... it's just a dandy. We are trying desperately to fight public opinion." The asbestos industry, backed by the Canadian government, spends millions on research and fighting what looks like a possible global ban on asbestos. Health Canada says chrysotile (white asbestos), the only asbestos that's now mined on a large scale, is not dangerous when handled properly.

Authorities say asbestos-related diseases are caused by amphibole (blue, brown asbestos) which is banned in most countries including Canada.
Health Canada and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency say that undisturbed asbestos-containing materials generally don't pose a health risk. It's only when the asbestos is disturbed and the dust is emitted in the air that it becomes dangerous.
• In 1982, Manville Corporation (formerly Johns Manville Corporation) filed for "re-organization and protection" under chapter 11 of the U.S. bankruptcy laws. The world's largest asbestos company was imploding under health-related lawsuits. According to a CBC Television report from that year, the corporation had settled 16,000 lawsuits at an average of $40,000 per settlement by 1982 but were expecting 32,000 more.

• Johns Manville Corporation currently manufactures building and specialty products such as fibreglass.
• Canada is the world's top exporter of white asbestos (chrysotile).
• Asbestos is widely used in construction materials, such as roofing shingles, pipe insulation, and ceiling tiles. It's also commonly found in brake linings and pads.
Medium: Television
Program: Sunday Evening News
Broadcast Date: Sept. 21, 1980
Guest(s): Jerry Doucet, Bob Hutcheson, Lloyd Rockett
Host: George McLean
Reporter: Tom Kennedy
Duration: 6:11

Last updated: April 22, 2013

Page consulted on June 17, 2014

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