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Asbestos, Quebec: The most dangerous town in Canada

The Story

Canada's honeymoon with the magic mineral comes to a dramatic end as more and more studies link asbestos to killer diseases such as lung cancer, asbestosis (scarring of the lungs) and mesothelioma (cancer of the stomach and chest). As you hear in this CBC Radio clip, patients suffering from asbestos-related illnesses experience shortness of breath, extreme fatigue and persistent coughing often excreting blood. The indestructible nature of asbestos means it is impossible for the body to break it down once inhaled. Asbestos dust gradually leads to severe scarring of the lungs and in many cases premature death due to asbestos-related diseases. In the fall of 1974, American Dr. Irving J. Selikoff, the world's foremost authority on asbestos-related diseases, examines the workers at Thetford Mines, Quebec. Dr. Selikoff and his team of eight doctors describe the conditions at Thetford Mines as the worst in North America. The doctors say it is "suicide" to live in Thetford Mines and that the whole town is full of "very sick people." They are shocked at the poor working conditions which provide no protection from the dense cloud of deadly asbestos dust. "It's almost as if they're committing a genocide," says one doctor.

Medium: Radio
Program: As It Happens
Broadcast Date: March 3, 1975
Guest(s): Paul Brodeur, Susan M. Daum, Paul Formby, Donald Haigh
Host: Barbara Frum, Alan Maitland
Duration: 27:14

Did You know?

• Asbestos-related illnesses have been known since the beginning of time. Records show slaves who wove asbestos into clothing became ill and died from what was simply called "breathing sickness."

• American Dr. Irving Selikoff first made the link between asbestos and fatal diseases in 1954. After tracking 18 asbestos workers for 15 years, Dr. Selikoff discovered that 12 of the 18 miners had died of asbestosis or cancer.

• Thetford Mines, Quebec, was the site of Canada's first asbestos mine. It opened in 1879.

• The 1949 Asbestos Strike, one of the nastiest strikes in Quebec history, took place in Thetford Mines. Back then a young activist named Pierre Elliott Trudeau successfully fought alongside miners for better working conditions. Trudeau later became the prime minister of Canada in 1968.


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