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Oil and asbestos: Canada’s stance a global embarrassment

Canada is an environmental embarrassment now that it’s become the first country to renounce the Kyoto Protocol against global warming. As comedian Stephen Colbert said recently, our country will soon be known as “the Great Grey North.” And why? Because prime minister Stephen Harper, an entrenched lover of Canadian crude, is determined to expand Alberta’s tar sands and extend their reach via pipelines within and beyond our borders.


The tar sands currently produce 1.5 million barrels a day – the third-highest rate after Saudi Arabia and Venezuela. (To see how the tar sands’ tailing ponds are damaging nearby waters, lands, and the livelihood of First Nations communities downriver, see the documentary White Water, Black Gold.)


Canada is the number one producer of oil to the United States. Despite the spectre of peak-oil predictions, Canada expects to more than double its oil production by 2025. The Canadian government shows no concern about not meeting its targets for greenhouse gas emissions, as defined by the Kyoto Accord; it faced $14 billion in penalties under this agreement.


Canada’s stance on asbestos is equally disgraceful. Harper’s government refuses to list asbestos as a hazardous substance under the UN Rotterdam Convention. Yet, exposure to asbestos has been proven to be the the single largest contributor to work-related cancers (100,000 to 140,000 deaths annually worldwide). The World Health Organization estimates that between 5 and 10 million people will die from asbestos-related diseases, according to grassroots media site The Dominion.

The world health community has denounced Canada for taking its position regarding asbestos. Yet, its production and related cancers continue. That’s the human cost of operating the country’s only asbestos mine in – where else? – Asbestos, Quebec.

What can we do? Speak out. Educate yourself on the issues. Write a letter to Stephen Harper and your local MP. Be aware of how your life choices affect greenhouse gas emissions. Make a commitment to reduce your carbon footprint, using a specific percentage and a target date. Join an environmental group that strives to prevent the expansion of the tar sands and the construction of oil pipelines. Donate to these groups.

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December 18, 2011 at 12:48 pm
  • December 18, 2011 at 8:11 pmFrank L. McElroy

    Click here to find out more!

    Hydro project approval threatens steelhead and salmon habitat

    By Poul Bech, Vancouver Sun December 17, 2011

    Photos ( 1 )

    The habitat for the steelhead rainbow trout, is under threat due to plans by a private power project to divert the Kokish River into a pipe.

    The habitat for the steelhead rainbow trout, is under threat due to plans by a private power project to divert the Kokish River into a pipe.
    Photograph by: McClatchy Newspapers, Vancouver Sun

    For the first time, the B.C. government has approved a run-ofriver power project that diverts water from salmon or steelhead habitat. It means that no wild river in B.C. is safe from diversion and industrialization, regardless of its value to fish and wildlife.

    The Kokish River is a small, wild stream on northern Vancouver Island. It cascades from Ida Lake through a steep white-water canyon to the ocean at Beaver Cove near Port McNeill.

    This 10-kilometre long stream is home to a rare population of wild summer-run steelhead – seagoing rainbow trout that migrate to the ocean at a young age and return to their river as salmon-sized adults one to three years later.

    Summer-run steelhead are usually found in streams that are so steep and fast that cold-blooded fish can’t ascend them in the winter because the water is too cold to allow for the necessary high leaps. Only three streams on the east coast of Vancouver Island still have reasonably healthy runs of wild summer-run steelhead, highly prized by anglers and an important contributor to the local tourism economy.

    The private power project approved by the province would divert much of the Kokish River into a pipe three metres in diameter and nine kilometres long. The entire length of the diversion is important rearing, spawning and migration habitat for summer-run steelhead, other trout, char and salmon.

    The project also involves construction of a diversion weir, water intake, and fish ladder just downstream of Ida Lake and a power house, switchyard, tailrace and half a kilometre of transmission line a short distance upstream of Beaver Cove.

    If the project proceeds, we anticipate at least three major, ongoing fisheries habitat impacts:

    . The amount and quality of fish habitat will be severely reduced as a result of decreased stream flow.

    . Adult fish migrating upstream will be blocked or delayed at the both the upstream water intake and the downstream tailrace, as well as in the reduced-flow diversion reach.

    . Juvenile fish migrating downstream will encounter entrainment, blockage or delay when migrating downstream by the water intake, and further delay in the reduced-flow diversion reach.

    These impacts would be very difficult and perhaps impossible to successfully mitigate. If you take large amounts of water out of an already small stream and create additional migration barriers, it’s not going to be good news for fish, despite anything the Environmental Assessment Office may tell you.

    The Capilano and Seymour Rivers in North Vancouver were once world famous for their summer-run steelhead. Water is extracted from these streams to supply domestic water for Metro Vancouver. Despite millions of dollars spent on habitat and hatchery enhancement over several decades, Capilano and Seymour summer-run steelhead are close to extinction. The lesson is that protecting habitat is the only certain way to protect salmon and steelhead.

    With the province approving, for the first time, a project that diverts water directly from salmon or steelhead habitat, the stakes are now very high. We used to think that run-of-river power would only be approved in rivers with no or minimal fish values.

    If the Kokish is not off-limits to power production, then no river in B.C. is safe.

    The provincial government would like us to view this as “green power.” It’s hard to understand how compromising a very valuable and unique fish habitat can be considered green or sustainable. Twenty years ago, no one would have predicted that today B.C. would have more run-of-river power projects than it has summer steelhead streams.

    In our quest for more power, do we really need to put the Kokish into a pipe? Let’s remember that once they’re gone, wild fish and wild rivers are gone forever.

    Poul Bech is a director of the Steelhead Society of B.C. and vice-president of the B.C. Federation of Fly Fishers. Now retired, he was a B.C Fisheries branch technician working with Steelhead from 1979 to 1997.

    In 2010, he was the recipient of the Cal Woods Memorial Conservation Award.
    © Copyright (c) The Vancouver Sun

    Read more: http://www.vancouversun.com/Hydro+project+approval+threatens+steelhead+salmon+habitat/5876898/story.html#ixzz1gwQMxEEX

  • December 18, 2011 at 8:02 pmFrank L. McElroy

    The Tar Sands are now favourites of Stephen Harper, Christy Clark, and the Republican-led Congress of the United States. All of them say that extraction of the tar is essential to a healthy economy and energy security in (a) Canada, (b) United States, and (c) wherever the oil products will eventually end up. Where those products will end up is in the hands of Big Oil, nobody else. Governments don’t sell, process, refine or deal in oil, despite the “jobs” and “security” commentary.

    Ace companies like BP are granted the license to do all of these things and reap the reward, for the big risk they are taking. What we know now, if we’ve been paying a bit of attention, is that the risk is to us, the people who are not BP, Christy Clark and Stephen Harper. For every stupid screw-up, for every spill, for every bit of mismanagement of the incredible bounty of North America, we, at the bottom, will pay the price. Because no government will make those who foster and create disaster pay the cost of it. Our system of energy delivery makes the rate payers the sponge for the disasters of others’ fortune. Want to change that? Get in line, but make it long and a hundred wide.

    Asbestos is my favorite government-protected pathogen. My uncle was big time at Johns-Manville in Quebec, and as a young child, I played with chrysotile and other types of asbestos because it was beautiful and fun, seemingly harmless. No slam on him — he was an absolutely wonderful and kind man, someone loved long after his death. And he did not know that no later than 1932, asbestos exposure had been identified as the precipitating cause of asbestosis and mesothelioma.

    The reason he didn’t know was because of an industry and government (in the U.S., not sure about Canada) coverup of the study and research. Government [was] working for an industry, which, via hundreds of companies, was spewing this deadly material all over North America. Because there were jobs for those who were building ships, insulating every house and heating system. These jobs have created jobs — asbestos abatement, endless health-care positions, and attorneys, like me.

    In 1985, I joined the law practice of the plaintiffs’ liaison in the Massachusetts Asbestos Litigation. I helped take the deposition of the definitive witness related to the use of asbestos in shipbuilding at Fore River Shipyard. He was in a gurney with all of the attachments, at a hotel ballroom in Dedham, Massachusetts. My boss was there, I was there, the witness was there, and there was a stenographer. And there were at least 175 attorneys there, who represented the creators, processors, and distributors of this deadly material. The witness answered all of the questions and he died the next day.

    That may sound dramatic, but what is moreso is that there are millions of people in North America who have been exposed to this deadly material who have no idea that they are at risk. Typically, there is a maximum period of 20 years between exposure to asbestosis and the onset of asbestosis, the most common disease result of such exposure. I can tell you that when I started working on these cases, I determined my last major exposure and calculated the time – I wasn’t out of the woods until 2000, at least for asbestosis. But then there is the darling of asbestos-caused diseases: Mesothelioma. There is no incubation period. Once diagnosed, almost nobody survives for more than six months. There is no treatment except to ease death.

    So ask yourself. What is the point of a government endorsing the activity of its industry in issuing this deadly material all over the world? Industry is making fortunes, but only because government is being what? The net is that millions of people in the third world will die of horrible deaths from respiratory disease. It sounds benign almost. One time listening to a client or friend trying to take a breath against the ravages of asbestosis or mesothelioma will tell you a different story. What does it mean for the government of Canada, which relies for protection from liability for the mayhem it may be causing upon its status as the ultimate authority?

    I believe it is shameful because although it is a defense to be the biggest power in the room, it doesn’t address the results, which are simply corporate success at the expense of real people. My boss won the only case against the U.S. Government in the asbestos litigation: Shuman v. U.S. I helped him defend the case on appeal, but the doctrine of sovereign immunity prevailed. When government protects dangerous corporate behaviour, it is immune.

    Oddly, twenty years later, a colleague of mine and I fashioned a theory which succeeded in making the sovereign liable. Of course, it was only about a flooded basement, but it drew in the assets of the Attorney General of Massachusetts for 6 years. Seems odd, doesn’t it? Our governments, which we elect, don’t really care about us, the people who work every day, or try to. It’s a lot easier to treat corporations as people (see Citizens United v. U.S.) because they make no demands other than on the public trough. Ordinary people don’t, and can’t, feed there.

    B.C. is about to grant permission for a run-of-river project on the Kokish River (northern Vancouver Island) which will be the first ROR (run-of-river) project licensed to take water directly from fish habitat (here steelhead and salmon). Please read the wonderful article below, and consider that this is a watershed moment. If this project is approved, there is precedent for destroying all streams and creeks, regardless of their import in the natural production of fish.

    One ought to pay attention to the Cohen Commission hearings on wild and farmed salmon in B.C. It is absolutely apparent, in my view, from the news, that the provincial government is creating a false impression that there is no anemic disease in wild and farmed salmon. Examination of the news reports recently shows that the government has taken a bizarre position of endorsement of fish stocks when most of the evidence points away, toward a need for further testing, much of which has already countermanded the comments of the minister.

    I am a product of Canada and the United States. I believe in honesty and responsibility in government, the same things expected us each of us. My favorite politician, Thomas P. O’Neill, once the Speaker of the House of Representatives, observed a fundamental truth: “All politics is local.” Nobody can do it for us. We need to change, if we want to, from the bottom up.

    Let’s stop bending over for the oil industry and its henchmen, let’s stop poisoning the world, and let’s stop destroying our real, living assets.

    I’m Frank L. McElroy. These are my opinions. I’m open to discussion.

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