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SARNIA—Chantale De Paepe is getting married this Saturday. Her day is packed with hair, makeup, and a memorial asbestos walk. Her dad, Vince, died of mesothelioma this summer.
“Here in Toronto, people are like, ‘What’s that? I’ve never heard of it,” the 28-year-old said. But the rare form of cancer is well known in Sarnia, where De Paepe is from.
For decades, the small city has been synonymous with chemical production and oil refineries, with a concentration of companies doing business in an area dubbed “Chemical Valley” by locals. In the 1950s, ’60s and ’70s, the pipes that snaked through the valley were insulated with asbestos.
In the last decade, an alarming number of men and women in the area have died of asbestos-related cancers, which have latency periods of 20 to 40 years. Since 1999, 105 people with mesothelioma have come through the local Occupational Health Clinic for Ontario Workers. Only two are still alive.
In the three months it took him to die, De Paepe’s 60-year-old father would climb four stairs and “lose his breath” for the next hour.
“It ripped him apart from the inside,” she said.
De Paepe thought about a spring wedding, but her father disagreed.
“He said, ‘Please do it later, it’ll be fine,’” she said. “It never was.”
So Saturday, Oct. 1, will be her big day. But it’s also Baljit Chadha’s day.
He is hoping to pull together enough financing to revitalize one of the last two asbestos mines in Canada — the Jeffrey Mine in central Quebec. His deadline, imposed by the Quebec government, is Saturday.
Asbestos is used sparingly in North America, but a burgeoning market for the mineral exists in the developing world, where it is mixed with cement to create inexpensive fireproof rooftops.
For Chadha, it’s a good investment and one he believes is safe.
The people who are sick are from the past, when asbestos was more prolific in its loose and unsafe form, he says. Chadha says the asbestos will be used in products where it is encased in other materials, like concrete. He also won’t sell to mom-and-pop operations, and every buyer will be monitored for safety, he says.
“We felt after doing certain investigation and soul searching that, yes, it can be used safely,” he said.
Chadha had a tough week trying to convince his critics that asbestos is safe.
“Personally they have dedicated themselves to work against asbestos. I do not know why, it’s a free world,” he said.
In addition to activists and NDP MP Pat Martin, a good chunk of the city of Sarnia takes personal offence to Chadha’s plans. The city isn’t an activist hotbed famous for sweeping acts of protest. As far as Mayor Mike Bradley can remember, the last big one was a protest against the atom bomb that shut down the Blue Water Bridge — some 40 years ago.
But people here — especially the bereaved — are mad.
For the rest of this article, please go to the Toronto Star website: http://www.thestar.com/news/canada/article/1062828–sarnia-rallies-against-asbestos