Promoting Asbestos? Canadian Red Cross Board Behavior Raises Red Flags

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January 17, 2012; Source: Montreal Gazette | Sometimes, nonprofit boards can be a bit obtuse. In Montreal, former Canadian Red Cross board member Roshi Chadha recently resigned. Chadha is an executive of a subsidiary of Balcorp, and the president of Balcorp is Chadha’s husband. Balcorp has been reviving Quebec’s asbestos industry by exporting asbestos, mined from an open pit in Quebec, to India.

Most readers are aware of the health impacts of asbestos, which include lung cancer and mesothelioma. Not surprisingly, given the health and humanitarian image of the Red Cross in Canada and internationally, health advocates have protested the presence of an asbestos promoter on the Red Cross board.

Prior to her resignation, the Red Cross board stood by Chadha, and the Red Cross’s national director for public affairs and government relations, Pam Aung Thin, defended her as a “valued member” of the organization’s governing body, while saying that Chadha would remain but would not stand for reelection to the board when her term expired in June. The board previously expressed its need for Chadha’s board organization skills.

The board’s display of an organizational tin ear provoked at least one board member, Peter Robinson from the David Suzuki Foundation, to quit. The Montreal Gazette quoted one Red Cross volunteer who said she wouldn’t return to the organization, given that her father died of mesothelioma. Finally, Chadha has decided to resign from the board immediately even though her term still had months to go. 

Explain the Red Cross’s behavior, please. Asbestos is a fully documented danger to people’s health. Balcorp is doing open-pit mining in Quebec, which Americans know is a life- and community-destroying activity from the tragedy of Libby, Mont. Balcorp is exporting the asbestos for use in developing nations, which seems likely to expose the people in those countries to the carcinogenic effect of asbestos fibers. But an asbestos promoter sat on the Red Cross board, which then defended her when challenged by anti-asbestos campaigners? Why would a health/humanitarian organization maintain someone who is associated with promoting a documented health danger on its board? –Rick Cohen

  • RS

    Yikes. Not sure I’m surprised, but I’m certainly appalled. So lung cancer and mesothelioma is justifiable when standing in the way of corporate progess in the developed world? A pox upon thee! Whomever put forth that feeble argument needs to shake their head. Out with the entire board, I say.

  • David Warlick

    Yikes, where is the scientific evidence to support Rick’s assertions? Perhaps unlike Rick, I’ve been to a Canadian asbestos mine. Yes, that Quebec mine was huge and open pit. But the Canadian miners are not dying.

    The danger of asbestos is that it compounds the problems of smoking tobacco. If you don’t smoke, asbestos is NOT a serious health matter. When I visited, the managers had chunks of blue asbestos (the worst kind) on their desks as paperweights. In “humor,” they picked up a piece and blew a plume of fibers at me. It did scare me, but I’m still kicking a decade later.

    You should see the manufacturing plant (which concentrates, sorts, and bags the raw asbestos fibers). The football-field-size plant is more spotless than your house. Almost no humans are in an asbestos plant. If you do want to enter, you have to begin in a decompression chamber, because the plant has a negative atmosphere (all air leakage flows into the plant). There were approximately 100,000 filters absorbing any dust (a single asbestos filter looks much like a fat, canvas, fire hose suspended from ceiling to floor.) Again, the interior was spotless, even though asbestos itself should be dusty without the filters and negative air pressure. I walked throughout the plant (representing the U.S. Dept of Defense, which previously stockpiled asbestos. The Canadians purchased entire warehouses of DoD chrysotile to supplement their mining as the Canadians shifted their mining equipment to a new pit).

    Lastly, you have to go to Japan. People live very close together there, and they burn kerosene space heaters at night. The danger of fire is immense. Solution? The Japanese build their housing with asbestos panels to protect themselves from fires. That is, whatever you may have heard about the dangers of asbestos to smokers, there is no substitute for asbestos building materials in dense communities, particularly communities where residents heat themselves with live fires. And in the U.S., your tap water is probably flowing through asbestos-concrete pipes.

  • Linda Reinstein

    Thank you, Rick! As non-profits, our individual and collective efforts make our world a better place, or at least should in principle. For more than 100 years, asbestos has been known to cause deadly disease, yet the propaganda and rhetoric continues from the asbestos industry.

    History is a great teacher to those who listen; however, North American lawmakers need to protect public health based on the facts from The World Health Organization, International Labour Organization, and Environmental Protections Agency

  • Johnathan Mercer

    I am really appreciative of this article. I don’t know why we think we can risk human health for a profit. I am glad to see that there is a movement to end this senseless act. The worst part is people are very unaware of what asbestos can do to the human body. Mesothelioma is a form of lung cancer caused by asbestos exposure, and it really is turning into an epidemic.

    I encourage every read here and become more informed about this substance. It is a great resource for those who aren’t familiar with this substance.

  • Blake Trent

    Wow, even the Red Cross is behind it! Thank you for posting this; very informative! I’ve been trying to figure out why we are still importing tons of toxic chemicals like asbestos and exposing ourselves to these unnecessary carcinogens. We need to get a COMPLETE BAN. I fear that our children will still be dealing with the effects of toxic and carcinogenic chemicals 50 years from now. They recently found asbestos in school science kits!!