Community Coalition Against Mining Uranium (CCAMU)
Citizens’ Inquiry on the Impacts of the Uranium Cycle
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Chemical Reform

Marion Burton, Chair
Occupational & Environmental Health Coalition – Peterborough

Thank you for the opportunity to address this citizens inquiry on the mining of uranium. I am representing the Occupational & Environmental Health Coalition – Peterborough; a coalition that includes local citizens, workers and retirees from both the private and public sector, as well as union representatives.

Fifteen years ago it was realized that there was an increase in disease in the Peterborough area. Workers and their union representatives were seeing too many of their former workmates suffering from or dying from cancers. They believed they were related to exposures of chemicals in their workplace, primarily but not limited to CGE. For the years 2000 to 2003, nine persons who reside in Peterborough County or City were identified with a diagnosis of mesothelioma. This rare and unusual tumour is associated with asbestos exposure.

In September 2005, following a call from the Peterborough and District Labour Council, thirty-two labour leaders representing all of the major unions in Peterborough met to discuss the issue of occupational disease as a public health issue in our community. It was agreed that a coalition be formed comprised of labour, community members, and environmentalists to pursue the development of a Comprehensive Occupational and Environmental Health Plan for Peterborough City and County.

I have decided not to talk to you about the dangers of uranium, I know that you have already received vast amounts of data on the harm done to all living things when uranium is mined, transported and refined in unsafe and reckless ways. Instead, I would like to focus on the goals we have established as I believe these principles, if applied to the uranium mining industry, would go a long way toward a safer and healthier environment.

Our of our key goals is to develop a comprehensive occupational and environmental health plan built on the premise that occupational and environmental health is a public health issue.

Research has shown that environmental exposures (in the broadest sense and including occupational exposures) are contributing to cancer and other diseases. A World Health Organization report (Geneva 2006) states the following:

“The evidence shows that environmental risk factors play a role in more than 80% of the diseases regularly reported by the WHO. Globally, nearly one quarter of all deaths and of the total disease burden can be attributed to the environment.”

It follows if human intervention can eliminate or reduce these exposures, these diseases in turn will be reduced.

We believe that it is part of the public health mandate to tackle occupational and environmental disease and that is what we call on them to do. (Article 11. (1) Health Protection and Promotion Act.)

Large numbers of workers are exposed to workplace toxins and the toxins don’t stop at the plant gate. As new chemicals are produced – 75,000 are in wide spread use but only 1500 have been tested – workers are the first exposed to them and are the guinea pigs of our corporate society. Of course the chemicals are not confined to the workplace but travel to our homes and out into the community.

Our communities have a right to know what chemicals exist within our neighbourhoods and what effect they can have on us. The public is not sufficiently aware of the dangers of occupational disease. There is only a minimal understanding that there are exposures and processes in the workplace that should be of concern. Neither the true extent of the issue nor the means to take action are understood by the general population.

Effective measures in the public domain, based on the application of the precautionary principle would substantially reduce and prevent those illnesses from occurring.

The Precautionary Principle states: When an activity raises threats of harm to human health or the environment, precautionary measures should be taken even if some cause and effect relationships are not fully established scientifically. This means that we need to: take action in the face of uncertainty; place the burden of proof or harm on the proponents of the activity instead of the potential victims; explore alternatives to possibly reduce harmful actions before taking action; and use democratic processes to carry out and enforce this principle.

Europe leads the world on chemical reform. The European Union is leading the world on chemical policy. REACH (The Registration, Evaluation and Authorization of Chemicals) is the new law. REACH provides the public with information about chemicals in the products we buy, including both labeling requirements and the creation of a public data base of chemical and their properties. Key features of REACH are that it requires registration and evaluation of all chemicals produced in or imported to the European Union and applies risk to both new and existing chemicals.

Not surprising, U.S. chemical giants are aggressively opposed to REACH and have lead the way to block the development of similar policies in the United States. The American Chemistry Council has funneled millions of dollars into fighting chemical reform, fearing they will be forced to spend more on proving their products are safe.

Manufacturers should have to prove their products are safe. The burden of proof (both scientific and financial) should be on the producers of chemicals to demonstrate their safety, not on government regulators to prove that they are harmful. All industrial chemicals should undergo testing and evaluation for human toxicological effects and environmental impacts.

We need to develop safer alternatives to the toxic chemicals used today in products and production processes. And we need to develop a new energy economy for Ontario, one that provides good jobs, builds economic security, and protects our environment, one that is not heavily reliant on nuclear power and the mining of uranium. We have a skilled workforce of tradespeople (many from our faltering manufacturing sector); a manufacturing sector that can make high quality products; Universities and research facilities; investors seeking opportunities.

Last week a number of us went to Toronto to hear Dr. Devra Davis, world authority on cancer and its causes. One of the points she made was: Things can be legal and immoral all at the same time. Think of slavery, handling of toxic waste, Canadian use of asbestos, throwing peaceful protesters into jail and ordering obscene fines.

Our governments have a duty to assess the risk of mining uranium and apply the Precautionary Principle to reduce the threat to human health and the environment. The burden of proof must be placed on the proponent of uranium mining and not on the potential victims. It is time for our government to do the right thing, not perpetuate immoral actions that are legal.