Lecce: our government’s priority is the safety and security of students

di Joe Volpe del February 26, 2020

TORONTO - What is the opposite of hyperbole and hysteria? It is Mr. Mc Goo and Elmer Fudd. For the unfamiliar, Mc Goo is a cartoon character whose visual impairment somehow does not turn him into a victim of the physical dangers swirling around him. Elmer Fudd is the proverbial punching bag swinging back to the boxer to receive yet punch.

Both are oblivious to the obvious. Somehow, they survive. Now they appear to have become the patron saints of the trustees and Administration at TCDSB. But good governance calls for some happy medium between alarmism and denial: Prudence, not crossing of fingers and praying for a better outcome.

For two consecutive full Board meetings the trustees have dealt with the “critical” and “urgent” need to relocate students from the Loretto Abbey High School. Twice, they succumbed to “community pressure” to defer to a different plan conjured up to diminish the perilous environmental hazards posed by potentially “friable” asbestos as remediation of the school facilities is undertaken.

Parents have called the Corriere Canadese, probably encouraged by the local Trustee, to lament that the relocation option originally offered had not taken into consideration that their daughters might be inconvenienced by the travel implications. They rejected the “better to be safe than sorry” offer posited by the Union reps whose membership voted 85% - 89% to vacate the premises. Nonetheless, “expert opinion” contained in professional studies under strict scientific methodology, suggests that the teachers and support workers are probably right.

The World Health Organization (WHO), joined by the International Labour Organization (ILO) and the United Nations Environment Programme, has called on countries throughout the world to eliminate asbestos-related cancers and diseases, including mesothelioma.

Is it “doable”? Maybe there is no other option.

Asbestos has been a prohibited (banned) product in Europe since 1999; in Italy since 1992. Why? It is not a product to be taken lightly. Between 1994 and 2010, the European Region registered 106, 180 deaths from mesothelioma and asbestosis, accounting for 60% of such deaths worldwide, according to the National Centre for Biotechnology Information (USA). Including the USA and western European counties, those numbers exceed 225,000.

The ability to track incidences of exposure and consequential disease is limited by the quality of the reporting and the participation of organizations and interested countries. In Italy, at one time the most advanced manufacturing center of asbestos-containing products (more than 3,000 consumer and construction items – including boilers for transportation and buildings), the remediation program began immediately after the banning of the product in 1992.

Several towns were effectively “shut down”. One of them, a celebrated historic centre – and major importer of Canadian raw asbestos – Casale Monferrato had 2,000 of its 40,000 inhabitants working in the plants. Twenty years later, there are still 100 new cases of asbestosis diagnosed annually.

European jurisprudence is evolving as more and more litigation reaches the Courts, notwithstanding the bankruptcy or going out of business of enterprise formerly trading in asbestos-containing products. In Britain, the average settlement is in the CDN $100,000 range. In other countries, somewhat less (50,000 euro – CDN $90,000).

In the USA, a much more litigious society, where class action suits are becoming the norm, “the sky is the limit”. The $20 Billion trust set aside here may be a drop in the bucket. Canada did not ban asbestos until 2012, to save jobs at Tetford mines as I recall.

But, the direct costs for sickness, early retirement and death, including production losses, have been estimated to be very high; in the Western European countries and European Union, an equivalent of 0.70% of the Gross Domestic Product. With a GPD of approximately $20 trillion, that would be about $140 Billion.

Minister Lecce says his government’s priority is “the safety and security of students”. Maybe he should ask trustees at the TCDSB for their magic wand.

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