Asbestos exec says Jon Stewart show duped him

MONTREAL - Quebec's asbestos industry, which was subjected to international ridicule last week, lashed back against the Jon Stewart show on Tuesday.

MONTREAL - Quebec's asbestos industry, which was subjected to international ridicule last week, lashed back against the Jon Stewart show on Tuesday.



The head of one of the country's last remaining asbestos mines called the satirical news report on the "The Daily Show with Jon Stewart" a "tacky parody" that was in "poor taste."



In a statement, Jeffrey Mine boss Bernard Coulombe said he felt disgusted that he unwittingly participated in a segment he considered a hatchet job.



He said he didn't know what he was getting himself into when he agreed to be interviewed — and found out only later, to his surprise, that he was speaking to a comedian.



"It was already too late by the time I realized that this program was not a serious news show and that all the host wanted was to make fun of me and the town's representatives, to insult us and to deliver anti-asbestos propaganda," Coulombe said.



"Had we known what he had in store for us, obviously I never would have agreed to involve myself in something for which I and the entire chrysotile (industry) would unfairly end up paying the price."



The five-minute report interviewed local town officials and Coloumbe, who said chrysotile asbestos is perfectly safe if handled properly. A Canadian Medical Association doctor also quoted in the piece, however, called the industry a national embarrassment.



The report said there was little evidence the product is handled safely in India, the prime market for Quebec asbestos. It ran images from a CBC documentary of Indian workers tossing around bags of the substance.



Reporter Aasif Mandvi, who was born in Mumbai, mocked Coulombe and his suggestion that asbestos could be handled safely in India.



At one point, he even referred to Coulombe as a "douchebag." This was after Coulombe joked that Indians were perhaps better equipped to work with asbestos because they're used to living in pollution.



In Tuesday's response, Coulombe said the only purpose of the report was to discredit him and make the people of Asbestos, Que., "look like ignorant imbeciles."



Meanwhile, the mayor of the town of about 7,000 said Tuesday he considers the Stewart affair over and done with.



"For me, the incident is closed," Hugues Grimard said in a phone interview.



"I'm working in a positive way to diversify the economy in the region. All my efforts are aimed at that.



"I don't have time to waste on things like this."



Coulombe insisted that the type of substance that is mined in the Quebec town — chrysotile — has been proven to be safe when used in accordance with safety standards.



He says those standards are followed in Quebec mining operations as well as in many of the countries where chrysotile is exported.



Coulombe said that foreign importers who fail to use the chrysotile safely are no longer sold the product.



The mining of asbestos is an intensely sensitive issue in Quebec.



Canadian exports — all of which come from that province and are sold mainly to developing countries — are increasingly under attack from international critics.



Canadian scientists and physicians have called on the province to stop extracting and exporting the hazardous mineral.



According to World Health Organization estimates, more than 107,000 people die each year from asbestos-related lung cancer, mesothelioma and respiratory diseases from workplace exposure.



But the asbestos industry in Quebec is a fierce defender of the product and has repeatedly said it can be used safely.



Coulombe dismissed the Stewart piece as a crude attempt to discredit the mine, which was given new life as Jean Charest's government recently announced a $58-million loan guarantee to keep it open.



Asbestos, Que., has become fodder for foreign comedians in recent years: an Australian TV show once held a contest for advertising professionals to try making tourists want to visit the place.



Grimard said the city manager, interviewed as part of the report, was also unaware as to what "The Daily Show" was. The town gets a lot of media calls requesting interviews.



"We find it to be disappointing, the attitude of certain media and the relentlessness media scrutiny on the town of Asbestos," Grimard said.



"They should take the time to look at the situation as a whole and not have blinders on when they look at Asbestos."

 
 
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