When you first meet him, Paul Formby does not impress you as an aggressive organizer, but in 1975 he set off the longest strike in the history of Thetford Mines, Quebec – a confrontation which lasted 8 months – and he did it simply be taking air samples.
Formby collected the controversial air samples from the Thetford mines and mills illegally and in secret. They were gathered without the company’s approval, which is understandable for the asbestos levels he discovered were outrageously high.
Shortly after the air sample figures were made public, an embarrassed provincial government launched a judicial investigation into the Quebec asbestos industry. In his preliminary report in April 1976, Judge Rene Beaudry, who headed the inquiry, condemned the Quebec government and the asbestos industry at Thetford Mines for callous lack of interest in the welfare of Quebec’s asbestos workers. In his final, November 1976, report, the judge recommended ways to alleviate the appalling conditions described in his preliminary report.
Lloyd Tataryn, in his article “Dust of Death: A Detective Story,” (Weekend Magazine, October 23,1976″) states: “Although asbestos has been a boon for our trade balance, it has brought Canadians sickness and death. Asbestos workers contract the debilitating lung disease asbestosis; they die at an excessive rate from lung cancer and other respiratory ailments; they contract cancer of the stomach, colon, and rectum in unusually high numbers. And people in contact with asbestos, sometimes for only very short periods, have an increased chance of developing pleural and peritoneal mesothelioma, a cancer of the lining of the chest and abdominal cavities.”
“Knowing what we know about the effects of asbestos on the body, it would seem sensible to provide workers with precise information about the asbestos dust levels they work in. But Thetford workers and Thetford unions have been repeatedly denied access to government and company asbestos surveys – which explains Paul Formby’s furtive sampling activity in Thetford’s mining operations.”