Ban asbestos: what are we asking for?

April 20, 2016

We are calling on the federal government to commit to a comprehensive ban on all kinds of asbestos and to outline its plans for doing this before Parliament rises for its summer recess.

Canada’s last asbestos producing mine closed in 2012. However, Canadian imports of asbestos are growing, from $4.7 million in 2011 to $8.3 million in 2015. As a result, more and more Canadians are being put at risk. Fifty-six other countries have banned asbestos, including the United Kingdom, France, Germany, Japan, South Korea and many other Canadian trade partners. 

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What do we mean by a comprehensive ban?

  1. Passing legislation that officially bans the use, export and import of all asbestos-containing materials, including chrysotile. 
  2. Establishing an expert panel to make recommendations for implementation. This panel should include provincial/territorial, labour, health care, legal, environmental and other experts and report to Parliament on issues including provincial/territorial licensing and trades registration for asbestos removal, how to address friable asbestos in First Nations’ housing, and stockpiles.
  3. Creating a public pan-Canadian registry of cases of asbestos-related diseases. The registry should be created and maintained in collaboration with provincial, territorial and First Nations governments.
  4. Creating a national registry of buildings used by the public that contain asbestos. This registry would include, for example, private and public workplaces and buildings used by the public like post offices, schools, sports arenas, courthouses and hospitals. The registry must be available to the public.
  5. Supporting a comprehensive health response to asbestos diseases. This means cooperating with the provinces and territories to support early detection and effective treatment of asbestos diseases, especially mesothelioma. It also means monitoring workers currently exposed to asbestos, including those working in asbestos remediation.
  6. Banning the use of asbestos-containing materials in federally-funded infrastructure projects. The use of asbestos cement pipe is on the rise in Canada, even though substitutes are readily available. As governments across the country make plans for infrastructure projects to boost employment and local economies, it is vital that asbestos products are kept out. Provinces and municipalities must follow suit.
  7. Harmonizing regulatory standards for asbestos disposal across Canada. The ways provinces, territories and municipalities deal with waste disposal—including the disposal of asbestos—differs across the country. The federal government can assist provinces and municipalities in promoting the harmonization of strict regulatory standards for the disposal of asbestos across the country.
  8. Fixing Canada’s Workplace Hazardous Materials Information System (WHMIS 2015). All workers have the right to know if they are working with asbestos-containing products. Unlike in the U.S. and European Union, Canada’s Workplace Hazardous Materials Information System (2015) excludes items—such as brake pads—classified as “consumer products”. That means they are not accompanied by the life-saving Material Safety Data Sheet (MSDS) that warn workers of the presence of asbestos.
  9. International leadership at the Rotterdam Convention. Canada should advocate for the addition of chrysotile asbestos to the Prior Informed Consent (PIC) list of hazardous materials under the Rotterdam Convention.
  10. Providing transitional support for businesses, workers and communities affected by the ban on the use, import and export of asbestos and asbestos-containing products.

Safe, Canadian-made alternatives are available

Canadian industries have been innovators in producing asbestos-free products. From brake pads produced in Guelph, Ontario to ceiling tiles produced in Langley, British Columbia, Canadian industries that produce asbestos-free materials are competing against harmful counterparts being imported daily. 

Imposing a ban on asbestos imports would pose no trade risks to Canada. On March 12, 2001, the World Trade Organization (WTO) issued a ruling relating to France’s asbestos ban, validating the rights of member states to prohibit the import and use of carcinogens or of goods that contain carcinogenic substances. 

For decades Canadian unions have been at the forefront of the struggle to stamp out this deadly hazard. We believe that the upcoming National Day of Mourning on April 28—the first for Canada’s new government—offers a tremendous opportunity for real change in response to the asbestos epidemic.

Earlier this month, Public Works and Government Services Canada announced a ban on asbestos products in new and renovated building projects. This is an important first step, but covers less than a third of the federal government’s building stock. The only way to stop the use of asbestos in all new building and renovation projects, infrastructure projects, residences and vehicles—federal, provincial and municipal, public and private—is to implement the comprehensive ban we have outlined.

Five key facts

  1. Asbestos is killing Canadians: Asbestos is the leading cause of workplace-related death in Canada. It’s estimated that more than 2,000 people die every year from diseases caused by asbestos exposure, like mesothelioma and lung cancer. Death from mesothelioma increased 60 percent between 2000 and 2012. Internationally, the World Health Organization (WHO) says there are 107,000 asbestos-related deaths per year.
  2. Asbestos-related diseases are on the rise: In 1992, there were 276 recorded cases of mesothelioma. Twenty years later the number of new cases of mesothelioma has more than doubled, with 560 recorded in 2012.
  3. Asbestos imports into Canada are increasing: Canadian imports of asbestos grew from $4.7 million in 2011 to $8.2 million in 2015.
  4. In addition to their health, Canadians’ jobs are being put at risk: Canada is importing replacement brake pads and linings containing asbestos, despite the fact that Canada manufactures non-asbestos replacement alternatives.
  5. Many countries have already banned asbestos. Canada should join with other countries and trade partners which have banned asbestos imports. 

Ending a health epidemic

Canadian asbestos imports are perpetuating a deadly industry, which is killing people both in Canada and internationally. Asbestos is a global pandemic with 107,000 people dying annually from occupational exposures, according to the WHO. This number is likely an underestimate, as it does not include other cancers such as laryngeal and ovarian cancers. Nevertheless, the WHO estimates that 125 million people worldwide continue to be exposed to asbestos in the workplace. CAREX estimates that in Canada more than 150,000 Canadians are exposed to asbestos at work. The industries where asbestos exposure is greatest in Canada include specialty trade contractors, building construction, automotive repair and maintenance, ship and boat building, and remediation and other waste management.

Asbestos related diseases are not decreasing; in fact, they are increasing dramatically in Canada, just as they are in the US, in Europe and in Japan. In Canada, the number of new cases of mesothelioma reported annually has doubled in the last 20 years, from 275 in 1992 to 560 in 2012. 

Canadian deaths from mesothelioma increased 60 percent between 2000 and 2012. It’s estimated that more than 2,000 people die every year in Canada from diseases caused by asbestos exposure such as mesothelioma, lung cancer, and asbestosis. Asbestos exposure is the number one cause of occupational death in Canada and since 1996, asbestos-related diseases have accounted for around a third of workplace deaths.

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