“Canada’s move to ban asbestos a ‘win for public health’ but long overdue: advocates” / Tavia Grant (Globe and Mail, Dec. 15, 2016)
In announcing a comprehensive ban on asbestos use by 2018, the federal government has responded to years of lobbying by families of victims, medical experts, labour unions, environmental and civil society organizations to recognize the health risks of the known carcinogen and top cause of occupational death in Canada (more than 2,000 annually). The move brings Canada in line with more than 50 countries who have banned asbestos, which can cause diseases and cancers (including asbestosis, mesothelioma, lung cancer) up to 50 years after exposure.
While Canada stopped mining and exporting asbestos in 2012, the announcement imposes a ban on the import of asbestos-containing products, the creation of new regulations under the Canadian Environmental Protection Act, new workplace health and safety rules, changes to national building codes and expansion of the national registry of federal buildings containing asbestos. As noted, this is the first of many steps needed to rid Canada of asbestos: tens of thousands of buildings and homes still contain asbestos and likely will for decades; provinces and municipalities will also have to create their own registries, rules and regulations.
Before this week’s announcement, a Dec. 6 open letter to the Prime Minister, 68 organizations and 50 individuals across Canada called for immediate action on a ban (following a May 2016 “commitment to move forward“) together with the creation of an expert panel to oversee how to manage existing asbestos in buildings, homes and landfills. The letter also supports the development of an occupational disease and accident registry to track workers exposed to asbestos.
“Since our community legal clinic began assisting injured workers with their workers compensation claims in 1969, we have seen the toll that working with asbestos has taken on the lives of Ontario’s workers and their shattered families. We urge the government to use this opportunity to establish an expert panel to review the asbestos management regime in Canada and to take the steps necessary to implement a comprehensive ban on asbestos in Canada” (Statement in support of the CELA/CAUT letter: John McKinnon, Executive Director, Injured Workers’ Consultants Community Legal Clinic).
Among other signatories to the letter: Ontario Network of Injured Workers Groups, Thunder Bay & District Injured Workers Support Group, Victims of Chemical Valley for Asbestos and Occupational Diseases, Canadian Voices of Asbestos Victims.
- Ireton, Julie. 2016, Dec. 15. “Full Asbestos Ban, Changed Codes and Regulations Expected by 2018” CBC News
- Morden, Paul. 2016, Dec. 7. “Letter to Prime Minister Signed by Sarnia Activists” Sarnia Observer
- Grant, Tavia. 2016, Dec. 7. “Ottawa Urged to Ban Asbestos Immediately Amid New Data” Globe and Mail
- Canadian Environmental Law Association & Canadian Association of University Teachers. 2016, Dec. 7. “Media Release: Prevent Mesothelioma and other Asbestos Diseases in Canada.” Toronto: CELA