Asbestos is banned in over fifty countries around the world. Canada now becomes the most recent country to announce plans to ban asbestos and it hopes to have this ban completely in place and effective by 2018.
The World Health Organization confirmed that asbestos was a human carcinogen in 1987 and because its health risks have been known for decades, many Canadians believed that it had already been outlawed. More than 2,000 Canadians will die of asbestos-related diseases like mesothelioma this year.
How Canada’s Ban Will Work
The country’s asbestos ban will include building code reforms, new workplace health and safety regulations, and further actions passed under the Canadian Environmental Protection Agency to limit the number of people coming into contact with asbestos. Canada will also ban the import of all asbestos-containing products like building materials and certain automotive parts.
The announcement of the impending ban was made in December 2016, and citizens and anti-asbestos advocates are pleased that this long overdue action is taking place. Canada officially closed its last asbestos mine in 2012.
However, at this moment Canada continues to import materials containing asbestos and up until last spring it allowed asbestos to be used in the construction of federal buildings. This comprehensive ban will also include government efforts to raise awareness about the health dangers posed by asbestos.
What About Existing Asbestos and Victims?
But even with the ban in place and no more asbestos legally entering the country, Canada, like many other nations, will face the problem of dealing with buildings which already contain the dangerous substance. The government has also included in its initiative future plans to create an online registry and interactive map of all asbestos-containing public buildings.
In addition, the Canadian Labour Congress, the largest trade union association in the country, hopes that the federal government will start another registry to track victims of asbestos exposure in order to help with developing public policy, diagnoses, and treatment.
The World Health Organization estimates that 50% of occupational cancer deaths are caused by asbestos exposure. Many workers don’t realize that these lethal consequences can impact them even up to forty years after exposure.
Kathleen Ruff, a leader in the movement to ban asbestos in Canada, says that, “I think people are not aware of the fact that asbestos continues to be a serious threat to the health of Canadians. We should have banned it decades ago.”
A Long Overdue Ban
Because asbestos was bringing in jobs and creating economic development, it was easy to ignore all the scientific evidence about the deadly nature of the substance. Those affected have been angered by Canada’s slow response to solving the asbestos problem and late implementation of the ban.
“I’m not sure I’m ready to award any gold stars just for doing the right thing,” says former member of Parliament, Pat Martin, who also worked in an asbestos mine. He wants to see more federal funds go to health research and treatment of asbestos-caused diseases, stating,
“If we were a world leader in the production and the export and even the promotion of asbestos, we have a moral obligation to be a world leader in diagnosis and treatment of asbestos-related disease.”
The nation’s asbestos ban will also require the government to update its international position regarding the Rotterdam Convention, a United Nations treaty containing a long list of internationally recognized hazardous materials.
During the 2011 meeting of the convention, Canada surprised many members by refusing to allow the addition of chrysotile asbestos to the list of materials covered by the treaty. (The United States is not a party to the Rotterdam Convention, and despite proof that no level of asbestos exposure is safe, attempts at a ban in the US have been repeatedly blocked.)