Story by TAVIA GRANT
The Globe and Mail, Published Sunday, Mar. 27, 2016 9:44PM EDT
Dozens of groups are pressing Ottawa to join more than 50 countries in banning asbestos, a move the Liberal Party supported while in opposition.
A letter sent to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau this month notes that Canada still allows the use of asbestos and lacks a comprehensive strategy to phase out the substance or to promote safe substitutes.
Separately, the Canadian Cancer Society has also sent a letter to the government, a copy of which was given to The Globe and Mail, calling for a nationwide ban on all asbestos products, a rare step for the country’s largest national health charity.
“It’s time to send a clear message and establish clear policy to end asbestos, end any confusion about its dangers, any confusion about the toll it’s taken, and any debate there is about a mythical ‘safe’ exposure level, and most importantly, [end] the exposure of Canadian workers and families to this potentially deadly substance,” said Gabriel Miller, director of public issues at the Canadian Cancer Society.
In an e-mailed statement, Health Canada said it will carefully consider whether further controls of asbestos are necessary, in addition to the measures the government has in place to protect Canadians from exposure.
Adding to a sense of urgency is the federal government’s plans to boost spending on infrastructure. Those plans raise concerns that asbestos in pipes, cement or other building materials could wind up in new construction.
“Given the huge investment that the federal government is going to make around infrastructure, this is the time to say ‘we’re not going to repeat past mistakes,’ ” said Hassan Yussuff, president of the Canadian Labour Congress, the county’s largest labour organization, which is also calling for a comprehensive ban on asbestos.
Backed by nurses’ associations, building trades councils, unions and some city councils, the letter to the Prime Minister makes 11 recommendations, among them: passing legislation that bans the use of asbestos; prohibiting the use of asbestos-containing materials in federal infrastructure projects; and ensuring safer disposal and creating a national registry of asbestos exposure locations and diseases. It also wants to see a broad public-health response to asbestos diseases.
The World Health Organization says all types of asbestos cause lung cancer, mesothelioma and other types of cancers along with asbestosis. It says the most efficient way to eliminate these diseases is to stop the use of asbestos.
But Statistics Canada trade data show asbestos-related imports rose to a six-year high last year – $8.3-million in 2015 from $6-million a year earlier. About half of that was in brake pads and linings, while this country also imported raw asbestos, sheets and pipes, clothing and fabricated products. Exports have markedly declined, but Canada still exported $1.2-million to other countries in clothing, building materials and fabricated products.