The federal government is proposing new asbestos rules with the goal of eliminating the market for the toxic material but those new rules may not go far enough, according to one person.

There are two exemptions under the proposed laws, for asbestos mining residues and in the chlor-alkali industry, and there's still no plan to mandate the removal of asbestos.

"We're not entirely sure it will protect worker safety," said Jesse Todd, with the Saskatchewan Asbestos Disease Awareness Organization. 

"There should be some sort of systematic removal across the country over a set period of time."

Asbestos is a mineral that can be woven into fabrics and has been used for a variety of products, including insulation and brake pads. Breathing in asbestos fibres can cause diseases, such as asbestosis, mesothelioma and lung cancer.

The period of time from the day of exposure to the day of the diagnosis can be more than 30 years, and Todd said treating asbestos related diseases costs Canada an estimated $2.35 billion per year.

Jesse Todd

Jesse Todd said treating asbestos related diseases costs Canada an estimated $2.35 billion per year. (Rosalie Woloski/CBC)

Better tracking needed

The organization is tracking the rate of exposure and the incidents of asbestos-related diseases, and they're looking into developing a patient registry in Saskatchewan and across Canada.

But they would like to see a more robust building registry — current registries only list federal buildings — which would allow contractors to know if asbestos is present before they start work.

Todd also wants the government to revisit the changes to the rights to refuse dangerous work.

"They could only refuse something that was imminent danger. When it comes to asbestos, you don't know you're in danger until you're into it. ... They should have that right to maybe step back and say 'we should test that substance before cutting into it.'"

Co-operation between provinces

Todd said the provincial governments have a role to play as well. He'd like to see more similar policies between provincial governments to protect workers who work across borders.

Particularly in Saskatchewan, there is no certification standard for asbestos and abatement removal contractors. Todd said they have seen companies working in Saskatchewan that don't have the proper training for asbestos removal.

The new rules will require several industries to make changes. In the automotive sector, Todd said there are still many repair shops that continue to use asbestos brake pads, and the cement pipe industry in Canada will be affected as well.

Todd looks to Australia of an example of what can be done; that country banned all uses of asbestos in 2003, and he said they have set ambitious removal targets.

"They're demonstrating that is possible. All we'd like to see is some sort of appetite from the federal government to discuss that possibility."

With files from CBC Radio's Saskatoon Morning