British Columbia

Canada should stop asbestos imports: Labour Congress

Even though Canada no longer exports the fiber, the deadly material is still imported into Canada for use in construction and automotive parts.

Asbestos still imported for use in construction and automotive parts

Asbestos is a heat-resistant fibrous mineral that can be woven into fabrics, used in fire-resistant and insulating materials. (CBC News)

The Canadian Labour Congress is calling for a ban on asbestos.

Exposure to asbestos — a fibrous mineral used in building and construction — is the leading cause of workplace-related death in Canada.

Canada stopped exporting asbestos in 2011, and its last asbestos mine closed in 2012. But Canada still imports asbestos for use in construction products and automotive parts.

According to the Canadian Labour Congress, the value of the imports has increased from $4.7 million in 2011 to $8.2 million in 2015.

Hassan Yussuff, president of the Canadian Labour Congress, told CBC's The Early Edition the government needs to step up and ban the import of asbestos.

"We only stopped exporting it because the mine went bankrupt, not because this is good public policy.  We knew the evidence long before that asbestos is a carcinogen."

A man wears a respirator while cleaning up asbestos in New York City in 2007. (Brendan McDermid/Reuters)

The Canadian Labour Congress has reached out to a number of a communities in its national campaign to raise awareness. Yussuff said automotive workers, and those who work in construction — particularly home renovations — and those who work on older public buildings are on the front lines of asbestos exposure.

"In the early part of our country's history, asbestos was a normal substance to be used in buildings and a way of securing and insulating pipes ... they're still there in buildings across the country."

A NDP MP tabled a private member's bill to ban asbestos in Canada in November. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has said the federal government is committed to moving forward on the issue.

"We've done a tremendous disservice to the world by exporting it, but the reality is we're still importing it in a variety of products in this country — we want to see that come to an end," Yussuff said.

Fifty-six countries have banned asbestos, including Japan, Australia, and the United Kingdom.

With files from The Early Edition

To listen to the interview, click on the link labelled Canadian Labour Congress calling for total ban on importing asbestos