Federal government still using asbestos in new construction

The federal government continues to use asbestos containing materials in the construction and renovation of federal buildings, despite the fact asbestos is a known carcinogen and toxin, the CBC has confirmed.

Unions call for new infrastructure projects to be asbestos free

Asbestos is still used in new construction of federal buildings in Canada. (CBC)

CBC News has confirmed the federal government continues to use asbestos-containing materials in the construction and renovation of federal buildings, even though asbestos is a known carcinogen and toxin.

The World Health Organization recommends replacing asbestos with safer substitutes.

But both the Canada Revenue Agency and Public Services and Procurement (formerly Public Works) have confirmed that they continue to use asbestos in construction projects.

"It's appalling, but unfortunately, it's not surprising," said Laura Lozanski, occupational health and safety officer at the Canadian Association of University Teachers, a group that for years has been lobbying for the removal of asbestos from public buildings.

Laura Lozanski, occupational health and safety officer at the Canadian Association of University Teachers, has been lobbying for the removal of asbestos from public buildings.
"That they're continuing to use a known carcinogen in the workplace is just unbelievable," said Lozanski.

Denis St-Jean, national health and safety officer with the Public Service Alliance of Canada said Canada still imports construction products that contain asbestos.

Unions asking for asbestos building registry

The PSAC is part of Ban Asbestos Canada, a group which recently sent a letter to Prime Minister Trudeau asking for legislation to ban the use, export and import of asbestos, as many other countries including the European Union and Australia have already done.

"This practice needs to be ceased immediately," said St-Jean. "We're also asking that the use of any asbestos containing material be withdrawn from any federally funded infrastructure projects from the federal government."

The Canadian Labour Congress says that in fact the use of asbestos cement pipe is on the rise in Canada and is increasingly being installed in federally funded infrastructure projects in Ontario and Quebec through the former federal governement's New Building Canada Fund. The CLC also said that imports of asbestos related items is on the increase in Canada.

Denis St-Jean, national Health and Safety Officer for PSAC is calling for the government to ban the use of asbestos in new infrastructure projects. (CBC)
Several unions continue to call for a Canadian registry of asbestos-containing buildings that have public access.

Non-friable asbestos still in use

A spokesman for the Canada Revenue Agency confirmed the use of asbestos, but said the use is controlled.

"Its use is limited to non-friable forms (not easily broken into smaller pieces) and is strictly controlled under the Asbestos Products Regulations," said Philippe Brideau, a media relations advisor with the Canada Revenue Agency.

But Lozanski and other health and safety officers argue that non-friable asbestos eventually breaks down over time and becomes a danger.

"This continued putting forward that it's non-friable and it's safe is complete nonsense and should not be used by people who should know better," said Lozanski.

The Public Services and Procurement department also confirmed in a statement to CBC that the department continues to use asbestos-cement pipes in new or renovated buildings because "the National Building Code still allows for the use of non-friable asbestos-cement products."

"Asbestos-cement pipes normally have a life cycle of 70 years and are often found in tall buildings since they provide better sound insulation against falling water compared to cast iron pipes," Jessica Kingsbury, a media relations officer with the public services department said in a statement.

Asbestos abatement ongoing

Right now, the parliament buildings are undergoing millions of dollars of renovations which includes the abatement of asbestos that's documented to have infected federal workers over the years.

Ian Culbert, executive director of the Canadian Public Health Association said to find out these asbestos products are still legal and being used is a concern to his association.

"I don't believe anyone believes asbestos is a legal product for the building trades anymore," said Culbert. "You'd think the federal government would be the last landlord to be using that kind of a product."

Recently, updated figures from Statistics Canada reveal the number of cases and deaths from mesothelioma — a deadly cancer caused primarily by workplace asbestos exposure — have continued to rise and show no signs of abating.

Exposure to asbestos doesn't guarantee illness, but there is concern because the latency period can be 10 to 40 years.


Julie Ireton

Senior Reporter

Julie Ireton is a senior reporter who works on investigations and enterprise news features at CBC Ottawa. She's also the host of the CBC investigative podcast, The Band Played On found at: You can reach her at