Canada introduces new asbestos rules

Canada is moving ahead with its promised asbestos ban with newly proposed, federal rules to prohibit the use, sale, import and export of asbestos, along with products containing the hazardous material.

Proposal prohibits use, sale, import and export of toxic material, products

The federal government is proposing new regulations to ban the use, sale, import and export of asbestos and products containing the hazardous material in Canada. (Peter Macdiarmid/Getty Images)

Canada is moving ahead with its promised asbestos ban by proposing the prohibition of the use, sale, import and export of asbestos and products containing the hazardous material.

The federal health and environment departments are both sponsoring the proposed changes aimed at eliminating the market for asbestos products in this country.

The government now acknowledges that all forms of asbestos fibres, if inhaled, can cause cancer and other diseases.

According to the proposed regulations, the government estimates asbestos was responsible for approximately 1,900 lung cancer cases and 430 mesothelioma cases in Canada in 2011. A single case of lung cancer or mesothelioma costs Canada's health system more than $1 million, the government says.

"By launching these new, tougher rules to stop the manufacture, import, use and sale of asbestos, we are following through on our promises to protect all Canadians from exposure to this toxic substance," said Environment and Climate Change Minister Catherine McKenna.

Asbestos was declared a human carcinogen by the World Health Organization's International Agency for Research on Cancer more than 30 years ago.

But up until 2011, Canada remained a major exporter of asbestos.
Kathleen Ruff has campaigned for an international asbestos ban for years, including her critical look at the Jeffrey asbestos mine in Quebec. The picture on the left shows the mine in 2011. (Left: Jacques Boissinot/Canadian Press; Right: The Rideau Institute)

Kathleen Ruff, a longtime campaigner for a comprehensive asbestos ban, commended the government for moving ahead with new regulations, but  said even more needs to be done.

Ruff is pushing for a national registry of asbestos-containing buildings, as well as national standards for asbestos removal.

"Initiate a national strategy to inform Canadians of the continuing hazards posed by asbestos in buildings and infrastructure and ... launch a national campaign to provide information and assistance to asbestos victims and their families," Ruff urged the government.

The newly proposed regulations include some exemptions, including an allowance for the cleanup of millions of tonnes of asbestos residue around former mines to make way for for redevelopment of the sites.

According to Ruff, the exemption risks exposing workers in Quebec to asbestos levels "10 times above the limit set by the Canadian government."

Provinces must act: CLC

"What we've seen so far, we're quite pleased," said Hassan Yussuff, president of the Canadian Labour Congress.

Yussuff said now the provinces need to step up by introducing new asbestos rules governing asbestos removal from buildings.

"I'm hoping this federal initiative will spur the provinces to do more, because we've got far more to do at the provincial level now with the federal government finally getting onside to banning asbestos."

The government said the ban will have an impact on industries including cement pipe manufacturers and automotive businesses that import asbestos-containing parts such as brake pads.
Hassan Yussuff, president of the Canadian Labour Congress, was exposed to asbestos while working in the automotive industry. (Ryan Remiorz/Canadian Press)