Worker safety advocates want federal ban on asbestos

The Canadian Labour Congress and the Automotive Industries Association want the Canadian government to ban the use of asbestos in imported goods.
Mike Meloche, automotive instructor at St. Clair College, teaches students how to handle brakes in order to avoid exposure to asbestos. (Dale Molnar/CBC)

Asbestos has become the target of workplace safety groups across the country that are trying to get the substance banned from all products.

One of those groups is the Canadian Labour Congress, which is calling on the federal government for an all-out ban on asbestos imports. Then there's the Automotive Industries Association, which wants to discontinue the use of asbestos in brake and clutch manufacturing.

Ottawa has long stopped allowing use of the cancerous product in construction of federal buildings, but there is much more work to be done, said Jim Brophy, the former executive director of the Occupational Health Clinics for Workers in Windsor and Sarnia.

He has done extensive research on asbestos, particularly those in the oil and gas industry in Sarnia.

Brophy told CBC News an estimated nine per cent of brake pads contain asbestos and all of those are imported into the country. The industry has been regulated in terms of how workers can handle brakes in order to avoid inhaling asbestos, but there are still health risks.

"There's no ironclad safety procedure," Brophy said. There were major programs directed specifically at auto mechanics in the U.S., through the Environmental Protection Agency, but it was very clear that even these measures could not provide absolute protection."

In Windsor, two government buildings have been identified as having asbestos in them. CBC News produced a national inventory of federal buildings containing asbestos by contacting 24 federal departments and agencies that provided a list of properties containing the substance.

That list includes the old Veterans Affairs building at 400 University Ave. W and the Paul Martin building on Ouellette Avenue, which is undergoing renovations.

Brophy says the federal government has already banned the use of asbestos on federal construction projects. He wants regulatory protection provided for everyone in the country.

With files from the CBC's Dale Molnar