The Current

Thought asbestos was fully banned in Canada? Not until 2018.

Today the federal government announces a comprehensive ban on asbestos which may come as a surprise to people who think asbestos is already banned in Canada. The CBC's Julie Ireton explains the long road ahead for getting rid of asbestos.
Asbestos, a tough fibrous mineral, was used in many building products before 1990 because it is resistant to fire and heat, good at absorbing sound, and cheap to use. (CBC )

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Asbestos kills as many as 2,000 people every year in Canada.

The deadly material is in tens of thousands homes and buildings across the country. In fact, the carcinogenic fibre has been part of the fabric of Canadian life for at least 130 years. 

Many think asbestos is already banned in Canada. But a historic announcement by the federal government, Dec. 15, is now making the move to officially ban the substance by 2018, nationwide.

Related: Full asbestos ban

"[Asbestos] is still being imported today and used in new construction — mostly in cement pipes — schools and hospitals, arenas, government offices, homes contain asbestos," CBC reporter Julie Ireton tells The Current's Anna Maria Tremonti, who has been covering asbestos stories for years.

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"You can buy brake pads and clutches in Canada with asbestos to fix your car," Ireton adds.

Beth Porter was 19 when she met her husband Robert, who died in August of asbestos-related cancer. 'He was with me most of my life.' (Courtesy of Beth Porter)

She says that up until 2011, the government actively supported asbestos, mining sales and the export of asbestos, "often to poor countries where regulations were lacking," 

Canada's asbestos mines are no longer operating. The last mines closed in 2011.

But Ireton says there's always been uncertainty over whether they would reopen.

"And even though the exportation of asbestos stopped, imports did not and I suspect that many people in Canada are surprised by the announcement of a comprehensive ban today."

RelatedKey promises in asbestos ban announcement

Robert Porter with his daughter, Sharon. Robert died of cancer in August. (Courtesy of Beth Porter)

The government plans to change workplace health and safety rules, and to create new environmental regulations protecting people from asbestos. It will ban the import of goods containing asbestos; and change national building codes to prohibit its use in new projects. 

Inhaling the tiny fibres of asbestos is painless but cause potential problems decades down the road, Ireton explains. 

"So if you think this is an issue that couldn't touch you, or your family, or that it's just a thing of the past you'd be wrong."

The person essentially slowly drowns to death.- Beth Porter

Robert Porter was a pipe and steam fitter in Hamilton, Ont. Porter, was diagnosed with mesothelioma in June and the disease caused him to suffocate by August.

Mesothelioma is the kind of lung cancer associated with exposure to asbestos. 

"I'm 62 and I met him when I was 19. So he was with me most of my life," Robert's wife Beth Porter tells Ireton.

"He loved me and I loved him so much," Beth says.

This was hell that my dad went through. Like I can't sugarcoat it.- Sharon Porter

"There can be a 10 to 40 year latency period between exposure and diagnosis," Ireton explains.

"Dying from mesothelioma is by all accounts a terrible death. The person essentially slowly drowns to death."

Robert's daughter, Sharon says her dad was living through a nightmare with cancer. 

"This was hell that my dad went through. Like I I can't sugarcoat it,"

Ireton says the tricky thing about asbestos is that there's a perception that it's an old issue that's been taken care of, "but there are still thousands of tradespeople who can potentially be exposed to this every day."

Bob Porter was exposed to asbestos in the workplace years ago and died of mesothelioma in August. (Courtesy of Beth Porter)

Robert's wife Beth and her daughter Sharon both see a ban on asbestos as a good way of honouring Robert's memory.

"He was young and he didn't deserve this ... There will be other people going through this but I just want it to be known that he was a good man."

Listen to the full segment near the top of this post.

This segment was produced by The Current's Kristin Nelson.