The Canadian Labour Congress knows it’s time for their country to ban the use of asbestos, so they’ve taken their ban asbestos campaign on the road, and many of its members are speaking out about how they were unknowingly exposed to the toxin and how that exposure has affected their lives.
One gentleman who spoke at a recent press conference in Halifax had been employed in shipbuilding for more than three decades. He told those gathered that he had no idea that the work he was doing was going to make him sick.
“Every ship before the Second World War, was all asbestos, that was the miracle material,” said Donnie Taylor. “Between new construction and repair work, you were in it every day, every day, there was no getting away from it.”
Stories like this are commonplace throughout Canada, especially since the country was long one of the top miners of chrysotile asbestos. The government of Canada spent decades telling their citizens that chrysotile was safe, despite the fact that numerous scientific studies showed otherwise.
Though Canada’s last asbestos mine, Lac d’Amiante du Canada in the Quebec Province town of Thetford Mines, closed in 2012, records show that the country continues to import large amounts of the mineral. In 2015, imports grew to $8.2 million, nearly doubling the number from five years previous to that.
“It’s still entering the country even though it may not be manufactured here – it’s manufactured overseas in places like China and India and then it’s re-imported,” noted Stephen Conrad of Unifor Marine Workers Federation.
“There are so many new technologies and new installations; you don’t really need asbestos anymore. You might have needed it at one time, but with technology these days I don’t think you need asbestos in the workplace anymore.”
Those import numbers indicate that the material is still widely used throughout the country and it can certainly be found in an abundance of old buildings.
That puts many Canadian citizens at risk, particularly contractors and others who perform renovations.
“It’s about being aware, so making sure that if there is asbestos that there are plans in place, making sure that you work with a professional that knows how to remediate it and remove it,” stressed Sherry Donavan of the Nova Scotia Builders Association.
The Canadian Labour Congress reports that about 2,000 Canadians die each year from asbestos-related diseases, particularly mesothelioma cancer. That number is about the same as the per year death rate from asbestos in the United States, where use of the mineral is also not banned.
Americans hope to someday move forward in the same manner as their neighbors to the north, eventually achieving a full-out ban.
So far, more than 50 countries have banned asbestos. Canada held out for years due to economic reasons associated with its asbestos mining industry, so hopes are that, since the mines are now closed, the government will reconsider.
Current prime minister, Justin Trudeau, has promised that the country is moving in that direction though no progress has been seen at this point.