In a speech on Tuesday at a building trades union policy conference in Ottawa, Canada’s Prime Minister, Justin Trudeau, announced his intention to move forward towards a total asbestos ban in that country.
“We’ve actually made the commitment that we are moving forward on a ban … here in Canada,” said Trudeau in response to a question from a trade union leader. “We know that its impact on workers far outweighs any benefits that it might provide.”
Canada no longer exports tons and tons of asbestos, as it once did. Its last remaining asbestos mine in the province of Quebec ceased operations in 2012. However, Canada still imports a variety of products that contain the toxic mineral, including a wealth of construction products and automotive parts.
That means Canadians are still being exposed to dangerous asbestos, which can cause a variety of respiratory diseases, including mesothelioma cancer.
Once Trudeau’s speech was complete, other government officials confirmed the fact that they were indeed working on an asbestos “exit strategy” of sorts, including the aforementioned potential full-out ban. It was an announcement that delighted many in a country where asbestos disease has been a serious threat for many decades, especially among miners but also among tradesmen in other occupations.
Hassan Yussuff, president of the Canadian Labour Congress, is hoping the government takes action before parliament breaks for its summer hiatus. In the meantime, reports the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, the country’s Public Services Minister, Judy Foote, notes that her department has already begun to develop a registry of its buildings that contain asbestos and indicated that other departments are beginning to follow that lead.
Trudeau confirmed on Tuesday that a registry will also be a government-wide initiative. “We’re making sure that we are putting forward a registry of all buildings that have asbestos in them and we are moving to ban asbestos,” repeated the Prime Minister.
In the meantime, the Canadian Labour Congress says they are looking for more than just a registry of dangerous buildings and a comprehensive ban. They are seeking:
• Legislation banning the use, import and export of anything containing asbestos.
• A national registry of all public buildings that contain asbestos.
• A national registry of all workers diagnosed with asbestos-related diseases to be tracked by the Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety.
Similar to the statistics in the United States, about 2,000 Canadians die each year of asbestos-related cancer. Mesothelioma rates there have been steady for quite some time. Canada long held onto its tradition of asbestos mining (there’s even a town named “Asbestos” in Quebec) and many government officials long defended the industry, maintaining that the chrysotile form of asbestos mined there was not toxic.
The U.S. has never banned asbestos but more than 40 other countries have done so, including Australia and Japan, both of which have historically high rates of asbestos disease. The World Health Organization has long recommended that asbestos be replaced with the many safer materials available in the marketplace.