Archive | Asbestos

Learn from asbestos – and do more to protect Canadians – by Will Amos and David R. Boyd (Ottawa Citizen -January 4, 2017)

The story of asbestos is a cautionary, disturbing and timely tale. The recent announcement that Canada will enact a comprehensive ban by 2018 is a decision that will save lives and prevent painful diseases caused by exposure to this deadly substance.

Banning asbestos is an important step towards fulfilling the fundamental right of all Canadians to live in a healthy environment. It also demonstrates that we finally have a federal government willing to make decisions based on scientific evidence.

To be clear: the decision comes decades late. Thousands of Canadians have already died from mesothelioma, asbestosis and lung cancer. Thousands more will suffer the same fate in the coming years. Asbestos is far and away the leading occupational killer, costing Canada billions of dollars annually. Continue Reading →

How federal politicians sheltered asbestos industry – by Jennifer Wells (Toronto Star – December 21, 2016)

Has the phrase “better late than never” ever stood on a weaker truss than the Government of Canada’s decades-late decision to ban the manufacture, use, import and export of asbestos?

Successive federal governments — Liberal and Conservative — provided political shelter to companies mining chrysotile asbestos in Quebec, going so far as to fund the Chrysotile Institute whose purpose was to defend aggressively this particular type of asbestos as distinctly less hazardous than other forms of the magic mineral.

(A paper published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal in 2008 called this argument “redolent of the tobacco industry’s playbook on light cigarettes.”) Occasionally, a politician would step out of line, only to be yanked back into asbestos-supporting formation. Continue Reading →

Asbestos, Que., a town left pondering its name in wake of proposed ban – by Ingrid Peritz (Globe and Mail – December 17, 2016)

MONTREAL — To Canadians and much of the world, the word “asbestos” is synonymous with poison and a slow, painful death. But to 7,000 people in southern Quebec, the word is the name of their home. Now they are struggling over whether to turn their backs on it.

Ottawa’s announcement this week that it would ban the fibre has revived a debate in Asbestos about changing the town’s name, a symbolic gesture that would, in effect, wipe the product and the word off the map.

“To improve the economy, I’m ready to analyze all proposals, including changing the name,” the mayor of Asbestos, Hugues Grimard, said in an interview on Friday. “People are talking about it. I’m not closed to it.” Continue Reading →

Canada’s move to ban asbestos a ‘win for public health’ but long overdue: advocates – by Tavia Grant (Globe and Mail – December 16, 2016)

Canada will ban asbestos use by 2018, in what many health advocates hail as a victory for public health, albeit one that is long overdue. The federal government’s move is aimed at eventually reducing the rate of asbestos-related diseases. The hard work lies ahead, though, as the country deals with the deadly legacy of asbestos that exists in everything from homes and hospitals to elementary schools and universities.

“When it comes to asbestos, the science is … very clear,” Health Minister Jane Philpott said at a news conference Thursday. “We are taking action on this now to protect future generations of Canadians.”

The announcement comes after years of Globe and Mail coverage on the health impact of asbestos exposures, risks which had been played down by previous federal governments. Last week, The Globe reported on new annual numbers showing that asbestos remains the top cause of workplace deaths in Canada. Continue Reading →

Ottawa urged to ban asbestos immediately amid new data – by Tavia Grant (Globe and Mail – December 7, 2016)

The federal government should take immediate action to ban asbestos in Canada and establish an expert panel to review how the deadly substance is managed and disposed of in the country, a group of prominent organizations is urging, at a time when new annual numbers show asbestos is again – by far – the top on-the-job killer in Canada.

New data highlight the deadly toll of asbestos exposures on Canadian workers. Asbestos was the cause of death in 367 accepted claims in 2015, according to figures compiled by the Association of Workers’ Compensation Boards of Canada, making it the No. 1 workplace killer in the country. Since 1996, there have been 5,614 recorded work-related fatalities from asbestos.

An open letter, submitted to the Prime Minister Wednesday and released exclusively to The Globe and Mail, calls for a comprehensive asbestos ban and says Canada should follow the lead of Australia in establishing an asbestos management review process. Continue Reading →

Asbestos Mining Town in Canada Searches for New Identity – by Matt Mauney ( – November 7, 2016)

Asbestos wasn’t always an ugly word. Once hailed as a miracle fiber in manufacturing and construction, it is now scorned for its toxicity and link to mesothelioma and other deadly respiratory diseases.

Perhaps no place knows that fall from grace better than the small town of Asbestos in southeast Quebec. Not only did the asbestos industry give the Canadian mining town its name, but it also shaped its identity, economy and legacy.

The now defunct Jeffery Mine, which occupies nearly one-sixth of the town’s 12 square miles, was Canada’s largest asbestos mine and served as the town’s main employer when it shut down in 2011.At its peak, the open-pit asbestos mine employed more than 2,000 of the town’s 7,000 residents. Now, five years later, Asbestos is searching for a new identity and a way to rewrite its legacy. Continue Reading →

Liberals under fire for delay on asbestos ban – by Tavia Grant (Globe and Mail – October 11, 2016)

A year after the Liberals were elected with a promise to ban the use of asbestos in Canada, no such move has been made – inaction that is dismaying to health experts, labour groups and families affected by asbestos-related diseases.

“Our position, and the evidence, is as clear as it can be: that asbestos is a carcinogen that is a major cause of cancer, including lung cancers, that kill many Canadians,” said Gabriel Miller, director of public issues at the Canadian Cancer Society. A ban “should be an as-soon-as-possible priority for the federal government,” he said.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has said the federal government is “moving forward on a ban,” although he gave no timeline and it was not an official announcement. “We are moving to ban asbestos,” he told a conference of building trades unions on May 10. “Its impact on workers far outweighs any benefits that it might provide.” Continue Reading →

Five years after asbestos mine closure, Quebec town seeks new identity – by Morgan Lowrie (Canadian Press/Globe and Mail – August 25, 2016)

ASBESTOS, Que. — To residents of Asbestos, Que., the once-mighty Jeffrey mine that gave the town its identity is known simply as “the hole.” But almost five years after Canada’s largest asbestos mine stopped producing the controversial fibre, Asbestos is looking to move on from the industry that supported it for more than a century.

Key to the efforts is a $50-million regional diversification fund, put in place by the former Parti Quebecois government in 2012 after it cancelled a $58-million loan the Liberals had promised to help the mine renovate and reopen.

Mayor Hugues Grimard is hoping the subsidies available through the fund, paired with industrial know-how and a little hustle, will be enough to attract new businesses to the town of 7,000 residents two hours east of Montreal. Continue Reading →

Ottawa’s shameful foot-dragging on asbestos continues: Editorial (Toronto Star – July 17, 2016)

The Trudeau government has cast doubt on its stated commitment to reverse Ottawa’s laggardly asbestos policy.

Ottawa’s shameful foot-dragging on asbestos, the toxic mineral used as insulation in thousands of schools, apartment buildings and workplaces across the country, seemingly knows no end.

Though 55 countries, including Australia and Britain, have banned the substance in recent years, Canadian asbestos imports are on the rise. Despite international consensus that the carcinogen should be added to the United Nations’ list of hazardous materials, Canada is among the few countries to oppose the move.

The roots of our dangerous obstinacy are political. Successive prime ministers have defended the deadly mineral in the hopes of winning votes in rural Quebec, where asbestos mining was an important industry for more than a century. Continue Reading →

Time for a firm stand against asbestos, Canada – by Kathleen Ruff (Ottawa Citizen – July 4, 2016)

Kathleen Ruff is founder and co-cordinator of the Rotterdam Convention Allliance, which represents civil society organizations around the world. She was recently awarded the medal of the Quebec National Assembly for her work to stop asbestos mining and ban asbestos.

One of the key promises made by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is that his government will restore Canada’s badly tarnished image on the international stage. Canada is back, says the prime minister. Canada will support global policies based on evidence and play a positive role at the United Nations. Trudeau’s pledge has been welcomed by most Canadians and by the international community.

But when it comes to asbestos, Trudeau is breaking that pledge. Asbestos is the biggest killer of Canadian workers. The Trudeau government has prohibited use of asbestos at Public Works and Government Services Canada workplaces and indicated that it will join 55 other countries in banning asbestos. Continue Reading →

Asbestos-related cancer costs Canadians billions – by Tavia Grant (Globe and Mail – June 27, 2016)

A first-ever estimate of the toll of asbestos-related cancers on society pegs the cost of new cases at $1.7-billion per year in Canada, and notes that is likely an under-estimate.

The economic burden of lung cancer and mesothelioma from work-related asbestos exposure in Canada amounts to an average of $818,000 per case, according to a team led by health economist and senior scientist Dr. Emile Tompa at the Institute for Work & Health, a research organization, whose calculation includes costs related to health care and lost productivity and quality of life.

This is the first time a tally of these costs has been made public. Asbestos remains the top cause of occupational deaths in Canada: Workers’ compensation boards have accepted more than 5,700 claims since 1996. About 150,000 Canadian workers are exposed to asbestos in their workplaces, the research project Carex Canada estimates, among them construction workers and contractors, mechanics, shipbuilders and engineers. Continue Reading →

Kathleen Ruff: How one single-minded activist helped turn the tide on asbestos – by Michelle Lalonde (Montreal Gazette – June 4, 2016)

You may not recognize her name, but Kathleen Ruff will receive a medal of honour in Quebec’s National Assembly on Thursday for her decade of work to stop Canada’s asbestos trade, work that some argue will save tens of thousands of people from contracting deadly asbestos-related diseases in Canada and abroad.

A longtime human rights activist based in Smithers, B.C., Ruff has toiled, for the most part, behind the scenes. But without Ruff’s dogged determination to rally health experts, victims and politicians to speak out and take action, Quebec might still be mining and selling the deadly fibre to developing countries for decades to come, with the active support and blessing of the federal government.

Instead, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced May 10 that his government will “move to ban asbestos”. For the first time, a Canadian prime minister publicly acknowledged that the damage asbestos causes to human health far outweighs any benefit the mineral, once hailed as a miracle fibre, can provide. Continue Reading →

Asbestos banned in new construction, renovations of federal buildings – by Tavia Grant (Globe and Mail – April 13, 2016)

A federal government department has banned the use of asbestos in all new construction and renovations, a move it says serves as “an important first step” toward eliminating asbestos use in all new government construction.

Public Services and Procurement Canada – the federal government’s central purchasing agent – has officially banned the use of asbestos-containing materials in all construction and major renovations, a prohibition that took effect April 1. The department oversees 30 per cent of the total area of federal buildings, and a portion of planned new construction.

“This is a marvellous first step,” said Colin Soskolne, professor emeritus at the University of Alberta. Now, he hopes to see “a total ban, across all Canadian jurisdictions, in all areas, including imports, exports and use,” which would put Canada in line with dozens of other developed countries. Continue Reading →

Pressure mounts on Ottawa to join wide ban on asbestos – by Tavia Grant (Globe and Mail – March 28, 2016)

Dozens of groups are pressing Ottawa to join more than 50 countries in banning asbestos, a move the Liberal Party supported while in opposition.

A letter sent to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau this month notes that Canada still allows the use of asbestos and lacks a comprehensive strategy to phase out the substance or to promote safe substitutes.

Separately, the Canadian Cancer Society has also sent a letter to the government, a copy of which was given to The Globe and Mail, calling for a nationwide ban on all asbestos products, a rare step for the country’s largest national health charity. Continue Reading →

Union leader calls for national registry to track asbestos – by Mark Hume (Globe and Mail – January 22, 2016)

VANCOUVER — With the number of asbestos-related deaths continuing to climb across Canada, a B.C. union leader is calling for the urgent creation of a national registry of public buildings and marine vessels containing the heat-resistant fibrous mineral that causes cancer.

Asbestos is now recognized as a hazardous material, but workers exposed as long as 40 years ago, when the material was widely used in construction and other industries, continue to be diagnosed with asbestosis and mesothelioma cancer.

In a recent statement, WorkSafeBC said the number of asbestos-related fatalities, which was expected to peak in about 2015, is still climbing, and the high number of deaths may continue to grow for several more years. Continue Reading →