By 2018, the federal government hopes to ban asbestos in Canada and change rules and regulations about the deadly material, which contaminates tens of thousands homes and buildings across the country and kills thousands every year.
Asbestos, a known carcinogen, has been condemned by the World Health Organization and is banned in some 50 countries around the world.
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With this announcement, Canada is committing to its own comprehensive ban — which is supposed to be fulfilled by 2018 — of a product that many Canadians believe was outlawed years ago.
“Today I am pleased to announce our government is taking the first step to ban asbestos,” Science Minister Kirsty Duncan said at a news conference at the Ottawa Hospital’s General campus on Thursday morning.
“We are taking action that is long overdue, and we are doing it in the best possible way,” said Health Minister Jane Philpott, referring to the action being taken as a “cross-government approach.”
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Public Services Minister Judy Foote and Environment Minister Catherine McKenna also attended.
New rules, building codes
Included in the government’s asbestos announcement is the creation of new regulations under the Canadian Environmental Protection Act (CEPA), new workplace health and safety rules intended to limit drastically the risk of people coming into contact with asbestos on the job.
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National building codes will be changed to prohibit the use of asbestos in new construction and renovation projects across Canada and “new actions to ban the import of asbestos-containing products such as certain construction materials and brake pads.”
Beth and Sharon Porter found out under cruel circumstances the potential effects of asbestos exposure. Beth’s husband and Sharon’s father, Bob Porter, was diagnosed with mesothelioma in June and the disease caused him to suffocate by August.
At the time of his diagnosis, the Porters didn’t know that mesothelioma is a cancer only caused by asbestos.
Porter, who was 65 when he died, was a pipefitter and steamfitter in the Hamilton area and wasn’t aware his exposure to asbestos on job sites decades ago could kill him in his retirement.
“I didn’t realize it could happen so long after you’re exposed, and he didn’t really know that either,” said Beth Porter, who now understands that asbestos diseases can strike 10 to 40 years after exposure.
Porter was one of more than 2,000 Canadian workers who will die of asbestos-related diseases this year.
Sharon Porter started a petition campaign earlier this year, calling for an asbestos ban, public building registries, better diagnosis and treatment.
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The government’s announcement will start that process. “We really need more information and resources out there,” said Porter.
“As far as I’m concerned, this is the government’s responsibility to take care of these people … and I’m really hoping to hear at the very least a heartfelt apology that it’s taken this long.”
Right now, Canada continues to import products containing asbestos, and up until last April, continued to allow those products to be used in new construction of federal buildings.
More building registries
Also included in the government’s plan is an expansion of the current online list of asbestos-containing buildings owned or leased by Public Services and Procurement Canada to include all federal buildings that have the substance.
The CBC developed the only national listing and interactive map of federal buildings earlier this year.
Jesse Todd, chair of the Saskatchewan Asbestos Awareness Organization, wants to see the federal government put pressure on provinces and municipalities to also track contaminated public buildings, including hospitals, schools, and hockey arenas.
Saskatchewan is currently the only jurisdiction with a searchable, user-friendly database of public buildings that contain asbestos, which can be used by contractors, labourers, workers or members of the public who may be working in those buildings.
Call to track victims
The Canadian Labour Congress would also like to see the federal government track victims and potential victims of asbestos exposure through a different kind of registry.
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CLC president Hassan Yussuff was himself exposed to asbestos during years of work on brakes and clutches in a General Motors facility.
“So somebody like myself could go and register,” said Yussuff. “There are thousands and thousands of Canadians exposed to asbestos, some are dying of it right now, and I think it would be very useful for developing public policy.”
Asbestos mines operated in Canada from the late 1800s until 2011.
Those facilities created jobs and economic development that seemed to make the scientific evidence about the deadly fibre easy to ignore.
Canada’s slow response to bring in new asbestos rules and regulations angers others who’ve been exposed, including former NDP member of Parliament Pat Martin, who worked in an asbestos mine.
“I’m not sure I’m ready to award any gold stars just for doing the right thing,” said Martin who wants to see more federal money go into health research and treatment.
“If we were a world leader in the production and the export and even the promotion of asbestos, we have a moral obligation to be a world leader in diagnosis and treatment of asbestos-related disease.”