The federal government has announced a plan to ban asbestos to be fully in effect by 2018 when regulations will be in place. The asbestos ban announced December 15 by federal Minister of Science, Hon. Kirsty Duncan, comes after mounting pressure from labour, health, environmental and community groups and from affected workers and their families. Several private members bills, including from the government’s own benches, stepped up pressure.
Two days later the government published in the Canada Gazette notice to develop regulations respecting asbestos. The government will gather information from manufacturers, importers, exporters and users of asbestos and asbestos-containing products prior to issuing a proposed regulation. Stakeholders and others must provide comments to the government by January 18, 2017.
Asbestos is regulated by both federal and provincial laws. The federal government has committed to creating new or amending several existing laws governing asbestos. The government has stated it intends to fulfil this commitment by 2018. It is not known for instance if businesses with inventories of products containing asbestos will be able to sell those between now and 2018. Canadian imports of asbestos-containing products, including cement pipes and brake pads, grew from $4.7 million in 2011 to $8.2 million in 2015.
Key aspects of the proposed federal asbestos ban include:
- creating new regulations to ban the manufacture, use, import and export of asbestos under the Canadian Environmental Protection Act;
- establishing new federal workplace health and safety rules to reduce the risk of people coming into contact with asbestos on the job;
- expanding the current online list of asbestos-containing buildings owned or leased by the Government of Canada;
- working with the provinces and territories to change national, provincial and territorial building codes to prohibit the use of asbestos in new construction and renovation projects across Canada;
- updating the government’s position on listing asbestos as a hazardous material before next year’s meeting of parties to the Rotterdam Convention, an international treaty involving more than 150 countries that support listing asbestos as a hazard; and
- raising awareness of the health impacts of asbestos.
In April the federal government established the National Asbestos Inventory. It currently lists 2,184 properties owned or leased by Public Services and Procurement Canada, 714 of which contain asbestos. More than half are located in Ontario. Each building is required to have an asbestos management plan.
Canadian Labour Congress president Hassan Yussuff in acknowledging the ban said it was, “the result of years of advocacy and hard work by people dedicated to safer, healthier workplaces.” Still he added, much work remains. “Because these diseases have a long latency period, the danger is not over, but this is the beginning of the end. Now we need the provinces and territories to show the same leadership that the federal government has shown and move quickly to take stock of where asbestos is, harmonize regulation around disposal and remediation, and ensure a comprehensive health response,” he added.
Asbestos is the leading cause of recognized work-related death in Canada. More than 150,000 Canadian workers continue to be exposed to asbestos in their workplaces — 50,000 in Ontario.
More than 2,000 Canadians die every year from mesothelioma and other asbestos-related diseases including workers but also family members exposed to the deadly fibre while laundering contaminated clothes or simply exchanging a hug.
The World Health Organization’s International Agency for Research on Cancer declared asbestos a human carcinogen in 1987. Some 125 million people worldwide are exposed to asbestos at the workplace. It’s also estimated that about half of the deaths from occupational cancer result from exposure to asbestos.
Canada joins 55 other countries that have already banned asbestos. Major nations yet to impose a ban include China, Russia, India and the United States.
Check out WHSC Asbestos: towards zero exposure fact sheet.
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