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Asbestos: Be aware – it’s still there

May 27, 2015

What is New:

  • In 2015, the U.S. reduced the amount of asbestos permitted in brake pads.
  • With laxer standards, Canada could end up as a dumping ground for cheap asbestos-containing vehicle parts. Safer, made-in-Canada alternatives are available.

What is Known:

  • Asbestos is the leading cause of death of Canadian workers, accounting for about one third of successful claims. With a long latency, the numbers will continue to rise for many years.
  • The World Health Organization’s International Agency for Research on Cancer states that asbestos is a potent cause of cancer, a known carcinogen. There is no safe exposure level for asbestos, and no safe use of asbestos.
  • The use of asbestos has been banned in most developed countries including Britain, Australia, Japan, Sweden, Germany and Denmark, but not Canada.
  • Canadian health experts state that we should ban all asbestos use.

The following article is offered for reprint, with attribution to Prevent Cancer Now

All Canadians at risk of asbestos exposure

It is not only workers who are at risk of illness and death due to exposure to asbestos. Canadians can be exposed in office buildings, schools, hospitals, community centres and even their homes.

Asbestos was dubbed the miracle mineral because its fibres are strong, durable and non-combustible. They could be spun and woven, and made many materials more durable. As a result, until the 1970s asbestos was widely used, in construction products such as shingles, ceiling and floor tiles, cement, insulation board, drywall and sprayed stippling, as well as in furnaces and heating systems. Vermiculite insulation, blown into walls and roof spaces until the 1990s, can also contain asbestos. Cement pipes currently being installed in high rises, condominiums and hospitals may contain asbestos. As well, it is still commonly used in vehicle brake pads.

Asbestos containing products release fibres when disturbed, and it is impossible to guarantee that materials will remain untouched and intact. Fibres are released if the asbestos products are cut or damaged and as they age, and brake pads release asbestos every time the brakes are applied.

Even a basketball hitting the ceiling in a gym or a teacher pounding in a nail to hang a picture in her classroom can release asbestos fibres into the air, where they become deadly. There is no safe level and as the fibres are often invisible, it is difficult to know when the hazard exists without professional testing.

When the resulting asbestos fibres are inhaled, they can cause serious health conditions including cancer and death 20 to 40 years after the exposure. Mechanics, and people maintaining or renovating older buildings are especially at risk of being exposed to higher concentrations of asbestos fibres, as are those who lived or work in these buildings. Fire fighters may be exposed to asbestos while fighting fires, and later from clothing and debris. Indeed, “take home” exposures are important for families of all those who wear work clothes home.

Federal officials should respond – asbestos concerns are literally under their noses. The West Block on Parliament Hill, where many politician offices have been located, is under renovation. The building encased in plastic and pressurized to keep loose asbestos fibres from escaping during the removal process. In addition, former Cabinet Minister Chuck Strahl has inoperable lung cancer linked to exposure to asbestos from the brake pads on logging trucks in his earlier forestry career.

Former federal employees such as electricians, and families, are seeking compensation for asbestos-related illnesses and deaths resulting from working in the aging federal buildings. The federal Labour Department is investigating, while breaking news of Public Works asbestos information cover-ups, and weaker air quality standards for federal workers, fuel distrust and outrage.

With ongoing uses and a large legacy of asbestos in homes and workplaces, asbestos awareness and testing are key for Canadians to avoid the dangers they may be exposed to on a daily basis.


  • Carex Canada. Asbestos. CLICK HERE (note: exposure guidelines allow higher exposures for Canadian federal workers than in other jurisdictions)
  • Workplace safety resources: CLICK HERE and CLICK HERE
  • Federal employees surprised by asbestos. CLICK HERE
  • Asbestos information withheld by Public Works. CLICK HERE
  • A brief history of the fight over asbestos. CLICK HERE
  • Asbestos industry lobbyists at work during United Nations Rotterdam Convention meeting in Geneva. CLICK HERE
  • Asbestos in brake pads and alternatives: CLICK HERE and CLICK HERE

Prevent Cancer Now is a civil society organization including citizens, scientists and health professionals working to stop cancer before it starts, through education and advocacy to eliminate preventable causes of cancer.

For further information please contact:

Meg Sears, PhD
Co-chair and science advisor, Prevent Cancer Now