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Federal Asbestos Turnaround by 2018 — Much-Needed and Overdue

Historic Turnaround on Asbestos Puts Canada on a New, Difficult Path

As sure as asbestos-caused cancer can be deadly, Canada’s decades of politicized support for asbestos, followed by neglect of asbestos issues, is turning around by 2018. Prevent Cancer Now joins other health advocates and workers, who argued for action, in applauding the historic announcement of actions against asbestos by Ministers Duncan, Philpott, McKenna and Foote.

Richard St. Denis, Unifor Local 444, stated, “Canadian labour groups have long advocated for an asbestos ban. Even if all exposure stopped today, Canadians would continue to become sick and die as a result of needless asbestos exposure, particularly in occupational settings. No worker should ever take home from work and expose their family to a toxin that should already have been banned in Canada. The government needs to take action today to create enforceable legislation to protect all citizens, and to create an expert panel to review asbestos management in Canada.”

Prevent Cancer Now chair, Dr. Meg Sears, experienced the “two solitudes” of knowledge that asbestos causes cancer, during engineering studies in the 1970s and 1980s.

“In the 1970s, University of Toronto taught that asbestos was a carcinogen, to be substituted or contained, and treated with stringent precautions.

“Later I attended McGill, choice apologist for the asbestos industry, in Quebec, the home of Canada’s asbestos mines. I was rebuked for telling undergraduates in my lab that asbestos causes cancer. To my horror, amidst clouds of dust they had proudly unwrapped a big fluffy white “safety” blanket. This most unsafe blanket was quickly bundled back in its box, the lab mopped and swabbed, and then they went straight to the professor to complain. The students were from Thetford.”

Thetford is home of the last asbestos mine to be abandoned in Canada.

With asbestos lurking in buildings and products, along roads and in workplaces, the proposed inventory, awareness and precautions will be difficult; however, costs for actions pale in comparison with the heartbreak and costs to families and healthcare. Environmental Health Information Infrastructure could be key to clarifying adverse exposures over time.

Cancer is multifactorial. Asbestos is a potent carcinogen, but other exposures such as smoking or other chemicals magnify risks. With the Canadian Environmental Protection Act and Canadian Environmental Assessment Act under review, Prevent Cancer Now submits that the Federal Government should take more progressive approaches to contributors to cancer and chronic disease, that Canadians are exposed to daily.

Canadian asbestos exports cast an international shadow that Canada also must face, including listing under the Rotterdam Convention for prior, informed consent to import. Canada may help to redress its global toxic legacy with research to address asbestos related disease.

The journey will be long and hard, but today it is good that we are starting.