Canada’s Asbestos Ban: Update

As our national asbestos ban in Canada takes its final shape, there are some details that have changed along the way. Recently, the federal government took the final steps to put the asbestos ban into place. Here’s a current update on the situation.

The Asbestos Ban
Canada was the biggest exporter of asbestos before the industry collapsed a few years ago, and our country has more than a century year old history or asbestos mining. There’s a lot left, too. There are more than 800 million tons of asbestos waste – containing up to 40 percent asbestos – in Quebec alone.

The new law will ban the importation, sale, and use of asbestos fibres, and the manufacture, import, sale, and use of any products containing processed asbestos fibres. But, that’s not the whole story.

• The government just awarded a $12 million contract to extract magnesium from the asbestos waste.
• Federal and Quebec regulations were, essentially, set by the asbestos industry itself, and currently allow exposure to workers at levels 10X higher than the US or in Europe.
• The federal government moved quickly to tighten the allowable asbestos exposure rates tenfold, to bring them in line with other Western nations. However, the Quebec provincial government has not done so, despite the endorsement of all 17 of the province’s directors of publish health, the Quebec Medical Association and other organizations.

In fact, the Quebec government’s directors of public health, and National Public Health Institute, called for including those millions of tons of asbestos waste in the new asbestos ban, but Environment Minister Catherine McKenna rejected their please.

“I am satisfied that these proposed regulations, along with existing provincial controls, will address the health risks associated with asbestos mining residues.”

A Double Standard
In essence, it creates a double standard, where those people who work on the existing asbestos waste will not receive the same protections under the law as anyone else. There are other exemptions under the law.

• Military and nuclear facilities will be allowed to continue to use asbestos until 2022.
• Chlor-alkali plants, which produce chlorine and sodium hydroxide for industrial purposes, are also exempt for a period of several years to come. It will be phased out by 2029.

Another exemption allows for use of asbestos containing materials where they “are required to protect the environment or human health where there is no technically or economically feasible alternative available.” In those cases, a one-year permit will be issued, with strict reporting requirements.

The law also says nothing about existing structures that contain asbestos.

Asbestos in Your Home?
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