Workers Health & Safety Centre

Canadian government seeks public consult on asbestos ban regulation

Canadian government seeks public consult on asbestos ban regulation
The federal government has proposed a regulation designed to ban the import, sale and use of asbestos along with manufacture and import of asbestos-containing material (ACM).

In addition to the ban on new imports in the proposed regulation, entitled Prohibition of Asbestos and Asbestos Products Regulations under the Canadian Environmental Protection Act, 1999, the use or sale of any ACM that exist in inventories would be prohibited. Any stockpiled ACM, including brake pads and lining, tiles and cement pipe, would need to be disposed of or destroyed.
Labour, health, environment and community advocates have been lobbying for years to convince the Canadian government to join more than 50 countries who’ve implemented comprehensive bans including Germany, the United Kingdom and Australia.
“The proposed regulation has been a long time coming,” says Fe de Leon, Researcher and Paralegal at the Canadian Environmental Law Association (CELA). “This regulation provides some certainty that asbestos exposure to Canadians and workers will reduce over time starting in 2019.”  

Shortcomings of proposed regulation

According to CELA and the Canadian Association of University Teachers (CAUT), they and others will be offering feedback to the government identifying elements of the proposed regulations that require reconsideration. For instance, they will be recommending some of the following changes:
  • Shortening exclusion timelines permitted under the regulations through adoption of safe alternatives, particularly ongoing use in the chlor-alkali industry (exempt from regs until 2025);
  • Requiring alternative assessment for affected industry to ensure transition to safe alternatives;
  • Establishing acceptable limits of asbestos residue (the use of mining residues containing asbestos will be exempt from the ban and are common around former mining sites); and
  • Requiring annual and accessible public reporting from the excluded sectors and any permits granted to import asbestos or ACM.

With respect to this last point, the proposed legislation sets out criteria for asbestos and ACM import permits, including a declaration of “the purpose for which the product is to be used and evidence demonstrating that its use for that purpose will protect the environment or human health.” As there is no safe level for asbestos exposure, health, safety and environmental activists are especially concerned about the inclusion of such permits.
Those interested in the proposed regulations as well as related amendments to the Export of Substances on the Export Control List Regulations can submit feedback to Environment and Climate Change Canada during the comment period ending on March 22, 2018.
For those seeking further details about the proposed regulation, the federal government will host webinars on February 6, 2018 (english) and February 8, 2018 (french). Though you must register by February 1 to participate.

Continued exposure, continued suffering

Asbestos is the leading cause of work-related death in Canada. It’s estimated more than 2,000 Canadians die every year from mesothelioma and other diseases related to asbestos exposure.
Even with an asbestos ban, legacy asbestos will continue to be a serious risk to health for workers and others. Asbestos and ACM were commonly used in the construction of homes, schools, health care facilities and other buildings and structures built from the 1930s through the 1980s. Exposure risk today relates to the deterioration, maintenance, removal and renovation in buildings constructed prior to 1990.
More than 150,000 Canadian workers continue to be exposed to asbestos in their workplaces—50,000 here in Ontario. Though, it isn’t just workers who are exposed to asbestos. Family members have contracted asbestos-related illnesses too by coming into contact with the deadly fibres on contaminated clothes when exposed workers return home at the end of their workday.  

Addressing legacy asbestos

In 2016, the federal government published an inventory of buildings owned or leased by Public Services and Procurement Canada (PSPC) and the Government of Canada and whether or not they contain asbestos. By law, buildings containing asbestos are required to have an asbestos management plan.
Labour, environmental and other advocates continue to call on the federal government to work with provincial, territorial, municipal and First Nations governments to further these efforts by assisting in developing registries for all asbestos-containing properties not just those under federal jurisdiction.
“Canada has the momentum to be amongst the global leaders to address exposure from legacy asbestos,” states Laura Lozanski, Occupational Health & Safety Officer, CAUT. “It would require the collective efforts by key government departments to address very difficult issues including tracking and recording non-federal buildings containing asbestos and those people who have been exposed to asbestos.”
These same advocates, including the Canadian Labour Congress, are offering many more recommendations to further enhance the federal government’s asbestos strategy, including:
  • developing a national strategy to inform Canadians of the continuing hazards posed by asbestos
  • harmonizing regulations around disposal and remediation
  • developing a national registry to track occurrences of exposure and disease
  • developing a national health response to asbestos disease, including early detection and treatment as well as monitoring the health of workers who are exposed to asbestos, and
  • supports for domestic industries developing safer substitutes.

For our part, the Workers Health & Safety Centre (WHSC) offers an Asbestos awareness training program exploring methods for identifying and assessing exposure risks. Mandatory asbestos management programs are discussed along with practical methods for controlling exposure.
Want to read more about asbestos from the WHSC?
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