Ban Asbestos

Wed, Oct 1, 2008


Asbestos is a known killer and a leading cause of workers’ deaths in Canada and around the world.

Most developed countries, including the European Union, have banned asbestos. The World Health Organization (WHO), the International Labour Organization, the Canadian Cancer Society and other respected organizations have called for a ban on all forms of asbestos. But instead of banning asbestos, the Canadian government uses tax-payers dollars and Canadian embassies to actively promote the sale of asbestos around the world.

Over 90% of Canada’s asbestos goes to developing countries, where worker protections are weak or non-existent.

The Canadian government pushes the spin of the asbestos industry that chrysotile asbestos can somehow be safely handled. Medical experts and knowledgeable organizations, such as the WHO, disagree. And as the government knows full well, safety protections are usually non-existent in developing countries.

Quebec, home to most of Canada’s asbestos mines, has one of the highest rates of mesothelioma (a deadly cancer caused by asbestos) on the planet. Yet the Canadian government refuses to even keep track of the growing numbers of Canadian workers who are sick and dying from asbestos-caused cancer.

And internationally Canada is acting as a scoundrel. Canada has been severely criticized for preventing the listing of chrysotile asbestos as a hazardous product under the Rotterdam Convention, an International Agreement that requires that importing countries be warned of the risks associated with hazardous products.

Please send your letter to Stephen Harper at

“It is unconscionable that Canada knowingly exports a product that will kill thousands of people in Asia, Africa and South America,” says David R. Boyd of the David Suzuki Foundation.

It’s time, says health expert, Barry Castleman, for Canada “to join the rest of the civilized countries of this world in shutting down the asbestos industry.”

The next meeting of the Parties to the Rotterdam Convention takes place in Rome in October 2008.



Please tell Prime Minister Harper to ban asbestos now, before more unnecessary deaths are caused. Tell him to put the lives of people ahead of the profits of the asbestos industry.

The following opinion article reflects the opinion of Mr. Martin, a passionate advocate for banning the export of asbestos. It is not currently, the formal policy of the NDP

Tuesday, December 04, 2007
The disgrace of Canada’s
asbestos policy

by Pat Martin—the MP for Winnipeg Centre

On Oct. 4, the United States Senate unanimously passed Bill 742, the Ban Asbestos In America Act of 2007, sponsored by Senator Patty Murray. This takes the United States one step closer to ending a century of widespread asbestos use, an era that has left an expensive and tragic legacy of contamination, remediation and fatal disease caused by this deadly carcinogen.

In stark contrast to the United States, the Canadian government has recently reaffirmed its commitment to promoting and expanding the use of asbestos both at home and abroad. In 2005, the Liberals adopted a truly disturbing report by the standing committee on international trade that urged the government to support, develop and promote the asbestos industry, to research new product lines for asbestos, to encourage the use of asbestos in government procurement and purchasing and to develop new export markets so we can sell even more of it to developing nations.

Then, in November, 2006, the Conservatives published new regulations that helpfully point out all the places where asbestos can be used in this country. The list includes textiles, construction materials, such as drywall compound and spray-on insulation, and incredibly, children’s toys.

Asbestos is the greatest industrial killer the world has ever known, yet Canada remains one of the largest producers and exporters in the world, dumping more that 220,000 tons a year into developing nations, where health and safety standards are often negligible or not enforced. There is no safe level of asbestos. A single fibre can cause asbestos-related disease. The World Health Organization, the International Labour Organization and the Canadian Cancer Society agree that all types of asbestos should be banned. Yet Canada stubbornly and aggressively continues to push it all over the world. Without exaggeration, we are exporting human misery on a monumental scale.

Many Canadians think asbestos is banned already in Canada, and they’d be horrified to learn that successive federal governments have spent a fortune in taxpayers’ money promoting the industry. Our foreign trade commissions soften up foreign customers and host asbestos-promotion events right in our embassies. The federal government has given approximately $30-million to the industry directly in recent years. And our government eagerly supports the asbestos industry by sending teams of department of justice lawyers around the world like globe-trotting propagandists, to block countries from banning asbestos and to strong-arm small weak countries into keeping asbestos off the international lists of hazardous materials like the Rotterdam Convention.

The fact is no amount of government money will ever take the stink off the asbestos industry. I call it corporate welfare for corporate serial killers.

In many ways, the asbestos industry is the tobacco industry’s evil twin. Both survived much longer than they should have using lies, cover-ups, tainted research and aggressive political lobbying. And just as the tobacco industry used the myth of “tobacco light” as a last ditch effort, the Canadian asbestos industry tells the world that the asbestos mined in Quebec is somehow magically benign compared to the “bad” asbestos mined elsewhere. After years of cover-ups, that myth has finally been debunked by Quebec’s own National Institute of Public Health, which has found some of the world’s highest incidence of asbestos-related diseases in the province’s own mining region.

Canada’s position on asbestos is morally and ethically reprehensible, and we are becoming an international outlier as a result. The rest of the developed world is banning asbestos in all its forms. Australia, Japan, South Africa and all the nations of the European Union have recently implemented a total ban on all forms of the substance. And now the United States is finally coming on side in spite of the powerful asbestos lobby in that country.

So is Canada crazy? I prefer to think that the answer is yes, because the alternative is unthinkable. The alternative is that we as a nation are knowingly and willingly contaminating people around the world to protect the commercial interests of the asbestos cartel, and the political interests of successive governments who refuse to stand up to the industry because all the asbestos mines are in Quebec.

If we are that gutless and spineless we deserve the scorn and derision of the international community, whose members can’t understand why a nice country like Canada would impose this made-in-Canada epidemic on the rest of the world.

– Pat Martin is the MP for Winnipeg Centre


To learn more about the world-wide campaign to ban asbestos, check out the following:

Ban Asbestos Canada

Mining Watch Canada
See particularly “Refuting Industry Claims that chrysotile asbsestos is safe.”

International Journal of Occupational and Environmental Health
“Canada’s Asbestos Legacy at Home and Abroad”

Sierra Club of Canada

International Ban Asbestos Secretariat

World Health Organization official position on asbestos

International Social Security Association. Under Prevention see: “Asbestos. Toward a Worldwide Ban.”

2 Responses to “Ban Asbestos”

  1. Debbie Geary Says:

    The mined asbestos is sold to foreign countries where it is used to manufacture products for import back into Canada. Brake pads for example… resulting in high risk of exposure to all automotive mechanics performing brake repairs. Most mechanics are completely unaware of any risk but the Big 3 (Ford, Chrysler and GMC) are all aware and have provided millions of dollars to support the position of the asbestos industry.
    The OSHA published “suggested” safe work practises for brake repairs in 2006, however the BC Workers’ Compensation Board only recently published a hazard bulletin (dated March 2010) and no suggested safe work practises were provided. Shockingly, the safety regulations (Section 6 of the OH&S Regulations) are currently not applied to the automotive repair industry!
    Thousands of Canadian automotive and heavy-duty mechanics will be afflicted with asbestos-related disease. Thousands of workers in developing countries will also be afflicted.
    It begs the question – How can Canada ban the use of asbestos to protect Canadian workers while actively promoting the sale of asbestos to developing countries? Obviously it cannot.
    The best methods to help reduce the use of asbestos at this time is education of consumers and Canadian workers, lobbying for protection of those workers (and consumers who enter contaminated work areas), promoting the use of asbestos-free products, and raising public awareness to shame the Canadian goverment.

  2. Dawn Schlenz Says:

    Great Article, This is something they need to find sooner than later.

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