Canada moves forward with asbestos ban

Sun, Jan 7, 2018


Kathleen Ruff,

The Canadian government has published a set of proposed new regulations  that will prohibit the use, sale, import and export of asbestos and asbestos-containing products, as well as the manufacture of products containing asbestos. The proposed regulations, published in the Canada Gazette on January 6, 2018, will also ensure that Canada meets its export obligations under international conventions, including the Rotterdam Convention.

The Department of the Environment and the Department of Health, who are sponsoring the regulations, are encouraging the public and industry to submit written comments on the proposed Regulations and related amendments by March 22, 2018 to:

Chemicals Management Division
Environment and Climate Change Canada
351 St-Joseph Blvd., 10th floor  
Gatineau QC K1A 0H3

Environment Canada and Health Canada will also be holding French and English webinars in February 2018 to present the proposed Regulations and proposed related amendments. To participate in the webinars, contact Environment Canada at:

Comments received during the 75-day comment period will be considered in the development of the final Regulations, targeted for publication in the fall of 2018.

The government states that the proposed regulations prohibit the use, sale, import and export of asbestos and asbestos-containing products and will also prohibit the use or sale of any asbestos-containing products that exist in inventories but that have not yet been installed. Any stockpiled asbestos-related materials would need to be disposed of or destroyed.


The proposed regulations:

  • Exempt the use of asbestos in the chlor-alkali industry as part of cell diaphragms used as filters in the manufacture of chlorine and caustic soda until 2025.
  • Exempt the clean-up of millions of tonnes of asbestos residue around former mine sites to allow for the use of the material in redevelopment of the areas.
  • Allow scientists to study asbestos and allow objects containing asbestos to be imported for display in a museum.

The government estimates that:

  • The administrative costs of the proposed regulations will be about $4 million and the administrative and compliance costs for the construction and automotive sectors will be about $30 million.
  • Preventing a single case of lung cancer or mesothelioma provides a social welfare benefit valued at over $1 million today.
  • The proposed Regulations would affect 292 businesses, including 191 small businesses and states that these businesses have generally expressed support for the proposed Regulations.

The government states that breathing in asbestos fibres can cause life-threatening diseases, such as asbestosis, mesothelioma and lung cancer, and notes that it has been estimated that asbestos was responsible for approximately 1,900 lung cancer cases and 430 mesothelioma cases in Canada in 2011.

Quebec government wants exemption for asbestos mining residues

The Quebec government, municipal governments and regional groups in Quebec, and the asbestos mining residue industry have asked the Canadian government to exclude asbestos mining residues from the prohibition on asbestos. Specifically, Quebec government representatives have “requested that the proposed Regulations not prohibit the extraction of metals and other valuable material from asbestos mining residues. These representatives have also requested an exemption for operations involving asbestos mining residues related to the redevelopment and rehabilitation of mine sites. However, they are opposed to any prohibition of asbestos in the chlor-alkali process and have expressed support for a full exemption for facilities using asbestos in their operations.”

The Canadian government states that it has taken these comments into consideration and notes that waste management is primarily a provincial concern.

Environment Minister Catherine McKenna said many Canadians have suffered from exposure to asbestos over the years, but that will end. “By launching these new, tougher rules to stop the manufacture, import, use, and sale of asbestos, we are following through on our promise to protect all Canadians from exposure to this toxic substance,” McKenna said in a statement.

Proposed regulations need to be strengthened

The Canadian government is to be commended for moving ahead to legislate a comprehensive ban on the import, export, use and sale of asbestos and asbestos-containing products. However, the proposed regulations have weaknesses and omissions that need to be rectified. There needs to be a strong, clear commitment from the Canadian government that it will work with the provinces to create a national registry of asbestos-containing buildings, to create national standards for asbestos-removal, to initiate a national strategy to inform Canadians of the continuing hazards posed by asbestos present in buildings and infrastructure and to launch a national campaign to provide information and assistance to asbestos victims and their families.

Of particular concern is the proposed exemption of the millions of tons of asbestos residue around former mine sites, particularly in Quebec. Projects are already under way to re-use these asbestos residues and Quebec government regulations continue to permit workers to be exposed to dangerously high levels of  asbestos fibres, ten times above the limit set by the Canadian government, other provinces, the European Union, the United States and other countries. Quebec unions and health experts have urgently called on the Quebec government to strengthen its asbestos exposure standards to conform with those of the Canadian government and other countries.

The Canadian government also needs to address its responsibility for the legacy of harm suffered by First Nations and service men and women, caused by the practice of the Canadian government of placing asbestos-containing insulation in houses on native reservations and military bases across Canada.

Environmental, health, human rights, union and asbestos victims groups will be working hard to ensure that the Canadian government’s proposed regulations are as strong and effective as possible and that any and all weaknesses or omissions are rectified.

Only then will the Canadian government be truly able to say that it is keeping its “promise to protect all Canadians from exposure to this toxic substance.”

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