Canada moves to ban asbestos. Will Trump follow the lead of our neighbors to the north?

Canada's Minister of Science Kirsty Duncan announced today that her country plans to implement a comprehensive ban on asbestos by 2018. The proposal includes:

  • Banning the import of asbestos-containing products such as construction materials and brake pads;
  • Expanding the on-line registry of asbestos-containing buildings;
  • Prohibiting the use of asbestos in new construction and renovation projects; and
  • Improving workplace health and safety rules to limit the risk of contact with asbestos.

Duncan indicated that the Canadian government's action will involve several agencies. Foreshadowing that collaboration were attendees at today's press event: Health Minister Jane Philpott, Public Services Minister Judy Foote and Environment Minister Catherine McKenna.

Since the 1940's Canada has been a major producer and exporter of the deadly carcinogenic mineral. Only five years ago, the Canadian delegation to the Rotterdam Convention blocked efforts to include chrysotile asbestos on the treaty's list of hazardous chemicals in international trade. However, the political and economic winds have shifted since 2011. Canada's two major chrysotile mines, which were located in the Province of Quebec, closed. Soon after, the government made a dramatic change in its official asbestos policy which was applauded by the Canadian Public Health Association. The government announced it would ends its defense of asbestos mining and opposition to the addition of chrysotile to the Rotterdam Convention.

Then, in November 2015, Justin Trudeau was elected as Canada's Prime Minister. A few months later, Trudeau told attendees at a building trades union conference that the adverse health consequences of asbestos

"far outweighs any benefits that it might provide."

That was the first (and strong) indication that his administration would support an asbestos ban.

The Canadian Labour Congress (CLC) reacted positively today to the Minister of Science's announcement. They would like the government's action to include a national registry, managed by the Centre for Occupational Health and Safety, of all workers diagnosed with asbestos-related diseases. The CLC president Hassan Yussuff emphasized the need to protect the First Nations peoples whose housing is "filled with asbestos-ridden vermiculite insulation.” [The continued scourge of W.R. Grace.]

Anna Maria Tremonti with the CBC's The Current describes asbestos as part of "the fabric of Canadian life for the last 130 years." The announcement today of the ban "marks the beginning of the end of a long chapter." Tremonti's audio reporting includes voices of Canadians who have been touched personally by the "magic (deadly) mineral."

Here in the U.S., asbestos is still legal. On hearing Canada's announcement, Linda Reinstein, executive director of the Asbestos Disease Awareness Organization (ADAO), remarked

"As we celebrate this historic moment for Canada, the ADAO team remains dedicated to ensuring a U.S. ban on asbestos follows quickly. I look forward to a future where one day, asbestos exposure will be a thing of the past in North America and across the globe."

Reinstein's husband Alan, 66, died from pleural mesothelioma. It’s the quintessential disease associated with exposure to asbestos.

Last month, the U.S. EPA announced the first 10 ten chemicals about which it will conduct risk evaluations, as required under a new chemical safety law. Asbestos was one of the ten. We'll have to wait and see whether the Trump EPA will follow Canada's lead and move forward with a ban. I'm not holding my breath. Donald Trump says that asbestos is "100 percent safe, once applied," and that it just "got a bad rap."



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