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Canada to Ban Asbestos, Will the U.S. Follow?

LIUNA General President Terry O’Sullivan 

Next year Canada will join more than 50 other countries that ban construction materials and other products that contain deadly asbestos fibers. In the years to come, this comprehensive ban will help reduce asbestos-related illnesses, which sicken and kill thousands of Canadians annually and thousands more people throughout the world.

The LHSFNA and the LIUNA Canadian TriFund are pleased that Canada is taking this step. LIUNA was instrumental in lobbying Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to ban asbestos and the import and export of asbestos products in Canada.

This improvement to the health and safety of LIUNA members and the public is overdue here in the U.S., where asbestos is still allowed in some construction materials. Asbestos has long been known to be a deadly substance and there is no reason for its continued use.

Canada’s ban on asbestos will include:

  • New regulations that ban the manufacture, use, import and export of asbestos under the Canadian Environmental Protection Act of 1999, the legislative framework that protects people from the risks associated with hazardous substances.
  • New federal workplace health and safety rules that will drastically limit the risk of people coming into contact with asbestos on the job.
  • Expanding the current online register of asbestos-containing buildings owned or leased by the Canadian government.
  • Raising awareness about the health impacts of asbestos to workers and the public to help reduce incidences of lung cancer and other asbestos-related diseases.
  • Updating Canada’s position on asbestos before next year’s Rotterdam Convention, an international treaty involving more than 150 countries that support listing asbestos as a hazard.

The LIUNA Canadian Tri-Fund was also actively involved in getting Ontario to improve asbestos exposure regulations for LIUNA members in the construction industry by supporting amendments to Health and Safety Regulation 833, which sets requirements for protecting workers from chemical exposures. Through LIUNA’s efforts, the Ministry or Labour removed a longstanding exemption for the construction industry. Effective July 1st, 2016, construction employers must ensure workers are protected from dangerous levels of exposure to hazardous chemicals, including asbestos.

A Natural Born Killer

Asbestos is the name given to a group of naturally occurring minerals that are resistant to heat and corrosion. “Asbestos is the leading cause of workplace-related illnesses and deaths in Canada,” says LIUNA General President Terry O’Sullivan. “More than 150,000 workers are routinely exposed to asbestos and construction workers are among the more than 2,000 Canadians who die from mesothelioma, lung cancer and other asbestos-related diseases every year. Reducing these exposures is a positive step for all workers in Canada, including the hardworking men and women of LIUNA.”

Although Canada no longer mines asbestos, imports of products that contain it increased from $4.7 million in 2011 to $8.3 million in 2015. Because it can be decades before asbestos-related diseases surface, the number of Canadians who will become ill and require costly medical care due to these recent exposures is unknown.

Watered-Down Protection

In the U.S., where regulations and requirements for demolishing and renovating buildings that contain asbestos have been in place for more than 40 years, illnesses linked to asbestos are still killing more than 12,000 people every year. While many of these deaths stem from exposures that occurred years ago, a recent study from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that people younger than age 55 are also dying. This means workers are still being exposed to dangerous levels of asbestos fibers.

Additionally, many people don’t realize that the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) that banned many asbestos products was amended in 1991 and many products initially prohibited have been commonplace again for years. Cement pipe, millboard, roofing materials and vinyl floor tile are just a few of the building materials used in construction that may contain some asbestos. Automatic transmission components, disc brake pads and drum brake linings are among other products on the market that contain asbestos.

Keeping Workers Safe

When asbestos is known or suspected to be encountered on the job, such as during demolition or a renovation, OSHA requires employers to control worker exposures through a combination of engineering controls like ventilation systems and wet methods, administrative controls like limiting workers’ exposure time and providing showers and when necessary, providing personal protective equipment including proper respiratory protection and clothing. However, the only way to begin eliminating the risk is for the U.S. to follow Canada’s lead and ban asbestos. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), as part of the recent revisions to TSCA, is currently reviewing the need for more stringent controls on asbestos use.

The LIUNA Training and Education Fund offers classes on asbestos and asbestos abatement that provide hands-on-training on how to handle it safely. The LIUNA Canadian Tri-Fund continues to work with LIUNA Training Centers across Canada to ensure that comprehensive training in hazardous substance awareness is provided to LIUNA members.The LHSFNA offers a Health Alert on asbestos through our Publications Catalogue. To learn more about the health hazards of asbestos and how to prevent them, check out these resources from the EPANIOSH and OSHA.

[Janet Lubman Rathner]

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