An article published in Canada’s “The Globe and Mail” and updated on January 2, 2015, revealed that asbestos exposure was by far the single largest workplace killer in Canada. In recent data covering 1996 – 2013, over a third of on-the-job deaths were caused by asbestos in 2013 and almost a third over the entire 17-year span reported. Of the 316 deaths in 2013, 193 were from mesothelioma. Even these figures may not cover the whole picture as the data is taken from workers’ compensation numbers and not all workers are covered by workers’ comp. It also doesn’t reflect the number of wives and children who get these diseases from asbestos second-hand or the claims that were not approved.
Yet, with these statistics, the federal government of Canada – as well as Canada’s neighbor, the United States of America – continues to support the asbestos industry by allowing the import of asbestos-containing products. While dozens of countries, including Britain and Australia, have banned asbestos, Canada does not acknowledge that all forms of asbestos are known human carcinogens. The World Health Organization firmly states, “all types of asbestos cause lung cancer, mesothelioma, cancer of the larynx and ovary, and asbestosis.” Health Canada says the asbestos fibers “can potentially” cause asbestosis, mesothelioma, and lung cancer “when inhaled in significant quantities.” The potential link to other cancers by exposure to asbestos “is less clear.” Health Canada also states,”asbestos posses potential health risks only wen fibers are present in the air people breathe.” While this may be correct, asbestos products do break down over time or when repaired or removed, releasing the fibers into the air.
The long latency period from exposure to death of 20 to 40 years coupled with the widespread use of products made from asbestos in homes, autos, and businesses means that, if it were banned now, an increase in asbestos-related diseases would continue to rise for another decade or more. If it’s not banned now, it can continue to rise indefinitely.
Currently, there are approximately 152,000 Canadian workers exposed to asbestos. This number comes from Carex Canada, a research project funded by the Canadian Partnership Against Cancer.
The “responsible public-health action would be to ban the use of asbestos in Canada and other countries and replace it with substitutes,” said Dr. Soskolne, who is chair of the International Joint Policy Committee of the Societies of Epidemiology, adding that there is “no demonstrated safe way to use it in Canada.”