Letter to Government of Canada: Call for an Asbestos Ban

 

On March 31, 2016, the OFL sent letters to the Federal Minister of Minister of Employment, Workforce Development and Labour and the Minister of Science to call for a national ban on all asbestos products.

To download PDF versions of the letters, click on Min. Mihychuk or Min. Duncan.


March 31, 2016

The Honourable MaryAnn Mihychuk, P.C., M.P.
Minister of Employment, Workforce Development and Labour
House of Commons
Ottawa, ON K1A 0A6

The Honourable Kirsty Duncan, P.C., M.P.
Minister of Science
House of Commons
Ottawa, ON K1A 0A6

Dear Ministers:

On behalf of the one million workers the Ontario Federation of Labour represents and the thousands of workers whom have died due to asbestos-related diseases, I would like to emphasize the urgency of taking action on asbestos. After years of inaction, Canada now has the opportunity to once again base public policy on scientific evidence, protecting both worker and public health by initiating a comprehensive ban on asbestos.

To this day, every year, 145,000 Canadian workers are exposed to asbestos at their workplace, and tragically, over 2,000 are diagnosed with often fatal asbestos cancers and other diseases.

According to preliminary work by the Occupational Cancer Research Centre (OCRC) Ontario has 517 lung cancers and 118 mesotheliomas diagnosed annually as a result of occupational exposures to asbestos. Occupationally caused mesothelioma accounts for 76% of all cases in Ontario. The remainder result from environmental exposure to asbestos or family members of workers exposed to asbestos.

Our work in Sarnia, Ontario with occupational disease victims has found many women suffering from asbestos related illnesses. Their primary exposure was from washing their husband’s work clothes which were covered in asbestos fibres. Other individuals have died of asbestos related cancers because their primary exposure was as a child hugging their fathers when they came home from work covered in asbestos fibres.

Yet Canada continues to allow the import and use of asbestos without any comprehensive strategy to phase out asbestos or to promote safe substitutes. Previous governments have refused to ban asbestos, sullying Canada’s international reputation by ignoring scientific and technical information.

We have high hopes your government will announce its intent, if not table a comprehensive ban of asbestos, prior to the summer recess.

More specifically, we would like to recommend:

  1. Pass legislation officially banning the use, export and import of asbestos. Such legislation has been passed in 56 other countries, including the United Kingdom, France, Germany, Japan and South Korea and many other Canadian trade partners.
  2. Establish an expert panel on banning asbestos. Some aspects of a comprehensive ban of asbestos are less straightforward and could be studied by an expert panel on asbestos, which would include labour, legal, health, environmental and other experts. The purview of this parliamentary expert panel could include the challenges related to stockpiles, provincial-territorial licensing and trades registration for asbestos removal, disposal issues, as well as the appalling friable asbestos in First Nations’ housing.
  3. Substitute for safe alternatives. According to Statistics Canada, imports of asbestos-related items have been steadily increasing from $4.7 million in 2011 to $8.2 million in 2015. The bulk of these goods consisted of replacement asbestos brake linings and pads while other imports included raw asbestos, friction materials, pipes and tiles. Alternative asbestos-free brake pads are already manufactured in Guelph, Ontario. This means that substituting for safe alternatives will also create Canadian jobs.
  4. Support a pan-Canadian registry of asbestos exposure locations and asbestos diseases. This would involve working with provincial and territorial Premiers and First Nations on establishing a pan-Canadian asbestos strategy, including both an asbestos disease registry as well as a public building registry.
  5. Support a comprehensive health response to asbestos diseases. This will involve working with the provinces and territories to support the early detection and effective treatment of asbestos diseases, especially mesothelioma, the terrible cancer caused predominantly by asbestos. This would include medical monitoring of the workers currently exposed to asbestos, including those in the asbestos-remediation trade.
  6. Provide support for the transition of affected businesses, workers and communities. We need to ensure those who have been making asbestos products have support for the transition process.
  7. Commit to a leadership role at the Rotterdam Convention. Canada should support, if not advocate, for the addition of chrysotile asbestos to the Prior Informed Consent (PIC) list of hazardous chemicals and pesticides under the Rotterdam Convention.
  8. Remove the exclusions for asbestos-containing materials in WHMIS 2015 (GHS). Asbestos-containing products, like brake pads, are excluded from Canada’s implementation of the Globally Harmonized System of Classification and Labelling of Chemicals (GHS). Excluding asbestos from the scope of GHS (WHMIS 2015) is unconscionable, especially now that other jurisdictions implementing the same globally harmonized system, such as the U.S. and European Commission, have included consumer products which contain asbestos.
  9. Prohibit the use of asbestos-containing materials in federally-funded infrastructure projects. As is the case for brake pads, the use of asbestos cement pipes is also on the rise in Canada. Substitutes are readily available. It is very important that asbestos cement pipes and other asbestos products not be permitted in federally-funded projects and that the federal government work with the provinces and territories to follow suit.
  10. Work with municipalities and provinces on asbestos disposal. Asbestos products in any form (brake pads, pipes or tiles) are eventually cut and processed, producing dust, which may uncontrollably spread to the workplace and broader community. There are also concerns about asbestos disposal in Canadian landfills. Provinces and municipalities need assistance, if not model legislation, to deal with this.

Canada has the opportunity to show the world we care about stopping the tragedy of asbestos, Canada’s and the world’s biggest occupational killer. We believe the upcoming National Day of Mourning, April 28, offers a tremendous opportunity for you, Minister, to make things right in response to the asbestos epidemic.

Yours sincerely,

CHRIS BUCKLEY

President
Ontario Federation of Labour

c.c.:      Hassan Yussuff, President, Canadian Labour Congress

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