Canada has announced a ban on the production and sale of asbestos and asbestos-containing materials (ACMs), making Canada the first North American country to implement an asbestos ban. The new regulation will come into effect at the end of 2018 and will ban the manufacturing, import, use or sale of asbestos and ACMs.
This is the final step to ban asbestos in Canada. We have followed through on our promise to deliver new, tougher rules to stop the import, use, sale and export of asbestos in Canada. These measures will protect our communities and the health and safety of all Canadians. — Catherine McKenna, Minister of Environment and Climate Change.
Cost of Asbestos-Related Cancers
While the Canadian government now recognizes the dangers of breathing asbestos fibers, its Regulatory Impact Analysis Statement points to a financial motivation in finally implementing an asbestos ban. The cost-benefit statement reports that treating lung cancer costs approximately $1 million per patient and that asbestos was responsible for 430 mesothelioma cases and 1,900 lung cancer cases in 2011.
Compare that to the estimated $119 million for the creation and enforcement of an asbestos ban between 2019 and 2025, and this asbestos ban may have been more of a financial decision than an ethical one.
Quebec Asbestos Industry Stalled Ban For Decades
The deadly side effects of asbestos were recognized by the medical community in the 1970s, and the World Health Organization formally recognized asbestos as a carcinogen in 1987. But Canada ignored the scientific facts for several decades, due to the economic benefits of several asbestos mines in Quebec.
The Jeffrey Mine, located in a town called Asbestos, is perhaps the most famous Quebec mine. In 2011, it was the last asbestos mine to close, but the town didn’t fare well without its prime industry. The provincial Quebec Liberals promised $58 million to reopen the mine for 20 years, but the party was defeated by Parti Quebecois a few months later. Parti Quebecois canceled the deal, sealing the fate of Jeffrey Mine while promising $50 million towards economic diversification instead.
Quebec also allows workers to be exposed to 10 times the amount of asbestos compared to other Canadian provinces’ safety regulations. Therefore, it comes as little surprise that Quebec was highly influential in Canada’s favorable stance on asbestos, overlooking the dangers for far too long.
Controversial Exemption To Asbestos Ban
However, the same Quebec lobbyists who managed to prevent asbestos from being banned for several decades seem to still be swaying the political landscape. The ban includes several controversial exceptions, which is raising ire from critics.
The exceptions include:
- Mining residues
- Mining site closures
- Mining site reclamation
“All other activities, such as mine site closure, mine site reclamation and use of asbestos mining residues to extract metals would be outside the scope of the regulations. Provincial regulations for these activities would continue to apply,” said Caroline Theriault, Press Secretary for the Ministry of Environment.
It’s the residues left behind from past mining efforts that are receiving the most criticism. It’s estimated that 800 million tons of asbestos mining residue exists between the towns of Asbestos and Thetford Mines and that this residue contains up to 40% asbestos content.
At least some of this residue appears to be earmarked for magnesium extraction. Alliance Magnesium has received a $17.5 million loan and a $13.4 million equity interest from the Quebec government to invest in technology that will extract magnesium from the asbestos residue, which will replace the aluminum currently in vehicles and airplanes.
Asbestos Bans Around The World
Of course, Canada isn’t the first country to ban asbestos—not even close. Over 50 countries across the globe have already committed to an asbestos ban, including the European Union, Japan, Australia, and several countries in Africa and South America. But Canada is the first country in North America to officially prohibit the use of asbestos.
The United States may eventually follow suit but it doesn’t look like that will occur anytime soon. The EPA has proposed new legislation that would restrict the manufacturing and import of asbestos, but only so that EPA approval is required in advance.