On the front page of this morning's Globe and Mail: Asbestos revealed as Canada’s top cause of workplace death. Excerpt:
Asbestos exposure is the single largest on-the-job killer in Canada, accounting for more than a third of total workplace death claims approved last year and nearly a third since 1996, new national data obtained by The Globe and Mail show. The 368 death claims last year alone represent a higher number than fatalities from highway accidents, fires and chemical exposures combined.
Since 1996, almost 5,000 approved death claims stem from asbestos exposure, making it by far the top source of workplace death in Canada.
The numbers come as the federal government – long a supporter of the asbestos industry – continues to allow the import of asbestos-containing products such as pipes and brake pads. A Globe and Mail investigation earlier this year detailed how Ottawa has failed to caution its citizens about the impact that even low levels of asbestos can have on human health. Canada’s government does not clearly state that all forms of asbestos are known human carcinogens. Dozens of other countries including Australia, Britain, Japan and Sweden have banned asbestos.
Canada was one of the world’s largest exporters of asbestos for decades, until 2011, when the last mine in Quebec closed. The mineral’s legacy remains, as it was widely used in everything from attic insulation to modelling clay in schools and car parts and in a variety of construction materials such as cement, tiles and shingles. Health experts warn long latency periods mean deaths from asbestos will climb further.
“The indications are that we can expect an increase [in asbestos-related diseases] to continue for at least another decade or so. And that’s assuming we as a nation ban it now. If we don’t do that, we can expect it to continue to rise indefinitely, but perhaps at a lower rate,” said Colin Soskolne, an Edmonton-based professor emeritus at the University of Alberta.
In Australia, which banned asbestos in 2003, asbestos-related diseases continue to climb. 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 also 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.”