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The Canadian government is moving to ban the use of asbestos by 2018, Science Minister Kirsty Duncan announced on 15 December. The ban on asbestos, which the World Health Organization declared a “human carcinogen” in 1987, will apply to the manufacture of any products containing the substance, as well as on imports and exports.

More than 50 countries around the world have banned asbestos, but Canada has been consistently reluctant to follow suit, at least in part because of asbestos’s role in the economy.

Quebec, in towns such as Thetford Mines and Asbestos, was the main producer in Canada. Canada has been slow to take on the asbestos industry, in part, because asbestos has long been considered a political sacred cow in Quebec.

After most wealthy, developed countries banned the carcinogenic mineral, the province sought to find markets in developing countries. Canada’s last asbestos mines closed in 2011, but political leaders have continued to drag their feet on meeting international anti-asbestos standards.

Kathleen Ruff,  a well-known Canadian ban asbestos campaigner, now hopes the next step will be for Canada to support a crucially important UN treaty, the "Rotterdam Convention on the Prior Informed Consent Procedure for Certain Hazardous Chemicals and Pesticides in International Trade."

The purpose of that agreement is, primarily, to protect nations of the global South from having toxic substances such as asbestos dumped on them. Since agreements such as the Rotterdam Convention require consensus -- in effect, unanimity -- Canada and a few other holdout countries have been able to stymie implementation of the Convention.

Civil society groups from around the world have warmly welcomed the news that the Canadian government is to outlaw the use of asbestos. "The significance of Canada’s U-turn is enormous as it was the Canadian Government which brought a case against the French asbestos ban to the World Trade Organization, Canadian politicians who led the veto of United Nations actions to regulate the global asbestos trade and Canadian civil servants and vested interests which orchestrated global pro-asbestos marketing initiatives", stated the anti-asbestos movement in a press release signed by seven organizations, including the Building and Woodworkers International (BWI).

Inhaling even small amounts of airborne asbestos fibres can cause lung cancer, a cancer of the tissues called mesothelioma, and asbestosis — a lung disease specifically caused by breathing in asbestos.

Studies funded by the Canadian Cancer Society have found asbestos exposure kills more than 2,000 people in Canada each year.

The Canadian Labour Congress estimates 150,000 Canadian workers are regularly exposed to asbestos through jobs in construction, waste management, auto maintenance, and ship building.

Sources:, The Canadian press, IBAS.

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