A new report is suggesting the air at many Quebec construction sites contains levels of asbestos at or above provincial norms, raising fresh questions about whether the substance can be handled safely in Canada.

The study, released by Quebec's Public Health Department, examined 3,000 air samples taken from worksites that were considered at elevated risk for asbestos exposure.

It found that 43 per cent of the sites had concentrations of the mineral's cancer-causing fibres that met or exceeded the limit. "What (the study) shows is that even though in Quebec we have norms, active laws, inspectors and also the availability of protective gear . . . it's (still) very difficult to adhere to the norms," said Louise Souliere, public-health director for a central Quebec region that is home to one of Canada's last asbestos mines.

"So, this means that even the workers who know they're working with asbestos are sometimes at risk." The study highlights that Quebec's occupational asbestos exposure limit allows for 10 times more airborne fibres than other Canadian provinces — and 100 times more than some European countries. The report includes data on asbestos exposure taken between 2003 and 2009, some of which had previously been published.

The study was released as the Quebec government mulls over whether to give a controversial $58-million bank-loan guarantee to extend the life of the Jeffrey Mine in the city of Asbestos.

Source: <i>The Canadian Press</i>