OTTAWA – Public health advocates and environmental groups say the federal government needs to close a loophole that allows the sale of used products that contain asbestos.
Canada banned cancer-causing metals and products containing them in December 2018, more than 30 years after the World Health Organization classified them as a carcinogen.
In a July letter to Environment and Climate Change Canada, the Canadian Association of Physicians for the Environment, Friends of the Earth Canada and many others say they still find plenty of asbestos-containing products for sale online.
“We are disturbed by the fact that asbestos-containing products and asbestos samples are still being sold in Canada,” wrote Kathleen Ruff, Director of RightonCanada.ca and a longtime activist who has pushed Canada to halt the mining, use and export of asbestos.
Asbestos has been extensively mined in Quebec for decades and was once a popular product to make everything from building materials to textiles and auto parts more durable and fireproof.
But negative health effects have been showing up more than a century ago, particularly among workers who mine the fibers or use them to manufacture things like floor tiles, brake pads, oven mitts, insulation, and roofing materials.
When inhaled, asbestos microfibers lead to many health problems including lung disease known as asbestosis and a rare type of lung cancer known as mesothelioma. Asbestos is the leading cause of workplace mortality in Canada, responsible for thousands of cases of — and deaths from — mesothelioma in the past two decades alone.
The 2018 ban applies to the use, sale and import of the metal itself, as well as to the import, manufacture, sale and use of products containing asbestos. There are exceptions for products already built into buildings and vehicles.
Rove said an online search recently revealed several asbestos-laden products such as ironing board covers, gloves and auto parts, but when this was referred to Canada’s Department of Environment and Climate Change, there was no problem.
“This is neglect,” Rove said. “Why isn’t the Government of Canada responding with concern?”
The federal administration initially told Raff that exemptions from the regulations meant that any products produced before the ban took effect were feasible, so they could still be legally sold and used.
She later clarified that the exception only applies to products made and used before the ban went into effect. So now the ironing board cover that contains asbestos, made at any time but still in original packaging in the storage room, cannot now be sold. But products that contain asbestos can be sold if they have already been used, as long as they were first manufactured and used before December 30, 2018.
Raff and the other signatories said they did not agree with Environment Canada’s interpretation of the law, but said that if there was such a loophole, it should be closed immediately.
A spokeswoman for Environment Minister Jonathan Wilkinson said that asbestos is harmful to human health, which is why it was banned in the first place. In a written statement, Joanna Sivasankaran said it was up to the enforcement branch of Environment and Climate Change Canada to uphold the law.
“This is done independently of the minister’s office,” she said.
“Based on the scientific evidence of effects on human health, there is no clear justification for allowing the sale and trade of these products,” said Jane MacArthur, director of the Toxic Substances Program at the Canadian Association of Environmental Physicians.
She said old products are likely to be more harmful because they are more susceptible to damage and thus expose the asbestos fibres. Asbestos is considered harmful when microfibers are inhaled.
© 2021 Canadian Press