After much legislative hemming and hawing in the Canadian parliament, Ottawa-based Science Minister Kristy Duncan announced at a press conference that Canada is indeed “taking the first step to ban asbestos.” The statement was as thorough as it was clear: Canada no longer wishes to let its citizens be poisoned and injured by a substance the world has known to be lethal for decades.
“We are taking action that is long overdue, and we are doing it in the best possible way,” Duncan said. The best-possible action Duncan refers to? A cross-government approach, which will involve Canada’s Public Services Minister Judy Foote and Environment Minister Catherine McKenna, and several other government departments.
Here’s What Canada’s Ban Entails
The comprehensive ban of all 6 types of asbestos is aimed to be fully implemented by January 2018 — in roughly 1 years’ time — according to reports by major Canadian news outlets. Though lethal asbestos will be banned, there will still remain tons of the stuff lurking inside of old buildings, houses, machines, and materials around Canada.
Given this, included in the government’s asbestos announcement is the creation of new regulations under the Canadian Environmental Protection Act (CEPA), and new workplace health and safety rules intended to drastically lower the risk of workers coming into contact with asbestos on the job.
In addition, national building codes will be altered to prohibit the use of asbestos in construction projects. The Canadian government is also determined to allocate funding for generating awareness of the health risks of asbestos exposure, including the growth and proliferation of asbestos-related lung cancer and diseases.
Canada’s announcement to ban asbestos follows fast on the heels of prime minister Trudeau’s promise in May 2016 to rule asbestos out of the country and to start down a path toward a cleaner, healthier, and less-toxic living environment for all Canadians. This, due in large part to the fact that Canada has been — for decades — one of the largest importers and exporters of asbestos in the world.
What This Means for the Canadian Public; What It Could Mean for Americans
Canada, much like the U.S., has depended on free-market, laissez-faire economics for much of its existence. Part of Canada’s economic success has been its ability to afford companies free reign in terms of global capitalism.
Asbestos, a major commodity for several countries, but especially Canada, who continues to be one of the global trade market’s largest producers, has been a mainstay in the chloralkili industry for over a century. Companies in this industry niche use asbestos — a fibrous, naturally occurring mineral, for its natural strength and fire-resistant properties. For this reason, asbestos was used in various building materials, including roof and floor tiles, shingles, insulation, and hundreds other products both in and outside of construction.
For generations, however, both the industry that uses asbestos and the population at large, has known of asbestos’s lethal nature. Asbestos has been named by the World Health Organization (WHO) as a “known carcinogen to humans,” because exposure to it can lead to asbestos-related diseases such as: asbestosis (a scarring of the lungs), lung cancer, and mesothelioma — a cancer that attacks the thin layer protecting one’s lungs. Given this, asbestos has also been banned in over 50 countries worldwide, including most so-called “developed” nations and much of Europe.
Asbestos is the only known cause of mesothelioma, a particularly deadly kind of cancer, with an average prognosis of between 2 to 18 months, but often less. Asbestos is responsible for 107,000 annual deaths worldwide. In Canada, the death toll is around 400. And on the Homefront, here, in the U.S., the annual death toll is far, far worse.
Asbestos in the United States Still Lurks Where People Don’t Expect It
In the U.S. each year, around 3,200 new cases of mesothelioma are diagnosed. Often, the people affected are our brave men and women who have served in the U.S. military, particularly on Air Force bases or in Naval shipyards, but also many workers of the construction, renovating, plumbing, pipefitting, electricity, mining, mechanics, welding, firefighting and auto industries.
By some estimates, asbestos causes roughly 12,000 to 15,000 deaths per year in America, making it one of the leading cause of death. This, of course, is completely unacceptable, and yet it has remained this way for decades because of the rich armies of lobbyists influencing American politics on Capitol Hill. The companies that use asbestos in their products have known about the deadly risks of the mineral, but have time and time again chosen to keep on using it anyway.
At the tail-end of last year, the TSCA Reform Act, known officially as the Frank R. Lautenberg Act of the 21st Century, passed unanimously in Congress. Later, in June 2016, President Obama signed the act into law. This charged the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) with the responsibility to investigate and call for stricter regulations — or outright bans — on a number of chemicals and substances that pose a threat to American health.
According to the law, the agency must investigate 10 chemicals and substances. In its first batch of 10, the EPA identified asbestos as one such substance to investigate; the mineral will be studied rigorously over the next 2 to 3 years.
By some estimates, Americans can hope for a ban on asbestos as early as 2021. Though, this, of course, remains up in the air, depending largely on the goals (and whims) of the President-elect and his forthcoming cabinet and administration.
What Precedent Does Canada’s Ban Set for Us?
One can hope that with Canada’s announcement to ban asbestos, in combination with the U.S.’s recently-passed Lautenberg Act and the Environmental Protection Agency’s naming of asbestos as one of the first 10 items to be studied, such a ban in the U.S. is at least several steps closer.
Let us cross our fingers, for now, however, and simply remain as hopeful as we can be. The recent news out of Canada is certainly a good thing. But on the home front, at least right now, with the outgoing EPA administration and President-elect Trump’s new nominee Myron Ebell to head the agency, such a ban in the U.S. might seem a slightly more difficult achievement.
However, if the U.S. government and its forthcoming administration is able to put aside greed and their own selfish interests in their businesses and personal portfolios, then there’s a chance that one thing could remain resolutely clear: That each and every year, thousands of Americans are dying from asbestos, and we haven’t yet done a damn thing to stop it.