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Kirsty Duncan, Minister of Science, makes an announcement regarding new asbestos measures in Ottawa on Thursday. (Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press)
Kirsty Duncan, Minister of Science, makes an announcement regarding new asbestos measures in Ottawa on Thursday. (Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press)

Globe editorial

Globe editorial: Asbestos: Canada finally bans a deadly substance Add to ...

The trade name “Asbestos” comes from a Greek word meaning “unquenchable.” So it was grimly appropriate for the most deadly killer in the Canadian workplace. At last, the use of this fire-retardant and insulation material will be quenched in Canada, though hardly soon enough.

The government of Canada is finally banning this dreadful carcinogen. Public health authorities long ago concluded that it was dangerous, but Canada has dragged its feet about prohibiting it.

As a result, this country has one of the world’s highest rates of mesothelioma, a particularly virulent form of cancer, caused by asbestos. Near the end of his term, former prime minister Stephen Harper finally accepted that asbestos should be banned, and the government of Justin Trudeau has acted on this, after cautiously saying only that it “would work toward” prohibiting asbestos.

Read more: In a ‘win for public health,’ Canada moves to ban asbestos

In pictures: Asbestos in Canada: The politics, the economics, and the deadly legacy 

Read more: No safe use: The Canadian asbestos epidemic

Until now, Canada had imported about $10-million worth of asbestos annually, mostly in the form of brake pads and industrial pipes. Far more has been spent each year ridding the country’s homes, schools, hospitals and office buildings of the stuff.

At one time, there was a large asbestos-mining industry in Canada, specifically in Quebec. With our Canadian obsessive preoccupation with propping up regional economic industries, there has long been a reluctance to suppress even such toxic enterprises as this. Other countries banned the substance, and Quebec’s asbestos industry gradually withered away, but still Canada delayed.

The federal government has now set an end for the Canadian asbestos industry in 2018. Ideally, it should be put to an end immediately, though there is a case to be made that it takes some time to get rid of the deadly material; we can’t just leave the stuff lying around on the ground or in the shafts of old mines.

Ottawa’s promise to impose a full ban by a definite time is welcome. Nonetheless, it’s a little unsettling when the government says it hopes to prohibit asbestos by 2018, and to change the rules and regulation by that date.

Hope is not enough. Because the evidence against asbestos is so compelling, and has been around for so long, many Canadians mistakenly believe that asbestos must have been banned long ago. That belief must finally be made real.

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Also on The Globe and Mail

What you need to know about Canada’s deadly asbestos legacy (The Globe and Mail)

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