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Critics say Canada's asbestos ban long overdue

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Canada recently took the long-awaited step of banning asbestos products. The ban will go into effect by 2018 and critics say it's long overdue.

In December, four federal cabinet ministers were on hand to announce the comprehensive ban. It comes after years of lobbying by unions and public health officials and long after many other developed countries, including the European Union, had implemented bans.

The announcement was officially made by science minister Kirsty Duncan.

"Multiple stakeholders have called for a ban, including health advocacy groups and unions. Internationally there's been growing consensus to move away from products containing asbestos. Our government listened," Duncan said.

But Canada comes late to the party. Asbestos, at one time heralded as a wonder fiber, has been part of the fabric of life in Canada for  more than 100 years. But it has long been linked to cancer and mesothelioma, which can take decades to appear.

This year alone, about 2,300 new cases of asbestos-related cancer were diagnosed across the country, long after heavy asbestos use was in decline.

Canada was once a world leader in the production of asbestos. In 1973, at its peak, the country shipped close to 1.7 million tons of asbestos. Still, as recently as 2010, as much as 100,000 tons were being mined in Quebec. The last two mines closed in 2011.

No money has been attached to the announcement. Many Canadians are hoping for help removing asbestos from older homes.

Hassan Jusuf, with the Canadian Labour Congress, says better rules are still required.

"We will turn our efforts, of course, to try to regulate the disposal of asbestos and the remediation effort to ensure workers involved in the remediation should be in a licensed trade and, more importantly, stringent provisions should be there to protect those workers," Jusuf said.
Under the Rotterdam Convention, 156 countries have listed asbestos as hazardous. The Canadian government says it will sign on in the spring of 2017

WBFO’s comprehensive news coverage extends into Southern Ontario and Dan Karpenchuk is the station’s voice from the north. The award-winning reporter covers binational issues, including economic trends, the environment, tourism and transportation.