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Asbestos and Mesothelioma in Canada

Canada has a high rate of mesothelioma cancer because of asbestos mining and extensive use of asbestos in a wide range of industries, in buildings, and in ships. Canada was once one of the leading exporters of asbestos with most of its mines in the province of Quebec. Because of all of this mining and asbestos use, the number of mesothelioma deaths in the country has yet to level out as it has in the U.S.

Today, the mines are closed and the government has put regulations in place to protect workers and residents from asbestos. Still, asbestos has not been banned in Canada, and because of the long latency period of asbestos-related illnesses, thousands of people are still suffering from mesothelioma and asbestosis. Thousands more are expected to develop symptoms from past exposure in the coming years.

Facts about Mesothelioma and Asbestos in Canada

Like the U.S., Canada has a long and troubled history with asbestos. Prized for its ability to insulate, fireproof, and add flexible strength to materials, asbestos was used in a range of industries. Canada also had a thriving asbestos mining industry that contributed significantly to exposure.

  • The number of diagnoses of mesothelioma, and the number of deaths caused by mesothelioma continue to rise in Canada.
  • Mesothelioma cases increased 60 percent from 2000 to 2012.
  • Exposure to asbestos is the leading cause of occupational death in the country.
  • Prevalence of mesothelioma in Canada is highest in Quebec, where several asbestos mines were in operation for many years.
  • The last asbestos mine in Canada closed in 2011 in Quebec.
  • Another hotspot for mesothelioma is southwestern Ontario because of the high number of industrial jobs, especially in petrochemical plants in Sarnia.

Products and Industries That Used Asbestos

Asbestos was used in a number of industries in Canada for many decades. Since it has not been completely banned in the country, there are still some industries and products that use asbestos. And, there are older homes, industrial sites, and ships that still contain asbestos materials and that may pose a risk to anyone working or residing in those locations.

Some of the industries in Canada that used a lot of asbestos were construction, chemical manufacturing, shipbuilding, mining, textile production, insulation manufacturing, power generation, and many others. Nearly any type of industrial workplace was likely to have had asbestos on the premises or used in the materials made.

Many different products contained asbestos and in older buildings may still have asbestos: insulation, roofing materials, flooring tiles, wallboard, cement board, fireproofing materials, heat resistant materials, clutches and brakes in cars, and many materials in ships, including insulation, boilers, turbines, gaskets, flooring, and ceiling materials.

Asbestos Mining in Canada

Canada’s use of asbestos in industries like construction, factories, and shipbuilding was not much different from in the U.S. But, Canada had a much bigger asbestos mining industry than the U.S., and at one time was one of the leading exporters of asbestos in the world. This asbestos mining industry had a big and negative impact on mine workers, their families, and the residents that lived near the mines, mostly in Quebec. The first asbestos mine in the country began operating there in 1879, and the last one shut operations in the province in 2011.

The fibers produced as asbestos was mined caused exposure among the workers who inhaled them, but they also brought fibers home on their clothing and contaminated their families. Residents who lived near mines were also likely to be exposed by airborne fibers that were carried on the wind and got into the soil and water. As early as the 1920s the mine owners may have known about the health risks caused by this exposure, but sat on the information.

The mining industry was so economically important and powerful that Canada was one of a handful of countries that actively advocated to prevent chrysotile asbestos from being put on a United Nations list of harmful substances. This occurred in 2008 at the Rotterdam convention, decades after the health risks of asbestos were well known. The Canadian government at the time also resisted complete bans on asbestos, which was recommended by the World Health Organization. Since then, the last mine in Quebec has been shut, but asbestos still has not been completely banned in Canada, and there have bene some attempts to re-open mines.

People at Risk of Asbestos Exposure

Workers in a wide range of settings were at risk of being exposed to asbestos and are still at risk of developing long-latency illnesses like mesothelioma and asbestos. Anyone who worked in a factory, in shipbuilding or repair, in asbestos mines, in transporting or processing asbestos from mines, in construction, in demolition, as auto mechanics, and in any industrial setting was at risk of exposure.

Today people in Canada are still at risk because asbestos has not been banned outright and because the large amounts used over the years are still found in ships, homes, factories, and around mining areas. Anyone living in an older home may be at risk of exposure when doing renovations or repairs. People working on ships are still at risk, and people who live where asbestos was mined may still be at risk.

Asbestos Regulations and Laws

Canada has long resisted the idea of a full ban on asbestos, but the government has put regulations in place in an attempt to protect workers and residents. The Hazardous Products Act regulates the manufacturing and sale of consumer products that contain asbestos. Emissions and environmental exposure limits to asbestos are regulated by the Canadian Environmental Protection Act.

Although there are currently no asbestos mines operating in Canada, there have been pushes to re-open some of them. The government considered the possibility as recently as 2014 when the newly elected Liberal Party in Quebec finally decided against re-opening any of the mines.

Compensation for Exposure Victims

People in Canada who got sick from asbestos exposure have options for seeking compensation. Although there are sources of compensation, including asbestos trusts, statistics show that not even half of qualified workers apply to receive money. The Canadian Society for Asbestos Victims helps people make claims and get the compensation they need for medical bills and other expenses. Some of the ways people can get compensation include through the WorkSafeBC Disability Pension, the Canada Pension Plan Disability, the Veterans Affairs Disability Pension, and through class action suits.

Mesothelioma Treatment Centers in Canada

Victims of asbestos exposure need specialty medical care if they develop asbestosis or mesothelioma. Canadian citizens are able to get medical treatment through the nationalized healthcare system for free or may choose to pay for private healthcare. Some of the facilities in Canada that offer cancer care and mesothelioma treatment include Toronto Western Hospital, McGill University Health Centre in Montreal, London Regional Cancer Centre in London, Ontario, Vancouver Cancer Centre, Nova Scotia Cancer Centre in Halifax, and the Princess Margaret Hospital in Surrey, British Columbia.

People around the world have been negatively impacted by the use of asbestos. In Canada, workers and residents have been effected by exposure to asbestos in industrial workplaces but also through the extensive mining industry. The country continues to resist a complete ban on asbestos and there is always a chance that asbestos mining will start up again. Those affected by asbestos can seek compensation and specialty care, but there are likely to continue to be more cases of mesothelioma as more people are exposed to asbestos.

Page edited by Dave Foster

Dave has been a mesothelioma Patient Advocate for over 10 years. He consistently attends all major national and international mesothelioma meetings. In doing so, he is able to stay on top of the latest treatments, clinical trials, and research results. He also personally meets with mesothelioma patients and their families and connects them with the best medical specialists and legal representatives available.

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