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November 19, 2018

Labor vows to remove asbestos from 1200 schools

$50 million would be spent on audits and removing asbestos that poses an immediate risk to students and teachers.

$50 million would be spent on audits and removing asbestos that poses an immediate risk to students and teachers. Photo: Rob Gunstone

Asbestos in 1200 Victorian state schools would be removed by 2020 under an “ambitious” $100 million Labor Party plan.

Again visiting a marginal sand-belt seat, Opposition Leader Daniel Andrews made a pitch to parents, vowing to conduct a full audit of state government schools to identify asbestos and remove it.

The Sunday Age reported this week that teachers and principals had made an election-eve plea for asbestos to be fully removed from all schools after a secret state government audit found some are so plagued with the material that buildings need to be cordoned off or cleaned up immediately.

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Of the 368 audits released, only 30 schools were asbestos-free.

Under Mr Andrews’ plan, $50 million would be spent on audits and removing asbestos that posed an immediate risk to students and teachers.

Another $50 million would be spent to accelerate the retirement and replacement of 250 old portable classrooms which are not part of Labor’s $510 million capital works program already outlined.

Labor conceded it was an “ambitious target” and that $100 million was a down payment for the first stage.

Labor education spokesman James Merlino said the Napthine government had dropped the ball on asbestos in schools over the past four years.

“What kind of message does it send to parents and to school communities that you have stickers across our school buildings, across Victoria, saying there is deadly asbestos and then do nothing about it?” Mr Merlino said.

But the Coalition said the plan was an under-costed hoax and Mr Andrews did not understand the facts.

“If ‘Dodgy Dan’ had proper costings, he would know that the cost of removing asbestos from schools is closer to $1 billion than $100 million,” a Coalition spokesman said.

“If he did his homework he would know that there are hundreds of audits of schools, and under this government funding for asbestos removal has more than doubled.”

The government said schools had asbestos management plans and conducted three-monthly checks, with training provided to key staff.

Victorian Principals Association president Gabrielle Leigh welcomed the announcement, and said principals would be pleased a government would finally take responsibility for asbestos in schools.

“I’m hoping $100 million actually covers it. We’ve been calling on the government about asbestos and asbestos labelling and how schools need support for this,” she said.

Ms Leigh said schools didn’t have the resources to properly deal with the problem.

Oakleigh Primary School and Kindergarten would be one of the beneficiaries of the funding.

Principal Jack Fisher said the asbestos had to be constantly monitored in case of damage.

“This has been an ongoing issue for many decades,” he said.

Mr Fisher said removing asbestos in government schools was just the tip of the iceberg.

“I’m conscious of the fact that asbestos is most likely in a number of public buildings, including early childhood centres, kindergartens, independent schools, community centres and other government buildings,” he said.

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Labor vows to remove asbestos from 1200 schools

Cancer link to two asbestos factories

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Queensland Health’s executive director of the Health Protection Unit, Sophie Dwyer, confirmed the “raw data” from the Queensland Cancer Registry showed 20 people who had contracted mesothelioma lived within a 1.5-kilometre radius from the two plants.

However, the risk from asbestos from Gaythorne’s former asbestos history is now low, according to Ms Dwyer.

She confirmed that “sheets” of old asbestos were being found in a creek leading into Kedron Brook.

However, Ms Dwyer told residents at a public meeting at the Gaythorne RSL on Tuesday night that the risks from asbestos had declined since the plant closed.

“People should be aware that the site has not been used as an asbestos factory for over 20 years, so any general ambient contamination outside buildings is likely to have washed away with subsequent rain and flood events,” Ms Dwyer said.

“The greatest risk would have occurred when the factory was in operation and during close-down and clean-up.”

Ms Dwyer said Queensland Health was more than aware of public concerns in the two areas of Brisbane because there was a “30 to 40-year latency period” for asbestos-related diseases, between exposure and the emergence of mesothelioma.

On Wednesday morning Ms Dwyer said there were many variables that had to be cross-checked before the significance of the cancer disease close to the two asbestos factory sites could be classed as “significant”.

She said that included whether those people who contracted asbestos-related diseases had moved recently to the locations, whether they had worked at the factories, or whether the sufferers were the partner of a person who worked at either of the factories.

That research was part of a four-pronged study now underway into cancer-related diseases at Gaythorne, Mitchelton and Newstead, Ms Dwyer said.

She said the raw data was “important” but it was too early to tell if the asbestos-related disease statistics were “significant”.

Three Queensland Government departments – Environment, Health and Occupational Health and Safety with the Attorney-General’s department – and Brisbane City Council have been drawn into a multi-agency investigation.

Ms Dwyer said teams were doing inspections of dump sites being notified by residents, talking to James Hardie about the operations of the two plants and trying to locate former staff and management of the Wunderlich factory.

“Queensland Health is working with other agencies to determine whether there are any current health risks for residents living in close proximity to the former plant.”

This review will include tests of asbestos that has been found and checks of results found by a private company employed by a Brisbane media outlet.

“An environmental sampling program of the area surrounding the former Wunderlich factory will incorporate recognised testing standards and sampling methods,” Ms Dwyer said.

“If significant, above-background levels of contamination are detected as part of this investigation, then recommendations relating to health protection or mitigation measures to manage ongoing risks to the community will be provided to the appropriate agencies.”

Amanda Richards, general manager of Queensland’s Asbestos-Related Disease Society, on Tuesday said northside residents were now worried after several “dumps” of old asbestos sheeting were found.

“Every day we are getting more phone calls from people who lived in the area or who worked at the factory,” Ms Richards told Fairfax Radio 4BC.











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Cancer link to two asbestos factories

Mr Fluffy homes can be demolished safely, asbestos taskforce head Andrew Kefford says

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“It is possible to demolish a house with loose-fill asbestos safely and without there being a risk to neighbouring property,” he said. “It’s an area of work which is very heavily regulated and at the point where the houses are actually being knocked over, either the lose-fill asbestos has been removed or it has been bonded to the structures so the prospect of the fibres escaping is being controlled.”

He pointed to a demolition of a Fluffy house in Woden in July, where he said asbestos removalists had worked for a fortnight before the building was knocked over to remove the remaining fibres and glue the rest to the structure, so by the time it was knocked over it was safe. Dust-suppression measures would be in place during demolition, along with air monitoring.

“The whole thing is designed so at the point it is actually knocked over, the fibres are controlled and there is active dust suppression and active air monitoring to make sure that it’s working,” he said.

With the Woden home, the internal walls were removed so the remaining fibres could be taken out before demolition, but the taskforce has been considering how to handle double-brick houses, where the load-bearing wall is on the inside, so the outside wall must come off first to clean asbestos from the wall cavities. Mr Kefford confirmed some would have to be “bubble wrapped” – effectively enclosed in a tent – but for others, it would be safe to use technologies such as foam products, glue and water suppression to prevent fibres escaping.

“It is possible to demolish a double-brick house safely and not necessarily by putting it in a bubble,” he said. “It is something we are continuing to explore, but all of the advice we’re getting from the industry is it can be done safely.”

Each house would be assessed separately and have a demolition plan in place.

“If the advice is this house needs a bubble because it’s so bad, then there will be a bubble.”

Asked about an exclusion zone around houses, he said “the bloke standing on site spraying dust suppression might wear a suit”, but “the whole process is designed from beginning to end to prevent fibres from escaping”.

Once the house was down, 10 centimetres of soil would be removed from under the footprint of the house and a little wider, then the soil would be tested. If it showed asbestos fibres, “you keep digging and then you test again”.

“This is a heavily regulated process. At the point that the asbestos assessor is prepared to sign off that the site is clean, they stop digging.”

In the Downer demolition last year, 30 centimetres of soil had been removed. In Woden, testing had been clear after 10 centimetres.

“You need to be in a position to say this block has been remediated, which means we tested, we didn’t find anything, we replaced the dirt to ground level with clean fill and this block is now remediated,” he said.

“We’re getting a lot of questions about this, but the point is it can be done safely. It is a very tightly regulated space and at the end of that process it is possible to say that it’s been done properly and safely.”

The government is considering a buyback and demolition of the 1000 homes.











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Mr Fluffy homes can be demolished safely, asbestos taskforce head Andrew Kefford says

If asbestos is detected in home, consult a professional about having it removed

VICTORIA – Renovations can be stressful for a homeowner, especially when dealing with an older home where asbestos may be hiding under old flooring or around heating ducts.

Before Madeleine Bragg and her husband bought their 1940s home in Fernie, B.C., they had it inspected for asbestos, which was commonly mined and used for its high tolerance to heat. Roof tiles and insulation were tested and the conclusion was their new home was free of asbestos.

Unfortunately it wasn’t until they began renovating and were ripping up the old linoleum flooring in the kitchen that they discovered their home did, in fact, have asbestos.

Pulling up the flooring revealed a second layer of linoleum that had a paper lining containing asbestos.

“I was six months pregnant. I was flipping out,” says Bragg. “I thought it was so awful and if I had known asbestos was in the house we wouldn’t have bought it, or would have paid significantly less for it.”

The couple looked into removing the asbestos themselves, but when they realized the costs of the disposal bags and having to ship it out of town to be properly discarded, they opted to have professionals do the job for them.

Mid-construction the Braggs had to leave their home to be bagged and correctly treated before work could resume.

Summer Green, owner of RemovAll Remediation Services in Victoria, says it is possible for homeowners to do a smaller job themselves if they follow proper guidelines, such as those from WorkSafeBC.

“If it was my daughter, and her husband wanted to deal with asbestos on his own, I would say wet it down, follow the approved guidelines, and they would probably be OK,” says Green.

Many of the guidelines in place for abatement and removal are meant to protect construction workers and contractors who may come into contact with asbestos on a regular basis, but homeowners should be cautious and informed when removing asbestos.

According to Green, any home built before the 1990s could contain asbestos in the insulation and drywall and around boilers and pipes.

“Older houses are often heated by boilers and hot water registers,” she says. “Those pipes were covered in asbestos, often 80 to 90 per cent asbestos. With forced air heating they used duct tape, but at that time it was asbestos tape. Any white tape you see on your ducts contains asbestos, and they don’t even bother testing it.”

Many homeowners are unaware they have asbestos in their house until they become involved in a home renovation project where testing is required for work permits.

Green says it is possible for people to have lived in a house containing asbestos for many years without any health problems because issues arise only when asbestos fibres are released into the air.

“You can go up in an attic and breathe in fibreglass insulation and it can get in your lungs, and it can cause problems, but with fibreglass insulation the fibres are straight fibres,” says Green. “But with an asbestos fibre no matter how small you make it or break it down they are constantly splitting and have a barb on them.”

Fibreglass fibres can be coughed out of someone’s lungs, but with asbestos, Green says, fibres hook into the walls of your lungs and you can’t get them out.

According to the Government of Canada, potential health problems from asbestos exposure include asbestosis (scarring of the lungs which makes it hard to breathe), mesothelioma (a cancer of the lining of the chest or abdominal cavity) and lung cancer.

The cost of removing asbestos has begun to affect not only the way homeowners proceed with renovations, but it can also affect the cost of purchasing and insuring a home.

“In real estate, inspectors are noticing asbestos in the insulation on the forced air ducts or pipes, and homeowners have to deal with it before a house is sold,” says Green.

“Mortgage companies are saying they won’t finance until the asbestos is gone, and insurance companies may not insure without a clearance letter, which can affect the price of a home.”

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If asbestos is detected in home, consult a professional about having it removed

Asbestos homes built as experiments in 1970s

Asbestos homes built as experiments in 1970s

ACT NewsReal Estate News

Date

An ACT government spokeswoman confirmed the government was aware of the homes which were built as part of the NCDC Government Housing Construction Program in the 1970s.

An ACT government spokeswoman confirmed the government was aware of the homes which were built as part of the NCDC Government Housing Construction Program in the 1970s.

The National Capital Development Commission exhibited the six experimental modular houses as part of a push towards alternative housing construction in the 1970s.

The Kambah homes were exhibited for public display in May 1975 and then were allocated to public housing tenants.

A brochure from the time about the new houses says the homes have clear contemporary lines with flat roofs and floor to ceiling windows, white walls and in contrast, brightly coloured front doors.

The design of the houses ensures that they will be cool in summer and in winter, once heated, will retain warmth because of their insulated walls and ceilings.

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Asbestos homes built as experiments in 1970s

Assessors failed to detect blue asbestos in family's home

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For this young family, the large mortgage on their home has left them in financial limbo – and completely at the mercy of whatever settlement package is offered.

“We are looking down the barrel of facing financial ruin, which, when you are a young family just starting out, is pretty bad,” Mr Ziolkowski said.

The couple has few savings and even struggled to meet the costs of repeated asbestos assessments. Now they are now watching every dollar of the ACT government’s assistance package for families displaced by asbestos, knowing there is nothing in reserve for when it runs out.

The Ziolkowskis are also seeking answers on how their home was contaminated with blue asbestos and whether there are potential legal ramifications given the public health risks of blue asbestos were already well documented at the time it was being installed by Mr Fluffy.

ACT WorkSafe Commissioner Mark McCabe said blue asbestos had been discovered in just three homes in the ACT.

Mr and Mrs Ziolkowski are haunted by the idea their children have been exposed to crocidolite.

Their initiation assessment, undertaken by a Class A licensed assessor shortly after the government’s February warning letter to households, came back clear.

But, after the Ziolkowskis joined the Fluffy Owners and Residents’ Action Group and began discussing the issue with other affected families, they realised no samples had been taken and questioned the validity of the result.

A burst water pipe provided the chance for a second assessment – which also came back clear.

Mrs Ziolkowski said: “I was trying to stay positive that the house was going to be OK, but something inside me felt wrong. I actually felt sick all the time and I would get angry when Jonathan was playing on the floor and getting dusty – a part of me was always asking ‘what if?’ It was this constant sense of unease and stress.”

When her asbestos assessor came to check the repaired pipe, Mrs Ziolkowski asked whether any further testing should be undertaken but was reassured that it was unnecessary.

It was only when she checked her wardrobes and found large gaps in the wall cavities earlier this month that she called her assessor back and asked him to take a sample – which came back positive.

She then sought a second opinion from Robson Environmental, which undertook a forensic inspection. Samples from every room except the kitchen showed the presence of blue asbestos fibres.

Mrs Ziolkowski was at a shopping centre when the taskforce called to recommend the family vacate the home immediately.

“I was so completely hysterical a complete stranger came up to me and offered to take my baby and sit with her and feed her while I was on the phone,” she said. “I don’t have a home any more. We don’t have any possessions. We can never go back.”

The couple is concentrating on keeping calm for their children. But Mrs Ziolkowski is undergoing counselling to manage her grief and is having trouble sleeping.

Mr Ziolkowski is trying to focus on his work as a scientist, in order to protect their vital sole income.

Mr Fluffy Owner and Residents’ Action Group founder Brianna Heseltine said the family’s case raised questions for the government about the reliability of asbestos assessments and the need for a clear risk management strategy.

“I think the government needs to accept that residents are entitled to feel increasingly unprepared to play Russian roulette in their homes,” she said. “The absence of evidence is not evidence of absence. One group member reminded me yesterday that it is his family that bears the exposure risk, not the government, and any delays on a decision about what to do with the homes could prove to be a tipping point.”











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Assessors failed to detect blue asbestos in family's home

Part of U.S. Capitol closed to probe asbestos incident: officials

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Parts of the U.S. Capitol were closed early on Thursday while authorities investigated a possible asbestos release, delaying the start of the House of Representatives session and canceling some tours of the building.

U.S. Capitol Police said an “industrial spill” had occurred. Later, a spokeswoman for the Architect of the Capitol said there was a potential release during ongoing asbestos removal on the House side of the Capitol.

Spokeswoman Laura Condeluci said samples were being collected to determine if there was potential harmful exposure in the incident that occurred overnight.

House Republican leadership aides said the House chamber will open, but it will come into session at noon, two hours later than planned. The delay will not have an impact on any House votes, according to the aide.

The House is scheduled to debate a bill to fund Department of Energy programs for next year.

(Reporting By Richard Cowan; Editing by Doina Chiacu)

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Part of U.S. Capitol closed to probe asbestos incident: officials

Asbestos sites at Birrigai school campsite covered in topsoil, fenced off

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Mr McNamara, whose mother died of mesithelioma after the family did bathroom renovations involving asbestos, said Birrigai was safe and he would have no problem sending his own children there.

“I know only two well what horrible stuff this and there’s no way that we’d risk anyone’s health out there,” he said. “I’m confident that … it’s safe.”

The asbestos had probably came from the sheds and houses there before the 2003 bushfires, and been exposed by heavy rains. He had become aware of it about October last year.

Earlier, Mr Bray said the asbestos finds were “so extensive that normal remediation work where you dig it up and take it to a disposal site would be prohibitively expensive”.

The asbestos not in the camp buildings. It had even been found in areas well away from the buildings, and it was “hard to know how far it goes”.

The fragments were bonded asbestos cement, which was “generally safe unless drilled, sandpapered, broken or handled”.

“Unless a child was to pick it up and rub in their hands and breathe it or ingest it, it’s very low-risk material,” he said.

The asbestos cement sheeting is not the same as the loose-fill Mr Fluffy asbestos causing distress after being found in Canberra homes.

Canberra Grammar School cancelled a Year 3 camp scheduled for June after news of the asbestos contamination, but other schools are still using Birrigai. Mr Bray said students, staff and parents were being made aware of the risk when they visited.

The remediation work had been finished two weeks ago, and a second official, Stephen Gwilliam, said it was “business as usual”.

An information pack went to visiting schools and other groups outlining the contamination and including a map of the areas where it had been found and induction procedures for visitors, Mr Gwilliam, a school network leader for Tuggeranong, said.

A spokesperson for Education Minister Joy Burch said 40 ACT schools had visited Birrigai this year, with only one cancellation. Schools received a letter advising of the asbestos situation, and “may use this to inform their school communities and families of students”, she said.

The ACT Government’s Tidbinbilla website has a series of risk management plans covering risks at Birrigai, from strangers on site, to natural disasters, lost students, snake bites and wildlife hazards, swooping birds, and even splinters. Asbestos does not appear to feature.

Radford school, though, has identified the asbestos risk, in a management plan that considers the possibility that students would “unknowingly pick up a piece of bonded asbestos containing material and release the fibres through hammering, drilling, abrasion” – a risk it assesses as having a remote likelihood.











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Asbestos sites at Birrigai school campsite covered in topsoil, fenced off

Your asbestos-related questions answered

The Globe’s weekend piece about asbestos and the dangers of exposure generated many letters, e-mails, phone calls and online comments. Some readers shared stories of losing family members to asbestos-related diseases, having difficulty navigating the workers’ compensation system and being exposed to asbestos in their own workplaces and homes.


No safe use: The Canadian asbestos epidemic that Ottawa is ignoring

Canada’s embrace of the “miracle mineral” has seeded an epidemic of cancers. Yet many Canadians are still exposed to asbestos every day. Don’t look to Ottawa for help — it’s still defending an industry that, like its victims, is wasting away. Read the full story, then share your thoughts in the comments.

More Related to this Story

Other readers had questions. Here are some answers.

I have a family member who has an asbestos-related disease. Where can I go for more information and advice?

Mesothelioma is the leading cause of work-related deaths in Canada, as measured by accepted workers’ comp claims. Yet relatively little is known about this form of cancer, which has sometimes been misdiagnosed as lung cancer. For those seeking to know more, visit the Canadian Mesothelioma Foundation website. It’s important to know there are new treatment options that can prolong peoples’ lives.

Other illnesses from asbestos exposure include other types of cancer such as lung cancer, along with asbestosis. More information can be found at the Asbestos Disease Awareness Organization, an advocacy and education group which is based in the U.S., but also works in Canada.

In Canada, Princess Margaret Cancer Care offers an early detection program and has a new treatment that extends the lives of mesothelioma patients.

More reading material can be found in the links at the end of this story.

I’m worried I may have been exposed in past years. What can I do?

It’s important to know the World Health Organization and other medical experts say there is no safe level or threshold, so even shorter-term exposure to can raise the risk of getting sick. And the odds also increase, exponentially, if someone is also a smoker – so one of the best things one can do to reduce risk is stop smoking.

But there’s also important context – many people have been exposed and never gotten sick. Mesothelioma cases – while rising – are still relatively rare with nowhere near the number of cases as, say, breast cancer. Some workers have toiled for years in clouds of asbestos dust, and haven’t gotten sick. It seems hard to predict who gets affected and who doesn’t.

If people are showing no symptoms, they can stick with their routine annual checkup with their family doctor.  Those who are higher risk — such as people who have pleural plaque or with known past asbestos exposure — could consider screening programs (Princess Margaret runs one).

If symptoms appear, such as shortness of breath, coughs or pain in the chest wall, patients should be seen by a doctor, who may refer them to a thoracic surgeon.

I’d thought Canada had long banned asbestos products. Is it true they’re still being used?

Asbestos was an ingredient in thousands of products in previous decades, from modelling clay to insulation.

Canada now has stricter regulations about asbestos use than in years past – but this country never banned imports or exports. Asbestos has long been used in building materials such as roof shingles, floor tiles, insulation and textured coating on ceilings. To see more examples of where it might be in the home, check out WorkSafeBC’s photos and this week’s Globe Now video.

Asbestos products continue to flow into Canada, in the form of pipes and tiles, replacement brake pads and linings, friction materials, fibre jointing and even clothing (typically used in protective gear such as firefighters’ suits).  A sample list of suspected asbestos-containing materials can be found here and here (these are U.S. sites) as well as here (a U.K. site). An Ontario list can be found here.

(We couldn’t find a full list of brand names of products that contain asbestos, but some lawyers who represent victims with mesothelioma do have catalogues).

How prevalent is asbestos in our homes, schools, hospitals and work spaces?

Short answer – we don’t know. We do know it was a common building material in Canada and in many developed nations right up until the 1990s (and in some cases, is still being used), so construction workers, contractors and do-it-yourself renovators should get materials tested by a reputable, independent lab and taking proper precautions. WorkSafeBC has advice for workers and homeowners on its site.

Saskatchewan is getting a better grasp of the presence of asbestos. The province has established a mandatory registry to alert staff and workers of where asbestos exists in public buildings. 

How can I get compensation if I have an asbestos-related disease stemming from workplace exposure?

Workers’ comp is a government-run system of no-fault compensation in Canada (where workers, in turn, give up their right to sue their employer for an injury).  Each province has its own system, such as this in Ontario and this in Alberta. Each site has information for workers looking to make a claim. An overview of workers’ comp in Canada can be found here. As our weekend story explained, the workers comp data does not give a complete picture because claims are often not filed or are unsuccessful.

All the provinces and territories (except Quebec) have a free worker advisor service to help people navigate the system. Contact information for these services (including Office of the Worker Adviser) is available here. Many workers will also be able to get help from their unions.

In some provinces, there are legal clinics which may handle workers’ compensation. In Ontario, for example, the two main ones are Injured Workers’ Consultants and Industrial Accident Victims’ Group of Ontario. There are also private bar lawyers and paralegals who represent the victims and families on a fee-for-service basis.

Is the Globe planning more coverage of Canada’s asbestos issue?

Yes. We’re looking at how asbestos products are currently being used and other follow-up ideas over the coming weeks and months. Suggestions and feedback welcome: tgrant@globeandmail.com

Follow on Twitter: @taviagrant

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Your asbestos-related questions answered

Government silent as questions mount about asbestos danger

The federal Conservative government is refusing to join the rest of the developed world in declaring that there are no safe uses for asbestos, even though the material is the top workplace killer in Canada and deaths from exposure are expected to rise.

While such countries as Australia, Japan, Sweden and Britain have imposed a ban on the flame-retardant mineral once widely employed in construction and still used in other applications including brake pads, Canada continues to allow asbestos to be both imported and exported.


No safe use: The Canadian asbestos epidemic that Ottawa is ignoring

Canada’s embrace of the “miracle mineral” has seeded an epidemic of cancers. Yet many Canadians are still exposed to asbestos every day. Don’t look to Ottawa for help — it’s still defending an industry that, like its victims, is wasting away. Read the full story, then share your thoughts in the comments.

More Related to this Story

The government would not respond directly on Tuesday to a question from the opposition about why the policy has not changed despite overwhelming evidence of the health risks.

A Globe and Mail report on Saturday said the federal government has dragged its feet in protecting this country’s citizens from asbestos’s deadly effects, and that more than 1,200 successful claims for fatality benefits were made in Canada between 2007 and 2012.

Health Canada’s website plays down the causal relationship between asbestos and some types of cancer, while asserting that it is a problem only when its fibres become airborne and “significant quantities” are inhaled.

Pat Martin, a New Democrat MP who worked in asbestos mines when he was young and has been campaigning to have the substance banned in Canada since he was elected 17 years ago, demanded to know why the government is not wavering from its position.

Mr. Martin rose during the daily Question Period in the House of Commons to ask how Labour Minister Kellie Leitch, a medical doctor who has received many letters from people who have lost family members to asbestos-related diseases, could “in all good conscience defend her government’s reprehensible policy on asbestos?”

Ms. Leitch did not respond.

In her place, Natural Resources Minister Greg Rickford told the House that the government will not oppose the listing of chrysotile under the Rotterdam Convention, a United Nations-sponsored treaty that requires the exporters of hazardous substances to disclose the risks.

Between 2006 and 2011, Canada was the only developed nation to object to bringing asbestos under the control of that agreement. It withdrew that objection in 2012, a year after both of Quebec’s asbestos mines were shut down.

Mr. Rickford went on to say the government’s 2013 action plan supports the economic diversification efforts of the Quebec communities of Thetford Mines and Asbestos where asbestos was mined.

“Resource management is the responsibility of the province,” he said.

Repeated questions about the government’s position that were directed this week to Health Minister Rona Ambrose have gone unanswered. Ms. Ambrose’s spokeswoman said Mr. Rickford’s reply to Mr. Martin in the House of Commons was all the government had to say about the matter.

Last month, Health Canada told The Globe in an e-mail that the information on its website “remains accurate,” and that the government has “consistently acted to protect Canadians from the health risks of asbestos.”

Mr. Martin said he was heartened by the interest in the issue that has been fostered by the newspaper’s investigation, and he believes the government is leaving itself vulnerable to criticism, both foreign and domestic, by refusing to alter its stance.

“They are increasingly marginalized among the international trading partners and they are sort of the last man standing in terms of developed nations still supporting and advocating asbestos,” Mr. Martin said. “At least we have guilted them into not actively sabotaging the Rotterdam Convention, which sadly can be seen as great progress.”

With a report from Tavia Grant

Follow on Twitter: @glorgal

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Government silent as questions mount about asbestos danger