Members of the Insulators Union are among a group of advocates who are calling for the Canadian government to create a national plan to deal with asbestos within the build environment.
Once a popular building material in Canada, asbestos is now recognized as a deadly substance that can cause mesothelioma, lung cancer and other resperatory diseases.
According to the Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety, asbestos exposure leads to approximately 2,000 workplace-related deaths annually.
In 2018, the federal government banned the use of the deadly fiber, but a broad group of activists believe that was just the beginning of the fight against asbestos in Canada.
Adam Melnick, International Association of Heat and Frost Insulators and Allied Workers Director of Canadian Affairs, thinks the construction sector is at risk for another round of asbestos exposure as older buildings are targeted for retrofits to meet Canada's climate goals. He warned constructconnect.com that the built environment still contains a significant amount of asbestos and a national strategy is needed to eradicate it from Canada completely.
He believes the federal ban mandating the end of asbestos use resulted in asbestos mitigation being out of sight, out of mind. However, a large amount of asbestos exists in different items used to construct buildings.
Undisturbed, the fiber is safe, but once disturbed, as can happen during a retrofit, it can be inhaled and cause cancer.
“We’re talking about retrofits, we’re talking about our built environment lowering emissions, which means we’re modernizing or updating mechanical systems and beyond,” said Melnick. “What’s inside these existing buildings? Asbestos.
“We’re about to reembrace it, to be exposed to it again, at a whole new level,” he added.
The Insulators Union has partnered with the Canadian Mesothelioma Foundation and Asbestos Free Canada to create a working group that advocates for federal and provincial reforms, including a call for the federal government to develop a national asbestos strategy supported by a new agency. The group cites Australia's program as a successful model for asbestos eradication. They also call for a mesothelioma patient registry and improved standards in the early detection and treatment of mesothelioma.
Additionally, asbestos products are still being imported into Canada and there are no mechanisms to prevent this from happening.
In an interview with constructconnect.com, Alec Farquhar, Coordinator with Asbestos Free Canada, emphasized the need for a strategic approach to assess the risk of legacy asbestos in hundreds of thousands of buildings across Canada and develop a cost-effective plan to remove it. He also explained the importance of linking the removal of asbestos with other necessary work on infrastructure and how it will significantly strengthen Canada's resiliency to the impact of climate change.
Constructconnect.com reported that the Ontario government requested the Occupational Cancer Research Centre to examine the feasibility of creating a mesothelioma registry in 2021 but the report has not yet been released. Advocates have praised the appointment of Dr. Marc de Perrot as the first professor in mesothelioma research at the University Health Network in Toronto.
The Ontario Building Trades and Canada's Building Trades Unions also support a national asbestos strategy and agency. The broad coalition of activists and experts believes it's time to kick-start a new round of efforts to eradicate asbestos from the built environment in Canada. They stress the importance of taking a strategic, comprehensive and cost-effective approach to protect workers and the general public from the harmful effects of asbestos exposure.