Asbestos and Occupational Health
calendar icon September 17th, 2018
author icon Sarah Wallace
Asbestos and Occupational Health

When discussing workplace injuries, the issues that come to mind might be an accident or a fall, but workers may not think about the ones that could affect their health in more invisible ways. In Canada, the number one cause of occupational death is exposure to asbestos.


Asbestos was used abundantly throughout the 1900s in buildings and exposure to it can lead to life-threatening diseases, including lung cancer and mesothelioma. With Mesothelioma Awareness Day approaching on September 26, this month is a meaningful time to discuss the history of asbestos in Canada and raise awareness about mesothelioma.


Asbestos in Canada

The Canadian history of the natural mineral known as asbestos began in Quebec in the late 1800s when the country’s first asbestos mine opened. As time went on, more asbestos mines opened as more of the mineral was found naturally in several provinces. Throughout the early 20th century, the asbestos industry grew and so did consistent reports of sickness in mining workers. By the 1960s, Canada was producing 40 per cent of the world’s chrysotile asbestos, and Canadian mining towns were some of the most contaminated and dangerous in the world.


It wasn’t until the 1980s that asbestos use across the world was condemned and began to be regulated. In 1989, a professor from McGill University that had been studying asbestos-related disease since the ‘60s published a report in the American Journal of Industrial Medicine that chrysotile asbestos from Canada caused mesothelioma. However, it wasn’t until 2006 that the World Health Organization called for a global ban on asbestos. In 2011, the Canadian Cancer Society collaborated with a number of health organizations to write a letter to the Canadian Government, pleading for an end to government funding of the asbestos industry and the exportation of the mineral to other countries. In November of the same year, the Canadian asbestos industry finally came to a halt and mines were closed.


While the Canadian government announced in 2016 that all asbestos would be banned by 2018, buildings and homes that were built earlier could still contain asbestos, meaning anyone in these structures could be in danger of exposure if Asbestos-containing Materials (ACMs) were disturbed. Because of this, the government and the Canadian Commission on Building and Fire codes will partner to remove the remaining asbestos from buildings in Ontario and the rest of the country. Until then, homeowners and workers should be extremely weary of airborne asbestos when taking on home renovations and other construction projects.


Mesothelioma in Ontario

Mesothelioma is a rare form of cancer that is caused specifically by breathing in or ingesting asbestos fibers. Symptoms of mesothelioma can often take at least 20 (and up to 50) years to develop. Because of this latency period, symptoms are hard to distinguish and can lead to an unfortunate prognosis when detected too late. Cases of mesothelioma in Ontario have been rising at a rate of seven per cent every year for men from 1981 to 2013. Rates for women have also risen from about 13 cases in 1981 to 51 cases in 2013, based on a study done by the Cancer Quality Council of Ontario (CQCO).


While Canada has made a commitment to bring an end to its long history of asbestos use, there is still a risk of exposure for homeowners and workers. Having homes and buildings tested for asbestos is the first step in limiting deadly exposure. Reach out to a professional if you notice any areas in your home that might be at risk. Early diagnosis of mesothelioma is key in extending life expectancy, and if you are worried that you may have been exposed to asbestos already, contact a doctor immediately.


Disclaimer - The information contained on this page is not a substitute for legal advice, explanation, opinion or recommendation.

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