For many years, Canada has been mocked by health professionals due to their soft position on the use of asbestos. Large established countries like Japan, Germany and Australia have all banned the carcinogen permanently, whereas Canada has maintained very weak laws surrounding its use. This past month, things have shockingly changed and Health Canada—Canada’s federal health organization—has made an official change on their view of the health risks of asbestos. The organization, which used to believe that there were some forms of asbestos that were “less potent”, like chrysotile, now considers it dangerous for ones health. While the laws in Canada regarding asbestos use have not changed, it is expected that Health Canada’s new stance will likely bring about changes soon.
The Problem Making One Type of Asbestos Illegal
Currently there are six different types of asbestos (Amosite, Chrysotile, Crocidolite, Tremolite, Anthophyllite, and Actinolite). Each of them are found in different areas of the world and on different products, but come from the serpentine and amphibole mineral families. To the human eye, asbestos is asbestos, but under the microscope there are distinct differences among all of them. It’s dangerous for a nation to only ban one specific form of asbestos because it’s so difficult, other than microscopically, to tell the difference between each one. If you’re going to ban asbestos, it should be banned altogether.
Health Canada previously believed that asbestos had to be inhaled in significant amounts to cause damage; they have now changed their position on that. It’s really unclear on the threshold amount inhaled to cause mesothelioma to form in the lungs. There’s currently no data available that quantifies total asbestos exposure throughout the lives of mesothelioma patients. The data that is available shows that over 5,000 people have died from mesothelioma in Canada since 1996. If the fiber had been banned, that number could have been significantly lower.
Asbestos in America
In America, the EPA attempted to ban almost all products containing asbestos in 1989, but that was overturned in 1991. Since then, there have been strict regulations implemented for employees that work around asbestos-related products, however, it’s not completely banned and it’s widely used for American products. Each year since 1991, around 3,000 people a year have been diagnosed with mesothelioma. It seems that when nations have taken a soft stance against these poisonous fibers, negative results followed.
The World Health Organization View on Asbestos
Not all organizations and countries approach asbestos use as weakly as the United States and Canada. The World Health Organization (WHO), for instance, considers asbestos to be very carcinogenic and believes it can cause cancer. Australia is doing everything it possibly can to be completely free of asbestos. Turkey completely banned the fiber in 2011. Hopefully more and more nations can adopt similar laws and attitudes to protect their citizens as well.
With this change in perception by Health Canada, hopefully the Canadian government will strictly ban the toxic fiber that annually takes the lives of thousands worldwide.