As cancer toll soars, Canadian union calls for national asbestos registry and ban

A Canadian union leader has called for a national registry of the location of asbestos materials. The call from Philip Venoit, president of Vancouver Island Building and Construction Trades Council, came after latest figures from Statistics Canada revealed new cases of the asbestos cancer mesothelioma had doubled across the country, from 276 cases in 1992 to 560 cases in 2012.

Venoit has written to the Prime Minister’s Office and to several provincial premiers and mayors across the country. He has had no response from the PMO or from premiers, but says several mayors have expressed support. He called on federal, provincial and municipal governments to develop a national registry of all public buildings and vessels, such as navy ships, “and to make that registry online and available to all restoration and construction workers.”

He added the registry should identify the types of asbestos products in the buildings – such as floor tiles, ceiling tiles, insulation, drywall and pipe cladding – and provide instructions on how best to remove that material. “The baby boomer generation is well versed in asbestos,” he states in his letter, but warned: “We are on the eve of mass retirement with a new generation of workers who know very little of the harmful effects asbestos exposure can cause.”

Venoit urged the government to develop a national apprenticeship programme to ensure young workers know how to safely work with asbestos, and said the federal government should ban imports of asbestos.

The call for an asbestos ban was echoed by human rights campaigner Kathleen Ruff, a high profile critic of Canada’s long-time role promoting asbestos use worldwide. Writing in the RightOnCanada blog, she noted:” The new Canadian Liberal government has said that it will uphold scientific evidence and the public interest. To date, Canadian government policy on asbestos has been set by the asbestos industry, not science.

“It is time for the Trudeau government to end the decades-long complicity between the asbestos industry and the Canadian government. It is time that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Health Minister Jane Philpott show the kind of leadership that Canadians hoped for in electing them.”

Ruff added: “Health experts and civil society organisations in Canada and around the world have asked Prime Minister Trudeau and Health Minister Philpott to respect science, protect health and ban asbestos so that no more Canadians die needlessly and to show the world that Canada’s historic role of leading global promoter of the asbestos industry has finally ended.”

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