Asbestos-related cancers cost Canada billions

A first-ever estimate of the toll of asbestos-related cancers on Canadian society pegs the cost of new cases at $1.7-billion (£1bn) per year in Canada, and notes this is probably an under-estimate.

The economic burden of lung cancer and mesothelioma from work-related asbestos exposure in Canada amounts to an average of Can$818,000 (£471,000) per case, according to a team led by health economist and senior scientist Dr Emile Tompa at the Toronto-based Institute for Work & Health. The calculations, reported in the Globe and Mail, include costs related to health care and lost productivity and the impact on quality of life.

Canadian prime minister Justin Trudeau said in May the federal government is “moving forward on a ban” on asbestos. It was the first time since taking office in October 2015 he had publicly talked about a potential ban, although he gave no timeline and it was not an official announcement. “We are moving to ban asbestos,” he told a conference of building trades unions on 10 May. “Its impact on workers far outweighs any benefits that it might provide.”

The economic burden numbers are based on newly diagnosed cases in 2011 that were attributable to occupational exposure. The calculation is based on the number of new cases of mesothelioma, a cancer associated almost exclusively with asbestos exposure, for that year, along with estimates on the numbers of new lung cancer cases caused by workplace asbestos. These totalled 2,099 in 2011.

The study noted that new cases are likely to grow in the near future due to long latency periods of these diseases and continued exposure.

For decades, Canada was the home of global asbestos lobby and until at least 2011 was still receiving support from both the federal and Quebec governments. In recent years, the failure of Canada’s asbestos mines led to the closure of the Chrysotile Institute in 2012 and saw the lobbying base move to Russia.

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