Consultation on regulatory approach to prohibit asbestos: chapter 2

Table of Contents

2 Background

2.1 Asbestos

Asbestos (CAS RNFootnote11332-21-4) is a commercial term given to six naturally occurring silicate minerals that are incombustible and separable into filaments. Asbestos is on the List of Toxic Substances in Schedule 1 of CEPA. This listing covers all six types of asbestos (chrysotile, amosite, crocidolite, anthophyllite, tremolite, and actinolite).

Asbestos is resistant to high temperatures, chemical degradation and wear, and insulates against heat and electricity. Asbestos crystals become long, flexible, silky fibres, so they can be made into a wide variety of forms. The performance capabilities that result from this combination of properties resulted in broad use before asbestos exposure was known to pose health risks (Canada, 2000). 

2.2 Asbestos mining

Currently, there is no mining of asbestos in Canada. The last two remaining asbestos mines, located in Quebec, ceased mining operations in 2011. 

2.3 Historical and current uses

Historically, asbestos was mainly used for insulating buildings and homes against cold weather and noise. It was also used for fireproofing. While many uses have been phased out, asbestos may still be found in a variety of products including:

A current use profile has been established using data from a number of sources, including the Trade Data Online website available from Industry, Science and Economic Development Canada; responses to a mandatory survey on asbestos issued under section 71 of CEPA; comments submitted in response to the NOI; and ECCC’s National Pollutant Release Inventory.

According to the Trade Data Online website, Canada continues to import asbestos and products containing asbestos. Table 1 provides the value in Canadian Dollars of asbestos and products containing asbestos that were imported into Canada during the 2014-2016 period (ISED, 2017).

Table 1: Canadian Imports of asbestos and asbestos containing products (values in canadian dollars)
HS code Code description 2014 2015 2016
6 017 159
8 346 279
5 637 206
252410 Crocidolite
4 237
252490 Asbestos, other than Crocidolite
221 647
82 197
164 630
681140 Sheets, Panels, Tiles, Tubes, Pipes, Pipe Fittings, Containing Asbestos
503 768
1 165 557
404 246
681280 Fabricated Crocidolite Fibres;Articles of Crocidolite, other than Headings 68.11/68.13
65 298
58 122
30 604
681291 Clothing, Clothing Accessories, Footwear and Headgear, other than Crocidolite
88 137
118 291
94 893
681292 Paper, Millboard and Felt, O/T Crocidolite
7 882
34 890
16 707
681293 Compressed Asbestos Fibre Jointing, in Sheets or Rolls, other than Crocidolite
23 156
31 308
35 793
681299 Asbestos Fabricated Products, other than Crocidolite
373 629
482 643
516 878
681320 Asbestos Friction Material and Articles Thereof
4 733 642
6 369 034
4 373 455

Information obtained from the mandatory survey notice issued under section 71 of CEPA published in Canada Gazette, Part I on December 17, 2016 (Canada, 2016c) was also used to identify current activities respecting asbestos. This Notice required industry to submit information on the manufacture, import, export, and use of asbestos and products containing asbestos when more than 5 kg of asbestos was used in 2013, 2014, or 2015 at a concentration greater than or equal to 0.1%.  Therefore, information obtained through the mandatory survey may not be exhaustive, as some activities currently taking place in Canada may not have required reporting. Nine submissions were received which reported that asbestos and/or products containing asbestos are imported and/or used in Canada. The mandatory survey identified the following sectors regarding the use and/or import of asbestos and/or products containing asbestos:

ECCC’s National Pollutant Release Inventory and comments received on the NOI were used to identify additional sectors using asbestos, including the chlor-alkali industry.

2.4 Domestic risk management

2.4.1 Federal risk management

Asbestos and products containing asbestos are currently managed under various federal Acts and Regulations, notably those listed in this section. 

The manufacture, importation, advertisement or sale of consumer products made of asbestos and certain high risk consumer products that are composed of or contain asbestos fibres are prohibited or strictly regulated under the Asbestos Products Regulations, made under the Canada Consumer Product Safety Act (Canada, 2016d).

The Hazardous Products Act (HPA) prohibits the sale or import of hazardous products intended for use, handling or storage in a Canadian workplace unless the product is labeled and accompanied by a safety data sheet as per the requirements of the Hazardous Products Regulations. Industrial asbestos and industrial asbestos-containing products meet the definition of a hazardous product; therefore, the asbestos content must be identified on the safety data sheet when it is present in a concentration equal or above 0.1% (Canada, 1985; Canada, 2015). 

The Asbestos Mines and Mills Release Regulations were promulgated on June 14, 1990, pursuant to subsection 34 of CEPA 1988. First issued under the Clean Air Act in 1977, these Regulations were intended as a precautionary measure, to limit the concentration of asbestos fibres in gases emitted into the ambient air at asbestos mines or mills from crushing, drying, or milling operations (Canada, 1990).

The Export of Substances on the Export Control List Regulations (Canada, 2017a) under CEPA require a prior notification, and may also require a permit, before the export of a substance listed on the Export Control List (ECL) takes place. Crocidolite asbestos (CAS 12001-28-4) has been listed on the ECL since 2000.

2.4.2 Provincial and territorial risk management

All provinces and territories have occupational health and safety (OH&S) legislation (CCOHS, 2017a; CCOHS, 2017b) addressing risks from exposure to asbestos in Canada.

2.5 International risk management

More than 50 countries, including the member states of the European Union (EU), have prohibited asbestos (WHO 2014). Actions in other jurisdictions are described below, and are being considered as the proposed regulations are developed.

2.5.1 Risk management in the United States

In the United States (US), products containing asbestos that are banned include corrugated paper, rollboard, commercial paper, specialty paper and flooring felt.  Permitted products containing asbestos include: cement corrugated sheet, cement flat sheet, clothing, pipeline wrap, roofing felt, vinyl floor tile, cement shingle, millboard, cement pipe, automatic transmission components, clutch facings, friction materials, disk brake pads, drum brake linings, brake blocks, gaskets, non-roofing coatings and roof coatings. Any new application involving asbestos that was not carried out historically before 1989 has been prohibited (USFBA, 2017).

On January 21, 2015, the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the Environmental Council of the StatesFootnote2, and the automotive industry signed an agreement to reduce the use of copper and other materials including asbestos fibres in motor vehicle brake pads. Under this agreement, the use of asbestos  fibres in brake-friction materials that exceed the concentration limit of 0.1% by weight has been phased out as of January 1, 2015 (NPDES, 2015).

In 2010, the States of Washington and California adopted Regulations to limit the concentration of asbestos fibres in automotive brake pads and shoes to 0.1% by weight. These prohibitions came into force in 2014 and 2015 in California and Washington, respectively (HWTR, 2017; SCP, 2017).

On November 29, 2016, the US EPA announced that asbestos will be one of the first ten chemicals that will be evaluated for potential risks to human health and the environment under the Toxic Substance Control Act (TSCA) reform (OCSPP, 2016).

2.5.2 Risk management in the European Union

The manufacture, placing on the market, and use of asbestos fibres and of articles and mixtures containing asbestos fibres added intentionally are prohibited in the EU. The restriction includes a time-limited exemption until July 1, 2025 for the use of diaphragms containing chrysotile asbestos in electrolysis installations for chlor-alkali and hydrogen production. This restriction is described under Annex XVII to the Regulation for Registration, Evaluation, Authorisation and Restriction of Chemicals (REACH) (REACH, 2017).

2.5.3 Risk management in Australia

In Australia, the import and export of asbestos and asbestos containing material are regulated at the national level, whereas the manufacture, supply, transport, storage, removal, use, installation, handling, treatment, and disposal of disturbed asbestos or asbestos containing materials are regulated at the state level.

The import into Australia of asbestos is prohibited under the Customs (Prohibited Imports) Regulations 1956 (Australia, 2015). Some exemptions to the prohibition include:

2.5.4 Rotterdam Convention

All forms of asbestos are listed under the Rotterdam Convention with the exception of chrysotile asbestos, which will be considered for inclusion by Parties to the Rotterdam Convention in Spring 2017. The Rotterdam Convention is a global treaty to protect human health and the environment by establishing a "prior informed consent" procedure for listed chemicals. Through this procedure, Parties must not export a substance to another Party that has stated it does not consent to the import.  Importing Parties may also give their consent to import with conditions that exporting Parties must meet (Rotterdam, 2015).

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