Backgrounder

October 18, 2018

Asbestos is regulated by several federal and provincial laws and is also the subject of international conventions. The Government of Canada strictly conforms to the legislative requirements for health and safety, and asbestos management programs are in place in its buildings.

Following the December 2016 announcement, the Government of Canada has implemented a whole-of-government approach to strengthen management and controls of asbestos through a series of science-based actions.  Following an aggressive timeline, the federal government has fulfilled its commitment to put in place new regulations to prohibit asbestos and products containing asbestos under the Canadian Environmental Protection Act, (1999), the legislative framework that protects people from the risks associated with hazardous substances such as asbestos.

Environment and Climate Change Canada

Environment and Climate Change Canada, along with Health Canada, published the Prohibition of Asbestos and Products Containing Asbestos Regulations in the Canada Gazette, Part II on October 17, 2018These new regulations prohibit the import, sale and use of all forms of asbestos as well as the manufacture, import, sale and use of products containing asbestos, with a limited number of exclusions. In addition to these regulations, the existing Export of Substances on the Export Control List Regulations (ESECLR) and Schedule 3 to the Canadian Environmental Protection Act, 1999 were amended to prohibit exports of asbestos, with a limited number of exceptions.  These provisions ensure that Canada continues to meet its export obligations under international conventions, including the Rotterdam Convention. The regulations and related amendments to the ESECLR come into force on December 30, 2018.

All forms of asbestos are listed under the Rotterdam Convention with the exception of chrysotile asbestos. Canada fully supported and advocated for the listing of chrysotile asbestos to the Rotterdam Convention at the Conference of the Parties in 2017. As consensus was not reached by the Parties, the listing of chrysotile asbestos will be considered again at the 9th meeting of the Conference of the Parties to the Rotterdam Convention scheduled for 2019.

Health Canada

When it comes to asbestos, the science is clear. Breathing in airborne asbestos fibres can cause serious health problems, including cancer. Health Canada has collaborated with Environment and Climate Change Canada in developing a regulation under the Canadian Environmental Protection Act, 1999. Health Canada will also continue to raise awareness about the health impacts of asbestos to help reduce the incidence of diseases such as lung cancer.

Employment and Social Development Canada

Employment and Social Development Canada, through the Labour Program, is the lead on regulations that establish occupational exposure limits and set requirements on employers for worker training and protection at federal workplaces.  On June 20, 2017, the Government amended Canada’s occupational health and safety regulations to lower the exposure limit to as close to zero as is reasonably practicable for airborne chrysotile asbestos to protect federally regulated employees at risk. The amendments include new requirements for an asbestos exposure management program where there is the potential for employee exposure to airborne asbestos fibre.  These amendments align the federal jurisdiction with the most stringent asbestos safety standards in effect in other jurisdictions, both in Canada and internationally.

On January 17, 2018, an accompanying guideline to the regulatory amendments titled “Technical Guideline to Asbestos Exposure Management Programs,” along with an infographic, were published on the Labour Program website:

https://www.canada.ca/en/employment-social-development/services/health-safety/reports.html

Public Services and Procurement Canada

An inventory of buildings containing asbestos that are owned and leased by Public Services and Procurement Canada was made public on September 23, 2016. The government expanded this initiative to custodial departments and agencies who published their respective inventory of buildings containing asbestos on September 28-29, 2017. The government is committed to providing employees, occupants and visitors of federal government buildings with safe and healthy environments.

National Research Council

The government is working with the Canadian Commission on Building and Fire Codes to remove asbestos references from the National Building Code of Canada, one of five national model codes that are published every five years by the National Research Council of Canada. The National Building Code of Canada sets out technical provisions for the design and construction of new buildings. The recently released 2015 code contained changes related to the removal of permission to allow asbestos in certain applications: in larger buildings, the Code prohibits the use of asbestos cement drain pipes; in smaller buildings, it prohibits the use of asbestos drain pipes and millwork. The Commission has now introduced changes to remove the remaining asbestos references from the next edition of the Code.

About asbestos

Asbestos is the common name for a group of naturally occurring minerals, all of which carry health risks. At the height of its use, asbestos was found in more than 3,000 applications worldwide, including roofing, thermal and electrical insulation, cement pipe and sheets, flooring, gaskets, friction materials (e.g. brake pads and shoes) and a variety of other materials. The production and use of asbestos have declined since 1970.

Asbestos was declared a human carcinogen by the World Health Organization’s International Agency for Research on Cancer in 1987. The inhalation of airborne asbestos fibres can cause lung damage, including lung cancer, mesothelioma and asbestosis.

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