Asbestos products still being imported to Ontario – by Marco Chown Oved (Toronto Star – September 24, 2012)

The Toronto Star has the largest circulation in Canada. The paper has an enormous impact on federal and Ontario politics as well as shaping public opinion.

Despite recent announcements in Ottawa and Quebec that suggest asbestos will soon be a thing of the past, products made of the cancer-causing mineral are still being imported and used in Ontario today.

While the carcinogenic insulation is now being removed from buildings across the province, two new products that contain asbestos — brake pads and cement pipes — are being brought in.

Statistics Canada reports that $2.6 million worth of asbestos-containing brake pads were imported into Canada last year. Of that, more than half arrived in Ontario.

While Ottawa announced last week it would reverse its long-standing position and declare asbestos a dangerous material, and the new government in Quebec cancelled a loan that would have revived the defunct asbestos mining industry, the problem in Canada is far from over.

“Because we don’t mine, because we don’t use it in manufacturing, we are under the false impression that it’s gone,” said Liberal MPP Liz Sandals (Guelph), who introduced a private member’s bill earlier this year to ban brake pads containing asbestos in Ontario.

Manufacturers claim that the asbestos in these products is safe because it is tightly bound and the deadly fibres cannot be inhaled by mechanics or workers. But anti-asbestos activists say that when the brake pads wear down or when the pipes are cut, untold millions of fibres are released and are putting workers’ health at risk.

Canada has long been an international pariah on the asbestos issue. A major producer of the substance for decades — even after it was recognized as a carcinogen — Canada has been exporting it to countries like India and China under the pretext that it is safe if handled properly.

Lax regulations in those countries often mean that we’re “exporting cancer,” Sandals said. “But we haven’t been conscious of the fact that we still have health effects here at home.”

Ironically, brake pads made overseas with Canadian asbestos can make their way back here to be installed in cars. It’s a loophole in our laws that prevent manufacturers from using asbestos, but allow products containing it to come in from abroad.

“There’s no need and no reason to sell asbestos brake pads in Ontario,” said Rick Jamieson, CEO of ABS Friction, an asbestos-free brake pad manufacturer in Guelph. “The price differential is not that great.”

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