Ottawa reverses stand on health risks of asbestos in ‘landmark shift’ – by Tavia Grant (Globe and Mail – July 2, 2015)

The Globe and Mail is Canada’s national newspaper with the second largest broadsheet circulation in the country. It has enormous influence on Canada’s political and business elite.

Health Canada has strikingly revised its position on the health risks of asbestos exposure, bringing the federal government more in line with other developed countries. The recent changes to the department’s website are significant, with the page about asbestos replacing information that was dated from 2012.

Among the shifts, the site no longer says one form of asbestos – chrysotile, the type that Canada mined and exported for years that is still most commonly used – is “less potent” and does less damage than other types. The World Health Organization and other medical bodies have long said all forms of asbestos are carcinogenic.

In addition, Health Canada no longer says the danger comes when asbestos is inhaled in “significant quantities” (the WHO says there is no safe threshold); and it now clearly says that “breathing in asbestos fibres can cause cancer and other diseases.”

The last line represents “a landmark shift” by the government, “an important fact that was not previously acknowledged on the website,” said Linda Reinstein, an asbestos widow and president of the Washington, D.C.-based Asbestos Disease Awareness Organization. The changes are “promising, but it is just the first of many steps required to protect the public from asbestos.”

The revisions come after The Globe and Mail has reported that asbestos is the single largest cause of workplace death in Canada, accounting for almost 5,000 death claims since 1996.

Unlike dozens of other countries, such as Australia, Germany and Japan, Canada has not banned asbestos use, and trade data obtained by The Globe show imports of asbestos-containing products, such as brake pads and pipes, continue to enter the country.

Health experts, including doctors and researchers, have long criticized Health Canada for playing down the risks of asbestos exposures.

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