Ottawa’s change of heart on asbestos welcome but late – Editorial (Globe and Mail – July 4, 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.

When Ottawa has a major new policy it wants to announce, it often makes a “Major Policy Announcement (photo op to follow).” Not so when it comes to asbestos, though.

This week, The Globe learned that the government had quietly changed its web page on the health risks of asbestos. The difference between the old web page and the new one is categoric. The old began, “Asbestos was a popular material used widely in construction and many other industries. If asbestos fibres are enclosed or tightly bound in a product, for example, asbestos siding or asbestos floor tiles, there are no significant health risks.”

The new one begins: “Learn about asbestos and how exposure can be dangerous to your health. Also find out how to properly handle a potential asbestos problem. Asbestos, if inhaled, can cause cancer and other diseases.”

This is a historic shift in Ottawa’s attitude toward asbestos. It brings the federal government in line with many of the provinces, where workplace safety officials have long been aware that asbestos is by far the number-one killer of Canadian workers. “Inhaling asbestos fibres can cause chronic, irreversible and life-threatening lung disease,” says the Saskatchewan government workplace safety website.

More than 2,200 people died from asbestos-related diseases in Canada between 2007 and 2012, according to workers’ compensation claims. There have been more than 5,000 deaths in all since 1996. And more people are falling sick all the time.

But until its quiet conversion, Ottawa continued to pretend asbestos posed “no significant health risks.”

That’s shameful. This laggard attitude has prevented Ottawa from developing a comprehensive strategy for reducing exposure to asbestos, as the Canadian Cancer Society pointed out last month. It may have delayed actions that could have saved lives in this country.

For the rest of this editorial, click here: