The End of a Once Mighty, Still Deadly Industry: the Canada Letter – by Ian Austen (New York Times – October 19, 2018)

Canada’s positions on issues like same-sex marriage, immigration and, most recently, recreational marijuana have given it a reputation for progressiveness. But the government’s announcement this week that it was banning asbestos, a potent cause of cancer, came decades after many other nations took the step.

For more than a century, asbestos was a ubiquitous miracle fiber. Sprayed on the steel structure of buildings and inside ships, it suppressed fires. It was found in a type of home insulation and in roofing tiles, and was used to seal heating ducts.

Asbestos was mixed with concrete to make pipes, woven into flameproof fabrics, and made into gaskets, building supplies and a variety of industrial goods. But inhaling even small quantities of its fibers could be deadly.

Canada’s ban comes 31 years after the World Health Organization first declared that asbestos causes cancer. Its harmful effects on workers’ lungs were identified as early as the 1920s, and many countries began limiting its use in the 1970s.

But Canada was once a major source of the world’s asbestos, and actively fought efforts to limit its use. Despite widespread scientific evidence to the contrary, it continued to claim that the form found in Quebec, chrysotile asbestos, was not harmful. As recently as 2000, the Canadian government challenged a ban by France on the imports of chrysotile asbestos at the World Trade Organization.

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