Asbestos production has long been a profitable business in Canada. As recently as 2010 Canada was one of the top asbestos producing nations in the world, and the industry has created many jobs and support for the economy. But asbestos is a potentially deadly substance (desirable only because of its physical properties) that can cause cancer. Many nations, including the entire European Union, have banned its use.
In September of this year, Canada finally jumped on the world’s anti-asbestos bandwagon and agreed not to oppose the material’s classification as a hazardous substance under the internationally recognized Rotterdam Convention. Canada’s Minister of Industry, Christian Paradis, also said Canada will commit $50 million to ensure those who work in the country’s remaining asbestos mining region in Quebec will diversify into other, preferably safer, areas of production.
Canada had previously blocked the substance’s inclusion in the convention, but because of increased pressure from Quebec politicians (all of Canada’s asbestos comes from the province), the federal government has been forced to reverse its position not only domestically, but internationally as well.
Ironically, Canada has banned almost all domestic uses of asbestos in the country for some time. But as recently as 2010, the country was exporting almost $100 million worth of it to developing countries. Canada even imported almost $3 million worth of asbestos brake pads just last year.
While this change in policy means little for Canadians as the substance is no longer used in the same capacity it once was, it definitely signals the end of the unpopular asbestos industry in Quebec. While Inclusion in the Rotterdam convention would only force adding proper labels and warnings to the material so those handling know to use proper gear.
This practice has already been adopted here in Canada, but for the asbestos that Canada would potentially export again if plants in Quebec were to be reopened, those instructions can rarely be read by workers in developing nations who work on low wages and may not be able to understand the language in which the warnings are written. Also, those for whom they are working may not provide the proper gear for handling the substance, which would increase the likelihood of contracting a serious illness.
Canada’s new official stance on asbestos may not have much effect on those living here in Canada. But now that it has banned most of its domestic use and agreed to drop opposition to its classification as a hazardous material, there will be much more opposition to its production in Quebec, which will definitely take a toll on the economy and local jobs in the area.
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