“Though Health Canada’s change in position is welcome, these changes alone are not a solution to protect workers,” CUPE argued. “The real issue lies in both federal and provincial regulations, which are often weak or go unenforced, leaving workers at risk.”
CUPE is now calling for stronger regulations and better enforcement, saying that despite an increased awareness of the dangers surrounding asbestos, many employees are exposed.
“Members working in maintenance (general, electrical, plumbing, HVAC etc.) are at higher risk,” a representative revealed. “Even after materials are removed, they go to landfills that are poorly setup to deal with large-scale disposal. As a result, workers get exposed when bags get ripped open or resurface after they have been buried.”
Previously, Health Canada’s website had expressed an opinion in opposition of medical professionals the world over, stating that asbestos can only cause lung scarring when inhaled in "significant quantities," and that the risk depended on how often and how long someone was exposed.
The site also distinguished between different types of asbestos – insisting that Canadian-mined chrysotile posed less of a risk than others.
Now, that distinction no longer exists and the contentious lines have been removed – but CUPE says more action needs to be taken.
“Asbestos continues to make CUPE members sick,” a representative said. “The legacy of harm caused by asbestos is significant – it’s the largest cause of workplace death in Canada.”
Paul Demers, the director of the University of Toronto’s Occupational Cancer Research Centre, welcomed the change.
“I think it’s a very positive move by Health Canada, recognizing that all forms of asbestos cause cancer (and) lung disease,” he told CTV News.
“It’s very important, because when a member of the public encounters asbestos, they don’t actually even know what kind of asbestos it is,” he added. “You have to treat all asbestos alike and equally hazardous in order to prevent disease.”
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The Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) is pushing for increased protection against asbestos after Health Canada finally acknowledged all forms of the mineral as carcinogenic.