Timeline: The history of asbestos use in Canada

1870s: Quebec becomes the first province to mine asbestos.

1920s: The Metropolitan Life Insurance Company creates the Department of Industrial Hygiene at McGill University. Asbestos is believed to be making workers ill and causing a “dust disease” of the lungs.

1930s: The Metropolitan organization commissions a study with 200 male participants living with asbestosis, a type of lung disease that inflicts the lungs with scars and makes it difficult to breathe.

February 14, 1949: Quebec asbestos miners from the Asbestos and Thetford mines embark on a strike to fight to improve working conditions and wages. The strike is carried out for over five months before a settlement is reached in July. Wages increase by five cents, 10 cents short of the workers asking price.

1966: J. Corbett McDonald, a McGill University professor embarks on a study of the effects of chrysotile mining in Canada. The study receives about $500,000 in funding from the Quebec Asbestos Mining Association.

The research indicates that chrysotile asbestos is not responsible for causing lung tumours detected in the miners. McDonald’s study also examines the mortality rates linked to asbestos.

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1984: The Ontario Royal Commission suggests a ban on cricodolite and amosite, two types of commonly used asbestos fibre.

1989: J. Corbett McDonald publishes a report in the American Journal of Industrial Medicine that indicates that tremolite in Canadian chryostile asbestos causes mesotheliomas.

September 19, 2000: The World Trade Organization (WTO) settles a dispute launched by Canada to overturn the French ban on chrysotile asbestos.

February 21, 2002: The United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) releases a statement urging the inclusion of all forms of asbestos into an international list of chemicals that would fall under trade controls.

January 1, 2005: The European Union wide ban on chrysotile asbestos takes effect.

March 2005: The UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) institutes a ban on the use of asbestos for its projects around the world.

2006: The International Labour Organization and the World Health Organization call for a worldwide ban on asbestos. The Canadian government vetoes a move to add chrysotile asbestos into the Rotterdam Convention’s listing of hazardous substances.

2007: Health Canada commissions a report on asbestos and occupational health. It recruits asbestos experts worldwide to conduct a study on the effects of chrysotile asbestos.

March 2008: The report undergoes a peer review but is not released until a year later.

2009: The chrysotile asbestos panel’s findings are made public but requests to view the findings are made through email. The experts conclude that a “strong relationship” between lung cancer and chrystoile asbestos in Canada exists.

December 2010: The Lancet, an acclaimed British medical journal, releases a critique of Canada’s decision to continue its production and export of asbestos.

February 15, 2011: The Canadian Cancer Society, together with 25 other health organizations, address a letter to Finance Minister Jim Flaherty, imploring the government to stop its funding of the Chrysotile Institute and to end export of asbestos to developing countries.

June 11, 2011: Canada is called out for resisting the inclusion of chrysotile into the list of hazardous substances.

February 2012: McGill University’s asbestos research dating back to 1971 through to 1998 falls under the scrutiny of 30 physicians and academics, calling for an independent review of the findings.

The research team, partly funded by the Quebec Mining Association, is accused of being influenced by the association’s interests.

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June 29, 2012: The Quebec government pours $58 million into Jeffrey Mine, one of the last remaining asbestos mines, which could keep the facility alive for 20 more years.


With files from The Canadian Press and The Ottawa Citizen.

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