Canada to ban asbestos: What you need to know about the common carcinogen

Click to play video: 'Is asbestos lurking in your home? Here are products that might contain it'
Is asbestos lurking in your home? Here are products that might contain it
WATCH ABOVE: Is Asbestos lurking in your home? Here are products that might contain it – Dec 15, 2016

The Liberal government has announced a total ban on asbestos and asbestos-containing products by 2018.

READ MORE: Canada to ban asbestos by 2018

Canada certainly isn’t the first country to ban the mineral: 58 countries have already banned asbestos. The decision is a positive and long-overdue first step, advocates say, but there is much more work to be done to remove the asbestos risk to Canadians.

“Once you ban asbestos you’re going to still be challenged with asbestos still existing in Canada, whether it’s through building materials or other products coming in or stockpiles of asbestos,” said Fe de Leon, researcher with the Canadian Environmental Law Association.

What is asbestos

Several minerals found in rock and soil are commonly known as asbestos. It’s a fibrous material that’s flexible and durable, and resistant to heat, chemicals and electricity, which makes it popular for construction materials, automotive parts and even in some textiles.

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Canada’s last asbestos mine officially closed in 2012.

WATCH: A coalition of health, labour, and environmental groups, is calling for a ban of the use of asbestos

Click to play video: 'Call for national asbestos ban'
Call for national asbestos ban

“It is a great day and also a very sober day,” said Kathleen Ruff, who has been a driving force behind the movement to ban asbestos in Canada. “Because so many people have died who should not have died because we have known for decades and decades and decades that it was deadly.”

Where it’s found

Asbestos was commonly used up until the 90s for building insulation, Health Canada states, but it’s not just in walls of old buildings.

It and can still be found in products such as:

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  • cement and plaster
  • industrial furnaces and heating systems
  • building insulation
  • floor and ceiling tiles
  • house siding
  • car and truck brake pads
  • vehicle transmission components, such as clutches

Coming into contact with these items can lead to exposure.

READ MORE: Too many homeowners unaware of asbestos risk, says WorkSafeBC

While we no longer mine it here in Canada, asbestos makes its way into Canada through parts and materials imports. Imports of asbestos-containing products will also be stopped under the ban.

“Until now it’s been totally legal to import into Canada products that contain asbestos,” said Ruff.

“Million of dollars of worth of goods each year imported into Canada are containing asbestos, and people are not aware of that.”

WATCH: Canadian government moves to ban all asbestos by 2018. Shirlee Engel reports.

Click to play video: 'Canadian government moves to ban all asbestos by 2018'
Canadian government moves to ban all asbestos by 2018

Health effects

Asbestos fibres, which cause damage after they are inhaled, can cause cancer and diseases like Asbestosis – scarring of the lungs, which makes breathing difficult. Exposure to the mineral can also cause mesothelioma, a cancer of the lining of the chest or abdominal cavity.

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Asbestos has been classified as a carcinogen by the WHO, which states that roughly half of occupational cancer deaths globally are estimated to be due to asbestos.

READ MORE: Asbestos-related cancers on rise: StatsCan

“I think people are not aware of the fact that asbestos continues to be a serious threat to the health of Canadians,” said Ruff. “We should have banned it decades ago.”

Health Canada warns that home and mechanical repairs should be done with caution, and that in some homes it’s best to keep children out of areas where asbestos could be present, such as attics.

WATCH: Asbestos was considered a miracle mineral; its health risks are still being identified 

Click to play video: 'Negative health impacts from asbestos still felt today'
Negative health impacts from asbestos still felt today

What Canada needs to do next

Canada currently has a registry for federal buildings containing asbestos; Saskatchewan has its own database, touted as a first among provinces.

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This must be expanded, de Leon said, to a national public registry so that all buildings in Canada which may contain asbestos can be identified through an easily-accessed database.

De Leon also recommends a tracking and monitoring system for people who have been exposed to asbestos.

READ MORE: Asbestos removal company owners accused of jeopardizing health of employees

Implementing and enforcing a ban will could be a challenge.

“What are the reporting requirements for asbestos being released by big industry?” said de Leon. “We would look for ways to make sure that’s ramped up so we know where the asbestos is coming from and we know how it’s being disposed of and treated.”

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