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Canada Is Finally Banning Deadly Asbestos

But will Donald Trump’s EPA follow suit?
Image: Flickr/Alpha

Canada, once the world's top producer of asbestos, is moving forward with a ban on the material that was once widely employed in industries as diverse as textiles and construction, but which many countries now ban because it can kill you.

The ban, announced on Thursday, follows a promise made by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in May at a trade union conference. Referred to as a "domestic ban" in a press release, it will bar the manufacture, use, import, and export of asbestos in Canada. This is significant, because while the country doesn't mine or export asbestos like it used to, it still imports the material for use in automotive parts, like brake pads.


Asbestos is responsible for the public health crisis that affects workers in places like my hometown of Sarnia, Ontario. It's a naturally-occurring substance, but it's also a carcinogen. If inhaled in substantial amounts over time, can cause cancers like mesothelioma.

Read More: Growing Up In Canada's 'Chemical Valley' Convinced Me We Need to Ban Asbestos

Old buildings were often built with asbestos, and the government of Canada has also committed to updating its public list of government buildings containing the material. The federal government will work with the provinces and territories to ban the use of asbestos in new building projects.

Canada's decision should put pressure on the US to follow suit. While Europe, Japan, and Australia have all banned asbestos, America hasn't. In November, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) elected to list asbestos as a "known carcinogen" to be evaluated under a newly-reformed Toxic Substances Control Act. At the moment, asbestos is banned in many forms in the US, but it's still fair game in some housing materials, cars, and even clothing.

Canada will also "update its international position" regarding asbestos ahead of 2017's meeting of parties to the Rotterdam Convention, which seeks to regulate the international trade of toxic materials. While the US signed the document in 1998, the country has neither ratified the convention nor put it into effect, putting it in league with Turkey and Angola. Canada has done both.

By that time, however, Donald Trump will be the president of the United States, and he's made his distaste for the EPA (he once promised to abolish it), and deference to business interests, very clear. Trump's pick to lead the EPA, Scott Pruitt, is known for generally being anti-science, pro-business, and anti-regulation, none of which bodes well for a ban on a product use by some parts of American industry.

But if the past year has taught us anything, it's that anything can happen. Mostly for the worse, sure, but bad luck runs out, just like the good.

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