Asbestos Risk in Canada

Asbestos is a toxic fibrous mineral found in Canadian consumer and construction products, including housing insulation, roofing tiles, automobile brake pads and cement. Despite banning asbestos in 2018, Canadians continue to face a risk of mesothelioma cancer caused by asbestos in these and various other materials. 

After climbing steadily over the past two decades, Canada’s mesothelioma cancer rate is now one of the highest in the world. Canada was historically dedicated to mining chrysotile asbestos and permitted the production and use of asbestos in thousands of products. 

According to Statistics Canada, the country’s national statistics office, doctors diagnose mesothelioma in about 1.6 of every 100,000 Canadians yearly. Since 2010, asbestos in Canada has caused roughly 500 mesothelioma deaths annually, and asbestos-related diseases have accounted for about a third of workplace deaths in Canada.

Who Is at Risk of Asbestos Exposure?

Canadian occupations most at risk of asbestos exposure include industrial, construction and transportation jobs associated with Canada’s formerly thriving asbestos mining industry.

The most significant increases in mesothelioma rates occurred in Vancouver and Quebec. A 2022 study found that sediment near Lake Bécancour in Quebec contains up to 4.4% asbestos by weight. Vancouver’s shipyards exposed many Canadians to asbestos-containing materials, and Quebec is home to many of Canada’s early asbestos mines.

High-risk Canadian asbestos occupations include:
  • Miners
  • Ship loaders
  • Truck drivers
  • Carpenters
  • Construction workers
  • Insulation installers
  • Plumbers
  • Roofers
  • Shipbuilders
  • Textile workers
  • Military service personnel
  • Nuclear facility workers

Canada’s domestic production of asbestos materials has declined, and all Canadian mines have ceased operation. However, renovation and demolition of the country’s aging buildings have caused the mesothelioma rate to rise among construction and maintenance workers. 

As of 2019, the Canadian Department of National Defence lists over 20,000 properties in the national asbestos inventory, placing thousands of veterans and government workers at risk of exposure. The 2018 Canadian asbestos ban included exemptions for the military, the chloralkali industry and nuclear facilities.

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Is Asbestos Banned in Canada?

Asbestos has been banned in Canada since the Prohibition of Asbestos and Products Containing Asbestos Regulations in 2018, but specific uses of asbestos remain legal in Canada. 

Nuclear energy and Canadian military facilities are allowed to use asbestos through 2029. The chloralkali industry has until 2030 to phase out asbestos. In addition, magnesium extraction companies are permitted to work from the highly toxic piles of asbestos mining waste. 

Canada long resisted a universal ban on asbestos as proposed by the World Health Organization and many other countries. At the 2008 Rotterdam Convention on hazardous chemicals, Canada voted to keep chrysotile asbestos off a United Nations “watchlist” of dangerous chemicals. As late as 2011, the government considered reopening the Jeffrey Mine in Asbestos, Quebec.

Canadian Asbestos Mines

Asbestos is no longer mined in Canada since the last two asbestos mines closed in 2011: The Jeffrey Mine in Val-des-Sources, Quebec, and the Lac d’amiante du Canada in the nearby town of Thetford Mines, Quebec. It was the first time in 130 years that Canadian asbestos production stalled and likely impacted Canada’s mesothelioma rate.

Panoramic view of the LAB-Chrysotile Asbestos Mine in Quebec, Canada
North America’s last full-time operating asbestos mines, located in Quebec, closed in 2011.

In early 2008, it was revealed that Health Canada had quietly begun to study the dangers of chrysotile asbestos to politicize the mineral’s value and safety in support of the asbestos industry. Since the 1970s, doctors have declared the asbestos mining towns in Canada among the most dangerous worldwide.

Throughout the 20th century, Canada produced 40% of the world’s chrysotile asbestos. The country’s first asbestos mine opened in Quebec in 1874, and large mineral deposits were found in Quebec, Newfoundland, British Columbia and the Yukon. After Johns Manville and other asbestos companies arrived to establish mines, asbestos became known as “Canada’s Gold.”

Mesothelioma Cancer and Canadians

Asbestos exposure is the leading cause of mesothelioma and occupational death in Canada. Mesothelioma cancer primarily develops in the pleura, the protective lining of the lungs, or the peritoneum, the lining of the abdomen and abdominal organs. Mesothelioma symptoms include difficulty breathing, wheezing, chest pain and fatigue.

Breathing or ingesting asbestos fibers causes the mineral to become trapped within sensitive tissues, leading to disease after years of inflammation and irritation. Mesothelioma has a latency period between 20 and 60 years before symptoms appear, making diagnosis challenging until cancer has progressed to later stages.

Mesothelioma Cases Continue to Rise

According to a recent study by the Ontario Cancer Registry, mesothelioma incidences in Ontario, the highest-populated Canadian province, have risen steadily from an annual rate of 75 cases in 1993 to nearly 250 in 2017. 

The study also pointed to a rise in mesothelioma cases among women and adults over 70. This trend correlates with a shift toward environmental exposure over occupational hazards. Rates have declined slightly for men in their 60s and younger, but total cases are unlikely to decrease significantly for many years.

Line graph illustrating rising mesothelioma cases in Canada for men and women.

Compensation for Asbestos Exposure in Canada

Canadians exposed to asbestos while they lived and worked in the United States are eligible to file for compensation in the U.S. against those responsible. 

For patients and families affected by an asbestos-related disease in Canada, mesothelioma is a compensable disease. This means patients can receive payment from provincial governments if documentation proves their asbestos exposure happened in the workplace.

Multimillion-dollar verdicts have been awarded in lawsuits involving asbestos-contaminated talc found in cosmetics and personal care items. Canada has moved toward restricting talc products and is expected to place talc on its official toxic substances list.

Asbestos Lawsuits and Trust Funds for Canadians

Patients diagnosed with mesothelioma may file a lawsuit or trust fund claim seeking compensation to cover medical bills and other expenses related to the diagnosis. Family members who lost a loved one to mesothelioma may be eligible to file a wrongful death lawsuit or a trust fund claim.

Other options for compensation include Canada Pension Plan disability, WorkSafeBC disability pension, Veterans Affairs disability pension and class action lawsuits.

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Mesothelioma Treatment in Canada

The high number of mesothelioma cases in Canada has led to a medical system that offers the latest treatment options for mesothelioma via a socialized medical insurance system. 

In the U.S. and Canada, treatment for the disease is essentially the same, focusing on a multimodal approach utilizing surgery, chemotherapy and radiation. Canadian mesothelioma specialists and treatment centers also offer clinical trials for eligible patients. 

Canadian Treatment Centers

Canadian mesothelioma treatment centers offer treatment options based on factors such as cancer stage, tumor size and location, and the patient’s age.

Top Mesothelioma Treatment Centers in Canada
CENTER/INSTITUTE LOCATION
Cross Cancer Institute at U of Alberta Edmonton, Alberta
Princess Margaret Cancer Centre Toronto, Ontario
Vancouver Cancer Centre Vancouver, British Columbia
McGill University Health Centre Montreal, Quebec
The Ottawa Hospital Regional Cancer Centre Ottawa, Ontario

Mesothelioma Specialists in Canada

A growing number of surgeons, oncologists and radiologists in Canada have specialized training in the most recent mesothelioma medications and procedures.

Top Mesothelioma Specialists in Canada
MESOTHELIOMA DOCTOR LOCATION
Robert MacRae, M.D. Ottawa, Ontario
Christopher Lee, M.D. Vancouver, British Columbia
Rufus Scrimger, M.D. Edmonton, Alberta
Marc de Perrot, M.D. Toronto, Ontario
Walley Temple, M.D. Calgary, Alberta

Clinical Trials

The Canadian Cancer Society and the U.S. National Cancer Institute often collaborate on clinical trials to test certain medications’ effectiveness in treating rare diseases, including mesothelioma.

An ongoing clinical research trial at Princess Margaret Cancer Centre in Toronto, Ontario, seeks mesothelioma patients eligible for surgery. The study ends in 2025, and researchers aim to find the maximum tolerated dose of a new type of radiation therapy after mesothelioma surgery. 

An excellent source to check for open clinical trials throughout Canada is clinicaltrials.gov, a website run by the U.S. National Institutes of Health. It is essential to speak with a doctor, as some patients may not qualify for specific trials.

Common Questions About Asbestos in Canada

What year did asbestos stop being used in Canada?

Asbestos is still used in Canadian military facilities, the chloralkali industry, nuclear power plants and magnesium extraction from asbestos mining residue. Since 2018, exemptions from the Prohibition of Asbestos and Products Containing Asbestos Regulations allowed these industries to continue using asbestos.

Since Canada’s last two asbestos mines closed in 2011, Canada no longer produces chrysotile asbestos, but the toxic material is still present in older housing materials, shipyards and military facilities.

How many people died as a result of asbestos in Canada?

Between 2000 and 2016, nearly 7,000 Canadians died from mesothelioma caused by asbestos exposure. WorkSafeBC reported that almost one-third of these deaths are from the construction industry.

Many more deaths occur due to other asbestos-related diseases, including lung cancer and asbestosis. About five Canadians are diagnosed with asbestos cancer every day. In 2017, the most recent year with mortality statistics, 490 Canadians died from mesothelioma, including 401 men and 89 women.

Which regions did asbestos most affect in Canada?

The regions most affected by asbestos include Quebec, Newfoundland, British Columbia and the Yukon, where large mineral deposits were initially found. Miners, ship loaders, truck drivers and other workers in these regions were exposed to high amounts of asbestos daily.

Canada’s first asbestos mine opened in Quebec in 1874. Its last two mines, the Jeffrey Mine in Val-des-Sources, Quebec, and the Lac d’amiante du Canada in Thetford Mines, Quebec, closed in 2011 due to financial, labor and development issues.

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