Released Documents Disclose Secrets Behind Canada’s Opposition to U.S. Asbestos Ban

Canadian flag with gavel

In the spring of 2011, a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) application was filed to learn why and who was involved in the overturning of the Asbestos Ban and Phase-out Rule, a 1989 policy created by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

Ihe International Asbestos Ban Secretariat, an organization that strives to ban asbestos globally, disclosed the contents from these once-secret documents. It is is unclear who filed the FOIA application this spring.

However, with this newly-released information, the public may now have a better perspective on how Canada and the United States negotiated about asbestos regulations two decades ago.

Asbestos, a toxic mineral that causes diseases like mesothelioma and asbestosis, was at the center of some political, social and economic relationships between governmental departments within the two North American countries.

Newly released documents detail how Canada fought hard against anti-asbestos recommendation by the EPA and other departments during the 1980s and 1990s. The EPA’s recommendations ended up not being put in place.

Canada Acts against America’s Interests

According to experts, the files expose that Canada began battling the EPA’s Asbestos Ban and Phase-out Rule (ABPR) almost immediately after it was enacted. Some of Canada’s top leaders, including cabinet members, the Canadian Prime Minister, Quebec Premier, along with others, played a large role in the elimination of this asbestos-reducing policy.

The ABPR policy went into effect on Aug. 25, 1989 and “prohibited the import, manufacturing and distribution of asbestos-containing products in three stages over 10 years.” Because of the large economic impact of asbestos in Canada, the country’s asbestos lobbying groups and political figures set forth to ensure the U.S. policy wouldn’t maintain a ban on asbestos.

Reports suggest that the Canadian government had scientists, officials and doctors go to Washington, D.C., to protest and lobby against a ruling that would hurt their economic interests.

Further, statements from Canadia officials show that the country provided Can$2.5 million in assistance to the Canada’s Asbestos Institute with a consideration of more funds in the future, to “promote Canada’s position on the controlled use of asbestos.

Canadian political and economic experts feared that the U.S.’s actions of implementing a bold ban on asbestos would lead to a domino effect, in which other countries followed suit and banned the material.

In 1985, U.S. consumption of Canadian asbestos generated Can$72 million for the Canadian economy. Such an action to ban asbestos in the U.S. would have been detrimental to Canada’s asbestos industry.

No ban on asbestos was ever made in the United States. The toxic material still can be found in buildings, homes and products throughout the country and throughout the world.

The Cost of Asbestos Exposure

By some accounts, Canada’s lobbying efforts played a notable role in the progression of mesothelioma, a disease that currently affects between 2,000 and 3,000 Americans per year.

The International Ban Asbestos Secretariat took a strong stance on the information contained in the recently disclosed documents, putting much of the blame on Canada for its influence.

“The U.S. would, by now, have benefited from twenty years of using asbestos-free products; a generation of workers would have escaped hazardous exposures to new asbestos-containing products even if the risks posed by contaminated material within the national infrastructure remained,” Laurie Kazan-Allen wrote on the organization’s website. “Of course, it is not possible to say what might or might not have happened had the Canadians stayed on their side of the border when it came to deciding on how the U.S. Government could best protect the lives of American workers.”

Despite whom you may hold accountable for the today’s asbestos-related health issues in the United States, the fact remains that thousands of mesothelioma cases surface each year with a peak number of cases not expected until 2020.


Mark Hall joined the Mesothelioma Center as a writer in 2011. Prior to joining the content team, Mark graduated from the University of Florida and then spent several years writing about business, entrepreneurship and technology for various online publications.

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