This popular post originally published June 1, 2012, was last updated August 20, 2017. It is a historical account of asbestos leading up to the present Canadian situation. Since the original posting, Canadian asbestos mining revival plans ended. On June 17, 2014, the lack of clarity of federal government policy on asbestos was raised in the question period in Canada’s parliament without being fully answered. Asbestos is not yet completely banned by Canada’s new liberal Justin Trudeau government but they are working towards the goal of a complete ban. Canada’s asbestos mining and exporting era has ended but more needs to be done.
Since the 1870s, the mineral asbestos was mined in Quebec, and Canadian asbestos mining used to be considered one of our country’s greatest natural resources and sources of wealth. Nobody had heard of Asbestosis or Mesothelioma resulting from asbestos exposure. Asbestos was seen as one of the greatest substances known to man. Asbestos is virtually indestructible; it is a most effective fire proofer and insulator with many practical uses. Asbestos uses have included artificial snow for Christmas decoration and for movies like 1939’s The Wizard of Oz with Judy Garland, and Holiday Inn, which in 1942 introduced the song White Christmas. Regular asbestos use was common across Canada in covering pipes, electrical wiring, insulation, floor tiles, children’s toys, kitchen equipment, blankets, curtains, bricks, cement, gaskets, fireman’s suits, auto brake linings, lawn furniture, and even filters for cigarettes. Yes, asbestos was used to make tobacco smoking safer! Asbestos use and fire safety were almost synonymous words. Regular daily asbestos exposure was a fact for most Canadians. There has been Asbestos use by people, in cookware and in clothing, for over 4,000 years. The word asbestos comes from a Greek word meaning “unquenchable” or “inextinguishable”. Charlemagne, the first Emperor of the Holy Roman Empire, was known to have an asbestos tablecloth in about the year 800. Famous Byzantine paintings in Cyprus from the 11th Century have through testing been found to have been made with an asbestos base. Chrysotile which is the white asbestos type mined in Canada was used to create a smooth white surface on the walls and as a finish coating between paint layers in monasteries and other places where the paintings were done. Asbestos was mined in Cyprus about 60 km. away from the monasteries for many centuries, so it is not too surprising that it was used in that region at the time. The discovery of this in 2014 is our first knowledge of asbestos in ancient art.
When Marco Polo visited Siberia in his travels during the 13th Century, he was presented with asbestos clothing which he was first told was made from special wool from a magical lizard. Its qualities were considered magical and extremely beneficial. Marco Polo eventually did learn that asbestos actually came from the ground. Like spices and pasta, the mineral asbestos was brought back to Italy by Marco Polo and introduced to Europe where asbestos exposure and use became common. Asbestos use became more common for the industry in the 1800s. As Canada developed, asbestos was discovered and asbestos mining developed into a major Quebec industry. Long before anyone knew of the potential for extracting large quantities of oil from the bitumen of the Alberta tar sands, the magical mineral asbestos was viewed as one of Canada’s greatest assets. “These enormous asbestos deposits in the province of Quebec are immensely valuable to Canada in war and peace, and they form a very important part of our great heritage of mineral wealth,” said CBC Radio’s Lorne Greene in 1942, on-site at the Jeffrey Mine in Asbestos, Quebec. But far worse than today’s oil from sand, which has a huge environmental price attached to it, the more easily mined asbestos comes with a deadly impact on miners, people who work with it, and people simply exposed to asbestos in everyday life. Asbestos mining has advanced with protection for the miners. The asbestos exposure danger is greatest from breathing in asbestos fibers. The fibers remain in the body indestructible and for many people slowly causing serious diseases like asbestosis and mesothelioma. In ancient days there was some suspicion of ill effects from asbestos use as it was noted that the slaves who wove asbestos into clothing became ill and had breathing difficulty. They were the symptoms of asbestosis. The connection to asbestos exposure was noted but not a concern since the weavers were slaves and easily replaced. It was not until 1906 that the first human was medically diagnosed as having died as a result of asbestos exposure. Researchers began to investigate respiratory health problems in asbestos mining towns and it became clear asbestos exposure was the culprit. Conditions such as asbestosis where long-term asbestos exposure causes severe respiratory disease became known in the early 1900s with the first official asbestosis death noted in medical journals in 1924. Mine owners and other business users of asbestos did all they could to suppress knowledge of the danger of asbestos. The horrible condition of Mesothelioma which is a deadly and painful cancer of the lining of the lungs was discovered in the 1920s but not linked to asbestos until the 1940s. Mesothelioma can only be caused by asbestos exposure. By the 1970s awareness and fear of asbestos-related diseases led to asbestos use being regulated and phased out. There were strikes in the mines due to safety concerns.
Lawsuits began which eventually put most mines out of operation and most asbestos product manufacturers into bankruptcy. Asbestos mining became a very small industry in Canada but asbestos mining continued to get strong support from the Quebec Government in its attempts to support the asbestos industry. Canada continued asbestos mining and export even though asbestos use is banned in Canada and most developed countries. Canadian asbestos is now killing people all over the world with until recently support for the asbestos mining industry from both the Federal and Quebec Governments, despite growing opposition to it by Canadians. The previous Conservative Stephen Harper-led Government of Canada has helped prevent a world ban on asbestos and its support for the Canadian asbestos industry is a political issue today. Please view Operation Maple’s video regarding Canada exporting asbestos featuring an interview with Murray Miskin. In the 2012 Quebec election the pro-asbestos mining Government of Jean Charest was defeated and the minority Parti Quebecois Government immediately canceled loans that were intended to assist the reopening of the Jeffrey Mine in the town of Asbestos, Quebec. The Harper Government saw the writing on the wall and immediately stopped its own support for the asbestos mines and its opposition to a treaty for international cooperation against asbestos use. On April 7, 2014, Quebec election campaign asbestos was not an issue and the new Liberal Government is highly unlikely to attempt to reopen asbestos mines. For more information on asbestos and Quebec politics please visit our website Asbestos Facts Canada After the PQ came to power in 2012 and stopped proposed government loans to reopen asbestos mines the Federal Government also backed off support for asbestos. They withdrew objections to listing Chrysotile Asbestos (the Canadian mined form) as a hazardous product under the United Nations Rotterdam Convention. That declaration does not ban asbestos but requires warnings about the hazard. In Parliament on June 17, 2014, the issue of asbestos policy for Canada was raised by NDP member Pat Martin who is a former asbestos mine worker. The Government would not make clear its position on Canadian export and import of asbestos outside of simply confirming its current support for the Rotterdam Convention. Asbestos has not been raised as a significant issue in the 2015 Federal Election except locally in affected communities. The Liberals who now have a majority of Government have opposed any revival of the asbestos industries in Canada. Steps to ban asbestos completely have not yet been announced by the Justin Trudeau government.
More and more Canadians are being told by their doctors that they have Mesothelioma or other serious cancers and other conditions (asbestosis, pleural plaques) caused by exposure to asbestos and asbestos use which may have been many years ago. The Miskin law firm represents Canadian asbestos victims and their families in getting compensation for Asbestosis, Mesothelioma, and other diseases. We work to promote awareness of the dangers of asbestos exposure. There is compensation for some people for asbestosis and mesothelioma through Workers Compensation, and we bring claims to asbestos trusts set up to pay claims for asbestos victims from the assets of the asbestos product companies. The greatest compensation is for victims of mesothelioma. That is because mesothelioma is deadly cancer that can only be caused by exposure to asbestos. Miskin law offices are the leading mesothelioma lawyers in Canada who work directly with the US-based asbestos trust funds.
Call our office or email firstname.lastname@example.org if you or a family member believe you have a claim. We have an informational website where we provide more asbestos facts related to Canada along with links to many asbestos and mesothelioma-related resources and organizations. It is www.asbestosfacts.ca. We encourage you to learn more and join the battle to protect Canadians from asbestos and to protect the world from Canadian asbestos exports.