Asbestos and Mesothelioma in Canada: An Overview

In 2016, 445 Canadians were diagnosed with mesothelioma. Of those people, 375 were men, and 70 were women—the largest disease in men and second-largest among women worldwide.

ASBESTOS RISK: Asbestos Risk in Canada

Asbestos is a fibrous mineral that can cause health problems when inhaled. It is used in many Canadian products, including insulation for homes and buildings, roofing materials, and automobile brake pads. Although asbestos is banned in Canada, mesothelioma cancer remains a risk for Canadians exposed to the mineral and its various other forms.

Canada’s mesothelioma cancer rate is one of the highest in the world—and has been rising since asbestos was banned 20 years ago. Canada historically permitted the production and use of asbestos products in thousands of forms: early mining efforts focused on chrysotile and other types.

According to Statistics Canada, about 1 in every 100,000 people is diagnosed with mesothelioma yearly. Asbestos causes about 500 fatalities annually in Canada and accounts for one-third of all workplace deaths.

Which group is most likely to be exposed to asbestos?

Canada’s use of asbestos in industrial, construction, and transportation jobs peaked when the country was a world leader in asbestos mining.

Mesothelioma rates have increased most significantly in Vancouver and Quebec. In a study released in 2022, researchers found that sediment around Lake Bécancour contains up to 4.4% asbestos by weight—levels seven times higher than previously thought safe for humans. Vancouver’s shipyards were built using asbestos-containing materials, and many of Canada’s initial asbestos mines were located in Quebec.

Canada’s domestic exhibition of asbestos materials has declined, and all its mines have shut down. But due to the country’s aging buildings (and a lack of regulation on asbestos products), construction workers are still at risk for getting mesothelioma—lung cancer caused by breathing in the toxic fibers.

As of 2019, the Canadian Department of the National guard listed over 20,000 properties in its national asbestos inventory—putting thousands of veterans and government workers at risk. The 2018 Canadian asbestos ban exempted the military, chloralkali industry, and nuclear facilities.

ASBESTOS BAN: Is Asbestos Banned in Canada?

While asbestos was banned in Canada with the Banning of Asbestos and Products Containing Asbestos Regulations in 2018, this rule has some exceptions.

The Nuclear power plants and Canadian military facilities are Allowed to use asbestos until 2029, while chloralkali has until 2030 to phase out its use. Magnesium extraction companies may work from waste piles created during mining—which contain high levels of this toxic material.

Canada resisted a universal ban on asbestos for many years—as proposed by the World Health Organization and other nations. At the 2008 Rotterdam Convention on dangerous chemicals, Canada voted to keep chrysotile asbestos off its dangerous chemicals list. As recently as 2011, the Canadian government was considering reopening the Jeffrey Mine in Asbestos, Quebec.

Canadian Asbestos Mines

Since 2011, Canada has no longer mines asbestos. The Jeffrey Mine in Val-des-Sources and the Lac deaminate du Canada are the last two remaining mining operations in Quebec. In 2008, it unexpectedly became the first time in 130 years that Canadian asbestos production had stalled. Its likely impacted Canada’s mesothelioma rate.

In 2008, Health Canada revealed that it had begun secretly studying the dangers of chrysotile asbestos to support the asbestos industry’s position that this mineral is safe. Asbestos mining towns in Canada have been declared among the most dangerous worldwide by doctors since the 1970s.

Canada was the world’s leading asbestos producer throughout the 20th century. The country’s first asbestos mine flared in Quebec in 1874, and they found large mineral deposits across a wide area, including Quebec, Newfoundland, and British Columbia. Because of its unique properties, asbestos became a valuable resource for the Canadian economy.

MESOTHELIOMA: What Is Mesothelioma and How Do Canadians Get It?

Asbestos exposure is responsible for most mesothelioma cases, cancer that develops in the lungs or abdominal cavity. Fibrous mesothelioma symptoms include shortness of breath, a dry cough, and fatigue.

Asbestos fibers can lead to serious health problems, including lung disease. Mesothelioma can cause various symptoms and only becomes detectable once it has reached advanced phases.

Mesothelioma Issues Persist to Rise

According to a current study by the Ontario Cancer Registry, mesothelioma incidence rates rose steadily from 75 cases annually in 1993 to nearly 250 cases per year between 2013 and 2017.

The study found that the incidence of mesothelioma has increased among women and older adults, reflecting a shift from occupational to environmental exposure. Men in their 60s and younger are experiencing slightly reduced rates, but new cases of prostate cancer aren’t likely to disappear for many years.

COMPENSATION: Asbestos Exposure Compensation in Canada

Americans exposed to asbestos while living or working in Canada are eligible for compensation from those responsible. If a patient in Canada develops an asbestos-related disease (such as mesothelioma), the provincial government will compensate them for the illness. That is because most proven cases of asbestos exposure occurred at work.

Asbestos fibers have been found in many talc-based cosmetic and personal care products, leading to multimillion-dollar lawsuits against corporations that manufacture those items. Canada already banned the use of talc in consumer products and expected to do so for all cosmetics there soon.

Asbestos lawsuits help Canadians get compensation for asbestos exposure. Patients diagnosed with mesothelioma may file a case or trust fund claim to cover medical statements and other expenses related to the diagnosis. Family members who lost loved ones due to workplace exposure might also be eligible for compensation.

You can receive compensation for an injury through the Canada Pension Plan, WorkSafeBC disability pensions, Veterans Affairs, and class action lawsuits.

TREATMENT OPTIONS: Mesothelioma Treatment in Canada

Canada’s high rate of mesothelioma has inspired a socialized medical insurance system that offers the latest treatment options. In the U.S. and Canada, therapy for mesothelioma is essentially the same: a multimodal approach that utilizes surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation in most cases—and clinical trials when available.

Clinical Trials

International cancer research organizations, including the Canadian Cancer Society and U.S. National Cancer Institute, often cooperate on clinical trials to test medications’ effectiveness in treating rare diseases—including mesothelioma.

The Princess Margaret Cancer Centre in Toronto, Ontario, is conducting a clinical trial to determine how much radiation will be given to cancer patients after surgery. The study will end in 2025, and its results may help determine the best treatment for people diagnosed with mesothelioma or other forms of lung cancer that have spread between tissues within the body.

Before signing up for a clinical trial, it is important to consult your physician because some trials are inappropriate for certain groups (including children and pregnant women).

FAQ: Frequently Asked Questions About Asbestos in Canada

When did Canada stop using asbestos? 

Asbestos is still used in Canadian military establishments, the chloralkali industry, and nuclear power plants. Since this year, the Banning of Asbestos and Products Containing Asbestos Regulations have exempted some industries from their provisions to continue using asbestos.

Although Canada’s last two asbestos mines closed in 2011, the toxic material is still present in older housing materials and military facilities.

How many people have died from asbestos exposure in Canada?

Between 2000 and 2016, approximately 7,000 Canadians died from mesothelioma caused by exposure to asbestos. WorkSafeBC reported that about one-third of these deaths were in the construction industry.

Mesothelioma is a particularly aggressive form of lung cancer that can result from asbestos exposure. In 2017, 490 Canadians died from the disease—401 men and 89 women.

Which regions did asbestos most affect in Canada?

Most asbestos-related deaths occurred in Quebec, Newfoundland, and British Columbia. They initially found large mineral deposits Miners, ship loaders, and truck drivers whose jobs involved contact with the substance had high levels of exposure to asbestos dust daily.

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

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