Asbestos - Overview

Jamie Kneen

National Program Co-Lead

Asbestos is a mineral based fibre that has been widely used all over the world due it its resistance to heat and corrosive chemicals. Typically asbestos appears as a whitish, fibrous material, known as chrysotile asbestos. Asbestos has been used in over 3000 products, everything from brake linings to children's toys. Asbestos has been widely used to fireproof ceilings, walls, tiles, and beams. It has also been used as insulation on pipes, broilers, and has been sprayed on walls. Breathing in asbestos fibres can cause asbestosis and cancer. Asbestosis is an irreversible lung disease that leads to scarring of the tissue. This makes breathing more and more difficult until death.

Chrysotile asbestos miners face many of the same issues as other miners: technological change replacing workers, difficult management, injuries, shift work, discrimination against women and minorities, and getting a fair share of profits. The mines too, have effects beyond asbestos: high water and energy consumption, perpetual care and maintenance after closure, and impacts on local economies, transportation corridors, indigenous rights, and provincial and federal budgets.

There has been a worldwide movement to ban both the mining and the use of white asbestos. France banned the use of white asbestos completely in 1997. The UK banned any new use of white asbestos in 1999. Further, by 2005 all EU nations must implement a prohibition on white asbestos. However, despite piles of reports showing the dangers of white asbestos, Canada continues to mine it and export it worldwide.