Asbestos – has been used in BC since 1900’s was banned in early 1990’s to insulate homes

Monday, December 26th, 2016

Product was a known killer, but low cost made it irresistible

Owen Munro
The Province

Asbestos seemed like a miracle product: It was fire-resistant, an excellent insulator and dirt cheap.

Canada’s infrastructure relied heavily on asbestos from the early 1900s until it became clear the fibrous mineral was killing people at an alarming rate.

Even though authorities warned of its dangers as early as the 1940s and ’50s, it wasn’t until the early 1990s that asbestos ceased to be used in homes.

Bob Barter has inspected commercial and industrial buildings since 1975. He said many of the workplace-related deaths linked to asbestos resulted from the ignorance of all parties involved — from the companies who had workers install asbestos in the first place, to the workers who disregarded warning signs.

“The very first asbestos removal job I was ever involved in was in the old RCMP building in Richmond,” Barter explained. “We were doing highrisk removals with a half mask and a Nilfisk twin-head vacuum cleaner as our negative air unit.”

Supervisors would walk through an uncontaminated “clean” room wearing the same clothes that had asbestos fibres in them, Barter said.

That would end up being one of Barter’s only asbestos-removal jobs as a worker before he moved into a role as an inspector with Richmond-based environmental company Pinchin West.

“We were literally poisoning ourselves standing there doing this work,” he recalled.

Fast facts

Canada officially stopped exporting asbestos after 2011. In 2011, exports totalled $40.7 million, with 69 per cent of that going to India ($19.5 million) and Indonesia ($8.5 million). From 1990 to 2011, Canada exported $4.3 billion in raw asbestos to countries such as India, Indonesia and Japan.

Overall, Canada has shipped more than $100 million of asbestos to each of the following 12 countries: India, Indonesia, Japan, Thailand, Mexico, South Korea, Colombia, Spain, France, Malaysia, Sri Lanka and Brazil. Canada’s asbestos industry employed hundreds of thousands of workers, although exact national figures are not known.

An estimated 50,000 workers from more than 100 countries worked at the Cassiar asbestos mine in northern B.C. before it was closed in 1992. — Owen Munro

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