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Vancouver Building Trades Press for Asbestos Registry; U.S. Has No Such Protections Either

A British asbestos safety ad

A British asbestos safety ad

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In response to a growing number of asbestos-related deaths and illnesses, the president of the Vancouver Island Building and Construction Trades Council (VIBCTC) is calling for a national asbestos registry so that younger workers who are not as familiar with the dangers of asbestos can be aware of the occupational hazards they face.  In a series of letters to the Prime Minister’s office and several premiers and mayors across Canada, VIBCTC President Philip Venoit expressed his concern. He received little response.

WorkSafeBC notes that in 2012, the last year in which national statistics were available, there were 560 new cases of mesothelioma.  By way of comparison, there were 276 new cases in 1992.  

In his letter, Mr. Venoit wrote:

“As a 35-year construction and shipyard electrician, I have watched many friends and co-workers diagnosed with pleural plaques on their lungs and asbestosis,” he said in his letters. “This diagnosis is nothing less than a death sentence; they slowly and prematurely wither away, and die an agonizing death due solely from breathing while at work.”

Younger workers may not be as well-versed in the dangers of asbestos as veteran workers, Venoit fears:

“The baby boomer generation is well versed in asbestos.  We are on the eve of mass retirement with a new generation of workers who know very little of the harmful effects asbestos exposure can cause.”

A few large nations have created registries that follow principles similar to those laid out by Venoit, including the United Kingdom and Australia. No registry exists in the United States.

The reality is that the world needs many more Venoit’s.  He calls for “federal, provincial and municipal governments to develop a national registry of all public buildings and vessels…and to make that registry online and available to all restoration and construction workers.”  He also suggests that the registry identify the specific types of asbestos used in buildings, such as floor tiles, ceiling tiles, insulation, drywall and pipe cladding, along with instructions on how to properly remove them.  

Canada closed its last asbestos mine in 2011 but still allows the import (and export!) of asbestos products.  As noted by Venoit, not all asbestos is found in construction and building situations.  From the Globe and Mail:

“We import all kinds of products that contain asbestos for no good reason other than it might be cheaper,” Mr. Venoit said. “Believe it or not, we are still importing asbestos in children’s crayons, and I think as a parent of young children Prime Minister Trudeau should be worried about that on behalf of all Canadians. … I’ve got high hopes the new federal Liberals will take a hard look at this.”

People who suffer from mesothelioma often say they were unaware of the risks associated with the work they performed.  Yet, these workers were likely more informed and aware of the dangers than today’s workers, as asbestos is viewed as a problem of the past.  

The fight to inform workers and the public about the dangers of asbestos is not completely dormant in the U.S.  A bill sponsored by Senators Edward J. Markey (D-MA) and Dick Durbin (D-IL), the Reducing Exposure to Asbestos Database (READ) Act, was introduced to the Senate in March of 2015.  In April, the House introduced a companion bill.  The bill would amend the Asbestos Information Act of 1988 by establishing a public database of asbestos-containing products. According to Sen. Markey:

“The Reducing Exposure to Asbestos Database (READ) Act will modernize the reporting requirements of the Asbestos Information Act to ensure that Americans have transparent, accessible and up-to-date information about the identities and known locations of asbestos-containing products.”

United States doctors diagnose nearly 3,000 cases of mesothelioma annually.


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