Blog Post #66 – Air at Many Quebec Worksites Contains High Levels of Asbestos: Study

Excerpts From The OH&S Canada magazine

A new report is suggesting the air at many Quebec construction sites contains levels of asbestos at or above provincial norms, raising fresh questions about whether the substance can be handled safely in Canada.

The study, released by Quebec’s Public Health Department, examined 3,000 air samples taken from worksites that were considered at elevated risk for asbestos exposure.

It found that 43 per cent of the sites had concentrations of the mineral’s cancer-causing fibres that met or exceeded the limit.

”What (the study) shows is that even though in Quebec we have norms, active laws, inspectors and also the availability of protective gear . . . it’s (still) very difficult to adhere to the norms,” said Louise Souliere, public-health director for a central Quebec region that is home to one of Canada’s last asbestos mines.

”So, this means that even the workers who know they’re working with asbestos are sometimes at risk.”

The study highlights that Quebec’s occupational asbestos exposure limit allows for 10 times more airborne fibres than other Canadian provinces — and 100 times more than some European countries.

The report, published Friday on the department website, includes data on asbestos exposure taken between 2003 and 2009, some of which had previously been published.

The study was released as the Quebec government mulls over whether to give a controversial $58-million bank-loan guarantee to extend the life of the Jeffrey Mine in the city of Asbestos.

Quebec politicians have traditionally supported the province’s embattled chrysotile asbestos industry — and Bloc Quebecois Leader Gilles Duceppe recently discovered that opposing it can sometimes be treacherous.

Only weeks after saying the substance could be used safely in Quebec, Duceppe expressed his support Sunday for a call to hold a provincial legislative committee to take a closer look at just how safe it is.

But Duceppe changed his tune again Monday, stating the mineral could be manipulated safely in the province.

”We’re not afraid, we know that it’s secure,” he said Monday.

”It’s not the same thing as the asbestos in the 1940s, chrysotile is much different.”

Bloc MP Andre Bellavance, who represented the riding that encompasses Asbestos, is seeking another mandate.

The Conservatives, who have long supported Quebec’s asbestos industry, said Sunday that Duceppe’s comments hurt the region.

”At a certain point, we have to ask if we should believe him or not,” federal Natural Resources Minister Christian Paradis, who is running in a neighbouring riding that is home to asbestos operations, said Monday after Duceppe changed his mind.

Asbestos has been linked to cancer although supporters, including Paradis, say the product can be used safely, even in developing countries.

But one health expert said the figures in the public health report raise questions about just how safely the substance can be used in the Third World, where the bulk of Canadian asbestos exports are shipped.

”In a sense, (the report) shows that under the best of circumstances — which I think is most likely what we meet in a modern country like Canada — we still have a failure rate of almost 50 per cent,” said Fernand Turcotte, a professor of preventative medicine at Universite Laval.

”We cannot offer them (developing countries) but a tiny fraction of what we use here — in terms of precautions — and look at the failure rate that we still face.”

My opinion

In Ontario, asbestos is a designated substance with 2 different regulations, Ontario Regulation 837 — Designated Substance — Asbestos, and Ontario Regulation 278/05 — Designated Substance — Asbestos on Construction Projects and In Buildings and Repair Operations.

I hope the Quebec Health and Safety departments have the equivalent regulations at their disposal to deal with any asbestos contamination. In Ontario, there is numerous amounts of information concerning asbestos and it is strictly adhered to.

By the way, in Ontario, Section 9 of the ACT has another piece of information.

Section 9, (2)(c) states,

A JHSC (joint health and safety committee) is required,

c) At a workplace, other than a construction project where fewer than twenty workers are regularly employed, with respect to which a regulation concerning designated substances applies.

Remember — In Ontario, “ALL Accidents are Preventable”

‘Work’ and ‘Play’ safe.

Daniel L. Beal
CHSEP – Foundation Level
VP & Senior Trainer
HRS Group Inc.

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