The Use of Chrysotile Asbestos in Quebec

In 1997, in light of international developments with respect to asbestos, the ministère de la Santé et des Services sociaux (Québec's department of health and social services) set up the Comité aviseur sur l'amiante (asbestos advisory committee) to make recommendations concerning appropriate measures for informing the public about the asbestos situation in Québec and protecting public health in this regard. To carry out this mandate, the committee conducted a number of studies. These were synthesized in three documents that may be consulted on the website of the Institut national de santé publique du Québec (INSPQ) (De Guire et al., 2003; Lajoieet al., 2003; De Guire & Lajoie, 2003).

In 2002, the Québec government adopted a Politique d'utilisation accrue et sécuritaire de l'amiante chrysotile (Policy concerning the increased and safe use of chrysotile asbestos). As the name indicates, the objective of this policy is to increase the use of chrysotile asbestos in Québec by stimulating the processing of and the demand for chrysotile asbestos products (MNRQ, 2002).

Since the publication of the INSPQ documents, contradictory messages about asbestos and its safe management have been circulating in the media and the general population. For this reason the INSPQ has decided to prepare an advisory statement on the use of chrysotile asbestos in Québec. The objective of this advisory is to provide an update on these issues.

Considering the following points:

  • The observed increase of mesotheliomas of the pleura in the general population in Quebec in the past several years and the expectation of this trend continuing for several years to come;
  • The occurrence of asbestos-related occupational pulmonary diseases among Quebec’s workers in recent years, notably among miners and construction and renovation workers;
  • The preponderance of the number of people with one of the asbestos-related diseases in the general population of Quebec in comparison with the number documented among workers;
  • The problems of controlling asbestos exposure in the asbestos processing industry in the 1990s;
  • The problems of identifying asbestos-containing materials in public buildings, which make it difficult to control asbestos exposure among construction workers;
  • The lack of success in developing processes to ensure the traceability of public and private buildings containing asbestos in order to ensure the protection of workers and residents;
  • The limitations of traceability for civil engineering projects that contain asbestos, notably other than highways;
  • Chrysotile’s carcinogenicity proven in humans and considered as such by international organizations, despite its lower biopersistence;
  • The high occupational standard for chrysotile exposure in Quebec that should be reduced;
  • The as yet non systematic management of asbestos-containing materials in public buildings other than elementary and secondary schools and in private residences;
  • The application of the principles put forward by the INSPQ to manage risks;

because workers and the general public are exposed to asbestos (chrysotile and amphiboles) already on site, the INSPQ is of the opinion

  • that we must first manage this asbestos, especially in the schools, hospitals, CEGEPS, universities, public and private buildings, workplaces, etc.;
  • that all of the enacted safety measures must be brought into force to protect workers, especially in the construction, renovation and asbestos processing industries;
  • that we must not ease any of the regulations or standards currently in force (especially the safety code for construction work and the asbestos exposure standards in the Regulation respecting occupational health and safety);
  • that the occupational exposure standard for chrysotile asbestos must be lowered;
  • that the Regulation respecting solid waste must be revised so we have a new regulation respecting elimination of residual waste that complies with the preceding items;
  • that we must better protect workers and the general public by identifying the products that contain asbestos (chrysotile and amphiboles) and that this information must be preserved and it must be accessible;
  • that we must continue to develop a system for the surveillance of exposure to asbestos and of asbestos-related diseases;

because chrysotile asbestos is a proven human carcinogen and causes asbestosis, and because in practice it is difficult to achieve safe use, especially in the construction, renovation and asbestos processing industries, the INSPQ is of the opinion that the promotion and increased use of chrysotile asbestos in its traditional forms should not be endorsed by the ministère de la Santé et des Services sociaux.

In addition, considering the distinctive characteristics of asbestos-containing products (such as asbestos cement and asbestos bituminous pavement) that the Politique d’utilisation accrue et sécuritaire de l’amiante chrysotile (Policy concerning the increased and safe use of chrysotile asbestos) intends to promote, an additional report will be prepared to examine more thoroughly the impact of the use of these products.  Nevertheless it would be prudent to control their use until the health risk assessment and the evaluation of required precautions concerning their use are completed.

Finally, if the Politique d’utilisation accrue et sécuritaire de l’amiante chrysotile (Policy concerning the increased and safe use of chrysotile asbestos) is upheld, considering that it is founded on the enforcement of very strict safety regulations and conditions, as was the Canadian position on chrysotile asbestos at the Rotterdam Convention, the INSPQ reminds the government that the conditions listed above must be respected. In addition, all of the measures entrusted to various ministries for protecting workers and the general public from asbestos and for monitoring this substance must be carried out. Measures affecting the organizations not specified in the Policy and that could assume part of the surveillance and control of asbestos exposure in Québec in both public and private spheres should also be introduced. 



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