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Proposed bill would block asbestos brake pads from entering Ontario

A Canadian lawmaker wants to stop asbestos-containing brake pads from entering the province of Ontario.


The Canadian Broadcasting Corporation reports that a bill proposed by Liz Sandals, a member of the provincial parliament, would establish new standards for brake pads brought into the province. 


Most American and Canadian manufacturers have already stopped using asbestos in brake pads. But more than $2.6 million worth of brake pads that contain the known carcinogen entered Canada in 2011, according to government figures. The Canada Consumer Product Safety Act regulates most uses of asbestos, but vehicle parts are exempt.


"If the brake pads were manufactured in Ontario it's a non-issue,” Sandals told the Vancouver Sun. “But if the brake pads are manufactured outside of Canada, we have no idea what the content is.”


Brake pads wear down after regular use, releasing black dust into the wheel well. Mechanics who replace brake drums are exposed to a mix of fibers that includes asbestos.


Dozens of Canadian auto mechanics died of asbestos-related diseases between 1996 and 2010, according to the Association of Workers' Compensation Boards of Canada. The CBC reports that 10 former assembly-line workers at a General Motors plant in St. Catharine’s, Ont., have filed claims for asbestos-related diseases, including eight cases of mesothelioma, a deadly cancer of the lining of the lung linked to asbestos exposure.


Bruce Allen, vice president of Canadian Auto Workers Local 199 in Niagara, told the CBC that he expects to see more asbestos-related claims. “The numbers are still relatively small, but the frequency of the claims has gone up,” Allen says. “Over time there’s going to be hundreds.”


Meanwhile, the Canadian asbestos industry, based in Quebec, continues to face pressure from heath officials, victims’ advocates and some lawmakers, who want a complete ban on the mineral.


Canada was once the world’s top producer of asbestos, representing 85 percent of world production in the early 1900s. But the industry has been in steady decline for decades.


The Bell Chrysotile Mine, Québec's last underground chrysotile mine, shut down in March 2008 after nearly 50 years of production. The Jeffrey Mine, whose financial troubles led to a halt in production late last year, has been promised a $58 million loan guarantee from the Canadian government, but must first raise $25 million from private investors before it can reopen.


MP Pat Martin has been fighting Canada’s export of asbestos for years. He told the Vancouver Sun earlier this year that Canadian opposition to asbestos has now reached “critical mass.”


"It has taken a frustratingly long time,” Martin said. “But just as the tobacco industry survived 50 years longer than it should have through denial and junk science and aggressive political lobbying, so has the asbestos industry lasted this long.”