Asbestos-related deaths may continue to rise long after 2018 ban
Despite the federal government’s decision to ban products containing asbestos by 2018, some medical experts predict the number of Canadians who die because of past exposure will continue to rise.
Every day, about five Canadians are diagnosed with cancers linked to asbestos. It can take anywhere from 20 to 40 years for exposure to asbestos to develop into the disease, which is often aggressive and, in many cases, fatal.
Over the past 100 years, thousands of Canadians are believed to have been exposed to asbestos at some point in their lives. In 2012, Canada’s last asbestos mine ceased operations. But the import of materials containing asbestos, such as construction materials, is still allowed until the 2018 ban kicks in.
Asbestos has been commonly used in building insulation, floor tiles, car brakes and even children’s modelling clay. The substance poses health risks when products containing asbestos deteriorate and fibres are released into the air and breathed in.
Lawyer Dave Curtis discovered he had mesothelioma, a cancer that can only be caused by asbestos, when he was undergoing a routine hernia repair.
“Exactly when I was exposed to what resulted in this disease or what particular product it was, I have no idea,” the Peterborough, Ont. man told CTV News.
Curtis underwent a major surgery in January to remove the cancer and some internal organs, and he has since had to go into chemotherapy.
Doctor: Government decision ‘long overdue’
Dr. John Cho, a radiation oncologist at the Princess Margaret Cancer Centre in Toronto, says 40 to 50 per cent of his patients with asbestos-linked cancers have types of cancer linked to the throat, lungs or abdomen, where the fibres penetrate and become embedded.
“It takes about 20 to 40 years before you see these increases in mesothelioma, so we’re still expecting to see a rise in mesothelioma for the next five years or so,” Cho said.
Cho said he welcomes the government’s firm decision to ban asbestos.
“I think it’s long overdue. And I’m really, really pleased that the government has decided to take a firm stand on this,” Cho said.
For workers who once worked in environments where asbestos was present, the Princess Margaret Cancer Centre has developed a screening program to check for early signs of cancer.
Cal Moore worked for years unloading 50- and 100-lb. bags of dry asbestos and says he has seen friends and colleagues die from cancer.
Asked what concerns him most, Moore said he is simply worried about living “a shorter life.”
Charles Taylor worked with asbestos in a power-generating plant. He recalled how colleagues would saw blocks of asbestos over his head.
“And it was like it was constantly snowing on us, just like a snowstorm,” Taylor recalled.
Peter Theriault cleaned furnaces coated in asbestos. Doctors are now tracking some concerning nodules in his lungs.
“And now I’m a little concerned,” Theriault said.
The early detection project at Princess Margaret Cancer Centre is now taking more patients at high risk of mesothelioma.
The government ban comes decades after concerns about asbestos were first raised. As early as the 1920s, asbestos was believed to be linked to what was described at the time as a “dust disease” of the lungs. In the 1960s, South African researchers were among the first to connect mesothelioma to exposure to crocidolite asbestos.
Curtis: Compensation is ‘inadequate’
Those diagnosed with cancer aren’t only fighting the disease. Many are also struggling to receive proper compensation for the cancer that many believe could’ve been prevented.
Dave Curtis said he was offered about $30,000 from one asbestos compensation fund. He says that amount is hardly enough.
“The compensation is hopelessly inadequate in comparison to the horror that this disease causes,” he said.
Curtis said he plans to lobby Ottawa for more generous compensation and said he hopes the government will acknowledge some responsibility in the cancer deaths.
“The government had the regulatory oversight and did nothing. Quite to the contrary, they promoted this product, which caused this disease in people such as myself,” he said.
With a report from CTV's medical specialist Avis Favaro and producer Elizabeth St. Philip