Asbestos is a mineral of fibrous crystals that absorbs sound, has textile strength, and a resistance to heat, chemical, and electrical damage. Its fibers can be woven into yarn or rope, and are easily added to a variety of materials such as cotton and cement, making it a versatile substance. The inhalation of these fibers has been proved to cause illnesses including cancer and asbestosis. Asbestos is used in many products from drywall roofing tars, to shoes and stage curtains, because of its fireproofing and insulating qualities. It became popularly used by manufacturers and builders in the 19th century as a common insulator and propelled the Industrial Revolution; however, asbestos has been used for as long as 4500 years in Ancient Greece when it was used in oil lamp wicks and ceremonial table cloths. The extraction, manufacturing, and processing of asbestos has been banned in whole or in part by over 60 countries in the world, including those in the European Union. Even though today, far less products in the home contain asbestos, it is still used because of new ways of containing escaping fibers. Canada has yet to ban asbestos and is currently the largest player in the global asbestos industry; over 40% of the world’s asbestos is found in a narrow belt of rocks in Quebec and over 300,000 tons of it can be exported annually to developing countries. The banning of asbestos is a difficult balance for Canada between saving jobs and economic profit or relieving the health hazards placed on workers and consumers from this multi-purpose material.
Written 2009. Since then, Canada’s asbestos industry has been winding down. For anyone who wonders what asbestos is…
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