Supporters of mandatory asbestos registry launch on-line petition

28 February 2013


Health organizations, firefighters and emergency medical workers are asking the public to show their support for a mandatory asbestos registry by signing an on-line petition. Bill 604 or Howard’s Law would make the reporting of asbestos in public buildings mandatory in Saskatchewan. “The public has a right to know if the building they work in, the school or daycare their child attends or the nursing home their parent lives in contains asbestos. We believe the public agrees so we’re providing them with an easy way to show their support,” says Jennifer Miller, Vice-President of Health Promotion with the Lung Association of Saskatchewan.

The petition called refers to Howard Willems who died in November from a lung cancer caused by exposure to asbestos on the job. Right up until his death, the 59 year old Saskatoon man advocated for a mandatory public registry of Saskatchewan buildings that contain asbestos.

“We lost our stepdad because he didn’t know there was asbestos in the buildings he inspected. If he had known, he would have taken the necessary steps to protect himself and would still be with us today. He dedicated the last 2 years of his life trying to save others from suffering the same fate as he did and we’re determined to carry on Howard’s fight through SADAO,” says Jesse Todd, spokesperson for the Saskatchewan Asbestos Disease Awareness Organization (SADAO), the group his stepfather founded.

Bill 604 is a private members bill that was introduced by the NDP just before Howard Willems passed away. MLAs are expected to vote on the bill in the coming weeks. Support for a mandatory asbestos registry has been growing despite the government’s creation of a voluntary registry. First responders concerned about the health of their members are all urging the provincial government to pass Howard’s Law. They include the Saskatchewan Professional Fire Fighters Association (SPFFA), Saskatchewan Association of Fire Chiefs (SAFC), Saskatchewan Association of Chiefs of Police (SACP) and the Saskatchewan Emergency Medical Services Association (SEMSA).

“First responders and EMS personnel need to know quickly whether the building they’re entering contains asbestos and the state of that asbestos. We are pleased that the government has set up a voluntary registry but in order to protect the health and safety of all workers in the province, it should be mandatory,” says Steven Skoworodko, president of SEMSA.

Because of the age of many buildings in this province, there may be cases where asbestos that was originally encapsulated has been disturbed or deteriorated, increasing the risk of exposure to those unaware of it. Howard’s Law would begin the process of drawing upon the registry to further educate the public on how to identify asbestos, handle it and deal with its lethal fibres.

Asbestos is the leading cause of industrial cancers and deaths in Canada. CAREX Canada, a national surveillance project estimates that more than 4,200 Saskatchewan workers have been exposed to asbestos. It often takes decades after exposure for an asbestos-related cancer to develop. The Canadian Cancer Society says a mandatory public registry would reduce exposure, prevent cancer and save lives.

Media contacts:

Jennifer Miller
Lung Association of Saskatchewan

Jesse Todd
Saskatchewan Asbestos Disease Awareness Organization

Steven Skoworodko
Saskatchewan Emergency Medical Services Association

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