12/15/2016 10:01 EST

Liberals To Ban Asbestos By 2018, Kirsty Duncan Says

Canada closed its last asbestos mines a decade ago.

OTTAWA — After years in which thousands of Canadians were diagnosed annually with deadly, asbestos-related cancers, the federal government is finally moving to ban all products containing asbestos by 2018.

The announcement Thursday by four Liberal cabinet ministers includes the manufacture, use, import and export of asbestos in common items such as building materials and brake pads.

Science Minister Kirsty Duncan speaks at a press conference in Ottawa on Dec 15, 2016. (Photo: Sean Kilpatrick/CP)

There will also be new workplace health and safety rules, changes to the building code and an expanded inventory of public buildings that contain asbestos.

Canada has also been one of the last international holdouts in agreeing to list asbestos as a hazardous material under the Rotterdam Convention, a highly controversial position that federal Science Minister Kirsty Duncan says the government is now reconsidering.

"Today is the first step to ban asbestos — its manufacture, its export, its import — and we hope to do this, we will do this, by 2018," Duncan said.

Fibres can cause cancer

Even minute amounts of asbestos fibres can cause lung cancer or deadly mesothelioma, an aggressive cancer.

This year, about 3,200 new cases were diagnosed across the country, continuing a trend that the Canadian Cancer Society says it hopes has peaked following decades of heavy asbestos use.

"We were hoping to see it starting to decline this year," Gabriel Miller of the cancer society said in an interview.

"It hasn't happened yet, so hopefully we have peaked but that still means, for years to come, at or about the level we're at now."

The last Canadian asbestos mines in Quebec closed in late 2011.

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