MAC: Mines and Communities

Last Quebec asbestos mine abandons plan to re-open

Published by MAC on 2012-10-23
Source: Statement,

Canada waves asbestos mining ‘au revoir'

Cecilia Jamasmie

17 October 2012

A loan rejection to the last asbestos miner in the country followed by Canada's federal government's announcement that it wouldn't oppose to list Chrysotile - the type of asbestos found in Quebec - as a hazardous substance, are the latest signs of the country shelving one of the most polemic mining products once and for all.

Asbestos, a mineral that several experts claim it has cost the lives and health of "thousands, probably tens of thousands of Canadians," as AlJazeera reports Wednesday, is about to officially be part of the country's history.

Until 2010, Canada exported hundreds of thousands of tonnes of asbestos every year, supplying 85% of the world's needs for the debated material in the early 1900s.

Asbestos production in the country peaked in the early 1970s, but last November authorities suspended all activities in the remaining asbestos mines.

The Canadian province of Quebec's new government, elected last month, was quick to cancel a $58-million loan to the Jeffrey Mine, the country's last asbestos operation, located in the French-speaking part of the country. The sum would have helped reopen it for the next 20 years, reported The Montreal Gazette.

Federal authorities followed by declaring they would no longer fight international efforts to have asbestos listed as a toxic substance.

One of the companies that used to operate an asbestos mine in Canada, the LAC mine, announced yesterday it was indefinitely suspending its plans to recommence asbestos mining.

In an article published in a Thetford Mines on-line publication, entitled Relance de la mine Lac d'Amiante : Simon Dupéré jette l'éponge (Relaunch of the Lac D'Amiante mine: Simon Dupéré throws in the towel), LAB Chrysotile's President, Simon DupéréDupéré, stated that "in light of the recent decisions by the Quebec and Canadian governments to stop supporting the asbestos industry," it would be impossible to attract foreign investors.

Montreal toxicologist Daniel Green told Al Jazeera that Canada failed to sustain this mining sub-sector in a safe manner.

The country's position - not yet officially relinquished- has long been that Chrysotile asbestos can be used safely if proper guidelines are observed.

"If there was a place where one could answer the question: can asbestos be used safely, it's here in Quebec," Green says. "But looking at medical records, looking at epidemiology, looking at diseases, the answer is we have failed to use asbestos safely.

"Asbestos has killed and is still killing Quebeckers. It should not leave the ground and kill people in other countries."

Long condemned by environmental health authorities for producing a deadly fibre, the Jeffrey mine was to reopen next summer and produce 250,000 tonnes of asbestos over the next 20 years, primarily for export to India, Vietnam and other developing countries.

The proud community of Asbestos, who still refuses to believe experts such as Green, alongside other advocates claim the reopening of the mine would have created 425 jobs directly and 1,000 indirectly.

New Quebec government to be congratulated for taking action on asbestos

Kathleen Ruff, founder

17 October 2012

While much attention has been paid to the plan by Baljit Singh Chadha, Bernard Coulombe and a Thai investor (Ulan Global Marketing) to open up the Jeffrey underground asbestos mine, efforts were also being made to restart asbestos mining at Thetford Mines after the closure of its mine a year ago.

After operating for 130 years, the Lac d'Amiante du Canada mine (LAC) at Thetford Mines, Quebec, closed down in October 2011, due to a landslide caused by its mining operations. Two months later, LAB Chrysotile Inc., the company that operated the LAC mine, filed for bankruptcy. This was the last operating asbestos mine in Quebec, since the other Quebec asbestos mine, the open pit Jeffrey mine at Asbestos, had virtually ceased operating two years ago and had only operated part-year prior to that, due to the depletion of its asbestos deposit.

A Committee to Re-launch the LAC Mine was set up, with the participation of the mayor of Thetford Mines, other regional politicians, the Chamber of Commerce and the local Steelworkers Union. The Committee has held meetings over the past year.

On Tuesday, October 16, the president of LAB Chrysotile, Simon Dupéré, announced that, in light of recent decisions by the Quebec and Canadian governments, Lab Chrysotile was indefinitely suspending its plans to recommence asbestos mining. In an article published in a Thetford Mines on-line publication, entitled Relance de la mine Lac d'Amiante : Simon Dupéré jette l'éponge (Relaunch of the Lac D'Amiante mine: Simon Dupéré throws in the towel), Dupéré stated that in light of the recent decisions by the Quebec and Canadian governments to stop supporting the asbestos industry, it would be impossible to attract foreign investors.

The mayor of Thetford Mines, Luc Berthold, said this decision was very sad news, but that he was not surprised, as with the climate created by the Quebec government, he did not see how it would be possible to convince foreign investors to invest tens of millions of dollars in a project to re-start asbestos mining at Thetford Mines.

Meanwhile, on Tuesday October 16, the Quebec minister for Industrial Policy, Élaine Zakaïb, was scheduled to meet with the mayor of Asbestos, Hugues Grimard, and other regional representatives. Prior to the meeting, Zakaïb stated at a press conference that she hopes to set up a committee that will oversee efforts to diversify the economy of the Asbestos area.

She said that the area could use the unused $50 million part of the $58 million loan, given by the previous Charest government to re-open Jeffrey mine, as well as the $50 million that the Canadian government has promised to provide to help diversify the economy of the asbestos-mining region.

The $58 million loan has been cancelled, said Zakaïb. It is a thing of the past and it will not be restored. She said that the new Parti Québécois government understood very well that this is very heartbreaking for the people of Asbestos. This is their history, she said, and it is understandable that people are saddened by what is happening.

But now, said Zakaïb, we want to look to the future and work with the local people. It is up to the people of Asbestos to decide what kind of economy they want to develop. No-one knows better than the local population what is good for them, Zakaïb said. I am here to listen, to know what people have to say. We will try to look to the future and see how we can develop this area, Zakaïb stated.

The fact that the $58 million loan had been cancelled was announced by Bernard Coulombe on October 10. Coulombe told media that, as a consequence, he was shutting down the Jeffrey mine. He said that he would be removing his heavy machinery and would let the mine be flooded. On October 11, the Quebec government confirmed that the loan had been cancelled.

The new Quebec government is moving ahead on a number of urgent issues, such as closing down the Gentilly-2 nuclear power plant and cancelling the loan to the asbestos investors. The government is to be congratulated for following up in such a prompt manner on both these commitments.

The government is also to be commended for reaching out to the people of Asbestos in order to work with them to diversify their economy. The town of Thetford Mines has, over the past decade and more, made impressive progress in diversifying its economy. The situation at the town of Asbestos is much more challenging. For efforts to diversify the economy to be successful, it will be essential to involve the local population, as Minister Zakaïb is reaching out to do.

Much work remains to be done in order to succeed in effectively diversifying the economy with initiatives to replace asbestos mining, as well as to assist asbestos victims in Quebec, protect people from asbestos already placed in buildings and infrastructure, pass legislation banning the mining, use, export and import of asbestos or asbestos-containing products.

But the steps that have just been taken are important victories: the cancellation of the loan to Jeffrey mine, the shutting down by the asbestos industrialists of their plans to re-open the Jeffrey asbestos mine and the LAC asbestos mine, and the announcement by Minister Zakaïb that the Quebec government will work with the people of the asbestos mining region to develop alternative economic initiatives.

For the past year, no asbestos mining has taken place in Quebec, but asbestos industrialists were pursuing plans to re-open both the Jeffrey mine and the LAC mine. The industrialists have now admitted defeat and at both mines, plans to re-open have now been abandoned.


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