Outcry as government loan enables Quebec asbestos mine to reopen
The Quebec Government and various private investors, led by Balcorp Ltd, have offered a last minute life line to the recently closed Jeffry asbestos mine to allow for the refurbishment necessary for it to reopen.
The announcement by the Quebec Government of a $58-million loan to facilitate the reopening of the Jeffrey Asbestos Mine has envoked outcry from various Health and Safety promoters.
The Jeffrey mine was closed last year due to financial difficulties but the loan will allow for more than two-thirds of the cost of renovating and reopening the Jeffrey Mine, a move that could keep production going for another 20 years. The bailout deal will involve private investors, led by Balcorp Ltd., covering another $25-million of the costs to refurbish the mine.
The reactions to the announcement reflect a long standing conflict between the industry and health experts, raising questions about the trade-off between local jobs and profit, and public health. Those in favour of mine reopening state the fact that 425 full-time jobs would become available as vital in the decision making. A senior official of the World Health Organization says it stands by its estimate that asbestos-related diseases, such as certain forms of lung cancer, kill more than 107,000 people around the world each year. The figure relates specifically to people exposed to asbestos fibres at work.
While the industry has suffered a dramatic decline worldwide because of these concerns, Canada continues to actively promote its trade and defy multilateral efforts warning of its hazards. Last year Canada vetoed the decision to list the material as hazardous at United Nations’ Rotterdam Convention. Asbestos is already banned in most countries that Canadians consider their peer group: the European Union, Australia, Japan. In the U.S., the industry is entangled in extensive litigation, bankruptcy filings and class-action suits.
The export targets are, instead, countries such as China and especially India, where building booms are fuelling demand for asbestos for use in cement and infrastructure. Canada is accused of double standards as they continue to sell — and advocate — cancer-causing asbestos to other countries despite strictly limiting the domestic use of the mineral. Dr. Yves Bonnier Viger, president of an association of Quebec medical specialists in public health, criticized the move, stating that the decision “shows an insensitivity to the scientific data and a lack of respect for the health and well-being of the population.” The doctor said he and his colleagues will lobby the government to reverse its decision.
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