Workers at the Meadowbank Gold Mine in Nunavut, the largest and northernmost of the Canadian Provinces and Territories, now have to contend with more than severe cold and other harsh working conditions while on the job. Many must now wear special protective gear, including respirators and disposable outerwear, because officials have determined that naturally-occurring asbestos is present in dust samples taken from the secondary crusher building at the site.
According to an article in the Nunatsiaq News, Agnico-Eagle Mines Ltd. – owner of the gold mine – recently announced the presence of the asbestos following two rounds of testing, one in January and another in March. Dale Coffin, Agnico-Eagle’s director of corporate communications, said “it was certainly something [they] weren’t expecting” though asbestos has been previously found at other gold mines throughout the world, including in Australia.
“The company has since identified small concentrations of fibers in the ore from some areas of the Goose and Portage open-pits where there are ‘very small amounts’ of naturally-occurring asbestos in thin bands,” Coffin reported, nothing that there also seems to be some sort of correlation between the presence of asbestos and soapstone.
The findings – which have been inconsistent, says Coffin – have prompted the company to instill new safety measures. Now, in addition to wearing the disposable gear, including coveralls and boot covers, workers are being trained on how to avoid spreading the asbestos dust to non-affected areas. Specialized vacuums are available for cleaning work clothes so that mine workers don’t bring asbestos dust home on their clothes, which could result in secondhand asbestos exposure for their loved ones. Conveyor enclosures, water, and dust suppressant sprays will also be available to curb the spread of the dangerous dust.
The company has also hired a full-time industrial hygienist to oversee the newly-implemented asbestos management program, Coffin confirmed. In addition, Agnico-Eagle also hired an external asbestos expert and a third-party laboratory to carry out the asbestos analysis.
Prolonged asbestos exposure can result in myriad health problems. Respiratory issues experienced by miners exposed to the mineral have included asbestosis, lung cancer, mesothelioma cancer (which affects the lung lining), and cancer of the larynx and gastrointestinal tract.