Proponents of a ban on Canadian asbestos mining and exporting were shocked and saddened at the announcement made late last week that the Provincial Government of Quebec has decided to give a $58 million dollar loan to the ailing Jeffrey Asbestos Mine, which has been non-operational since last November due to serious financial problems.
According to an article in the Globe and Mail, Bernard Coulombe – president of the Jeffrey Mine, and Yvon Vallières – National Assembly member, held a press conference on Friday to announce the decision to grant funding to the mine. François Vaudreuil, the union president, responded by saying that “workers of the mine can rejoice. It’s the end of a decade-long fight.”
Coulombe says the loan will create 400 to 500 full-time jobs for the next 20 years and will help the town of Asbestos, Quebec get back on its feet. In addition, another 1,000 jobs indirectly related to the mine will be created, mine management has stated.
“We all know that this is an important step for our community. It guarantees a future, stimulates the local and regional economy,” said Vallières. Alarmingly, Vallières noted that the town also views the funding as a way to keep local youth in the community, providing them with jobs at the mine when they reach employable age.
Union President Vaudreuil gave kudos to the Quebec government for its “responsible decision and courageous decision.”
“The government took a courageous decision by supporting the reopening of the Jeffrey Mine,” he said. “This government stood up against people who used propaganda and who used public health to make others believe that we should close the mine.”
In the meantime, others are appalled by the decision, including a global community that is intent on seeing mining halted in Quebec as well as an international ban on the export of asbestos to other countries, including the many Third World Countries that use the material because its inexpensive and durable, unaware of the dangers of inhaling its tiny fibers, which can cause mesothelioma cancer.
Paul Lapierre, vice-president of public affairs and cancer control for the Canadian Cancer Society, told the media in a press release: “This decision means the Quebec government is in direct conflict with global cancer control, as all forms of asbestos cause cancer. We believe these funds should instead be directed to projects to help the affected communities diversify their economic base.”
Still, mine officials maintain that they have found “safe ways” for workers to handle the chrysotile asbestos that is mined at the Jeffrey Mine and the nearby Thetford Mines. “A lot of research has been done over the last 10 years” in regards to finding ways to protect miners, says Vaudreuil, insisting that safety is no longer an issue.
The loan comes on the heels of last month’s report that federal government officials in Canada acknowledged the dangers of asbestos exposure more than a decade ago yet rallied to keep the mineral off the Rotterdam Convention’s list of hazardous material, protecting Canada’s asbestos export business.