Canadian Manufacturing

Quebec under fire over asbestos

Provincial support would expand Jeffrey mine operations

MONTREAL, QUE: Activists from several Asian countries will be in Canada next month asking the Quebec government not to finance the Jeffrey asbestos mine in Asbestos, Que.

The delegation includes representatives from India, Indonesia, Japan and South Korea.

“We believe that aiding and seeking to expand the export of asbestos from Quebec is an act that brings dishonour on your reputation,” wrote Sugio Furuya, co-ordinator of the Asian Ban Asbestos Network, in a letter sent to Premier Jean Charest last week.

Asbestos mining was once highly profitable, but domestic consumption of the substance has plummeted.

Two years ago, Canadian asbestos exports totalled 175,000 tons and all of it went to developing countries, including Bangladesh, India and Indonesia.

Government financing would allow the Jeffrey mine, the largest employer in the southeastern Quebec town, to expand underground operations, extending its life for another 25 years and saving hundreds of jobs.

A consortium has offered to purchase the mine outright, but to get the project started it’s asking for a $58-million loan guarantee from the province.

In the letter, Furuya says the province is glossing over scientific evidence that shows chrysotile asbestos is dangerous, catering instead to powerful lobby groups with a vested interest in seeing asbestos mining continue.

The activists have requested a sit-down meeting with Charest in early December.

They’re also pressing Baljit Chadha, the Montreal-based businessman leading the consortium, to reconsider his position.

Chadha has been an asbestos middleman for nearly 15 years, buying chrysotile asbestos from the Jeffrey mine and selling it to manufacturers in India and elsewhere.

Guy Versailles, a spokesman for Chadha, said he feels unfairly targeted by the activists.

Versailles said Chadha only sells only to reputable customers who “agree to use the substance responsibly as far as environment, health and safety are concerned.”

He said asbestos is safe when properly managed.

“He wants to be the standard-bearer worldwide for how this should be done,” Versailles said.

If the mine expansion goes ahead, Versailles said the Quebec government would lead an onsite audit of overseas manufacturers to ensure responsible use of the fibres.

But critics argue it’s difficult to monitor asbestos in developing countries, particularly once it leaves larger manufacturers.

An editorial in the latest edition of the peer-reviewed Canadian Journal of Public Health called on a countrywide ban of the production and export of asbestos.

“It is hypocritical to export chrysotile to other countries,” wrote scientific editor Gilles Paradis. “Countries to which it is exported offer weak or no worker protection.”

The World Health Organization says all forms of asbestos, including chrysotile, cause cancer and other diseases, and blames asbestos-related diseases for 90,000 deaths annually around the world.

© The Canadian Press

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