ASBESTOS, Que.—Canada’s beleaguered asbestos industry, which has been a target of activists who link its product to cancer, has been given a $58 million loan by the Quebec government.
The deal to refurbish Jeffrey Mine will see private investors, led by Balcorp Ltd., kick in another $25 million. The owners will have to provide royalties along with annual fees that, over time, will see $7.5 million put aside to diversify the region’s economy.
While the industry has appeared on the brink of collapse, the long-rumoured provincial loan—announced on Friday afternoon before the long weekend—will cover more than two-thirds of the cost of renovating and reopening the Jeffrey Mine in Asbestos, Que.
The move could keep production going for another 20 years.
The prospect terrifies critics in Canada and abroad, who have called it immoral to be exporting the cancer-causing substance to developing countries where safety standards are known to be far less stringent.
One of the last two remaining asbestos facilities in Canada, Jeffrey Mine suspended production last year due to financial problems. The other mine, Lac d’amiante du Canada in nearby Thetford Mines, shut down shortly afterward but some proponents hope it can be revived as well.
At its peak, the once-mighty Canadian asbestos industry created entire towns and dominated international production of the mineral used in fireproofing and insulation.
Speculation about the reopening has drawn attention in international media including the New York Times, which last year ran a long feature on, “a town called Asbestos.”
Balcorp president Baljit Chadha also indicated last year he was close to securing the necessary funding from an international consortium of investors.
It is hoped the reopening of the mine will create 425 full-time jobs.
Industry proponents insist asbestos can be used safely if handled properly and say the chrysotile asbestos manufactured at the Jeffrey Mine is not as dangerous as other forms of the material.
A news release Friday that the product produced at Jeffrey will be used safely—principally as a component in cement for infrastructure like aqueducts, wells, and buildings that are mostly agricultural.
The news release noted that the Quebec government recently signed an agreement with India on the safe use of mining materials.
-With files by Nelson Wyatt and Sylvain Larocque