Soo.. We decided to respond to the popularity of the topic and provide a thumbnail sketch / history of the industry in Québec Province and an update on what is probably the death-knell of the industry in North America.
The name "asbestos" covers several silicate based fibrous minerals used valued for their insulating properties. Unfortunaltely, with age, the fibers breakdown and release inhalable fragments. These fragments, suspended by air currents, pose a serious health hazard for miners, workers and inhabitants of buildings with aging asbestos insulation. Those exposed to the fibers show abnormally high rates of severe respiratory disease and a rare, usually lethal form of cancer.
The use of asbestos is now banned in many juisdictions like the European Union and it has been placed on a list of dangerous subtances maintained by the United Nations. In late 2011, Canada's remaining two asbestos mines, both located in the Province of Québec, halted operations.
In the context of asbestos mining in Québec, two categories of asbestos were recognized: "asbestos" and "chrysotile (asbestos)". The latter form of the fiber was held to be safer based upon research conducted at McGill University in Montréal. Unfortunately, this research has come under fire for "cherry picking": publishing results which favor the position held by the sponsor (the asbestos industry!)
The present status of the industry in Québec? Not quite dead yet but on life support. And the newly elected Parti Québécois gouvernment of Pauline Marois is thinking seriously - very seriously - of pulling the plug.
"Quebec's government appears to be on the verge of officially turning its back on the asbestos industry, according to comments made by the province's natural resource minister.
The ministry wants to end an 11-year-old policy of encouraging the use of asbestos in Quebec construction projects and is publicly questioning the implications of exporting chrysotile asbestos."
These policy changes, if implemented, would seem to indicate the end of Québec's asbestos saga.
"The future of asbestos mining in Quebec ground to a halt earlier this year after the newly elected government of Pauline Marois announced it would not honour a commitment of the previous government to lend the Jeffery Mine $58 million to restart production.
The government said instead it would rather put that money into economic diversification projects in the area.
At the end of March, the province's health minister announced that the government would make public a list of buildings that contain asbestos."
The $58 million loan mentioned was the work of the previous Libéral government of Jean Charest, defeated in September of last year. Now of course begins the work of finding alternative sources of economic development for the Asbestos region, monies in short supply thanks to the Global Recession of 2008.
Personally, the thing I find the most disheartening about this saga is the support the Québec labor unions gave to the asbestos mining industry, a support which was based on flimsy "scientific" evidence. Only now, that the end of the industry is virtually certain, do they begin making proper noises: evidence leads to the consclusion that no usage of chrysotile can be assured to be truly free of risk. So we withdraw our support of the industry, blah, blah, blah.
I think labor leaders should be, as francophones say, "militants". They should be infused with a moral mission which is to serve the common good, a good which includes the health and well being of their fellow workers in third world countries exposed to asbestos health hazards in conditions of unsafe workplace exposure. How is the worker to thrive - nay, survive! - if labor leaders fall to the "divide and conquer" stategy of multinationals?
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